I recently took to Facebook to explain why my family and I are self-quarantining. It’s not just like the flu. But many people disagree. Many, though not all, are “MAGA-people.” Middle-American types who trust Donald Trump and Rush Limbaugh. Where are they getting their talking points? Some of it is from Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, etc. (the son of the President of the United States of America for example)
But today I realized that there was “mainstream media” validation out there. On February 13th Vox/Recode published “No handshakes, please”: The tech industry is terrified of the coronavirus. I didn’t read beyond the headline, because I didn’t take the piece seriously.
Here is what I assumed was going on: the editors at Recode were settling some scores with “tech-bros” with whom they had an adversarial relationship. The journalist who wrote the piece was almost certainly just a pawn in this game of middle-school level social competition and sniping. Underlings know what they editors want, and they’ll produce it. Trust me. I’ve been the target of this myself. Much of the media is dishonest manipulation and an expression of power. If you don’t know that, you’re an idiot (to be frank).
Ten years ago the tech-press was just a marketing and publicity arm of Silicon Valley. That changed with a substantial number of the tech-journalism elite becoming skeptical and antagonistic toward the megalomaniacal and somewhat crazy tendencies of the tech-elite (these tendencies are objectively true, though they are features, not bugs!). Much of the antagonism is now masked with social justice and Lefty politics, but ultimately a lot of this is personal. Journalists have power and influence, but not too much money and security.
They think they’re “punching-up” so it’s OK.
Today people are surfacing this Vox/Recode piece again to settle some scores. So I reread the whole thing to be fair. This part shocked me:
“That’s like saying you can’t come in if you visited Chicago because of the flu outbreak in New York City,” the employee told Recode [find someone to say what you want to say -Razib].
Some [“Some”, who? -Razib] have criticized comparing the coronavirus to the flu because it has a far higher fatality rate and that it distracts from the new virus’s severity. But the fact remains that, so far, the flu has impacted far more people [No shit. Exponents. It’s true. It’s disturbing -Razib]. The CDC estimates that 10,000 people have died from the flu this season, with some 19 million people in the US having experienced flu illness. Data from the CDC suggests that the flu is a greater threat to Americans than the coronavirus. Yet unlike the flu, the coronavirus is new and not well understood, which makes it especially scary to the public, including Silicon Valley’s elite.
What. The. Fuck.
This was, and is, technically true. But we all know this is misleading. In mid-February, there was some uncertainty and lack of clarity. Being cautiously skeptical would have been fine. But the tone of this piece is not sober. On Twitter, the tech-journalism elite made their views more nakedly clear. The “tech-bros” are weird and nutty. The coronavirus alarmism was an opportunity to get at them. This was middle school. Not objective analysis.
To be clear, I’m angrier at Rush Limbaugh, Donald Trump Jr., Donald Trump, and Sean Hannity. People need to be calm. They don’t need to go crazy. But it was clear a long time ago this was worse than the flu, with high downside risk. Now many MAGA-boomers are now digging into the idea that it’s not as bad as the flu (and making life decisions that are agonizing for their children, like going on vacation because it’s cheap and no lines in airports).
Vox has some great journalists. I probably read everything Julia Belluz writes. These are big organizations, and there isn’t always clear communication or accountability. People differ in their opinions. But let’s be obvious what was happening above: some people within the organization were using “objective journalism” to settle scores. That’s what some journalism is. Now they’re trying to pretend like it didn’t happen. It happened. We will remember.
Put that into a “card-stack” somewhere.