I have written the words “coronavirus,” “COVID-19,” and “the virus” an unfathomable amount of times. On a daily basis, I am immersed in all the details of how this pandemic has breached every facet of our society, wreaked havoc on our economy, and - yes - taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of people on this planet.
But that’s not why I’m tired.
For all the work good journalists have tried to do during this crisis, there is a subset of people who refuse to believe any credible information we try to produce and would rather live in denial.
It would be much easier if COVID-19 were fake news or a conspiracy, wouldn’t it? If everything was a lie, we could all go back to our comfortable lifestyles.
Posting memes is easier than educating yourself with peer-reviewed science. Perhaps a pandemic is just one more thing in everyone's busy life that they don’t have time to deal with.
This is denial.
A fact is not false because it's inconvenient. Conversely, information isn’t true because you agree with it; that’s confirmation bias.
If you’ve ever called people “sheep” or told people to “wake up,” there is likely confirmation bias happening.
In a highly-cited research essay published in the Review of General Psychology medical journal, Raymond S. Nickerson compiled numerous scientific studies and observed the tendency to search for validation more than unbiased information in all people including children and even the U.S. government during wartime.
“Philosophers and psychologists alike have observed that people find it easier to believe propositions they would like to be true than propositions they would prefer to be false,” he noted.
But what if more and more evidence points to your belief being wrong?
"Once a policy has been adopted and implemented, all subsequent activity becomes an effort to justify it."
Now isn’t this the truth.
The truth is many people don't have a healthy skepticism of authority. Rather, they never tried to believe this pandemic was real to begin with.
At the first hint of hearing about coronavirus, these people rolled their eyes and baselessly claimed this was just another stunt from the media.
As the state began shutting down around them and its effects fell on their doorstep, they held firm and tried to justify themselves with any other reason than this crisis being exactly what medical experts across the world say it is.
And when someone finally said what they wanted to hear - that this was all fake - they bit. It didn’t matter if the messenger was fraudulent, the sources dubious or the story completely fabricated.
They heard the magic words: “You’re right.”
This is a perilous time when sources and attribution are optional if the message is agreeable.
In the face of logic, some people would rather attack the bearers of bad news and cling to the poisonous fallacy of denial.
Consider this, Jim tells his friend Sally that 2+2 = 5 to which Sally responds, “No, it’s four.”
If Jim followed that with, “What the hell do you know?” that would be a fallacious ad hominem argument and quite rude as well.
Have you attacked the media during this outbreak? Seen a report and called it “fake news”?
Did you actually find verified information that contradicts what we reported when you said that?
If you did indeed find factual evidence or new information that vastly differs from what we’ve reported, let us know. I will never claim that my stories, or 12 News’ coverage, has been perfect. But our goal has always been to deliver factual information and helpful resources on a daily basis.
However, if people cry “fake news” because they don’t like it, well there’s not much I can do.
The ugly term harkens back to shades of Cold War-era McCarthyism when people yelled “communist” at anyone they didn’t like.
The disgraced senator Joseph McCarthy labeled anyone who challenged him as a treasonous communist without any regard for producing the evidence to prove it.
The fact that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled McCarthy’s actions illegal and unraveled his policies proved he was on the wrong side of history and so too are the people who yell "fake news."
Enumerate the times 12 News has encouraged people to hoard supplies and make store shelves bare; we have not. We have, in fact, done the opposite.
If you chastised 12 News for failing to cover the seasonal flu, we did and you missed it.
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We do not create stories; we report them. We did not create this pandemic; we’re trying to end it.
There has been a massive surge of coronavirus cases across Arizona since the end of the stay-at-home order, doctors have profusely urged people to wear masks and our hospitals are rapidly filling up with patients.
And yet these people choose denial and twist American ideals in the service of the fight for the “freedom” to endanger others while wrapping themselves in willful ignorance under the guise of patriotism.
Perhaps they’re one of the lucky few who hasn’t had a friend or loved one affected; it’s not their problem.
Take that idea and tell it to the man who lost five family members to COVID-19.
Take that idea and tell it my friend Lina who lost her dad to coronavirus just weeks after he returned to work.
As a news organization, we can only try to persuade these people by continuously offering facts and credible resources; this has failed.
Now as an individual, I can only offer you my opinion to try to listen. Perhaps not to me, perhaps not to 12 News, but, for everyone’s sake, find any reputable source of information that provides facts grounded in science and not conjecture.
Challenge yourself to be open to the possibility that you may not have all the answers, and if there’s enough evidence that tells you that 2+2 is actually 4 and not 5, then adjust your understanding of the world and move forward.
But if you still latch on to the abhorrent notion that this pandemic is not an existential threat to you, your friends and family, that it hasn’t affected millions of lives, broken families apart and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future unless we work together to mitigate the spread - then there's truly nothing more I can do.
Julian Paredes is a senior digital content producer for 12News.