Max Fisher’s regular New York Times news column “The Interpreter” offered a smug liberal lecture on the psychology of the coronavirus pandemic -- “The Infectious Danger Of Conspiracy Theories" -- even as Fisher himself spread his own smug, soothing brand of misinformation while the virus spread worldwide.
From Thursday’s Times:
[Rumors have] led people to consume fatal home remedies and flout social distancing guidance. And it is disrupting the sweeping collective actions, like staying at home or wearing masks, needed to contain a virus that has already killed more than 79,000 people.
But wasn’t the conventional wisdom on the public “wearing masks” the exact opposite until recently? The "experts" at the World Health Organization still don’t recommend the general public wear masks (the same organization that first denied the virus spread human-to-human and argued against a China travel ban):
President Trump, too, has repeatedly pushed unproven drugs, despite warnings from scientists and despite at least one fatal overdose of a man whose wife said he had taken a drug at Mr. Trump’s suggestion.
A couple drank fish-tank cleaner (presumably not prescribed by their physician) and Trump is somehow to blame:
Mr. Trump has accused perceived enemies of seeking to “inflame” the coronavirus “situation” to hurt him. When supplies of personal protective equipment fell short at New York hospitals, he implied that health workers might be stealing masks.
His allies have gone further.
Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, and others have suggested that the virus was produced by a Chinese weapons lab. Some media allies have claimed that the death toll has been inflated by Mr. Trump’s enemies.
Who else has spread misleading information about the coronavirus? Max Fisher. In mid-February, Fisher used smug psychology to explain why everyone was so freaked out over coronavirus when a “serious threat” like the flu was so much deadlier:
While the metrics of public health might put the flu alongside or even ahead of the new coronavirus for sheer deadliness, she said, the mind has its own ways of measuring danger. And the new coronavirus disease, named COVID-19 hits nearly every cognitive trigger we have.
But there is a lesson, psychologists and public health experts say, in the near-terror that the virus induces, even as serious threats like the flu receive little more than a shrug. It illustrates the unconscious biases in how human beings think about risk, as well as the impulses that often guide our responses -- sometimes with serious consequences.
Even in early March, Fisher was spreading false hope:
For most people, the disease is probably not particularly deadly; health officials tend to put it somewhere within range of an unusually severe seasonal flu. Even in a global pandemic, it’s expected to kill fewer people than the flu virus. Data so far suggests that if you catch the coronavirus, you may be likelier to have no symptoms at all than to require hospitalization.