What have we learned in 8 months?

A lot, but also nothing.

The last time it was Friday the 13th, it was March. On that Friday, the CDC reported 1,678 coronavirus cases and 41 deaths. The NCAA canceled its tournament. And the White House issued a “proclamation on declaring a national emergency concerning the novel coronavirus disease.” 

Eight months, 10.6 million cases and 243,000 deaths later, we find ourselves on the precipice of (and some argue in the middle of) the worst possible scenario. Each day we cross a new record-breaking threshold of cases, and at this point, it’s hard to see, beyond the blatant disregard of other people, why this is happening. 

(Image via the New York Times)

We know masks work at reducing the spread of the virus, for example, but many people choose to not wear masks. We know that being indoors with people increases the risk of spreading the virus, and yet we gather. We get poor guidance at the federal (i.e., none) and state levels (comically, for instance, New York and New Jersey believe that keeping schools [which haven’t proven to be superspreader environments] closed but restaurants and business open [which have; oh, except between 10pm and 5am, which apparently is when the youngun’s go out and spread the virus] is the right call). And with the holiday season approaching, it’s only going to get worse. 

Carolyn Chen at ProPublica today sums up what a lot of reporters are thinking:

I’m exhausted and infuriated to be doing the same interviews and hearing the same stories for a third time. Why haven’t we learned? What have we been doing between March and November?

For starters, we had political rallies. 

The Washington Post reports today that more than 130 Secret Service agents have tested positive. 

The spread of the coronavirus — which has sidelined roughly 10 percent of the agency’s core security team — is believed to be partly linked to a series of campaign rallies that President Trump held in the weeks before the Nov. 3 election, according to the people, who, like others interviewed for this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the situation.

On March 19, we learned about “the hammer and the dance,” which said:

Strong coronavirus measures today should only last a few weeks, there shouldn’t be a big peak of infections afterwards, and it can all be done for a reasonable cost to society, saving millions of lives along the way. If we don’t take these measures, tens of millions will be infected, many will die, along with anybody else that requires intensive care, because the healthcare system will have collapsed.

We screwed this one up. Bigly. 

And it’s not like the media hasn’t covered the coronavirus from all angles. In fact, talking with reporters across a bevy of newsrooms, there’s an interesting tension of being both fatigued and energized by covering this. 

On the one hand, writing about sickness and death and uncertainty is exhausting. It’s a punishing existence having to cover a disease that impacts every facet of our society, from the personal to the professional. 

On the other, knowing that a) this is arguably the most important story of the moment (honorable mentions go to: climate change and the collapse of the American empire), and b) their reporting can save lives, reporters put their heads down and carry on. 

Journalists want the closest thing to truth. And that a large percentage of Americans have bought into the President’s shameful “media is the enemy” rhetoric is appalling. The effects of this have eroded trust in the media, but also, apparently in our elections. For instance, 8 in 10 Republicans believe Joe Biden’s win is not legitimate. 

And this lack of trust of media and other institutions coincides with the spread of disinformation on platforms like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. 

Twitter, yesterday, for instance, gave itself high marks for how it handled the election. 

From NPR:

Twitter said on Thursday that between Oct. 27 and Nov. 11, it had labeled about 300,000 tweets as containing "disputed and potentially misleading" information about the election. That represented 0.2% of all tweets related to the U.S. election in that time frame. However, the company declined to say how that compared with the volume of tweets labeled before Oct. 27.

Of those 300,000 tweets, Twitter hid almost 500 behind warnings that users had to click past to read. In order to reply to those tweets or share them, users had to add their own comments — a requirement intended to give people pause. Finally, Twitter removed those tweets from recommendation by its algorithms. In all, 74% of users who saw labeled tweets did so after the labels were applied.

"These enforcement actions remain part of our continued strategy to add context and limit the spread of misleading information about election processes around the world on Twitter," Twitter officials Vijaya Gadde and Kayvon Beykpour wrote in a blog post on Thursday.

Facebook, on the other hand, continues to fumble. After former White House adviser Steve Bannon posted a video suggesting that FBI Director Christopher Wray and Dr. Anthony Fauci should be beheaded for being disloyal to the president, the platform’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg told staff at an all-hands meeting that Bannon didn’t violate enough of its rules to get the boot. 

According to Reuters:

“We have specific rules around how many times you need to violate certain policies before we will deactivate your account completely,” Zuckerberg said. “While the offenses here, I think, came close to crossing that line, they clearly did not cross the line.”

A lack of trust in media, our general skepticism in science, the spread of misinformation that pushes our fears, desperations and anxieties, all coalesce into behaviors and actions that play out in an individualistic manner. We don’t look to do things for the greater good, but to make sure that our individual freedoms aren’t infringed upon. It’s why we don’t wear masks; it’s why we gather indoors; it’s why we’ve ignored professionals in favor of grifters.

The next Friday the 13 will be in August. We will be 8 months into a Biden administration. A lot can happen, but as we’ve seen, many things can remain the same. 

Thank you for allowing me in your inbox today, and every day. If you have tips or thoughts on the newsletter, drop me a line. Or you can follow me on Twitter. Please, stay home for Thanksgiving. Have a restful weekend. Be smart, be safe, be healthy. And thanks for reading!

Led Zeppelin, “The Song Remains the Same”

Some interesting links:

For groundbreakers:

  • Marlins hire Kim Ng, becoming the first major American sport franchise to hire a woman as general manager (Twitter)

For media writing about media:

  • Abby Phillip is next-gen CNN (NYT)

For media criticism:

  • Trump’s election madness. The press gives Republicans a pass (Press Run)

For buyouts:

  • About 500 people are taking buyouts at Gannett (Poynter)

For connecting dots:

  • The complex web that links the new administration to tech, visualized (Protocol)

For streaming:

  • Disney Plus Subscribers Surpass 73 Million as of October (Variety)