• Propaganda and the Coronavirus

    March 9, 2020

    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
    Posted in: 2020, Economy


     
    “Um, is it Colonel Vindman in the Russian Tea room with the coronavirus?”

    “Very funny. Now everyone settle down. Welcome back to Propaganda and the Death of Media 101 in case you’re in the wrong class, and its, um, March 15, 2024. Now we were discussing the role of propaganda and the media in trying to influence the re-election of Donald Trump by tying his leadership to a global pandemic. Propaganda in these cases seeks to diminish people’s view of a leader’s competence. The ultimate goal is to get you to vote him out.

     

    For those of you in the back holding up those tattered Bernie signs, God rest his soul, let’s start with the question of whether the media engaged in propaganda at all. Contrast the sense of panic in 2020 whipped into place with how things played out in 2009 under Obama. The first cases of the swine flu, H1N1, appeared in April 2009. By the time Obama finally declared a national emergency that fall, the CDC reported 50 million Americans, one in six people, had been infected and 10,000 Americans had died. In the early months of the disease, Obama had no Secretary of Health and Human Services or appointees in any of the Department’s 19 key posts. No Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, no Surgeon General, no CDC Director. The gap at CDC was particularly important, as in the early days of the crisis only they could test for the virus; states weren’t enabled until later. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, not a medical doctor, lead the federal effort.

    The first real H1N1 cases appeared in Mexico. The border was not sealed, Mexicans were not forbidden to enter the U.S. Though CDC recommended against travel there, the primary danger cited was kidnapping for ransom. Yet 66 percent of Americans, supported by the media, thought the president was protecting them. Some 4,000 Americans were dead before a vaccine was first distributed.

    The emergency proclamation it took Obama seven months to declare was issued by Trump within 30 days of the current virus being found abroad. He announced a temporary suspension of entry into the U.S. of foreign nationals who pose a risk for the transmission of the coronavirus (CNN criticized “the travel ban could stigmatize countries and ethnicities.”) And yes, Trump encouraged everyone to wash their hands.

    Anybody here remember the media freaking out over Obama’s initial response, which was hand washing was pretty much what was needed? Anyone who did the reading find evidence of national panic throughout the crisis? No. Why did the media cover essentially the identical story so very differently for two presidents? The question is the answer.

     

    Look at the timing in 2020; the crisis came when the media decided it was time for a crisis. Though the virus dominated headlines in Asia since mid-January, American media first relegated the story to the business news. In late February the main “Trump” story was Russiagate II, the revelation (which quickly fell apart) the Russians were meddling again in the election. The Democratic debate at the end of February invoked Putin many times. The virus barely came up.

    Then the NYT sent up the Bat Signal for the new crisis on February 26, the day after the Democratic debate, with an article titled “Let’s Call It Trumpvirus” (subtlety is not required for propaganda.) An effort was born overnight to blame Trump personally for the virus, and essentially declare his chances of reelection done. The critical change was not anything to do with the virus itself, simply with the decision by the media to elevate the story from the business section to the front page. Even a week after that, with American sanity in a tailspin, only two Americans had died, and about half the known U.S. cases arrived with the evacuees from Japan. Of course the numbers quickly went up (that’s why we use the expression “going viral” for your Instagram blowups, kids) but imagine what a graph of actual cases would look like versus a graph measuring panic.

     

    You’ll see in your textbooks another example which shows how propaganda works, the reporting of initial problems with the CDC coronavirus test kits. One typical headline claimed “The U.S. Badly Bungled Coronavirus Testing.” But the problems were old news almost as the stories were written; 15,000 testing kits were released within 48 hours of that story with plans to send out an additional 50,000. Each kit can test 700-800 patient samples.

    The follow-on stories screamed about Trump funding cuts to the CDC, most of which were actually only proposed. Then the stories were merged — Trump cut CDC funding and thus not enough kits were available. Not only were both pieces largely untrue individually (few cuts were made, kits were available), the merging of the two was grossly false. Instead of examining these things for lessons learned in the midst of an unfolding crisis, the media treated them as new bits to mock Trump with, like late night comedians trolling the news for material for their monologue.

    No room was left for people making errors in novel decisions under time pressure, just the jump to “Trump incompetence” instead of doing the real work of looking into the questions. The problem with the testing kits was a highly technical one involving chemical reagents and factory contamination. CDC is a massive institution. Who if anyone there made any “bungled” decisions? Would they have likely made a better decision with different funding? If so, then Congress can act and drop some money on that office. If not, move on, there is work to do. It is how the media acts when they seek to fix the blame, not the problem.

     

    The propaganda surrounding how the government initially handled the coronavirus was also obvious in the false “who is in charge” question the media asked. The vice president was given the role heading up the task force. This is the kind of thing VPs do, bring gravitas, make sure a whole of government approach has the bureaucratic firepower it needs, and so on. The propaganda instead hyper-focused on Mike Pence’s “disbelief in science,” itself more of a chanted mantra than anything established by fact. For “proof” the stories settled on Pence supposedly creating an HIV epidemic while governor of Indiana. The reality is much different. Pence took office opposed to needle exchanges. When dirty needles shared among opioid users in rural Scott County, Indiana were linked to 71 cases of HIV transmission, Pence responded to the new information (sad to see people die, but 71 deaths is all it was and many would have died from their drugs soon enough) by changing his policy and authorizing needle exchange in Scott and four other counties. The reality seems much closer to seeing an ideological stance changed by science than the opposite.


    Pence said at the time “I’m going to put the lives of the people of Indiana first. It’s a commitment to law and order, but it’s a commitment to compassion.”

    Meanwhile, the media largely ignored those Pence chose for the taskforce. One was Dr. Deborah Birx, a career medical professional nominated by Obama in 2014 as the U.S. global AIDS coordinator. She also served as head of the global HIV/AIDS division at CDC, was an immunology researcher at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and an Army colonel. You want to inspire confidence you profile Dr. Brix; you want to sow discord you misrepresent Mike Pence’s decisions years ago.

     

    There’s so many more examples, but our class time is short. Here are a few.

     

    You can report on the elimination of Obama’s pandemic czar but leave out that the position was just a coordination job on the National Security Council with no real power. It sounds scary (one outlet called it sabotage) to see that job go, but in fact the coordination duties within NSC were reassigned to others.

    You can focus on every coronavirus case as proof efforts are failing while ignoring providing perspective by reminding 12,000 people died, with over 13 million infected, from the regular influenza (the one with the vaccine) between October 2019 and February 2020.

    You can focus on time will take to develop a full-on vaccine and ignore the treatments already now in human testing trials.

    You can purposefully confuse accelerating public health measures already underway with America’s lack of universal individual health care. We have plenty of the former, not enough of the latter. But the pandemic is not a solid argument for the latter as it is a problem of public health policy. That’s why even countries with good, free care systems are suffering the virus. Medicare for All would not have changed anything in 2020.

    You can cover the virus as you did Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Everyone was gonna die there until they didn’t. You can follow the now-standard Trump propaganda template: say he won’t do enough, then say what he does isn’t being done fast enough, predict everything will collapse (with Katrina references) and then move on to a new crisis as the reality of the response takes hold.

    You can report on panic selling on Wall Street, or explain how global supply chain problems are not caused by the virus, but by traders’ reaction to the unknowns of the virus. China’s factories closed because the government enforced social isolation, not because the workers were dead. Soon enough Apple products flowed back into our greedy hands, and the stock market found its way back to a new normal.

    You can report store closings, but not their reopenings. By March 1 Starbucks had reopened 85 percent of its stores in China. Apple, over 50 percent. You can emphasize how many Chinese factories were closed in February, or report on their reopenings in March.

    You can misrepresent the use of words like hoax to make the president appear weak.

    You can ignore the drop off in cases inside China. Only a few days after the first cases appeared in the U.S., new ones inside China dropped to 200.

    You can avoid reporting how viruses follow a bell curve. Case counts first rise quickly, the virus claims the “easy” deaths among the elderly, and then environmental factors (viruses must live inside a host; they have limited life outside on surfaces`, typically less and less as temperatures climb. This is why you can’t catch HIV from a toilet seat) and public health measures kick in. Treatment emerges and the virus fades. You can explain to calm people where they are in what looks like a 10-12 week cycle to or you can ignore it to stoke fear of the unknown.

    The bell curve template is clearly illustrated by a look-back to how HIV/AIDS went from a massive public health crisis in America to a manageable problem. As the virus became known, panic took hold. False reporting outran reality. But the bell curve took over; the virus’ transmission became well understood, better testing protocols developed, excellent preventive medicines became available, and treatment regimes now exist which ensure long lives in remission. Knowns displace unknowns. None of this is to minimize the suffering enroute to the current state, but to show there is an established path even for a virus far more deadly than corona.

    Class concluded.

    “Hey professor, is all this gonna be on the test?”

    “No, but it may influence an election. And don’t forget to wash your hands before lunch, something is going around.”
      

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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  • Recent Comments

    • Rich Bauer said...

      1

      Peter’s principle at work

      The elderly Fox dumbass Amerikans who put their faith in Trumpie, who doesnt believe in government for the people, have learned a lesson: it is not the wolf at their foreclosed door they should fear but the Fox on their tv that can kill them.

      BTW: that photo- your Jeff Epstein slip is showing, you dirty old man.

      03/9/20 8:30 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      2

      “Look at the timing in 2020; the crisis came when the media decided it was time for a crisis. “

      Oh, yes, the “media.” No doubt in league with the “Deep State.”

      Fake news. You should tell Italy. Those fools fell for it.

      The real news is The coronavirus will come and go, but the paranoia bug is here to stay.

      03/9/20 8:44 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      3

      Coronavirus and propaganda

      Bloomberg is paying good money to anyone who will go to Trump rallies and cough continuously. That could influenza the election.

      03/9/20 9:32 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      4

      Coronavirus has resulted in great news for the poor of the world. Forty percent of Americans dont own any stocks, so wtf do they care about WallStreet. Pollution levels are dropping as industry slows, heating bills declining, gas is cheaper than water. Damn, we should have epidemics more frequently.

      03/9/20 10:16 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      5

      Trump can blame an actual virus for any global cave-ins that might have been exacerbated by his virus laden trade policy. He’s lucky that way. Like they say- timing is everything.

      03/9/20 2:29 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      6

      Trump can blame the coronavirus for the end of his political rallies. He is a famous germaphobe, and the sound of coughing in his rallies will force him to flee.

      Stock Market Propaganda: Just read experts said the stock market was overdue for a correction and the coronavirus was just an excuse to sell. Where were all these experts a month ago?

      03/9/20 3:15 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      7

      And since these experts dont know shit, when they say SELL then the stock market is a good time to BUY.

      03/9/20 3:19 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      8

      Trump believes the coronavirus propaganda

      Stories about Trump’s coronavirus fears have spread through the White House. Last week Trump told aides he’s afraid journalists will try to purposefully contract coronavirus to give it to him on Air Force One,” Sherman writes. “… The source also said Trump has asked the Secret Service to set up a screening program and bar anyone who has a cough from the White House grounds. ‘He’s definitely melting down over this,’ the source.

      03/9/20 4:19 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      9

      Neither Joe Biden norTrump are likely going to be elected, as both will likely contract the coronavirus, and will be bedridden if they are lucky.

      The Democrat convention delegates who favor Biden will never commit to Bernie. The Bernie Sanders delegates will then have to work a deal with Warren.

      03/9/20 10:24 PM | Comment Link

    • MA said...

      10

      “Rich Bauer” is one of the reasons I visit this blog from time to time. Rich, do you have your own blog? Other outlets?

      03/10/20 12:01 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      11

      Since the Coronavirus czar Pence believes we can pray the virus away, there will be a coronavirus convention of virus afflicted at Charlotte NC the week before the Republican Convention. Hopefully Pence and Trumpie can attend.

      03/10/20 10:04 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      12

      Peter, great news if you are looking for a good paying job. Ditch your Target minimum wage gig. Census taker jobs earn 25 bucks an hour in NYC. Lots available cause these jobs go unfilled as the coronavirus propaganda spreads. But you know thats all propaganda. So can we sign you up?

      03/10/20 10:15 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      13

      Ma,

      OMG, Not that Ma on HBO!

      Actually, this is my blog. I hire an actor to go on shows as Peter. Cant believe these idiots keep falling for his dumbass act to piss off the libtards…like Stephen Colbert did on the Daily Show.

      We contracted with John Poole aka Andre of the Russian Internet Research Corp to provide comic relief. If he doesnt start improving his content we will need to look to replace him with Kellyanne.

      The point is we are here to entertain. Please dont take anything “Peter” writes seriously as I only write this stuff for laughs.

      03/11/20 8:36 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      14

      Will we let Trump and all those rich old white guys die?

      Italy has instructed doctors to triage patients for ventilators by age. Those over 60 are SOL.

      Imagine Trumpies incompetence to control the virus from spreading comes back to bite him in the ass. Sorry Mr President, but you are too old to get medical care. Yeah, that wont happen. Rich fucks will take of themselves first.

      03/11/20 9:29 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      15

      The only propaganda about the virus is coming from our presidunce…and Peter. Everything is fine. Remain calm.

      All is calm? Trumpie just cancelled his rallies.

      Travel bans are a little late, skippy. If you want to travel, leave big cities like New York. If you live in a big city you have less chance of getting a ventilator.

      The NCAA and NBA have fallen for the propaganda. The NBA announced Wednesday night that it was suspended play for all games until further notice, due to the coronavirus pandemic. The ban on games will take place starting Thursday.

      03/11/20 10:05 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      16

      Trump: In a couple of days it will be close to zero.

      Not the number of CV-19 virus cases. Trumpie was really talking about Peter’s 401k.

      03/12/20 8:39 AM | Comment Link

    • teri said...

      17

      Rich,

      Travel ban to/from Europe. Except UK.

      Trump Turnberry, Trump International Golf Links, and Trump-brand Doonbeg golf course and hotel in Ireland are all in the “safe to travel to and from zone”, according to Trump. No doubt this is just one of those odd coincidences that sometimes occur randomly in the universe.

      03/12/20 10:14 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      18

      Teri,

      The fear is the DUMBEST person in the room is the one making the decisions of life and death.

      i
      Trump suggested that people infected with the virus could still go to work and make full recoveries. This is in direct contrast to what the CDC has advised people to do.

      “If we have thousands or hundreds of thousands of people that get better just by, you know, sitting around and even going to work — some of them go to work, but they get better,” he said.

      Maybe we should elect competence and not clowns who dont want government that works.

      03/12/20 12:16 PM | Comment Link

    • teri said...

      19

      Trump is truly an imbecile. I just read that he is leaving the decision on whether or not to declare a national emergency up to Kushner.
      [I don’t have an opinion either way yet, frankly, except it would free up some FEMA money to help with testing, hospital staffing, etc. if we need it.]

      Kushner is supposed to “do some research” and then make a decision and then tell Trump what his decision is. I guess this is one way to go as opposed to, say, talking to the medical specialists. After all, most of them are barred from the Coronavirus meetings since they don’t have classified security clearance like Jarad does.

      It’s only going downhill from here on out.

      03/12/20 1:55 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      20

      Teri,

      The evil boy is reportedly holding his meetings at 666 Fifth Ave.

      Trump always said he could kill someone on Fifth Ave and get away with it. How about millions..of his own cult?

      03/12/20 2:39 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      21

      Everything is fine. Remain calm.

      American Conservative apparently didnt get that memo:

      The U.S. has the lowest per capita testing of any country. South Korea appears to have gotten their outbreak under control for now, but the U.S. is lagging far behind them when it comes to testing:

      South Korea’s testing total so far, when broken down into number of tests performed per million citizens, seems to be about 700 times as high than the US’s.

      Now it appears that our labs are running out of the raw materials needed to conduct the tests:

      A looming shortage in lab materials is threatening to delay coronavirus test results and cause officials to undercount the number of Americans with the virus.

      The slow pace of coronavirus testing has created a major gap in the U.S. public health response. The latest problem involves an inability to prepare samples for testing, creating uncertainties in how long it will take to get results.

      CDC Director Robert Redfield told POLITICO on Tuesday that he is not confident that U.S. labs have an adequate stock of the supplies used to extract genetic material from any virus in a patient’s sample — a critical step in coronavirus testing.

      03/12/20 2:53 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      22

      Bauer- I relinquish my WMW comedic interlude task to Kushner who passed it on to SMB who says his operatives are working on a microscopic bone saw to cut up any COVID-19 critters who haven[t been wiped out by the infected swigging 151 rum. Seriously, my grandchildren come first as far as testing kit availability. I’m expendable at age 76.

      03/12/20 4:58 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      23

      JP,

      The CV19 test is not triaged expendability for age. It is to assess who you may have infected and get a handle on the spread.

      03/12/20 5:28 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      24

      Big Ideas from small minds: Trumpie wants to give tax relief to his rich friends in the hardhit cruise industry. His aides informed him that most of the companies are not based in the US and they dont pay federal taxes.

      03/12/20 7:18 PM | Comment Link

    • teri said...

      25

      Huh, just read this article from 2015. From “Nature”, which is a highly respected scientific journal.

      https://www.nature.com/news/engineered-bat-virus-stirs-debate-over-risky-research-1.18787?WT.mc_id=TWT_NatureNews

      American made, from American labs.

      03/12/20 8:17 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      26

      ee cummings look on the brightside

      The coronavirus is not a biological weapon, but it is killing the Trumpian antigovernment movement. This is a wakeup call for voters. You think putting incompetent political hacks in charge of programs that affect you wont come back to bite your obese ass? Yeah, some of you will become worm farms. But the virus is a good thing: you know things have to change or the next virus may be even more deadly.

      PS: If you have any money left, now is the time to put it in your 401k.

      03/13/20 7:33 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      27

      Fake news is fake news.

      The Trumpusts who trumpet the endless fear and smears of the brown invasion now expect US to believe there is nothing to fear about the virus pandemic. At least they are consistently…wrong.

      03/13/20 10:24 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      28

      Teri: chimeric (virus) does have a nice ring (pun intended) until you look up the word chimera. We could easily have some lab technician determined to play god and smite a hell of a lot of humans who have come up short of their creator’s original request- total obedience.

      03/13/20 2:58 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      29

      JP,

      Well, i wondered when you clowns in the Russian Internet Research Corp would drag out your troll terrorist bioweapon talking points.

      Given the Chinese, European and US markets are a shambles, then one would logically deduce the source of the weapon is Russia.

      But of course that is nonsense, so tell your Russian trolls to choke on their b.s. talking points. Not helpful.

      03/13/20 4:54 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      30

      Ever notice Trumpie I am not to blame always pulls “it’s not the time to assess blame” in the aftermath of some avoidable fuckup that he and his cult helped cause and then the issue is never addressed, as he correctly assumes the typical voter has the attention span of a goldfish. But this time it wont be just Dayton or Newtown or Orlando. Millions of Voters waiting to bury their loved ones will have plenty of time to remember when they vote the Orange Clown out of office for gross incompetence.

      03/13/20 5:39 PM | Comment Link

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