The media loves to run with “blood on his hands” stories about nefarious Republicans, but you’ll have a hard time finding even a quiet, pro-forma apology (much less an admission of bloody hands) from the media for their massive bungling of the early stages of the coronavirus story. On January 31, Vox stated, with the customary absolute metaphysical certitude that characterizes its generally undergraduate tone, “Is this going to be a deadly pandemic? No.” Vox later deleted the tweet, but instead of an apology, it said the remark “no longer reflects the current reality of the coronavirus story,” which was obvious if insufficiently humble.
The following day, the Washington Post ran a story shouting, “Get a grippe, America, the flu is a much bigger threat than coronavirus, for now.” The Post’s medical writer Lenny Bernstein opined, “Clearly, the flu poses the bigger and more pressing peril; a handful of cases of the new respiratory illness have been reported in the United States, none of them fatal or apparently even life-threatening.” The headline of this piece has been widely mocked. But its contents are even more amazing, because none of the experts quoted in it say what Bernstein’s headline says. He appears to have generated the idea himself based entirely on how much damage had been done by the virus to that date, rather than the prospective risk. He features a truncated quotation from Anthony Fauci that leads in the opposite direction from his thesis: Fauci says people ask him why people are more worried about the coronavirus than about seasonal flu and he says seasonal flu is more predictable. Bernstein, a former sportswriter whose only degree listed on his Post biographical page is a B.A. in American culture, has not publicly apologized, as far as I can tell. I’ll be happy to update the record if he does so or has done so.