If the media in America has taken on a role of scaring the hell out of news consumers about COVID-19, they’ve done an excellent job. A significant portion of people across the country fear for their lives, thanks to a daily onslaught of radio, TV, newspaper and social media gloom and doom on steroids.
Just last week a friend of mine said we had to get together, but only “once the pandemic is over. I’m sort of psycho about it.”
There have been countless examples of articles, reports, columns, and editorials spreading panic. Let me focus on just a couple.
Close to home, Bruce Murphy at Urban Milwaukee couldn’t help but join in “The Sky is Falling” brigade in late July when he wrote “we (Wisconsin) likely rank worse than every other developed country and some of the less developed countries in the per capita increase in COVID-19 cases.”
Alarming if true? Hell yes.
But after seeing enough doomsday headlines since March that made me dizzy I managed to find one story that may be the absolute worst when it comes to terrifying readers who, if they weren’t already on the ledge, were now rushing to throw open the window.
The dubious honor goes to William J. Kole of the Associated Press, who also wrote in late July. His article engaged in hyperbole and rampant speculation with wild what ifs.
— What if humanity’s frantic efforts to produce a viable vaccine take longer than envisioned, allowing the virus to kill indiscriminately in the interim?
— What if that coincides with a climate calamity that ruins crops and shatters supply chains, stripping supermarket shelves bare of much more than hand sanitizer and toilet paper?
— For all our kvetching about masks, could we one day find ourselves having to don hazmat suits just to leave the house?
Sadly, a lot of people who read that AP article took it as fact.
Please America, get a grip. We’ve survived far worse, and were better off because of it.
Dr. Karl Pillemer is the Hazel E. Reed Professor in the Department of Human Development, Professor of Gerontology in Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, and Senior Associate Dean for Research and Outreach in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University. His advice:
Always read beyond the headline. That’s right. Read the article to the very end, and you will see that such blaring banner headlines are very often misleading and even sensationalist. They typically highlight the most negative aspect of the story. In many articles, the frightening “fact” in the headline is heavily qualified in the article itself, sometimes reducing the actual risk to close to zero.