Published on: March 6, 2020
Yesterday I did a FaceTime commentary that responded to the folks who thought I was falling into a media trap by paying too much attention to the alarms being sounded about the coronavirus outbreak/pandemic, and giving way too much space on MNB to an issue that they saw as being political.
I argued, in part:
This is not about politics. This is about science. This is about respected scientists who think that this coronavirus could end up being a major problem for a lot of people - especially the elderly and medically compromised.
There is a huge, huge difference between a 0.1 percent and two percent mortality rate. Call me crazy, but I think it is worth talking about and putting resources against on a global scale …
I hope that the coronavirus ends up not being as bad for people's health and the global economy as some are predicting.
But let me suggest that if it isn't - if two or three or four months from now we are all saying that it seemed to be much ado about very little - it may well be because the media focused so much on it. Because the media helped educate the population about how to protect itself. Because the media reminded people to wash their hands frequently, to cough into their elbows, to be careful about what they touch and who they interact with.
I say this recognizing that there will be some members of the MNB community who will disagree with me. To be fair, I have a dog in this hunt - I am a member of the media, albeit a tiny niche of the media. But I think that for the most part, the mainstream media is doing exactly what it is supposed to do - reporting what the experts are saying and providing context so that consumers know what they are supposed to do.
Sorry. But I just can't help myself.
One MNB reader wasn't buying:
We understand it’s hard to see what’s around you when your in the middle of it! Those of us who don’t have a dog in the hunt, see the political slant/ blame game very clearly.... We remember when Media only reported facts but those days are gone as long as opinion reporting isn’t held to a higher standard.
That's probably what some folks said about Edward R. Murrow when he worked to expose McCarthyism for what it was. C'est la vie.
From another reader:
Remember that as more cases of Coronavirus develop, are reported and “runs it’s course” in people like the flu, more will not die thus the mortality rate number being reported with mathematically drop significantly.
Most readers seemed to agree with me.
One MNB reader wrote:
Kevin, you are absolutely correct. I am frankly, taken back by the number of people that think this is nothing. Let's go back, for a moment to Y2K. I was part of the IT staff who were responsible for helping independent retailers manage through the process including upgrading some of their technology. When the clock turned over we had to deal with very few issues not because it was a lot to do about nothing, but because we spent a significant amount of time fixing and replacing outdated software. Yet a huge amount of the comments we heard, some from leaders in our organization, were that this was all a scam just to sell more products and grow revenue.
If we take this the coronavirus seriously, and do a great job minimizing the deaths, many people will say it was a hoax and they knew it.
Probably. But it'll be worth it.
From another reader:
I agree with you, no reservations. People who see this as a purely political play are absolutely insane; the type who a few hundred years ago would be screaming that the earth could not be a globe, regardless of what the scientists of that time said. Their descendants are members of the Flat Earth Society. If we are lucky enough that media and science-based warnings help prevent this corona virus from becoming an horrific pandemic and (hopefully) it fades away soon with little damage, most of them will say, “I told you so,” without a thought to why. If it becomes a pandemic, many of them will call for the heads of public officials who ‘didn’t do enough.’
Science gets it right 99 time out of 100. Anti-science prognosticators might get it right 1 time out of 100. I’m baffled at the trust engendered by anti-science people.
MNB reader Andy Casey wrote:
I don’t disagree with you but truth is for average people in the USA the current risk is relatively low and much of the coverage borders on the sky is falling. The danger is when you think of how quickly this thing can spread the math gets scary in short order. With 7BB people on the planet, even a 5% infection rate with 2% fatalities is 7MM dead. So making sure everyone is thinking prevention seems a pretty good idea.
From another reader:
You have nothing to be sorry about. You are doing an appropriate level of reporting on the Coronavirus.
What I think some people are missing is the economic impact. In my years in the produce industry many of the people who do the sampling in-stores are paid by the hour and have no benefits. Many of these people are just hanging on financially. If they can no longer work their economic well being will suffer. The people who work on the cruise ships, hotel and foodservice workers who lose hours as business drops off. This is already hitting the travel industry very hard.
Its not so hard on someone like me who can work from home and continue to get paid. As you correctly reported the mortality rates are very high compared to the normal flu and we need to do everything possible to contain it before it spreads even further.
On my political soapbox it doesn’t help when you have a president who continues to denigrate science in general and who initially said the Coronavirus was a “Democratic Hoax.”
Keep at it! I am easily irritated but nothing peeves more than when people look at science-based analysis and dismiss it as an “opinion."
MNB reader Warren Solochek wrote:
If the government can’t /won’t share info with the general population, somebody has to do it. The press (including you) has a responsibility to give the population whatever info may be available.
I understand that it may seem extreme to some. But to most Americans, it is critical info. Where is the virus appearing? What can be done to help fight the virus? This info is particularly important for those of us who have family and friends who are most at risk should they contract COVID-19.
Keep it up. Your ability to provide useful info to readers very likely can see lives. What is wrong with that? If people don’t believe the news, and therefore ignore it, I wish them luck.
And from another:
Thank you for your balanced look at Covid-19. I can’t believe you are hearing from people who say we shouldn’t be concerned or the media is hyping this story. For the families that have lost a loved one and for the communities facing the impact, we should all be concerned.
And we should be concerned with several things at once – both flu and Covid-19, for example. And yes, the media might be reporting on one over the other because one is brand new to our eco-system.
And still another:
I just viewed your passionate discussion regarding the Corona Virus. I think you hit the nail on the head. There are enough unknowns involved with this virus that we need to be careful making assumptions. Thank you for the reminder.
And from another MNB reader:
Hear! Hear! I applaud you for writing your commentary on the coronavirus. When I went into Costco last week, the two people checking IDs at the door were armed with antiviral wipes and cleaning each cart as people entered the store. Great customer service and very smart move from Costco. It said to me, “we care”. I don’t even want to comment on those people who feel this is a political invention and media hype.
One MNB reader had an additional thought:
Just a quick note regarding the coronavirus coverage you have had over the last few days.
I recommend referring to the virus as COVID-19 rather than the generic term "coronavirus".
WHO officially named the virus COVID-19 and media have been asked to use that name in their reporting.
It is also the language that the CDC is using in their media briefings. With so much information being published on the virus, I think it's important to drive consistency in our use of terminology throughout the media.
Thanks for the advisory. I'll do my best.