Is the media stoking a panic over Covid-19?

Clark County Today’s Chris Brown weighs in on accusations by some that coronavirus coverage is creating fear around the outbreak

CLARK COUNTY — In our coverage this week of the Covid-19 outbreak, a few people have taken to our social media pages to accuse Clark County Today of stoking a panic unnecessarily.

Chris Brown
Chris Brown

Nevermind that shelves were emptying out at Costco, Walmart and elsewhere long before we reported on it.

One reader went so far as to say she would use one of our articles to teach her grandchildren about fake news.

Fake news?

Are Washington health officials lying about the nine deaths near Seattle from Covid-19?

Are the 3,000-plus deaths worldwide a figment of some World Health Organization official’s overactive imagination?

The truth is you, dear reader, most likely will not die from this virus. 

After all, our medical science has come a long way since the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic which killed between 50 and 100 million people worldwide. We’re better at isolating infected populations. Hygiene standards have improved, and vaccine production could set records this time around.

Heck, we now have the Internet where we can watch incredibly catchy videos about staying safe from viruses like this one. 

Thanks, Vietnam!

But, even if the mortality rate declines as quarantine efforts slow the spread of the virus, tens of thousands of people will likely die. 

In truth, thousands already have.

The elderly, the sick, the immunocompromised, cancer patients. 

Family, friends, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers.

As irresponsible as it might be to quote, say, a single so-called expert who believes 70 percent of the population could get sick, and millions will die, it would be equally foolhardy to assure all of you that this is yet another false alarm in a long list of them.

The truth of the matter is, there are more unknowns than knowns about this virus. And, as the saying goes, what you don’t know can kill you.

If that sounds alarmist, it’s probably because some very intelligent people are alarmed.

After warnings about things like MERS, SARS, Ebola, flesh-eating bugs, and more, you’d be forgiven in thinking maybe this is a situation where the boy has cried “wolf!” one too many times.

But you should also remember that eventually there was a wolf. Aesop’s fable was as much about the folly of false warnings as it was about the need to maintain vigilance even in the face of false alarms.

If this does end up being the next Spanish flu, and millions die, my guess is few people will remember the “alarmist” media spreading fear. Instead, they’ll be wondering why more people weren’t sounding alarms sooner, or why more wasn’t done to prepare people.

Because, to be frank, the worst you might suffer from the so-called alarmism that many seem to believe the media is stoking, is the inconvenience of not being able to find toilet paper in the first store you walk into, or being slightly annoyed at these so-called “sheep” who are spreading viruses left and right while crowded into a warehouse store preparing to hunker down for the next several weeks.

And, if you actually read most of the articles you claim are fomenting an unnecessary panic, you would see reporters informing the public that masks won’t help you, and should actually be left on the store shelves so individuals who actually need them can find them.

You would see advice from experts to wash your hands well, with soap and water (which, by the way, you don’t need to wait for a pandemic to make that a habit). Our goal, actually, is to prevent a panic by providing you with information that is as up to date and accurate as we possibly can.

If there is panic, it is actually more likely due to the fact many people seem to be ignoring the actual experts. Instead, they’re sharing social media posts of articles from self-appointed “experts,” and sharing unsourced information on where the virus came from, or what kind of snake oil you should be using to ward it off.

I can’t speak for every source of information out there, but in nearly two decades as a journalist, I have never once been instructed that a headline wasn’t scary enough, or that my subhead wouldn’t invoke enough fear to get people to click on the story.

Why do we write about Covid-19 then? Because you care about it. Because most people want answers. Because, if we didn’t, many people would be accusing us of shirking our duty to inform the public.

Because if we didn’t, and this thing ends up being as bad as some have predicted, the only thing you’d be upset about is that you weren’t warned sooner.