Jonathon V. Last has some things to say about that in the morning email from The Bulwark.
Last week, a reader sent me a passage from the end of John Barry’s book The Great Influenza, which is generally regarded as the definitive history of the 1918 pandemic. Barry spent years of his life studying this one moment in history and it’s fair to say that he understands it as well, or better, than anyone. And he came away with some very specific lessons for dealing with outbreaks.
Here’s one of them:
Of all the lessons from 1918, the clearest is that truth matters. A specialty among public relations consultants has evolved in recent decades called “risk communication." I don’t much care for the term. It implies managing the truth. You don’t manage the truth. You tell the truth… .
Those in authority must retain the public trust. The way to do that is to distort nothing, to put the best face on nothing, to try to manipulate no one.
I want to put that in contrast with the constant lies Donald Trump has foisted on the public since the very start of this crisis:
- He lied about how the outbreak was progressing for nearly three months.
- He repeated the lies of the Chinese government, over and over, boosting Chinese propaganda while dismissing the conclusions of American officials.
- He lied about the nature of his “travel ban” with China, which allowed travelers from China to arrive in the U.S. daily.
- He lied about the availability of testing, which is the single most important weapon we have for fighting contagion.
I mention this not to fixate on Trump’s deficiencies as a leader, but to highlight that he is actively making the situation worse.
In a time of pandemic, truth is a tool to fight infection. Lies contribute to the spread.