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December 21, 2020

Lots of Good News

Don’t let the media grinches steal it.

Initial day of Vaccination in the USA Highly Successful” would have been an accurate headline last Tuesday. “Predicted Side Effects Controlled” might have been a good subhead

2 Alaska Health Workers Got Emergency Treatment After Receiving Pfizer’s Vaccine” was the actual headline in the online New York Times. The subhead starts “One of the workers, who did not have a history of allergies, remained in the hospital on Wednesday night…” You don’t know from the headlines that both people are fine and say they’d take the vaccine again. Even the full article fails to mention that the risk of an anaphylactic reaction after an immunization is low but well-publicized. You have to read almost to the end to find this paragraph:

“Dr. Paul A. Offit, a vaccine expert and member of an outside advisory panel that recommended the Food and Drug Administration authorize the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use, said the appropriate precautions are already in place. For instance, he said, the requirement that recipients remain in place for 15 minutes after getting the vaccine helped ensure the woman was quickly treated.”

The Washington Post and most TV networks gave the story about the same treatment as the NYT. Yes, we need to know that there is some small risk associated with the vaccine although that isn’t headline-worthy news since it was already well publicized. But why can’t the story be told in the context of the very good news? At some point someone will die after being vaccinated; of course the death will and should be investigated. Will major news media run scare stories without emphasizing the hundreds of thousands of lives the vaccines will save in the US? Will the scare stories discourage people from being vaccinated?

Another example:

My headline this weekend would have been “First Week of Vaccine Distribution Successful Despite Major Snowstorm” subhead “Moderna Approval Means Millions More Doses than Planned in Weeks Ahead.” Instead traditional media concentrated on a glitch which may mean that slightly less Pfizer vaccine is available next week than originally forecast although all involved say that even this shortfall will be made up by the end of the year.

Why the negativity? Of course bad news sells more papers and draws more clicks than good news. I think there’s also leftover Trump Derangement Syndrome in traditional media even though he’s almost old news now (can’t be soon enough). Papers like the NYT and WaPo felt they had a duty to make sure Trump wasn’t reelected. Any good news which may have been attributed to him would have been counterproductive to their self-assigned mission. Hopefully they’ll take a deep breath, relax, and go back to just reporting the news so that we can decide for ourselves who deserves blame and credit.

Speed and Trump were also part of another good news story. The Supreme Court with its conservative majority and three Trump appointees acted at warp speed to turn down the Texas-Trump petition to overturn elections in states he lost. Apparently the only debate between the Supremes was over the technical issue of whether the case should be refused or accepted and then turned down on its merits. Turns out constitutionalist judges are not a good support group for a coup.

So here’s to a better 2021. 2020 has certainly set a low bar.

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