Saturday, April 11, 2020

If This is a War, Where are the War Correspondents?

In a recent briefing, President Trump proclaimed: "...The people of United States are in a war against an invisible enemy which has attacked 144 countries. He added that the US citizens are enduring a national trial for which everyone has to support each other. Trump gave an update on the medical equipment and supplies and said that he will fight coronavirus and will not stop until he wins the war against it. "

But an invisible enemy presents a problem. You can't personally see it, hear it, or feel it - and sometimes may have no way of knowing it's out there until it's too late.It doesn't necessarily provide you with the first hand sensory information or knowledge to verify that it's out there. You are more reliant on the reports of experts and journalists to bring you the information necessary to making informed decisions. 

So if this is a war, then where are the war correspondents? 

One important problem with the current pandemic is that the non medical general public sitting at home don't have the context which only comes from getting insider's first-hand view of what is happening at hospitals.
It's very different from what they're experiencing at home, are experiencing financially, and what they see on the internet.
During World War II and subsequent wars in the pre-internet age, the important and _dangerous_ role of the war correspondent was to integrate with the front line troops to bring the American public news from to make them aware of what was happening "over there" so that the could fully understand, tolerate and do what it takes to support the war effort.
Why is this important? "News coverage gives combatants an opportunity to forward information and arguments to the media. By this means, conflict parties attempt to use the media to gain support from their constituencies and dissuade their opponents.[2] The continued progress of technology has allowed live coverage of events via satellite up-links and the rise of twenty-four hour news channels has led to a heightened demand for material to flll the hours." 
In the current war, the battle grounds are the hospitals- which, due to very legitimate fear of infection and spread, are not even permitting family members of critically ill - and dying - patients in to see their loved ones, let alone the media.
The public is getting daily update by talking heads in TV studios, some on stages with political agendas/ ambitions in upcoming elections , or patriotically working remotely in their their living rooms - cocooned in safety from the front lines.
As an article from The Atlantic warns,  "Reporting from war zones has always been a dicey proposition, but the last few years of covering conflicts have become a particularly dark and depressing time for journalists in conflicts."  ( The Life of a War Correspondent Is Even Worse Than You Think )
In the battle against a life-threatening pandemic, the situation is even worse- as not only are there are exceedingly few "war correspondents" on the front lines to make this real to the public, but those fighting the battle in the trenches lack the time and energy to report the news. 
Interviews conducted or filmed in TV in studios do not have the immediacy and reality as those on the ground and are more likely to be viewed as contrived. Given the distrust of the media and the partisan political lens that many view the situation from their living room, there is a dangerous tendency to be complacent and dismiss or minimize the medical threat in the era of "fake news'.
The majority of the physicians in the trenches are too busy fighting to serve this purpose of providing first hand information necessary to enlist public support.
For this reason, I think it's critical for health care workers to not only discuss the medical aspect among themselves, but to excel in their vital roles as medical educator to take to social media in much larger numbers and tell the personal stories - their own and of their colleagues- so that the public can get an accurate, first hand view of what's happening on the ground from physicians and health care workers that they personally know and trust- while directing them to reliable scientific voices and sources, influence the debate and properly inform public policy.

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