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America Can’t Take Another Lockdown. Protect The Vulnerable And Carry On


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Fifty-two years ago, in the summer of 1968, I did a brief stint as a reporter at The Oklahoma Journal, a now-defunct newspaper in Oklahoma City. I was 19. The paper was run on a shoestring, and once the city editor figured out that I could both think and write, which took about a week, I was relieved of the duty of writing obituaries and assigned to do general reporting (another fellow who had blundered was demoted).

I had the time of my life. I covered murders, fires, turmoil in the Roman Catholic church, a recent high school valedictorian burning his draft card, the opening of a glider service, the world premiere of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and George Wallace’s presidential campaign.

I took the job after my freshman year in college intending to think through whether I wanted to be a journalist. By the end of the summer, I knew this was not what I meant to do. It had been a lark, and it was exceedingly instructive.

I learned a lot about the town, the mores and manners of its citizens, and local politics. But I realized also that 99 percent of what journalists report is ephemeral — interesting, if it is interesting at all, only for an instant. It was noise not news; titillating but not telling. I was interested in the latter — which is why I became a historian.

As I read what is left of our newspapers and consult online sources — all with an eye to the current epidemic — it’s striking how nearly everything I read is noise, not news. Take the supposed surge in coronavirus cases. Does it matter? I think not.

To begin with, what is being reported is the number of newly diagnosed cases. We are rarely told this, but much of this has to do with the increased prevalence of testing. It does not mean that the virus is spreading with alarming rapidity. What it really tells us is that the journalists and their editors are doing a fairly poor job assessing the significance of what they report.:snip:

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