For six months, I’ve held out, bit my tongue, cracked my fingers and turned the other cheek. Besides sharing a little home-school humor, my personal opinions about the coronavirus have felt meaningless to a larger audience.
This has been a conscious decision, cloaked in the theory that most of you just want media to find a different topic. But I realized something about every pundit and commentator searching to find a following in a sea of mindless followers: In order to build a brand and have a say about COVID-19, members of the national media have felt the need to pick a side.
You’re either lockdown or wide open.
You’re either mask or no mask.
You’re either counting positives or negatives.
You’re either counting deaths or recoveries.
You’re either Andrew Cuomo or Ron DeSantis.
You’re either no school or school.
You’re either no football or football.
You’re either hopeless or hopeful.
With very few exceptions, this describes the cycle of information that bombards us on an hourly basis. And that’s exactly why I’ve chosen to refrain from the conversation.
As someone who studies media as much as I study local news, I’m still not sure how a health issue has become so divisive. We don’t fight like this about the flu, even though it’s contagious and kills people. We didn’t fight like this about SARS just a few years ago.
Here’s one for you: HIV/AIDS is a contagious virus that can be spread through human fluid. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 697,000 people across the world died of HIV in 2019, and that’s a virus we’ve fought for more than 30 years. Why aren’t we divided in our battle against HIV?
The better question, still, is why there’s so much division on COVID. It’s a health issue, for Heaven’s sake. Yet today, it splits our country in half, just like which animal you support on Election Day (donkey or elephant, just to clarify the metaphor – though they’re all animals in my book).
So even though it matters absolutely none in the grand discussion, I’d like to offer some perspective on this global pandemic – one that has caused or contributed to nearly 800,000 deaths across the world.
If you think back to how news about this virus spread across media in the United States, you’ll remember the first definitive action taken was our current administration (Republicans) making the decision to stop travel from China to the United States. You’ll also remember that immediately after that decision was made, members of the Democratic Party labeled the move xenophobic. In fact, here in Houston, our first concern was that many were unnecessarily avoiding Asians in this city because the virus was discovered in China.
On Thursday, March 5, 2020, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner even took a small delegation to eat lunch in Chinatown in Fort Bend County, and here’s what he said to the Houston Press:
“Enjoy the lunch, go to dinner, go to the rodeo, take a bike, train, and live your life, but just do it in a safe [way], [exercising] common sense. We don’t want the fear to put us at a point where we are doing more damage to ourselves than the virus itself.”
This was too good of an opportunity to place politics at the front of the conversation, and that’s exactly when an illness of the body became an illness of our collective mind.
From there, President Trump began his daily briefings, full of personal opinions, drug peddling and promises that everything would be fine.
The Democrats and national media took it from there.
What should have been a national battle to defeat a viral enemy instead became fodder for us to fight each other – a tact happily employed by media organizations that need disagreements to increase ratings and website pageviews.
Where we went wrong is that we allowed the politicians, on both sides of the aisle, to control the narrative. And when that happened, our daily sources of information cared little for analyzing facts. Instead, they analyze social media attention, and that has led to a national discourse that makes no sense.
Want to know what I believe, and what I wish every voice in national media would repeat?
There should have never been two sides to this pandemic. There should have been one: Scientists and doctors. Trump should have never taken the stage, except to grieve with those who have lost family members. And the Democratic Party should have never made this about their political opponents, even though they did.
And as I’ll tell anyone who will listen, shame on the national media for presenting news that makes our political allegiance more important than our friendships, our faith and, oftentimes, our family.
The reality is everyone is right and wrong in this conversation. Those who believe we should lock down are right that this virus can kill the most vulnerable in an instant. Those who disagree with a lockdown are right that we’re doing more personal damage being locked in our homes than living life.
We could go on and on. Those against school are right – teachers’ lives shouldn’t be at risk. Those for opening schools are right, too. Students aren’t learning at home. In Texas, through remote learning, we lost track of 500,000 students. Are they better off without the structure of education?
Next time you want to have an argument with a friend about COVID, here’s my advice: Understand that you’re right and so is the person arguing the exact opposite. You do what’s right for your family, but don’t chastise those who disagree.
This is science, for Heaven’s sake. Humans have survived worse, and we’ll survive this, as long as we don’t destroy all sense of humanity in the process.