October every four years seems to turn everyone into a partisan troll, but let’s start with what’s accurate in a widely flogged piece by Obama administration veteran Ezekiel Emanuel in the esteemed Journal of the American Medical Association.
Comparing Covid deaths with a country’s population shows that the U.S. has experienced significantly more Covid deaths per 100,000 people since an arbitrarily chosen moment when Dr. Emanuel says the initial surge had passed. Example: 36.9 for the U.S. vs. 9.1 for Italy.
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What’s missing is any acknowledgment of why. Nowhere does it mention that U.S. deaths per 100,000 are higher because we have more Covid. The key variable is incidence. For better or worse, Americans are restricting themselves less and letting the disease move through their population faster.
We can discuss the wisdom or folly of the U.S. getting itself into this position, but basic scientific curiosity suggests mentioning, you know, the variable that explains the phenomenon. The U.S., no less than other countries, is actually adhering to the doctrine every nation started with: flatten the curve, presume the virus will make its way through society, protect hospitals from being overburdened.
Our media are free to decide they never wanted “flatten the curve,” they wanted zero spread, and to paint every infection as a political failure. But this switch didn’t happen with a conscious decision: It was adopted in an operant way—unthinkingly, brainlessly, as a paramecium responds to a bit of sucrose, because it facilitates condemnation of Donald Trump.
Now infections are surging again in Europe; Spain, Britain and France are producing more cases today (adjusted for population) than the U.S. Verdicts seem ludicrously premature. Populous Western societies, for the most part, aren’t island-like. They can’t unplug. Expectations of individual autonomy are not easily discarded amid a pandemic illness that is flu-like in its spread and flu-like in its effects.
That said, nothing in Dr. Emanuel’s article compares to the thundering fatuousness of Tom Friedman demanding, in the
that the Trump administration should have achieved Chinese results in containing the virus but without using Chinese methods.
Problem solved. Thanks, Tom.
Or a new scandal floated in the Times on Thursday, notable for its Woodwardism. Bob Woodward, you will recall, took two noncontradictory statements by Donald Trump, uttered six weeks apart, and invented a fake narrative to link them.
Now the Times plays the same game because, on Feb. 24, when all sentient beings were asking the same question, “How bad will the pandemic be?” some Hoover Institution board members, on a previously scheduled visit to the White House, discovered that Trump economic advisers Larry Kudlow and Tomas Philipson were asking the question too.
Let’s understand: By Feb. 24, the word pandemic had appeared more than 11,600 times in relation to the new virus in U.S. and global media reports, according to the Factiva database. Entire towns in Northern Italy were being quarantined. On every Wall Streeter’s terminal, a Bloomberg story on Feb. 19 was headlined “Coronavirus outcomes range from pandemic to a new flu, experts say.” Stocks began their pandemic-sparked selloff a week before the Feb. 24 meeting.
But then the subtext of all such Woodwardian indictments is really that Mr. Trump is a coronavirus criminal because he issued the same bland assurances that all leaders were issuing to their publics.
Angela Merkel is rightly considered, in some ways, the anti-Trump. Yet her only statement before mid-March, during an overseas trip in late January, was a warning against anti-Chinese bigotry. Only on March 11 did she break her silence and suggest the majority of Germans should expect to get the virus (an invaluable statement, by the way, one every leader should have made, eviscerating any hope by the German people that government could magically make the virus go away).
The Times is manufacturing fake news. The most interesting, important story its reporters will ever cover is stripped of every context, historical awareness and human nuance to fabricate a gotcha narrative.
I was originally going to write today on the 100th anniversary of Walter Lippmann’s “Liberty and the News,” which Princeton University Press described as the “classic account of how the press threatens democracy whenever it has an agenda other than the free flow of ideas.”
I would have updated the critique with an observation from Portuguese scholar and politician Bruno Maçães, who is everything our press isn’t—curious, open, alive to the historical moment. Liberalism’s search for new freedoms to champion, he says, has finally hit upon the ultimate freedom of substituting fantasy for reality, as in the Russia collusion story and other hobbyhorses of the Trump era.
His idea, as outré as it sounds, perhaps needs to be taken seriously.
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