Comment from Peter Saxon
Last week Alan Jones found himself in hot water once again.
This time from a new strain of ill-advised comments regarding the coronavirus, a.k.a. COVID-19.
What he did was compare the number of infections and deaths attributable to the COVID-19 virus so far, to the number who come down with flu and die from it each year. On the raw figures, Jones is correct, the common flu “wins” hands down. Globally, hundreds of thousands die from it every year and, as Jones points out, there’s not as much of a fuss made over that.
Says Jones, “We now seem to be facing the health version of global warming.”
If Jones is correct with the figures he’s been presenting – and he is – then what is all the fuss about?
There are two giant holes in his argument. Firstly, by equating global warming to COVID-19, what Jones is effectively telling his fans is that there’s really nothing to worry about because it’s all a hoax.
Alan, it’s not a hoax. Two of the men you admire most in this world, Scott Morrison and Donald Trump have both accepted that. Why are you so out of step with them?
Secondly, Jones has misled his followers – not by presenting a factual comparison of annual cases of influenza with coronavirus but by omitting the salient factors that has the medical and scientific community so worried.
What has them worried is not what the number of coronavirus infections/deaths are now, but what those numbers will be in a couple of months if Jones’s listeners took his advice and treated COVID-19 with the same skepticism they treat climate change.
Below is a diagram from the Washington Post that charts the exponential growth of coronavirus in the United States.
Says, The Post:
This so-called exponential curve has experts worried. If the number of cases were to continue to double every three days, there would be about a hundred million cases in the United States by May.
That is math, not prophecy. The spread can be slowed, public health professionals say, if people practice “social distancing” by avoiding public spaces and generally limiting their movement.
The fact that the curve has now flattened dramatically in China only proves the chart’s point. Although slow to realise the threat initially posed by the virus, China’s government, which doesn’t value individual rights in the same way we might in the west, has since locked down whole cites and has reportedly welded shut apartment doors to keep their citizens isolated. And, as brutal as it sounds, it seems to have worked.
“Social distancing” is now what western governments around the world are desperately trying to achieve with a citizenry that is far less respectful of authority than the Chinese. Are our authorities being “alarmist” in their messaging, prone to “exaggeration” as Jones suggests? Given the nonchalance to warnings from sections of our community who are still partying in crowded groups, the messaging is, perhaps, not alarmist enough.
That’s not to say that some sections of the media aren’t ramping up the hyperbole for all it’s worth. And those idiots hoarding toilet paper and other groceries deserve our ire. The greatest inducement to panic is watching others panicking.
But the solution is not to cut back on the level of warning in case it incites some morons, but to make an example of these idiots by shaming them and arresting a few if needs be.
Since last Monday’s clanger, Jones has dialled back the tone of his rhetoric, but he persists with comparing the numbers of people who come down with the flu each year to COVID-19 as if that’s the pivotal issue. He brought it up again late in his breakfast shift last Friday while speaking to U.S. correspondent, Harley Carnes.
Amidst a longer chat than usual, Jones asked what the flu numbers were in America. Carnes answered that some 34 million Americans (give or take) or about 10 per cent of the population, came down with the bug each year. Of those, around 37,000 die.
Those are indeed big numbers that dwarf the 11,329 active cases of COVID-19 and the 161 deaths it had caused – by 8:30am AEST last Friday. Then Jones went into making the case he’d been prosecuting all week: that in light of the imbalance in those numbers the coronavirus is overblown and overdramatised.
Carnes, a former CBS newsreader has been 2GB’s “man in America” for as long as I can remember. He is possessed of a sharp wit that accompanies a relaxed tone. Yet, he is uniquely suited to the conservative stance that Jones and his audience demand of contributors.
But Harley’s also a journalist with an analytical mind, at least as interested in researching the truth as expressing a point of view. If you listen to the audio below, you’ll hear how Carnes, while seeming to have his regular agreeable chat with Jones, gently attempts to educate him and his listeners as to why people are so frightened of COVID-19. He simply makes the point, “There is no vaccine.”
So, far from thinking that COVID-19 is a tiny threat compared to the flu (which has a vaccine) people are entitled to be fearful that without a vaccine and with a higher contagion factor, COVID-19 could be much more dangerous.
What’s more, those infected can show no symptoms for a week or longer, all the while unknowingly infecting others. Why does that matter? Take the case of the Ruby Princess that docked in Sydney on Thursday. All 2,700 passengers were disembarked at Circular Quay with few, if any, checked for COVID-19. Estimates are that up to 30 people were carrying the virus.
As veterans of several cruises, my wife and I know the drill. You are let off the ship in tight groups to climb all over each other and retrieve your luggage that’s been piled up in a giant hall. You then queue up to be checked through customs and then stand cheek to jowl with everyone else waiting in line for ground transport. This process, from gangplank to transport takes around 40 minutes – all of it in close proximity to dozens of fellow passengers.
It’s not an exaggeration to suggest that in those 40 minutes the number of infected passengers had doubled to 60. That’s 60 people that get into a taxi, Uber, a bus or the car of a relative that’s come to pick them up. Some go straight to the airport, hop on a plane to virtually guarantee that they’ll infect others on board. Some who live locally will go out with friends and relatives to a restaurant or pub. So, in a matter just 12 hours or so, hundreds of people will have come in contact with those original 30 infected passengers and those hundreds will infect thousands more in the following 24 hours.
I highly recommend you follow this link to discover an instructive series of animations that illustrate the science behind the growth patterns of pandemics like coronavirus.
I’m pleased to say that our governments are taking this thing very seriously and are taking the tough measures needed, while knowing that they’ll be unpopular with some sections of society and without trying to politicise the situation. The main oppositions too have, by and large, kept politics out of the equation.
What I don’t understand is how Alan Jones, a former speech writer to the late PM, Malcolm Fraser, and something of a political strategist himself, can be so tone-deaf as to play down what most of us have now accepted as the biggest global emergency we’ve faced since World War Two.
Even Donald Trump, who is not known for accepting the advice of experts gladly or for embracing humanitarian causes has accepted that he needs to step up and be, as he says, “a war-time president.”
He, along with his favourite news outlet, Fox News, now echo what the expert advice is and are taking the pandemic seriously – apparently with promising results.
What changed Trump’s mind? Could it be that on this occasion the man who would normally prefer his own beliefs has bowed to evidence based expert advice? Perhaps – although, I have no evidence-based, expert advice to prove that.
One thing we do know about Trump is that he has excellent political instincts and a brilliant political strategist as an advisor in Steve Bannon. And, if nothing else, Trump is a pragmatist who will do anything to get re-elected. In saying that, I make no criticism. Almost every politician on the planet will try to do the same.
Let’s assume for a minute, though, that Trump’s better angels had won the day and he turns to his advisors and says, “It’s all very well putting in policies that may or may not save millions of people’s lives. And right now, we all feel warm and fuzzy, but what’s in it for me?”
If I were advising him, I’d say, “Well, Mr President what if this thing doesn’t go away like you’d hoped, then you’d be blamed for millions of deaths which is unlikely to boost your re-election chances.”
Trump: Yeah, but why don’t we treat it like we do climate change and just kick the can down the road and leave it to the next president to work out?
Me: Two reasons, Mr President. Firstly, no matter how hard they try, the Dems can’t pin any one climate event like fire, flood or a record heat wave on global warming because we just tell people that the climate’s always changing while we point to previous events in history where similar things have occurred. But COVID-19 is unique and every death it causes can be traced to it and it alone. There’s no way we can deflect from it.
Secondly, and perhaps, more importantly, this virus thing is going to play out before the election in November. You need to be seen to go to war on this. In the worst-case scenario, you can say you tried your hardest and blame it all on the “experts” that gave you poor advice and let America down. On the other hand, if we get the thing under some semblance of control by late October, you can take all the credit and romp it in. Maybe even get elected for life.
I’m joking, of course.
But our own Prime Minister who I believe is doing as good a job as one could expect with a rapidly shifting target such as COVID-19 is also using the “war” word because this is a time when we must all pull together against a common enemy that doesn’t respect borders, religion, race or political allegiances. I don’t believe Mr Morrison is being alarmist. Nor is he sugar coating the likely hardships many will likely have to endure.
What we need now is the truth from experts and leadership from our elected officials. Radio has a role in delivering a balanced message that doesn’t downplay the threat yet emphasises the reasons for hope and the heroics of our fellow citizens. We did it during the bushfires. We can do it again now.
If this is, indeed, the greatest national emergency that Australia’s faced since World War Two, then Alan Jones needs to decide whether he wants to be remembered as a Winston Churchill, “We will fight them on the beaches…” or a Neville Chamberlain “Peace in our time…” and start writing his Alan Jones Comments segments accordingly.