Revisiting the Misinformation of the Spanish Flu Pandemic Amid Coronavirus Crisis
Sunday at 9:46 pm
In September of 2018, Travis Miller, webmaster of Hammer and Rails.com (SB Nation’s Purdue community), and myself recorded a podcast about the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic and the 1918 World Series (listen at this link). The fifth edition of “Let’s Get Weird, Sports,” a history/sports series of pods, it covered the Cubs’ loss to the Boston Red Sox in that fall classic, but mostly focused on the flu pandemic.
That specific show centered around a book that had just come out at the time and that I had just finished reading: Skip Desjardins’ September 1918: War, Plague, and the World Series. I also interviewed the author by phone, and you can listen to that session over at this link. In 1918, the authorities downplayed the severity of the flu at first, throwing out all kinds of bizarre explanations and “answers.”
They said all we needed was a cold snap, then a warm up, then some rain. Citizens were told don’t spit on the sidewalk, it spreads that way. Misinformation was so pervasive and so far out in left field that the reason this influenza pandemic was called “The Spanish Flu” is an interesting story in itself.
Spain was neutral during WWI, therefore their media was not strongly censored by the state. They were the only country reportedly on the epidemic accurately and truthfully, because they weren’t worried about showcasing a weakness to the other side like the other nations were.
The so-called Spanish Flu is largely believed to have begun in Kansas, although there is an alternate theory that it began with Chinese workers closely confined in Canadian rail cars.
That pandemic killed 650,000 Americans, and more people globally than both world wars. Now that we’ve been over the misinformation and propaganda of a century ago, let’s go over the propaganda and misinformation of today.
Then at the end, we’ll go over what we can do to help do our part and try to “FlattenTheCurve
First, let’s take a moment to remember that 17 days ago President Trump called COVID-19 a “democratic hoax,” and claimed: “When you have 15 people, and that 15, within a couple of days, is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”
Today that “15” is now nearing 4,000. Take a look at this tweet below:
In 12 days, we went from “hoax” to a ban on travel from Europe pic.twitter.com/hxNeGPWtFp
— Pod Save America (@PodSaveAmerica) March 12, 2020
Let’s remember though that it’s not just Trump. It’s also his state television network, FOX News and their sister channel, FOX Business. At this moment, Trish Regan, once a very respected national journalist (quite a long time ago) put herself in the same category as “Tami” or “that curly haired gun girl.”
If you follow the news, you know who both of those people are without any further explanation.
It's frightening and extremely dangerous that you still have a platform of any kind at this point. I'm old enough to remember when you, like @LouDobbs, were actual journalists. Both of you long sold out your integrity to become #maga propagandists https://t.co/ITjpw111H3
— Paul Maximilian Banks (@PaulMBanks) March 12, 2020
Next we take you to T Dog Media , a local Chicago media outlet review blog, telling it exactly like it is. Trump said in April this will just disappear because it’s warmer. He also added that it will “be beautiful.” (okay that’s weird)
Anyway, no, there is no evidence that coronavirus will or won’t phase out in conjunction with warmer weather.
"It will disappear". Yeah, what disappeared instead was our sports, entertainment, the way we live, and our sense of security. https://t.co/Xer6fb98Mh
— T Dog Media (@tdogmedia) March 13, 2020
Next we turn to the NPR report which exposed Trump has repressing testing capacity, because he thought that an increase of confirmed cases would result in more disapproval of his job and it would then hurt his re-election chances.
Think that’s fake news? Okay, consider what did Trump repeatedly say about that cruise ship off the coast of San Francisco. He literally said that he didn’t want the passengers to disembark because that would increase the number of cases in the United States.
He said, straight-forwardly, he didn’t want the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. to go up. That’s literally who he is.
Happy now that you voted a malignantly narcissist and openly racist former game show host into office? https://t.co/LcCVm4x6MZ
— Paul Maximilian Banks (@PaulMBanks) March 13, 2020
The last tweet we will look at it is this chart from the Washington Post. The city of Philadelphia, despite the Spanish Flu pandemic being in full swing, held the war time, patriotic parades that had been planned. Within two days, their hospitals were overcapacity.
St. Louis, on the other hand, heeded the warnings and engaged in what we now call “Social Distancing.” Take a look.
— Matt Ridley (@mattwridley) March 13, 2020
I say this as one of those people who often likes to say “March Madness is the best time of year” I’m hurting right now; badly. I’m seriously depressed because of what was happened in the past few days. So much that I love and enjoy was taken away from me within less than half of a week.
Of course, I’m going to be down. That said, I actually withdrew my credentials for college basketball tournaments this month, as well as credential applications for the upcoming spring and summer sports BEFORE they cancelled them. I withdrew from just about everything that I signed up and committed to, this month and next, before it got suspended and postponed. So although I’m very down, I quickly realized what I had to, the sacrifices I had to make, before I had no choice.
I went on self-quarantine, self-isolation, lockdown, whatever you want to call it. I have a month’s worth of food and nine packages of Lysol wipes.
Can we curate a list of things people can do, while stuck at home?
Feel free to post links to things people might enjoy doing from home while many of us are stuck isolating.
— Dominick Evans (@dominickevans) March 13, 2020
I’ve been wearing gloves, using hand-sanitizer, wearing masks and engaging in diligent and obsessive hand-washing for days upon weeks already. All I can say at this point is, engage in those habits yourself.
Follow the advice of the hashtags #StayAtHome #StayTheEffHome #StayTheFHome
Or as one very frequently re-tweeted Twitter post said: “the older generation was asked to go to war. You’re being asked to stay on your couch.”
Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation.
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