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july 2021

The Media and Corona


by Hans Durrer
Next Right: Sargans, Switzerland, 23 June 2021 (photo by the author)

Information is crucial; what is reliable information and what is not is often difficult to say. It has always been that way yet distrust in information providers never seems to have been bigger. So who can we trust, who should we listen to? I'm sorry to say that I do not have an answer but I can tell you what I do and what I don't. And, how I react to what I hear. For now, that is.

I do not listen to politicians, I listen to scientists. The reason is simple: Politicians need to please people, their goal is to win majorities, they're in the game of personal interests. And so they fight their opponents instead of the virus. Needless to say, I do not expect them to change.

Scientists are in the business of proven facts and not of wishful thinking, hopes and dreams that got us where we are today. I listen to them because they study, think and analyse before they say something. I suppose, they do not simply rely on their gut feeling.

Next No, I do not believe that science has the answer to the present pandemic. In fact, nobody in the Western World has it. But my trust in medical historians, virologists and epidemiologists far outweighs my faith in self-serving professional approval seekers who behave pretty much like their electorate, spoiled children, that is.
  People strive for certainty despite the fact that the only certainty in life is death. Likewise, politicians, their spokespersons, demand from scientists clear indicators of where we are heading to. "Only a week ago," complained a politician to a scientist, "you said this and now you say that." To which the scientist replied: "A week ago my knowledge was different from my knowledge of today. This is called science." Or life, of which the Lord Buddha famously said: "The only permanent thing in life is change." We better learn that, otherwise we're fucked.
  I have no doubt that scientists can be wrong and that the ones I almost constantly get to see on TV are as much driven by vanity as politicians. So what is there to do when eroding trust in authority figures is one of the dominant features of our time?
Next This is what I do: I read a lot and, sadly, hardly anything sticks. Yet I've realised that once in a while I pick up a line from an article, a talk show or even a press conference, a line that does stick. Most recently: We need to be aware that so far we know only little of this virus, too much of it is still unknown. By this, I believe, we should be guided. And, the media should remind us of this fact again and again for this is what they are here for — to report facts. And that implies not only to state what they know but also to state what they do not know.
  No, I do not believe that people are guided by facts. If they were, thoroughly incompetent egomaniacs such as the cheating Florida golfer and the serial liar in the apartment above Number 10, to name just two, would have never been voted into office.
  People are guided by their beliefs. Yet since we do not know why we believe what we believe (the miracle of our existence defies our cause-and-effect logic), chances are that facts will probably also contribute to what we believe in.
Next Traditional media distinguish between facts and opinion. And, while I've always thought such a distinction impossible, I nowadays tend to believe that one can at least aspire to it. In addition, I'd suggest to introduce a gossip section that would include what Putin says about Biden or vice versa, as well as The New York Times opinion pieces such as "Donald Trump is Starving."
  Moreover, the media's tendency to personalise everything I do find increasingly disastrous for it nurtures the belief that individuals can do miracles. When most recently the new British health secretary was appointed, one headline (on Sky News) read: "Matt Hancock's successor Sajid Javid says immediate priority is ending the COVID pandemic — amid 'baptism of fire' warning." Well, I'm not even sure James Bond could end the pandemic ...
  We want the world and we want it now, I remember a slogan of my youth. Not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined it to become the most common attitude in the Western world. I must admit that this sense of entitlement is beyond me even in largely untroubled times but definitely more than incomprehensible when faced with a pandemic. Viruses, I have by now learned, aren't living beings; yet if they were they would be definitely having a good laugh at us.
  2021 © Hans Durrer / Soundscapes