Things that didn’t happen

The news is about things that happen. Steven Pinker points out that we “never see a reporter saying to the camera, ‘Here we are, live from a country where a war has not broken out.’” So things that did not happen usually go unreported, unless you are Jesse Smollet.

Disasters avoided are also not news unless it’s a close call. I read an article by a guy who worked in the the Bush White House on the president’s pandemic preparedness plan and it’s implementation. The president was gung-ho. At the time, this guy thought it was useless, unimportant work. He slogged through it. The effort hardly made the news, until recently, of course. If things that didn’t happen aren’t news, preparations for them are something even less. The Jesse Smollet exception to this rule is nuclear war. I grew up with preparations for nuclear war always in the news. We were big on preparing for that.

Can we make outbreaks of new deseases the kind of motivating threat that nuclear is, or at least was? SARS wasn’t enough, nor was MERS, although those were enough for places like Taiwan and South Korea. We can’t expect our politicians to put big efforts into things nobody cares about, that the news media passes over for any other story, and rightly so because we wouldn’t read it. Expecting politicians to put effort into something that has no hope of making the news or capturing voter interest; good luck with that.

The partisan blame game has predictably started. I would have preferred that we start with voter and news media repentence for deeming pandemic preparations unworthy of the news.