Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Media Scare Machine: The Sky is Falling

Jerry Stratton, March 25, 2020

… the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them, inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors. — Thomas Jefferson (Letter to John Norvell, June 14, 1807)

I was in a cab, these blog posts always start, but in this case it was a Lyft rideshare from downtown Raleigh to RDU airport two weeks ago on Friday the 13th. The driver started talking about how people were panicking and hoarding things that shouldn’t, objectively, matter, and I made the point that people shouldn’t have to be experts on the biology of obscure Chinese diseases. That’s what a healthy news media is for. But we don’t have a healthy news media. We have a sick media and so we have runs on toilet paper for no apparent reason.

This got the driver going off about how horribly the press, in general, was acting during this pandemic. How they seem to have no idea how biology works, or statistics, and how they pass on lies that deliberately create panic.

She was right. If you heard that the United States no longer has a response team for pandemics, as the Washington Post incorrectly reported, you might reasonably panic about needing to load up on medical supplies. If you heard that there was going to be a national curfew, as CNN incorrectly reported, you might decide to stock up on essentials. If you heard that Trump told the states they were on their own, as the New York Times incorrectly reported, you might very reasonably decide that hoarding the essentials is necessary.

And when I say “incorrectly reported”, I mean lied. There was nothing ambiguous about what they reported on. They took statements from the White House confirming that federal response teams had the states’ backs, and reported the opposite. They took a common-sense reorganization that strengthened our ability to respond to pandemics, and lied that it removed our ability to respond. And they completely made up the curfew rumor, as far as I can tell.

All to deliberately cause a panic to sell papers and feed their hatred of the President.

So it was kind of darkly funny that the first social media meme I saw after returning from Raleigh was a couple of media outlets trying to convince us that “the media didn’t tell you to” do all these panicky things, they just told you to “wash your damn hands”. Shaye Ganam of Global News tweeted, shared via Nick LaFave of WZZM Michigan in my case:

The media didn’t shut down China or Italy. The media didn’t cancel tens of thousands of flights. The media didn’t infect more than a hundred thousand people in dozens of countries in a month. The media didn’t tell you to buy toilet paper. The media said wash your damn hands.

Ignore for the moment the royal you in that statement—you should wash your hands, not we should. It’s complete bullshit from start to finish. Throughout their reporting, they have deliberately lied, twisted words, and used technical terms out of context to create scare words. They have tried at every turn to create more panic rather than just saying “wash your damn hands”. And whether from malice or incompetence, their advice and actions at every turn served to spread the disease rather than contain it.

When you see the media using the term “global pandemic” they are specifically trying to make the word sound more serious than it is. Pandemic means global as the WHO uses it. Adding “global” in front of “pandemic” the way they’ve been doing is superfluous unless you’re trying to make the word sound like something it isn’t.

New York Times: The Sky is Falling

Yes, the news media has been completely calm and reasoned through the panic. They’re only reporting that the sky is falling.

They use the word “pandemic” as if it means “you’re all going to die”. A “pandemic” means only that the disease is spreading around the world. If there were one case in every country passed on to one person in each country, and then the disease died out, it could still have been called a pandemic. The term, when used by the WHO, says nothing about the seriousness of a disease, only that it’s been spread over a large number of countries over a particular period of time.

They use the term “containment zone” solely because it sounds like something from a science fiction war story, trying to imply through their questions and commentary that it constricts people’s movement rather than the virus’s—which, of course, encourages people to hoard and to travel whenever in other news the media starts hinting at a new containment zone.

They quote a scientist calling this “unprecedented” and fail to explain that the scientist meant something good, that we have been able to track the emergence and spread of this disease, unlike diseases in the past that caught us by surprise.1

Headlines use words like “scramble” to describe the response by the United States, which seems completely at odds with reality. The United States began responding at least as early as January when the President stopped travel from China, a ban that the media called racist.2

And the incoherency of what the media pushes as solutions! That the President was wrong to close the border to China. That the President was wrong to want to quarantine sick people returning from overseas. That we need a 14-day national shutdown. How in the world are these not inducements to panic? If the press gets their fourteen day shutdown, aren’t people going to need fourteen days of food and supplies?

Anyone who takes the news media seriously is going to panic. If the media had their way, we would have more disease vectors in the country and more empty shelves. Yes, the media told people that hoarding was necessary. Yes, the media told people that flying was deadly. And to the extent that the media gave government employees political cover to let carriers freely in the country, the media also helped spread the virus. The media got what they wanted: a deep state that ignores the president’s orders. And they’re still encouraging it, and all the deaths associated with it.

There’s a flip side, too. The boy who cried wolf is not a cautionary tale for the villagers, but for little boys who constantly scream “crisis” when they don’t get their way. When the media lies this blatantly, many people will reasonably assume that nothing about the virus’s dangers is real. That also helps spread the virus.

Like most pathological liars, the press wants to blame the people who expose them. The day after I saw that meme, I saw a video of someone here in Texas calling a reporter out for their fearmongering. The reporter was at an H-E-B, the main grocery chain in Texas, early in the morning to report on how the panic was going. In response to this guy blaming them, the reporter said that no one’s making you come out here at 6 AM.

But of course, they were. If you have a family, you need food, you need toilet paper, you need cleaning supplies. If the media has convinced enough people to hoard food and supplies, you need to get to the supermarket before that stuff which your family needs disappears.

When I saw that video, I had just come back from grocery shopping, at about 2 PM. All I needed were an onion, a few carrots, and some celery. Three out of four of the most common vegetables grocery stores carry, and the nearest H-E-B was completely out.3

Even if that guy’s job were one that allowed shopping in the afternoon, if he needs those things for his family he has to get there early, and he has to get there early because the media’s been lying.

Even worse, though, is that the media’s response seems to be calculated not for public health or public information, but getting the President. When the President first started responding aggressively to stop the virus’s spread, it was the Washington Post, the New York Times, and CNN that told us we should ignore him and that we were racist if we didn’t continue traveling, continue getting together in large crowds, and continue, essentially, carrying the virus from place to place. We were xenophobic if we tried to stop the virus at its source. They don’t care who dies, as long as their lies attack a President they don’t like.

We should be able to rely on a healthy media, but our media is far from healthy. This has been a long time coming. I first remember noticing the media’s predilection for literal end of the world scenarios with the New York Times’s reporting on the Large Hadron Collider. In order to report a possible end-of-the-world scenario they interviewed a scientist who believed that rocks are alive and live in a different time dimension than humans.4

But that was just the media’s general anti-civilization bias, not the kind of bias that comes from their utter hatred of President Trump. They seem to be actually cheering as people lose jobs, as their life’s work is shut down, and as the death toll rises.

Yes, Mr. Ganam. The media did indeed tell us to cancel flights, did indeed tell us to hoard toilet paper. By ridiculing travel restrictions back in their “the coronavirus is no big deal” phase, they contributed to the virus’s spread throughout the world. By making quarantines more difficult, they spread the virus faster here in the United States.

When the president told us to wash our hands a lot, what did the press lead with? That the President is a germaphobe. That is not the way to tell people to “wash their damn hands”.

Our diseased media seems to have two faces: “Trump is a germaphobe, the coronavirus is no big deal” and “you are all idiots, the sky is falling and you’re not panicking enough yet!” The problem is that both those modes are causing more deaths than they save lives. Whether it’s calling border restrictions racist and insinuating that hand washing is germaphobic, or encouraging hoarding so that essential supplies are impossible for health professionals and first responders to find, the media is making this situation worse, and increasing the spread of the virus and its death toll. They’ve lost all sense of proportion and seem to be operating on hatred alone.

In response to To the ends of the earth: Why don’t we see any evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence? And will we survive long enough to make ourselves known to the universe?

  1. There’s a good argument that the scientist interviewed was partly wrong, because it turns out that the Chinese government was lying to WHO and providing false information about the disease.

  2. In fact, there’s a valid argument that Trump’s response came before the virus, when he started pushing for pharmaceutical companies to bring vaccine production back to the United States. It wasn’t specifically in response to the Wuhan Flu, but it was clearly in preparation for something like it.

  3. I’m pretty sure they were out of the fourth, potatoes, as well, but since that wasn’t on my shopping list I didn’t waste time looking for them.

  4. In his defense, he believed that everything is alive, and everything lives in a different time dimension that everything else. There is no defense for the New York Times reporting that the Sky Is Falling based on this craziness.

  1. <- Cycle of Murder