There is a basic problem in news coverage of the pandemic, the fact that the virus culture wars are much more interesting than the fight against the virus itself.
When President Trump calls an answer from NIH’s Tony Fauci “unacceptable” as he did Wednesday, the president’s fans are cheering how he shows the know-it-alls – who want everyone to stay home – who’s boss. President Trump’s enemies are also cheering because in their book, it’s another entry in their long compilation of instances of idiocy.
Meanwhile in laboratories around the country and around the world people are working long hours in the tedious methodical search for an effective vaccine and medicines that can make the virus attacks more manageable. There is no video of unruly crowds of shouting white-smocked laboratory assistants hurling epithets at the virus. No scientists and researchers are carrying AK-47s into their labs to intimidate the virus.
Almost every day there are new opportunities for a national audience to roll out of bed, turn on the TV and immediately take sides. The occupant of the Oval Office is not stingy in pointing out with whom he disagrees, sometimes with tweets very early in the morning for those who want a head start. Sometimes the disagreements are expressed with some restraint, as in his Fauci criticism and the renewed disagreement with Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell during the day.
You probably saw Fauci’s response during his Tuesday testimony to Senator Rand Paul’s suggestion that students need to get back together in the classroom. It was a bit of video that was on a loop on several cable channels through the day, like the hits used to run again and again on Top 40 radio.
You missed the renewed dispute between the president and the head of the Federal Reserve? Granted it was a bit more esoteric than the “human scum” attacks. It had to do with negative interest rates. A negative interest rate is one where you pay a bank to hold your…never mind. President Trump likes them. The Fed’s Powell doesn’t.
When the enemies are “human scum,” as in Obama era federal law enforcers and prosecutors, there is not a lot of subtlety. Likewise, with Blue states versus Red states; governors who ignore the guidelines versus the few governors who accept being guided; business owners who heroically defy the local health departments as did Elon Musk.
Those who meekly accept that some people know more about public health than they do are hardly worth bothering with. They probably wear masks even when they don’t have to, wash their hands too often and are blissfully unaware that George Soros has conspired with Bill Gates to…again, never mind.
Back at the labs, people park their cars in the company’s parking lot, go inside and work all day and into the night, then go home. There may be Trump admirers among the Trump haters but they don’t threaten each other. They somehow work together against a common enemy and don’t even attack each other in tweets, even anonymous tweets.
The fighters for what’s right, or the doers who are doing what’s right. Who is going to get more attention? Who are the real heroes?
Now there are some obviously misguided individuals who have suggested that somehow it is the news media which encourages all the polarisation, delight in the culture wars, count it as a day lost when someone can’t be pitted against someone else. The news media, these confused critics say, specialise in finding those wedge issues that have accompanied human relations since those sub-human days swinging in the trees and patrolling the savannahs and inflame them. Rubbed raw, the differences become the main event. The real main events can recede into the background.
Moving along, ignoring those fringe critics who don’t appreciate the guardians of truth, the question can be posed; if there’s nothing interesting enough to summon the cameras to the laboratories, what is there to showcase if not the culture wars? The virus? All it does is infect people, put them in the hospital, kill them by the thousands.
Oh, all right. The virus has killed 84,100 or 84,600 or 83,900 Americans through Wednesday night according to whichever of the major statistical projects you follow. Those totals are, according to everyone involved in tabulating the victims, way off. Thousands of virus victims who never made it to a hospital, who may not have even known what they were suffering from it, have yet to be counted.
Meanwhile there are so many other stories to catch up on. How about the Centers for Disease Control guidelines for re-opening which are only available from The Associated Press? How about the testimony the BARDA whistleblower will deliver to a House oversight committee on Thursday? What about the Wisconsin Supreme Court overruling the governor’s stay-at-home order?
There are so many stories that will fill our waking hours while we wait for what will be among the next authentically big stories. That would include the increasing rate of hospitalisations beginning in two or three weeks. It will take that long to see the effect of all the re-openings that began last week and will be continuing, intensifying, spreading from now on.
Or maybe hospitalisations won’t increase. Maybe the virus will fade away on its own.