Issues & Insights
U.S. State Department

The Media-Induced Coronavirus Panic Is Worse Than The Disease

The deliberate panic created over the coronavirus is not victimless. Far from it.

When the radioactive dust settles from this orchestrated panic-strategy, potentially hundreds of billions will have been lost, thousands of businesses closed, and millions of employees fired. On Monday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged by 2,000 points.

When the coronavirus first reared its ugly head, many in the media instantly saw it as a cheap and easy way to increase clicks, newspaper sales, viewers, listeners, and most especially ad revenue.

In the guise of “informing the public,” they intended to run scare headlines and stories to spike attention to their sites. And run them, they did.

One of the oldest axioms in the news business being: “If it bleeds, it leads.” The coronavirus was tailor-made for that requirement.

Except, now even the media executives pushing the scare tactics for hoped-for increased ad revenue have realized they went way too far and opened a Pandora’s Box they are unable to close.

The economic devastation ignited by the deliberate panic strategy is spreading like an unchecked wildfire.

In addition to the massive financial loss to our nation and the world is the haunting psychological trauma inflicted on untold millions now terrorized by the prospect of getting the virus.

Naturally, once it was clear that the panic was not only taking hold but spreading, craven politicians predictably jumped into the echo chamber to scream “The Sky is Falling” for partisan or self-serving reasons.

Well, how do you like what you’ve all done now?

The CDC reports that during the six-month run of SARS in 2003, (which was also a coronavirus) it cost the world an estimated $40 billion.

But, that $40 billion should not be viewed as some cold statistic. Rather it should and must be seen as the devastation inflicted upon real business, real jobs, and real lives. Don’t see numbers. Instead, visualize the faces of the thousands to hundreds of thousands of human beings who lost their jobs as their companies were either forced to cut back or go out of business altogether.

The panic created over this current coronavirus already far exceeds that of the SARS pandemic of 2003. Seemingly exponentially so. 

That being the case, it’s safe to assume that when it’s all said and done and this strain of the coronavirus has run its course – as it will with a far smaller infection and fatality rate than the yearly flu — the financial punishment to businesses and the living and breathing human beings they employ will not only be far greater than the $40 billion in 2003, but truly catastrophic.

In 1987, when Raymond Donovan, former secretary of Labor under President Ronald Reagan, was rightfully acquitted of a smear-campaign and criminal charge, he famously asked: “Which office do I go to get my reputation back?”

Now, with potentially thousands of businesses about to close and collectively millions of people about to be (or already) fired from their jobs, where do those business owners and their employees go to get their livelihoods back?

Can they — and should they — be allowed to enter into a class-action lawsuit against those who willingly created a panic for ratings, ad revenue and political advantage.

I submit it’s a very legitimate question.

Douglas MacKinnon is a former White House and Pentagon official and author of the forthcoming science fiction novel: The Dawn of a Nazi Moon: Book One.

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  • While there is an element of truth in this item, it should not be taken seriously. The “media” is not as uniform, motivated or effective as implied. Also there is far more reason to be concerned than in any previous contagious episode in the last century. We can hope that it won’t be as bad as some of the predictions, but ignoring it is absurd.

  • For every American who wants accurate, detailed, objective information on the disease.”

    How about – Tuesday’s latest – U.S. death toll rose to 26
    Monday, Public Health – Seattle & King County announced three new deaths, bringing the statewide total to 23.
    & – Twenty (20) of those who died in King County were residents of Life Care Center, a nursing home in Kirkland.

    So 20 out of 26 of the US Total deaths are from 1 nursing home in Washington state.
    I think I saw Chicago had over 80 shooting deaths so far this year. Are we to boycott Chicago?
    Objective with a side of reality.

  • Comparing SARS-CoV-2 to the other recent epidemics is fair enough but saying this will be no worse because it’s just another coronavirus or the numbers as of today are so small isn’t much better than saying Joe Biden might be a great president because JFK was great and both are Democrats.

    No other epidemic of recent times has led to the COVID-19 scale of quarantines, shutdowns, etc. in foreign countries. China? China doesn’t give a rip for the well-being of its people yet economic activity there is down what — 20%? Is that just a panic reaction by the CCP?

    We squashed SARS, MERS, and Ebola before they got a foothold in the U.S. For a variety of reasons we have failed to do that with COVID-19. Now we’re playing for time.

    Yes, the death rate is small — 0.1 to 1.0% of those infected — but ~20% of those with symptoms will require hospitalization and most of them will be there a few weeks. If there aren’t enough beds available with adequate equipment for those who require help breathing the death rate is going to go up dramatically.

    The time to double the number of cases has recently been around six days. If that continues, we’re out of beds in May. Lacking a vaccine or a way to be certain a person is not infected we have just one measure to slow the growth rate: isolation. That is, reducing the number of potentially infective contacts between individuals. That’s happening, with all sorts of group activities being cancelled or switched to the Internet, some businesses effectively closed and those especially at risk advised to stay home as much as possible.

    We can hope that COVID-19 fades for a time as warmer weather arrives. If it does, we’ll have a few months respite in which to press vaccine and treatment research in preparation for its return in the fall. But ‘hope is not a plan’ when considering the possibility that there are too many sick to treat as happened in China.

    These necessary isolating actions are the source of the economic damage Mr. MacKinnon decries and there’ll be much more before we’re done. This is NOT panic but a largely prudent reaction to a disease that’s unusually dangerous.

    Those who write about this situation would be wise to read the thoughts of a few epidemiologists first. None of them that I’ve read are saying don’t worry, be happy.

    This column is not up to I&I’s usual standard.

    • Thank you, walt39 for your excellent and factual post. I’ve been following this since Christmas when a mysterious cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China were proving difficult to treat with a high mortality rate.

    • Well, Right now we don’t know very much and I think that’s the import of the article. Hyping based on worst case scenarios is irresponsible and the media is doing that just like they do it with every hurricane or storm.

      For young otherwise healthy people this disease is less deadly than the flu, even according to the badly pessimistic data we have. It’s primarily the elderly and infirm who have to worry.

      Walt, I think you are falling victim to selection bias. How was the 20% require hospitalization number arrived at? We probably have a massive underdetection problem at the moment. Most cases are probably not diagnosed and so any statistics such as this are almost certainly way off, perhaps by an order of magnitude.

      We simply don’t know if this is more deadly or serious than the flu. Governments are reacting by being very cautious and that’s not bad except in so far as it induces panic and anxiety. In our era of instant communication, there is always the demand to “do something” even if its ineffective or an over reaction.

      It seems to me that any mandatory precautions should be imposed only for those who are over 70 or who have a serious medical condition. Certainly causing a worldwide recession by panicing is a very bad idea.

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