As late as March 11, Mayor Bill de Blasio was still telling New York City residents to carry on life as normal: “If you’re not sick, you should be going about your life.” Two days earlier, Italy had announced a national lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus, and cases were already beginning to appear in New York, but de Blasio did not close the city’s schools until March 15.
Now that New York City has become the epicenter of this pandemic — more than 32,000 cases as of Sunday, with nearly 700 deaths — Mayor de Blasio’s response to the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak appears astonishingly irresponsible. Jim Geraghty of National Review has compiled a timeline of how New York City officials dealt with the crisis, and their recklessness seems mindboggling in hindsight. Early on, their main concern was that the virus might discourage city residents from attending Chinese New Year celebrations. “I want to remind everyone to enjoy the parade and not change any plans due to misinformation spreading about #coronavirus,” the city’s health commissioner Oxiris Barbot said in a Feb. 9 tweet, promoting festivities in Chinatown.
As idiotic as such declarations seem now, we must note that hindsight is always 20/20, and very few Americans in early February believed that we faced any great danger of this disease becoming rampant here. Democrats and the media (but I repeat myself) have spent recent weeks blaming President Trump for this crisis, but it is important to point out that the same people were downplaying the coronavirus threat just a few weeks ago. Trump’s critics want us to forget, for example, that when the president announced a ban on travel from China on Jan. 31, many of them condemned this measure as a racist overreaction. “This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysteria and xenophobia — hysterical xenophobia — and fearmongering to lead the way instead of science,” Joe Biden said the day after the China travel ban was announced, while falsely claiming that Trump had made “draconian cuts” to federal health agencies.
At that time, the known worldwide death toll from the Wuhan virus was still less than 200, and, because the Chinese government had sought to suppress facts about the disease, the scope of the danger was not apparent. The liberal media weren’t sounding the alarm, but quite the opposite. The headline on a Jan. 28 BuzzFeed article advised Americans, “Don’t Worry About The Coronavirus. Worry About The Flu.” On Jan. 29, Farhad Manjoo published a column in the New York Times with the headline “Beware the Pandemic Panic.” Manjoo downplayed the danger of the virus and instead cautioned, “What worries me more than the new disease is that fear of a vague and terrifying new illness might spiral into panic, and that it might be used to justify unnecessarily severe limits on movement and on civil liberties, especially of racial and religious minorities around the world.” One thing we can never expect from elite journalists is accountability. Rather than admitting his own errors, Manjoo simply pivoted to blaming Trump: “Coronavirus Is What You Get When You Ignore Science” was the headline on his March 4 column, in which he asserted that the president had “gut[ted] the United States’ pandemic-response infrastructure.”
This is the “Orange Man Bad” theory of causation, where everything bad is ultimately Trump’s fault, and the proponents of this theory evidently can’t understand why it has cost them their credibility. When journalists insist on interpreting every event from a partisan perspective — “How can we spin this to hurt Trump?” — their errors follow a predictable pattern. Thus, at one point, the danger of coronavirus was Trump’s “xenophobia,” which threatened “racial and religious minorities.” Now, we are told, the problem is that Trump is “anti-science.” Last week, one New York Times columnist blamed “the science denialism of [Trump’s] ultraconservative religious allies” for the coronavirus pandemic. The “evidence” cited in such tendentious arguments is irrelevant; what matters to liberals is the conclusion, i.e., Trump is always wrong.
Because they imagine themselves infinitely superior to the rest of us, the journalistic elite think we don’t notice the methods by which they dishonestly manipulate the narrative. They believe we won’t notice, for example, how they ignore the bungling of Democrats like Mayor de Blasio. Nor are we expected to contrast the media’s alarmism over COVID-19 with the way they treated the swine flu (H1N1) pandemic of 2009–10. According to CDC estimates, about 60 million Americans were infected with swine flu, which caused more than a quarter-million hospitalizations and more than 12,000 deaths. Yet cable-news networks didn’t provide 24/7 coverage of the swine flu outbreak or blame President Obama for the spread of the disease, so why is the Chinese coronavirus such an emergency? Obvious answer: “Orange Man Bad!”
We might not resent this belated effort to blame this plague on Trump so much if Democrats and the media (again, I repeat myself) had spent January and February spreading the alarm about COVID-19. But for much of that period, Democrats and their media allies were consumed with impeaching the president over Ukraine, and when that anti-Trump crusade failed, their attention next turned to trying to stop Bernie Sanders from winning the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. It was not until early March — after Biden’s wins on Super Tuesday stopped the Sanders threat — that the coronavirus pandemic became the media’s obsession. It was March 6 that an MSNBC panel discussion hosted by Nicolle Wallace turned into a sort of pep rally for coronavirus, with the guests expressing the enthusiastic hope that the pandemic would become “Trump’s Katrina.”
Having made clear their intention of scapegoating the president for this virus from China, the media are now astonished that Americans aren’t buying their blame game. After polls showed Trump’s approval ratings had risen during this crisis, the networks decided to stop carrying live broadcasts of Trump’s coronavirus briefings. This is more evidence of media bias that we’re supposedly too stupid to notice, in the same way we’re not supposed to notice either (a) Joe Biden’s rapid descent into senility or (b) the media’s effort to promote New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo as a substitute presidential nominee for the Democrats.
So far, U.S. deaths from COVID-19 are still only a single-digit percentage of the more than 30,000 Americans who die annually from ordinary flu infections. As bad as the coronavirus outbreak is — and it’s likely to get much worse before it gets better — we must keep it in perspective. We must be able to distinguish between real risks from this disease and the politically motivated fear campaign being hyped by the media. Eventually, the coronavirus pandemic will end, but the media’s liberal bias is incurable. From now until November, the blame game will continue, and if Trump gets reelected, we’ll have another four years of the same shrieking journalistic hysteria: “Orange Man Bad!”