If the American people need to be concerned, the AJC is the only media outlet warning them. Young cites internal personnel surveys and vitriolic comments on the CDC’s employee blog that show a much greater level of discord than is revealed by other news sources. But the author is also careful to note high in the story that “The Journal-Constitution has found it difficult to quantify whether the agency’s ability to respond in a crisis has been harmed.”


Indeed, as Young quotes one expert from the Fels Institute for Government at the University of Pennsylvania saying, “The only proof of this is how an organization responds to a crisis.” The same day that Young’s story ran on the front page, the AJC ran a short staff report on the inside with the rhetorical headline, “CDC Brain Drain?” The staff report makes clear it found no indication of “significant jumps in overall employee departures,” but points to the expertise of individuals that had already jumped ship or were planning to. Most of the text is devoted to a list of the most illustrious names, including a short bio for each.


Young kept the pressure on high with Sunday’s article about the majority of the agency’s cash bonuses and awards going to non-scientific personnel. That disclosure sparked the ire of CDC employees on the agency’s blog, who complained about poor management. In rapid response to Sunday’s piece, Young followed up with a Monday article that said the CDC had created an awards committee to examine its distribution scheme. The tone of the piece remains critical (skeptical might be more accurate). It is less concerned with the committee’s creation and more interested in the choice of Barbara Harris, the CDC’s chief financial officer, to lead the committee. The article begins:


Top officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have appointed one of the agency’s most frequent recipients of large cash bonuses to lead an examination of whether the financial rewards program she benefited from is fair.


Whatever the future holds for Gerberding and the CDC, the Journal-Constitution deserves praise for its penetrating investigation. The media has done a thorough job of covering the CDC’s response to the recent E. coli scare and concerns about shortages in flu vaccine. But only the AJC went the extra mile on this agency that is so central to our system of public health.

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.