Tragedies and Statistics

(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

In a 1947 Washington Post article, writer Leonard Lyons claimed that Josef Stalin said: “The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of millions a statistic.”  Searching the Internet, this writer found that claim to be untrue, although Stalin said something like that in some Politburo speech.  However, even if he did say that, the observation is untrue as anyone who witnessed Auschwitz, Stalin’s gulags, or the Cambodia killing fields would attest.

Yesterday, the New York Times decided to sink to a new low by publishing the names of 1,000 people who have died of Covid-19 on the front page (and next 11 pages).  This Herculean feat of journalistic prowess took misery-mongering into the stratosphere and made that somber music playing in the background of commercials reminding everyone that “we’re in this together,” or “now more than ever” sound almost cheery.  The headline declared an “incalculable loss,” which they then went on to later calculate.  The subtitle was a Leonard Lyons throwback: “They were simply not names on a list, they were us.”  Cue the somber piano note music.

Yet, New Yorkers awoke on Sunday morning to find that the sun still rose in the East, birds were chirping in Central Park, and New York was witness to fewer cases and deaths than at any point since mid-March.  As they remained locked down in their homes, the Times reminded everyone they had nothing to feel optimistic about.

The last time the New York Times pulled a stunt like this was when they published the names of the victims of 9/11.  In that 2001 accompanying article, however, they could not bring themselves to mention al-Qaeda, Islamic radicals, or the religion of the hijackers.  Instead, airplanes were described as “taking aim” at the Twin Towers as if remotely controlled by some teenager with a joystick in his basement on the other side of the Hudson River.  And because the Times and most media loves to engage in journalistic fellatio, a side-article yesterday described how they put together the 1,000 names published.  To wit: graduate interns took a break from fetching coffee and instead scanned the pages of obituaries from around the country.  The Times correctly noted that the 1,000 names was only about 1% of the deaths which indicates they know how to use a calculator.  But, why did they stop there?  Were those interns told to yell “One Thousand!” once they got there?  Did the editors then scan the names and make sure all the states were represented?  Who made the cut and which names got tossed in the trash can to become a statistic?

From 2001 to 2020, the New York Times did not feel it within their journalistic ethics to publish the names of the 80,000 victims of the flu in 2017-2018.  Or, the any names of the 67,000 who died of a drug overdose in 2018.  Or, the names of any of the 50,000 victims of suicide in 2018.  So one has to ask: why is a death from Covid-19 a tragedy, but the victim of overdose in Kentucky, the flu in Maine, and a suicide in Seattle simply a statistic?

The reason is obvious: As the number of cases and deaths wanes, reporting on these positive trends does not sell copies.  Another reason could be that for the past two months, the same newspaper has been publishing doom and gloom on par with the Black Death and the apocalyptic end of civilization.  We were told the death count could be near that of World War II.  This little dose of front page heroin validates their claims.

Back in March, Axios had an article showing that scare-mongering stories about the coronavirus got more hits, clicks, and shares on social media than informative stories about the virus.  The worst alarmist stories got the most views.

Yet here we are near the end of May and every state is in some phase of reopening.  What the New York Times does not “report” is things are looking a helluva a lot better today than one month ago, but you won’t find that in any of their headlines, unless it is to prove that reopening is unwise.

In 1989, writer Eric Pooley, in an article titled “Grins, Gore and Videotape” in the New Yorker magazine did coin the phrase: “If it bleeds, it leads.”  The Sunday edition of the the New York Times confirms that journalistic dictum.  While we should remember the deceased, we should also remember that the New York Times is selling misery simply for the sake of it.