The New York Times has an updated Covid warning for its readers: “Right-wing influencers and conspiracy theorists are stoking fears about mass lockdowns and spreading unsubstantiated new ideas about Covid-19’s links to world events.” Only a right-wing nutcase, according to the Times, would imagine that policymakers and their media boosters would overreact to the latest round of Covid infections, which the Times and other outlets have been assiduously covering:
To conspiracy theorists and right-wing influencers online, each uptick is an opportunity to sow fear and rile up their supporters, according to disinformation experts. The use of “plandemic” and “scamdemic”—two terms describing Covid-19 as a ruse—rose sharply in August on right-wing websites, according to data from Pyrra, a company that monitors threats and misinformation on alternative social networks.
“I would almost call it an obsession for the Covid denier, anti-vax community,” said Welton Chang, the co-founder and chief executive of Pyrra. “They just make mountains out of molehills for every little thing.”
“Opportunity to sow fear?” “Obsession?” “Mountains out of molehills?” Hypocrisy, thy name is the New York Times!
Who can forget the dozens of banner headlines, in fonts of ever-increasing stridency, trumpeting each new threshold of Covid cases? Who can forget the Times’s daily caseload maps and graphs; the diagrams demonstrating the virus’s allegedly Olympian aerial reach; and the “Those We Lost” Covid obituary page, which never once showed an obese victim and which suggested that 96-year-old decedents were robbed of another decade or more of vibrant life by a Covid infection? Who does not recall the Times’s refusal to distinguish “deaths with Covid” and “deaths from Covid?” Or the paper’s fearful reporting on the innocuous Omicron strain, which quoted terrified New Yorkers as models of appropriate Covid response? Or the weeks of opprobrium piled on South Dakota for allowing an outdoor biker gathering while the Times and public health authorities waxed breathless over the nobility of Black Lives Matter protesters?
The Times cites as an example of “Covid misinformation” the claim that Covid vaccines are causing sudden deaths of young people: “While there is no link between Covid-19 vaccines and sudden deaths, conspiracy theorists have often circulated the idea as celebrities and athletes fall ill from unrelated causes.”
The Times spent months in 2020 trying to whip up hysteria over a nonexistent connection between multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children and Covid, before quietly burying the conceit.
Early in the Covid era, the Times explained for its readers the science of surface (or fomite) transmission of Covid. Some residents of my Upper East Side apartment building still use their keys to push the elevator buttons, buttons that now look like a 17-year-old dog’s cloudy cataracts, so fanatically were those buttons scrubbed with steel wool during the first year of Covid. People quarantined mail for days at a time and tried to sterilize grocery purchases. Fomite transmission was irrelevant, it turned out.
The Times cannot imagine why anyone might expect an about-face in public-health positions. If health officials and politicians are not now ordering lockdowns and mask mandates, why worry? It wasn’t as if Anthony Fauci in February and March 2020 declared masks and lockdowns useless and then reversed himself. It wasn’t as if Nancy Pelosi urged San Franciscans to visit Chinatown in late February 2020 before supporting full California shut-downs. It wasn’t as if Donald Trump’s travel ban from China was denounced as racist before public-health authorities backed virtually universal travel bans.
Public-health officials, we are to believe, are paragons of rationality; they will always “follow the science.” In 2019, the CDC acknowledged that viruses do not spread easily on planes. The air circulation on a plane is far superior and the air cleaner than in most other indoor environments. In October 2020, the International Air Transport Association provided evidence backing up that finding. It found 44 potential cases of flight-related Covid transmission among 1.2 billion travelers, or one case for every 27 million travelers. Even if 90 percent of actual air-travel transmission cases were not reported, that would have brought the airline-transmission rate to one case for every 2.7 million travelers. Yet which of those allegedly science-driven public-health authorities in the CDC and elsewhere disputed mask mandates on planes or encouraged people to fly and keep tourist businesses afloat? Which public-health authorities expressed revulsion at those videos of screaming toddlers in airplane seats fighting off the masks being strapped over their mouths?
The CDC’s Covid contact-tracing guidelines held that only people who had been in close contact with an infected person in a confined space for at least 15 minutes needed to be tracked down for testing. It is virtually impossible to get enough viral dose in an outdoor setting to become infected. Yet the CDC and the New York Times were silent as politicians and the police locked down beaches and closed off mountain hiking trails, which were the safest places for anyone to be. The war on outdoor exercise worsened Covid risk since obesity was the most recurrent comorbidity with Covid. And yet the Times’s overheated reporting led to millions of newly ensconced couch potatoes scarfing down banana bread and putting on dozens of additional excess pounds.
“Misinformation about Covid-19,” laments the Times, “is as old as the virus itself.”
According to a recent analysis by David Stockman, the risk of dying with (not necessarily from) Covid for children up to the age of 14 was 0.2 per 100,000 cases at the end of 2020. For people over 85, it was 9,300 times higher—1,856.1 per 100,000. By March 2020, Italian health data had documented that the average age of Covid decedents was 80 and that the average number of comorbidities was 3. That profile never changed.
Children were never at risk. Yet the CDC has just recommended that six-month-olds get vaccinated or boosted, a grotesquely unnecessary measure.
The Times never objected to school shutdowns, instead criticizing public officials who opened up schools. Yet we are supposed to believe that just because the teachers’ unions have not yet demanded more school shutdowns, they never will. Those unions were happy to preside over the predictable loss of student knowledge and socialization in order to let their members “teach” comfortably in their bedroom slippers. That lure is just as strong today.
Cataclysmically, the shutdown-induced loss of knowledge hit black and Hispanic students the hardest. The widening of the academic skills gap guarantees ongoing racial tensions, since it is this unacknowledged gap between average whites and average blacks that drives most racial agitation.
The Times is incensed that Republican politicians are exploiting Covid history to rally voters:
The rise in cases has also activated conservative politicians, who have found that criticizing lockdowns and mask mandates is a politically potent message for Republican voters.
“No mask mandates,” Vivek Ramaswamy, a Republican who is seeking the presidential nomination, told The Daily Signal, a right-wing news site. “No vaccine mandates. No lockdown ever again.”
Donald Trump is claiming, in the Times’s words, that “concerns over Covid-19 variants were part of a ruse to reinstate vote-by-mail policies used during the 2020 election.” One can be resistant to conspiracy theories and still find Trump’s scenario for reinstating lax voting processes perfectly plausible.
Yet we are supposed to believe that Covid policies never had a political component, even though the Times constantly tried to show that Republican officials were killing off their constituents through lax lockdowns. In fact, countries with liberal lockdown policies, like Sweden, ended up with case counts and excess mortality counts superior to those with draconian lockdown policies, according to Stockman.
Despite the Times’s concerted efforts to portray Florida as a Covid burial ground, when adjusted for the age of the population, the state’s record was virtually indistinguishable from that of California.
Maybe Republican politicians are vowing “Never again” since Covid protocols were the biggest policy failure in this nation’s history. Those protocols repudiated sound cost-benefit analysis, refused to balance relative risks, devalued the private economy in favor of government transfer payments, and revealed a lust for control. (Sadly, electric-vehicle policy looks likely to supplant Covid rules as the most destructive government policy to date.)
The Times has already begun dropping its “right-wing influencers” formulation into every article about the GOP and Covid. Three days after its initial conspiracy theory article, the paper used nearly identical language in a piece about Florida governor DeSantis: “Conspiracy theorists, right-wing influencers and politicians have seized on the moment to stoke fears that the government would again initiate widespread shutdowns or masking requirements to help prevent the spread of the disease. But federal and state officials have not suggested that those types of measures are under consideration.”
Such repeated formulae allow for the rapid assembly of articles and for the inculcation of the party line, whether the ubiquitous “settled science of climate change” or the assertion, in every article about resistance to the chemical and surgical castration of children, otherwise known as “gender-affirming care,” that “major medical organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, support this care and say that bans pose serious mental health risks to young people, infringing not only on their rights but also on the rights of doctors and parents.” (Examples of the latter may be found here, here, here, and here.)
If the Times and its public-health experts wanted to calm people’s fears about future Covid lockdowns, they could acknowledge that almost all the policies that they advocated were useless or destructive. They could apologize to the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, who got it right about lockdowns. They could apologize to Great Barrington coauthor Jay Bhattacharya for impugning his accurate early estimates of Covid fatality rates. They could admit that Anthony Fauci was right the first time around: masks accomplish almost nothing. They, too, could say: Never again!
Until that happens, it is rational to fear the return of the irrational.