Op-Ed: Coronvirus misinformation incites panic and fear

“Just once in a while let us exalt the importance of ideas and information.”

– Edward R. Murrow

According to Psychology Today, other than those with an obsessive disorder, people hoard under the rubric of bulk purchasing. This is “rational hoarding” since this is done to take advantage of sale pricing on products such as paper goods, cleaning supplies, packaged and canned items. On the other hand, people hoard during a crisis or disaster because of a perceived belief of the impending scarcity of a product. This is “irrational hoarding.” This is a human response brought on by an over-reaction manifested by the transmission of intimidating misinformation that leads to panic buying.

Both rational and irrational hoarding result from media communication. When sales are advertised in newspapers and on radio or TV, this promotes “rational hoarding” which is typical in a capitalist society. But when these methods of communication are used to increase ratings by the distorting of public opinion, it creates false perceptions. This is the most dangerous ingredient in the information food chain. It is a spreading of misinformation that leads to “irrational hoarding by rational people.”

Once these half-truths have been posted and distorted on social media, we have “panic hoarding.”

Media has an obligation to ensure the public receives the most accurate information at all times. It is this collective messaging that dictates opinion and reaction. False information distracts from the importance of the message. It leads to irrational behavior that amplifies public fear and anxiety. In cases of a disease, this can prevent containment and many times increase transmission. The more novel the epidemic is, the greater the need for highly accurate information.

According to a recent Gallop Poll, Americans’ trust in the media since the last election has fallen to a historic low. The majority opined Hillary Clinton was given generous media attention while Donald Trump received negative and unfair coverage. As a result, Americans’ confidence with the media to report news accurately and fairly fell to 29 percent. Yet for some austere reason, when a crisis or tragedy moves to the center of the world stage, people turn to TV networks or the local fish-wrap for news?

“One place in the world where nobody knows what’s going on is a newspaper office.”

– Jack Lams

Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, a media scholar from Cardiff’s School of Journalism in England, informed the World Health Organization that irresponsible and sensational media reports about COVID-19 caused fear and panic. This excessive reaction of citizens is considered more risky than the virus itself. She asserts the public’s worst enemy is sensational news headlines. The media has created unnecessary widespread panic buying and hoarding, instead of sharing awareness and instruction.

The media can be forgiven for their initial solecism, since China hid COVID-19 information from the world. Without accurate erudition, the media combined half truths into stories to nurture an industry dependent on ratings. It was China’s fears of an economic waterloo that led to the media’s initial supermarket tabloid reaction to this epidemic and conjuring of information for a hungry public.

Instead of media making earnest mea culpas for making half truths into full ones, and filling in their blanks with speculative opinions, they doubled down on an abundance of postulates gathered from new age pandemic experts. Within hours, the information highway was congested with opinions and good intentions and questionable advice, regurgitated by primetime news anchors from around the globe.

“Being flooded with information doesn’t mean we have the right information.”

– Bill Gates

Leftist critics claim the Trump administration did not act quickly enough to COVID-19. Yet top U.S. health advisors gathered information from around the world to formulate a working plan to confront this crisis with an orderly reactionary plan. It was paramount to sort out fact from fiction to develop a non-crisis driven systematic solution. It was rare indeed that even House Democrats realized its importance and willingly bit their tongues to work with Trump and formulate a plan to help America.

The fly in the ointment was when media networks deluged America with opinions the minute Trump left the air. They seized this opportunity to bare false witness rather than fulfill their duty to a public that needed factual information. In this day of avant-garde reporting, it is rare to find a news team that will scrutinize material before they start to spin their tale on an event of consequence. Today’s shrinking media market has become a tactical ratings dogfight. Most neoteric copy writers concede facts and truths to sell fewer papers and attract far fewer high profit advertisers than aggrandizement

A spokesman for the World Health Organization said our reaction to COVID-19 was well planned and thought out but we learned little from the inanity of foreign media. At a time everyone needed appropriate information about quarantining and social distancing, we could have profited more from global media’s blunders.

“Every failure is a lesson learned about your strategy.”

– Thomas Edison

As we watched the coronavirus spread globally, we witnessed fearful shoppers stripping stores of medical and food supplies that caused a worldwide shortage of vital personal hygiene items and medical necessities such as N-95 respirator face masks. Foreign media deserves scrutiny for their role in the wall-to-wall doomsday auspice that fomented and cultivated this irrational panic buying.

For the good of the nation, both the president and Congress have sheathed their political swords. But leftist campaigners and their media lackeys continue to scold and discredit this administration for not preventing this inevitable crisis? And as media continues to drive it, Americans are doing a repeat performance of what was done globally. They’re buying everything they get their hands on.

“Earthly goods are given to be used, not to be collected. Hoarding is idolatry.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Draconian countermeasures have been adopted around the world to control this pandemic. Like all past world tragedies it will dissipate, either on its own volition or because of the measures we have enacted to defeat it. Our government has joined in unison to contain it. But no matter what they do collectively, if traditional media continues to put more value on their ratings than they do the health and welfare of Americans, it will take days, weeks and even months more for this pandemic to end.

During the Greco-Persian Wars, it was a tradition to “kill the messenger” who delivered bad tidings. The way to “kill bad media messengers” is to get current information about COVID-19 from reliable sources. There is a myriad of 501 nonprofit news organizations that are filling the truth-void left by traditional media. These journalists write for the labor of love and publish daily on credible internet sites. Your public health agencies provide current local and national updates you can rely upon. If all of us are informed, there will be less reactionary panic buying, fear, insecurity and uncertainty.

In 1787, Edmund Burke anointed the press as the gatekeeper of our liberty to insure we always had credible information about government. We must always choose our news sources wisely.

“There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and to shame the devil.”

– Walter Lippmann

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