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Project fear

The Fourth Estate has gone missing in action on Covid

5 February 2022

9:00 AM

5 February 2022

9:00 AM

There is an old joke that a courtier journalist who was currying Pontius Pilate’s favour witnessed Jesus walking on water and filed his story under the heading ‘Jesus cannot swim’. There used to be many such anecdotes to illustrate the media bias of the former Soviet Union. They reported a two-men field event so: ‘In an international competition, Comrade Brezhnev came second while President Reagan was second-last’. I was reminded of these by two front page headlines in the Australian online on 18 January: ‘Rafa’s humility trumps Djokovic’s arrogance‘ and ‘Fears for dissident writer in China’s jail’. In reality, the Immigration Minister’s formal justification made it crystal clear the reigning world number one was booted out of Australia and prevented from defending his crown for his dissenting views on Covid vaccines.

Yet the Australian has at least been generous to a small core of columnists who’ve been lockdown-critical from the early days. In most cases, journalists and ‘fact-checkers’ have lazily recycled press releases from health bureaucrats and pharmaceutical companies in violation of their professional duty to investigate their claims. A British parliamentary committee has launched an investigation into the government’s fear-peddling use of propaganda on its own people. An editorial in Denmark’s Ekstra Bladet confessed that the Fourth Estate, including itself, failed to hold the government to account during the pandemic on fear-fuelling claims. Instead of being inquisitive, sceptical and critical, the media has largely parroted government talking points, numbers and charts without context and scrutiny.

Meanwhile a small group of scientists and doctors engaged in frontline clinical practice – let’s call them The Dissident Doctors – have doggedly stuck to the scientific method to question the policy consensus despite censorship, ridicule, bad-faith undermining and defenestration from dominant tech platforms.

A good example of journalists regurgitating official talking points is blame-shifting the crisis in hospital beds, from neglect of infrastructure to cope with surging demand, to the unvaccinated whose numbers are in any case shrinking. The headline of a recent article was ‘Unvaxxed 12 times more likely to be ICU patients’. It provided more granular detail than usual but questions not asked or answered include: How many of those who risked their all to work with Covid patients before vaccines became available, have now been callously shunted out for refusing the jab? How many in hospital ‘with’ Covid were admitted for another illness and tested positive in hospital, making them Covid ‘incidentals’? How many fewer hospital and ICU beds are operational with unvaccinated staff having to be let go – 4,000 in Victoria and 1,000 in NSW – and how many more because workers must self-isolate if they have been in contact with a positive case? The article’s six-month data mostly relates to Delta but the dominant strain now is Omicron. This is known to have vaccine escape capabilities for infection but is also less lethal than Delta. A new study released by the CDC shows Omicron to have 91 per cent fewer fatalities than Delta, 75 per cent lower ICU admissions, half as likely to require hospitalisation and 70 per cent shorter hospital stays. Most disturbingly, there was no interrogation of the central justification for the decision which has already been comprehensively discredited by the data. An unvaccinated healthcare worker who doesn’t have the virus cannot infect a colleague or a patient, whereas an infected vaccinated colleague can do so.

The excessively stringent test-trace-isolate rules result from the inability or unwillingness to decide to live with the virus below a clear risk-tolerance threshold and are causing the staff shortages. This would happen every year if flu were to be treated with similar monomaniacal focus. In England, the Royal College of GPs has called for a deferral of vaccine mandates for healthcare workers in order to prevent staff shortages. The Royal College of Nursing called nurses’ departures an act of ‘self-sabotage’ during a health crisis. Now, England looks set to scrap mandates for health service and social care workers. Another level of absurdity in California: when unvaxxed healthcare workers were sacked, in order to cope with the resulting shortages, the state’s health department is reported to have issued an emergency authorisation for vaccinated workers who test positive and colleagues who have been in contact with them to continue working without further testing, isolation or quarantine. Go figure.

For two years, public health officials and experts have peddled fear porn by omitting or suppressing some truths, exaggerating Covid risks while downplaying collateral harms from policy interventions and vaccines, making hairpin U-turns and even false assertions. The poster examples of this include Anthony Fauci in the US and Neil Ferguson in the UK. The new CDC director Rochelle Walensky has quickly joined them, for example insisting that ‘any mask is better than no mask’. In an interview on ABC’s ‘Good Morning America’ on 7 January, she was widely reported as saying that 75 per cent of Covid deaths were in people with at least four comorbidities. Fact checkers quickly took reporters to task. Reuters ruled the claim was ‘missing context’. The International Business Times concluded: ‘fact is that the claim is completely false’. Why? Because it omitted context. What she had actually said was 75 per cent of Covid-related deaths among ‘fully vaccinated’ people had four comorbidities. Firstly, if we are talking nuance, to go from ‘missing context’ to ‘completely false’ is a big leap. More importantly, on the same logic, Walensky’s claim should also be ruled ‘missing context’ by Reuters and ‘completely false’ by IBT. For she provided no benchmark for the average number of comorbidities among the unvaccinated: about the same, fewer or more? Neither Reuters nor IBT fact-checked her. No prizes for guessing why. Yet the CDC does indeed provide a breakdown which shows that from the start of the pandemic in 2020 until 19 January 2022, a little over five per cent of the 843,000 US Covid-related deaths were of people with no underlying health condition, and therefore unarguably from Covid. For the rest, ‘on average, there were 4.0 additional conditions or causes per death’. So in fact the original report of her statement was entirely correct. In Australia too, Epidemiology Report 22 recorded only 9 per cent with no comorbidity in Covid hospital admissions in August 2020.

The predictable result is a steady loss of public trust, flipping from 60:8 trust-don’t trust in April 2020 to 40:43 in January 2022 for Fauci, and down from 69 to 44 per cent for the CDC in an NBC poll.

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