All Or Nothing
When the press treats topics like vaccine injuries as too toxic to engage, the audience loses
January 8, 2023
Dateline: The day Biden finally went to the border… and El Paso conveniently cleaned up the migrant crisis before his arrival
Watching this week…
— Media goes overboard countering vaccine “disinfo”
— True COVID fallout now being exposed
— Press still going easy on SBF
— David French’s acceptable conservatism
— Great Moments in Racist Artwork Journalism
When media treats topics like vaccine injuries as too toxic to engage, the audience loses
Famed soccer journalist Grant Wahl’s wife, Dr. Celine Gounder, published a New York Times guest essay today paying tribute to her late husband. Wahl tragically died a month ago of an aortic aneurysm while covering the World Cup. Gounder also happens to be an epidemiologist, and was on President Biden’s Covid Advisory Board. The column’s header made the focus of the piece clear: “Grant Wahl’s Death Isn’t a Tool for Covid Vaccine Disinformation Spreaders.”
Gounder spends paragraph after paragraph railing against the “disinformation opportunists” who “leverage tragedies like Grant’s…for their personal gain.” You can feel the pain in Gounder’s writing. And it’s undeniably true that there were efforts by some to make Wahl’s death about the COVID vaccines, and there is absolutely zero evidence that it had any relation to his passing.
But what we’re seeing around the issue of vaccine injuries is an example of the "all or nothing” approach in the media that hurts the audience, and causes conspiracy theories to come to light in the first place. By completely ignoring the issue of COVID vaccine safety and vaccine-induced myocarditis and other complications, by treating the topic as completely toxic, it leads to a whiplash effect where those who believe in the issue start seeing it everywhere. (Semafor editor Ben Smith and I discussed this “toxic contamination” effect in my book, Uncovered, which is out next month - and available for pre-order now: ReadUncovered.com.)
Let’s start with surveying the media and cultural landscape on this issue. We just finished an NFL Sunday largely focused around tributes to Damar Hamlin, the Buffalo Bills player who was horrifically injured during Monday night’s game last week. He has miraculously been able to survive and appears headed to making a significant recovery (thanks to medical staff who gave him CPR for nine minutes on the field that night, and the power of prayer). In the immediate aftermath of the injury, prominent personalities on Twitter like Lara Logan, and large Substack publications, began inferring the injury was due to the COVID vaccine. In response, outlets like The Los Angeles Times wrote articles about it:
Of course, to some, “almost certainly no” sounds a lot like a “so you’re telling me there’s a chance.”
But the reality here is there’s no reason to think it was anything other than the force of the hit - the “commotio cordis” - that caused this horrible freak injury. We’ve also seen this speculation outside the sports world and in the media, with the horrific news of ABC executive producer Dax Tejera’s fatal heart attack last month at the age of just 37. That story is bizarre enough, with the details that he and his wife had left their two children under two-years-old alone in a hotel room while having dinner when he collapsed and died — and his wife was arrested for child endangerment. Everyone I spoke to about Tejera had such positive things to say about him. As far as the cause of death, I heard rumblings last week, but the New York City Medical Examiner told me it is still pending. I’ll have more on this in the future.
The point is, these three individual incidents — Wahl, Hamlin, Tejera — their ailments all very likely had nothing to do with COVID vaccines. And the speculation about it from those with a vested interest in raising alarms about the vaccines is not helpful. But part of how we arrived at this place is the corporate media’s incuriosity about the COVID vaccines and potential injuries as well — their insistence in covering their eyes and ears and pretending the discussion is too toxic to give a platform to. And that’s also alarming.
Dr. Vinay Prasad is a physician and professor at UC San Francisco who has been one of the rare voices of rational COVID science analysis during this pandemic. Last week he co-authored a paper in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation, providing a meta-analysis looking at myocarditis and the COVID vaccines. As he explained in a video about his findings, it’s both clear that young men (between the ages of 12 and 24) are at highest risk of myocarditis from the vaccines, as well as clear that we don’t have nearly enough data and information on the matter since most studies on it lack significant stratifiers that break out data by age, gender, and vaccination or natural infection status. I urge you to go watch just the first 10 minutes of the video with an open mind. Because — why don’t we have this data? It’s because our corporate media has joined forces with the scientific establishment to push one-size-fits-all pandemic responses unquestioningly, to the detriment of the audience who deserves better.
CNN continues to downplay the issue in article after article. NBCNews.com has actually done some solid reporting on it, but it doesn’t see the light on the television side of NBC or MSNBC. An alarming BMJ study from a few months ago, noting the need for further studies to '“enhance understanding of the mechanism or mechanisms of myocarditis and pericarditis after vaccination”? Mostly ignored by the press.
The Atlantic wrote their anti-anti-COVID-vaccines piece in the wake of the Hamlin injury last week, with the article header “COVID Vaccines Aren’t Routinely Killing Athletes.” Ok. Surely that framing is inarguably true. But the constant need to meet the contaminated conversation not with engagement and nuance, but with revulsion and scorn, means the “all or nothing” cycle continues, educating no one, and further dividing the country.
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True COVID fallout is being exposed thanks to some excellent journalism, beyond a headline
It was a headline that made the rounds on Twitter last week, largely in screenshots rather than linking to the full article. “The Case For Wearing Masks Forever” in the New Yorker, by Emma Green - and on first glance, it does look like a case of journalism-fueled COVID extremism:
But, as always, it’s important to read beyond the headline. Because what Green has highlighted in a must-read piece is not the author or the outlet endorsing this point of view. Rather, it’s a revealing window into an alarming trend — an expose that provides a service to the reader on what craziness to treat with a grain of salt. Green brings the reader into a mysterious group called “the People’s CDC,” which thinks the actual CDC is somehow too lenient with COVID restrictions. They have significant funding and are headed by Richard Besser, a former acting CDC director.
Green highlights just some of their outrageous beliefs: “The People’s C.D.C. matter-of-factly reports that getting COVID more than once increases your risk of death and hospitalization, and of developing chronic conditions affecting your lungs, heart, brain, and other organs. No amount of COVID is safe, and no number of shots can protect you.”
But deep in the piece Green shines a light on the alarming reality. “In the progressive imagination, science is sometimes treated like a static text that’s easy to interpret, with clear takeaways for behavior,” she writes. “The People’s C.D.C. talks about ‘science’ as proof that the members’ position is correct, when in reality they’re making a case for how they wish the world to be, and selecting scientific evidence to build their narrative. It’s a kind of moralistic scientism—a belief that science infallibly validates lefty moral sensibilities.”
For any rational reader of this excellent piece, you’d come away not only thinking that the People’s CDC are full of kooks, but also that their growing power and influence should alarm all of us. And to see it on display in the New Yorker is a sign that we’re starting 2023 with the pendulum on COVID swinging back toward rationality.
There are other signs. The Associated Press unveiled a massive, five-bylined expose on how “Police seize on COVID-19 tech to expand global surveillance.” And of course there’s the continuation of The Twitter Files, and David Zweig’s entry into the mix on the outrageous COVID censorship and suppression.
We are beginning to get reporting on the true and continued ramifications of COVID policy failures. But it’s just a start.
The press is still somehow going easy on mega-fraudster SBF - and now on his ex too
It’s been well over a month since the apparent crimes of FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried has been exposed — and, subsequently, the enablers of his fraud in the media have been exposed as well. You’d think there might be universal introspection at this point, but instead some in the press have appeared to double down, hoping to justify their ridiculous coverage of SBF in the first place.
Take the latest softball from the New York Times, attempting to launder SBF’s reputation by telling a story through the locals in the Bahamas where he had been conveniently hiding away for awhile. Just look at this tweet:
The entire story is embarrassing. “I think he had a good heart,” says the first local quoted in the piece. And later: “I feel bad for him.”
But it is the quote in the tweet that is most notable. “Residents almost universally said that while the white-collar nature of his crimes was troublesome, they were hardly comparable to the gang violence that pervades some corners of the island,” writes author Rob Copeland. Sure - the residents they wanted to talk to, to soften the landing about SBF’s crimes against everyday Americans who he stole from.
But the Times is hardly alone, and now the kid glove treatment is getting applied to SBF’s former girlfriend, who has now turned on him, Caroline Ellison. The Washington Post profiled Ellison last week, with the headline, “Caroline Ellison wanted to make a difference. Now she’s facing prison.” Poor Caroline, she just wanted to make a difference! From the article: “Ellison’s mother and father are economics professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her father, who wrote math textbooks for kids, got her into math at a young age. She read a lot, too, tackling a thick Harry Potter book when she was just 5, because she was too impatient to wait for her parents to read it to her.”
Barely getting mention in the piece is the reality - Ellison was SBF’s willing accomplice in defrauding people out of their money. So why is there such a rush to humanize these criminals? It can’t be just that their crimes are vague and confusing, or that they are white, upper class nerds, qualities shared by many in NYC and DC newsrooms. (Although those elements don’t hurt either.)
No, it’s a panic about culpability - and a media that showed such a keen disinterest in the duo before, enabling their rise and crimes, is now trying to work overtime to justify their inaction.
David French is a conservative, but his embrace of censorship fits right in at the NYT
David French’s last byline in the New York Times, back in November, makes it clear he is unequivocally unlike most of the rest of the newsroom there. “I believe in abortion bans with exceptions for the life and physical health of the mother, and with carefully drawn exceptions for rape and incest,” he writes, while describing himself as firmly “pro-life.”
It was announced last week that French will be joining the New York Times full-time, as an opinion columnist. And as someone who celebrates intellectual diversity, I’m glad a platform as important as the Times is adding a voice that its readers may bristle at occasionally. That’s an important thought exercise. Sure, French is one of the most prominent #NeverTrump-ers (who even considered running against Trump in 2016). He’s not a MAGA voice, but the GOP isn’t there necessarily anymore either.
But it’s also important to ask — what is it that makes a conservative “acceptable” at the New York Times these days? And a thread by French at the end of 2022 was an interesting window into his viewpoint on “misinformation,” and censorship. Misinformation policing is a core tenet these days of our establishment press, and French, it seems, largely shares their point of view. “The government clearly has an interest in correcting misinformation that, for example, led to 300,000+ excess deaths due to vaccine refusal, or misinformation that led to the storming of the Capitol on 1/6. Thus, it makes sense that it would take action in response,” he tweeted on December 27.
He would continue to turn to the government and a more nuanced discussion about the First Amendment, but this just casual inference about what is misinformation - and, more importantly, what misinformation causes - should concern those expecting French to provide a real counterbalance to the Times opinion pages. The idea that we had “300,000+ excess deaths due to vaccine refusal” is a point that was raised by one study extrapolating out various data points, and certainly is not worthy of a statement of fact. That said, even if it were true, the idea that it was “misinformation” that was the sole cause of this is laughably false. And treating it as a given that “misinformation” is responsible for literal deaths and violence seeds the ground for the kind of censorious activities our modern anti-speech activists in the press have been cheerleading.
I hope the New York Times opens the pages of its opinion section to at least one columnist who doesn’t fear-monger about supposed misinformation.
WATCH IT… I was going to highlight Tulsi Gabbard’s supremely awkward but surprisingly watchable “interview” of incoming GOP Congressional liar George Santos, but it’s a little old now. So instead check out the incredibly hilarious work of Bad Lip Reading to break down what was really “said” between Matt Gaetz and Kevin McCarthy on the floor of the House as we approached Speaker vote #15.
HEAR IT… I’ve never read a David Sedaris book, but after hearing him with Bari Weiss on “Honestly” before the end of the year, I’m kicking myself and going to start ASAP. He was funny and self-deprecating, but also so incisive about the absurdity of our current moment in America.
READ IT… What happened when a group of South Korean tourists got stranded in the recent Buffalo snowstorm? A story of American generosity, documented brilliantly by Christine Chung in the New York Times. Go check out the piece on “the kindest people I have ever met.”
I know, pick your jaw up off the floor - former Republican and Congressman Adam Kinzinger has joined CNN as a “senior political commentator.”
Speaking of CNN, even while going booze-less the network lapped the cable news competition with its New Year’s Eve show.
Great lesson for social media from Ben Dreyfuss about an Andrew Tate rumor that took off - despite no evidence behind it.
Interesting column by Ted Gioia about how Barnes & Noble is flourishing with a crusty old IRL strategy, even with the inroads made by Amazon and others.
Meanwhile, how’s the podcast business doing as we enter 2023? Mixed results right now, reports Bloomberg.
Outrageous arrest of a Wall Street Journal reporter in Arizona who was doing man-on-the-street reporting outside a bank was captured on video.
I’ve started getting really into Yellowstone, and this Spectator piece on why Joyce Carol Oates loves it was fantastic.
Incredible reporting by The New York Times’ Michael Wilson about a Manhattan doctor who vanished while out at sea.
⏪ REWIND // FAST FORWARD: Changing Minds Edition ⏩
⏪ The New York Times opinion section published a fascinating, brutally transparent piece about the “22 debates that made us rage, roll our eyes, and change our minds in 2022.” Some is fun - debating the Will Smith slap, for example. Some is eye-opening - like debating how difficult “school” should be. I admire the honesty.
⏩ That said, what it also revealed, by accident, was how out of touch some of these debates in the newsroom of the paper of record are with the American people. As detailed in a must-read thread by former Free Beacon reporter Matthew Foldi, read the way the staff worry about using terms like “pregnant women” or “pro-life.”
The second anniversary of January 6 has come and gone, and it was somberly marked as you might expect by the broader corporate media apparatus. But two elements were notable. First, former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund is out with a new book, and made the media rounds last week — here’s a lengthy, representative Jake Tapper CNN interview. What’s important to note is where Sund puts the blame for the riot — everywhere, sure, but largely at the intel agencies who didn’t do enough to act on intelligence and support the Capitol police. Combine this with reporting from one of the top January 6-focused journalists, Ryan Reilly of NBC, who notes the “ample evidence laid out in interviews with law enforcement officials” showing warning signs that were ignored “contrasts in part with the final report from the committee and its focus on former President Donald Trump.” The January 6 committee was a failure, and the media mostly ignored that point. But we’re seeing some promising signs of real January 6 reporting. More to come?
GREAT MOMENTS IN JOURNALISM
What does an “investigation” of the artwork in the Capitol building look like? Well…walking around and looking at the art, I guess. Anyway, The Washington Post found a new angle about why everything is racist.
Thanks for reading, now at the new home, Substack. Would love your feedback - email me at FourthWatchMedia@gmail.com. I’ll be back in a few days with the first paid column, a single-topic deep dive.