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Am I Detecting a Shift at the New York Times?

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The New York Times bears heaps of responsibility for the initial lockdowns. On February 28, 2020, the paper published a piece by its since-fired virus reporter Donald J. McNeil: “To Take On the Coronavirus, Go Medieval on It.” Praising China’s brutality, McNeil said the right way to deal with SARS-CoV-1 is to “close the borders, quarantine the ships, pen terrified citizens up inside their poisoned cities.”

The paper has long had an enormous influence over the line that the media takes, if only because every editor and reporter hopes one day to work there. That editorial changed everything. It made the unthinkable thinkable. Throughout the pandemic, they have since been scrupulous in excluding scientists who doubt the wisdom of mandates and lockdowns. Their universal recommendation to their readers has been to stay home, mask up, take your medicine, and comply with every edict. 

The people who do not read the New York Times were expected to keep working: deal with the sick, work the meatpacking plants and fields, drive the trucks, deliver the groceries, keep the lights on, and face the virus bravely. It was all a grotesque scene of class-based exploitation of which this paper heartily approved. 

Finally, after 21 months of this, I’m detecting some slight shifts in the paper. Its lead Dec 11, 2021, editorial begins with a bang, and a hint that their entire program has completely undermined public trust in government. 

Let’s look at the good parts of the editorial and then the inevitable bad parts. It’s worth a close examination because it could portend a real shift. 

NYT: “Nearly two years into the pandemic, it is clear that the coronavirus is not going to disappear anytime soon.”

Perhaps that sounds like a truism. It is not. The original lockdowns were based in part on the belief that the virus could be made to disappear through the use of force. Donald Trump certainly believed so, having been misled by his scientific advisors. “Once this virus has gone,” he repeatedly said on March 16, 2020. “The market will be very strong as soon as we get rid of the virus.”

Recognizing that every virus of this sort becomes endemic is progress. That anyone thought otherwise – the temptation to believe in Zero Covid is still driving policy in major parts of the world – is a pathetic commentary on the lack of serious thought that has been behind nearly all policy responses. It’s the reason for the brutality of interventions against the whole population rather than a focus on protection and therapeutics among the vulnerable. 

NYT: “Surges will happen, variants of concern will pop up and mitigation strategies will need to evolve.”

The phrase “mitigation strategy” has become a euphemism for lockdowns and mandates, so let us hope that “evolve” here is code for: let people live their lives while leaving mitigation to medical professionals. 

NYT: “Yet too many Americans are still paralyzed with doubt and fear over each new uncertainty, as trust in government and other institutions to manage the virus ranges from shaky to nonexistent.”

True and this newspaper is a major reason for the paralyzation, the doubt, and the fear. The paper apparently realizes that the disasters of the last 21 months have completely undermined trust. The use of the term “nonexistent” is uncharacteristically blunt. The word reminds me of D.H. Henderson’s 2006 prediction that if governments ever use lockdowns, they will wreck public trust for a generation or more. 

NYT: “The virus will continue to surprise us, and even when scientists manage to predict its worst turns, officials will not necessarily be able to prevent those turns from coming. But what if leaders at all levels made choices so that we don’t have to exhaust ourselves with stress over every curve ball? To help us all live more normally with this virus, rather than let it control us?”

Hear hear! Officials have never been able to prevent and direct. They have tried and completely failed. We should have lived “normally” all along while focusing energies on the populations that we knew then and know now are actually in danger. Regardless, that the paper is officially declaring that we have to live with the virus represents real progress. 

It’s not the Great Barrington Declaration but it takes steps in that direction. 

NYT: “​​But even amid that uncertainty, we should push for a more pragmatic path from our decision makers that will help us protect ourselves and live more normal lives, even as the virus continues to evolve.”

Fine: 21 months late on the point but good nonetheless. 

NYT: “Quarantine and isolation policies will also need an upgrade. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still advises people to isolate for 10 days after experiencing symptoms or testing positive, regardless of their vaccination status. Many schools still require anyone who’s been in contact with an infected person to quarantine for several days, at least. As breakthrough infections become more common, even among those who have received their boosters, it makes sense to allow workers and students to avoid confinement, or test their way out of it much more quickly.”

Again, thank you! Here we have the NYT actually disagreeing with the CDC! These policies have been preposterous and wrecked countless lives for no reason. The risk to students is mostly negligible and always has been. We’ve known this from day one. Not one kid in Sweden and Germany died. That classes are still being cancelled and students forced to sit at home doing nothing is an outrage. 

By the way, in many places around the country, this editorial would make no sense. People in Texas, Florida, Georgia, and many other states have been living normally for a very long time. But I suppose that the NYT writes with an audience in mind: Zoom-class people living in blue states. They are the ones who need to hear this. 

Here is where the editorial gets interesting. 

On masking students: “No one wants to force young children to wear masks for several hours a day indefinitely, but it would also be foolish to abandon the practice completely. A happy medium may be to require masks for students during surges or when new variants of concern are detected and vaccine escape is still being measured. The rest of the time, evidence so far suggests the requirement could be lifted.”

Again, thank you! The masking of kids has been heartbreaking throughout. As for the “happy medium,” it’s not so happy for the kids themselves to have their faces forcibly covered whenever some bureaucrat decides it is time. But, hey, at least the NYT sees the problem. 

NYT: “Country-specific travel bans are futile: By the time a variant like Omicron is detected in one country, it’s already spread halfway around the globe.”

Exactly! Countless families have been shattered by these restrictions that still exist. The first impulse of policy makers on the discovery of Omicron was to ban travel. That’s an extremely bad habit. The status quo ante of the freedom to travel the world must come back as a precondition of reasserting liberal values. 

And get this. The newspaper that invented Covid theater now says: “Do away with Covid theater.”

“The coronavirus is airborne, and any money spent on deep cleaning would be better put toward improved building ventilation. But instead of upgrading their HVAC systems, too many schools and businesses are still relying on things that won’t work nearly as well. The plastic barriers that have become common in restaurants, nail salons and offices, for example, can actually impede airflow and exacerbate viral spread.”

Exactly correct. Keep in mind: OSHA itself is the whole reason for these ridiculous plexiglass barriers everywhere. They issued an edict in the spring of 2020: “Install plexiglass partitions at counters and cash registers.” This “alert” is still in effect! And keep in mind that this is the same OSHA that the Biden administration has demanded impose vaccine mandates before the courts said no way. 

The rest of the editorial is quite terrible, emphasizing vaccine mandates and arbitrary and dictatorial rule by bio-fascists regardless of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, or sound science. “Administration officials should stay the course no matter how many legal battles they encounter,” they say in a passage that basically endorses lawless government. 

That said, to stay on the good aspects of this editorial, the NYT concludes: “Returning to the sound basics of public health, continuing the progress of medical innovation and ratcheting back the societal anxiety around the pandemic could make us all a lot healthier.”

This is extremely interesting language: the sound basics of public health. Exactly. Why did almost every government in the world in 2020 and 2021 abandon them? Why did Fauci and so much of the establishment believe that promoting fear was consistent with good public health? 

Reading the New York Times has always required a decoder ring. What this editorial tells me is that the ruling class that did this to this country and the world knows that it is on the losing side of history. They are scrambling fast to dial it back while preserving what they can of their dignity and credibility, both of which are mostly shot. 

Maybe, after all, it wasn’t such a good idea to “go medieval” on this pathogen.

Author

  • Jeffrey A. Tucker is Founder and President of the Brownstone Institute and the author of many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press and ten books in 5 languages, most recently Liberty or Lockdown. He is also the editor of The Best of Mises. He writes a daily column on economics at The Epoch Times, and speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.


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