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Political Editors / July 20, 2021

In Brief: The Panic Pandemic

Fearmongering from journalists, scientists, and politicians did more harm than the virus.

“The United States suffered through two lethal waves of contagion in the past year and a half,” says John Tierney of City Journal. “The first was a viral pandemic that killed about one in 500 Americans — typically, a person over 75 suffering from other serious conditions. The second, and far more catastrophic, was a moral panic that swept the nation’s guiding institutions.”

The panic was started, as usual, by journalists. As the virus spread early last year, they highlighted the most alarming statistics and the scariest images: the estimates of a fatality rate ten to 50 times higher than the flu, the chaotic scenes at hospitals in Italy and New York City, the predictions that national health-care systems were about to collapse. The full-scale panic was set off by the release in March 2020 of a computer model at the Imperial College in London, which projected that — unless drastic measures were taken — intensive-care units would have 30 Covid patients for every available bed and that America would see 2.2 million deaths by the end of the summer. The British researchers announced that the “only viable strategy” was to impose draconian restrictions on businesses, schools, and social gatherings until a vaccine arrived.

This extraordinary project was swiftly declared the “consensus” among public-health officials, politicians, journalists, and academics. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, endorsed it and became the unassailable authority for those purporting to “follow the science.” What had originally been a limited lockdown — “15 days to slow the spread” — became long-term policy across much of the United States and the world.

Tierney then recounts numerous examples of media figures helping scientists attack other scientists over COVID and the response to it. He reminds us that Big Tech censored sensible but alternative prescriptions like those of the Great Barrington Declaration.

Why the elite panic? Why did so many go so wrong for so long? When journalists and scientists finally faced up to their mistake in ruling out the lab-leak theory, they blamed their favorite villain: Donald Trump. He had espoused the theory, so they assumed it must be wrong. And since he disagreed at times with Fauci about the danger of the virus and the need for lockdowns, then Fauci must be right, and this was such a deadly plague that the norms of journalism and science must be suspended. Millions would die unless Fauci was obeyed and dissenters were silenced.

But neither the plague nor Trump explains the panic. Yes, the virus was deadly, and Trump’s erratic pronouncements contributed to the confusion and partisanship, but the panic was due to two preexisting pathologies that afflicted other countries, too. The first is what I have called the Crisis Crisis, the incessant state of alarm fomented by journalists and politicians. … To keep audiences frightened around the clock, journalists seek out Cassandras with their own incentives for fearmongering: politicians, bureaucrats, activists, academics, and assorted experts who gain publicity, prestige, funding, and power during a crisis. …

Journalists kept highlighting the most alarming warnings, presented without context. They needed to keep their audience scared, and they succeeded. …

The second pathology underlying the elite’s Covid panic is the politicization of research — what I have termed the Left’s war on science.

All in all, Tierney concludes:

This experience should be a lesson in what not to do, and whom not to trust. Do not assume that the media’s version of a crisis resembles reality. Do not count on mainstream journalists and their favorite doomsayers to put risks in perspective. Do not expect those who follow “the science” to know what they’re talking about. Science is a process of discovery and debate, not a faith to profess or a dogma to live by. …

When the panic infected the nation’s elite — the modern gentry who profess such concern for the downtrodden — it turned out that they weren’t so different from aristocrats of the past. They were in it for themselves.

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