The blame game for the current pandemic has been going on almost since the day we first learned of it. That goes for not only how the virus erupted onto the world stage (a data point that’s still to be definitively established) but also how the United States responded to the threat and if it could have been done more effectively. Most everyone who’s been trying to prognosticate on this subject has wound up with some egg on their faces at times, including yours truly. But that hasn’t stopped anyone from hurling stones, even if they live in glass houses.

Enter the New York Times. This week they’ve dug up a study from September of last year in which White House economists were sounding the alarm about potential damage to the economy if a massive pandemic broke out. And of course they make the time to let everyone know that Donald Trump could have heeded that dire warning and been better prepared to defend the nation when the coronavirus went viral.

White House economists published a study last September that warned a pandemic disease could kill a half million Americans and devastate the economy.

It went unheeded inside the administration.

In late February and early March, as the coronavirus pandemic began to spread from China to the rest of the world, President Trump’s top economic advisers played down the threat the virus posed to the U.S. economy and public health.

Note how the first two sentences of that article set the tone. The first describes a warning about “a pandemic disease” (without mentioning what the disease is) and how it could impact the economy. The second says that it was “unheeded” by the Trump administration. That sounds pretty bad, huh? I mean, those people warned Trump about the novel coronavirus, told him how to avoid all of that damage and he just ignored them?

That would be awful… if that were the case. If you actually click through to the original report you quickly learn a few things just by browsing the executive summary. First of all, the report is talking about an influenza pandemic. (You should also recall at this point that media scolds have told us repeatedly not to conflate the coronavirus and the flu.) It did not predict the arrival of a new form of coronavirus.

Also, it doesn’t go into any sort of isolation or mitigation strategies for dealing with any sort of pandemic. The report focuses on new methods of more quickly developing and approving vaccines in the event of an influenza pandemic. This looks like some fascinating and useful information that could eventually be applied to other viral diseases like COVID-19, but not right off the bat.

As the report’s executive overview notes, we’ve been dealing with influenza for a long time and continually track how the virus evolves so we’re ready to make the latest edition of the flu vaccine. Through government investment in the new methods described in the report, that process could happen even faster. (We should certainly consider it.) But the coronavirus was new. It’s novel. We’d have still have had to isolate it and start from scratch.

But let’s just imagine for a moment that this group of economists who wrote the report was somehow predicting a new and wild viral pandemic. So what? They didn’t put a date on it or even a likely source. And the fact is, we’ve been getting these warnings since the end of the Second World War. In terms of this specific family of coronavirus strains, some epidemiologists have been publishing these warnings since 2013. Others as early as 2008. (Remind me again who the president was then?)

In more general terms, we’ve been warned to be ready for another pandemic ever since the last huge one in 1918. Nobody in the medical community believed it could never happen again. Books and movies, both fictional and educational, have been made on the subject. But all of those preparations require money and the political will to make them happen. Not knowing when the danger is coming makes politicians complacent because there’s always something more pressing to focus their attention on.

And it’s not just pandemics. We receive regular warnings about all manner of disasters without anyone investing vast sums into being ready for them. We’ve been getting warnings about the Yellowstone supervolcano erupting for a long time now. It could happen tomorrow or it could happen in two million years. Do we look like we’re ready to evacuate a third of the country on short notice and mitigate the damage?

There’s only one thing we know about our supervolcano for sure. If it happens on Trump’s watch, the New York Times will find a way to blame him for that as well.