News media, social media and facts in the time of coronavirus

I’m going to share my take on information/misinformation/freedom of speech and press as a journalist. This is just my take, with my opinions uniquely my own, created by my whole set of personal circumstances but heavily informed by my training and long years of editing/writing experience in the news field (this includes me having to teach and train and work with younger and less experienced writers who were still learning to really appropriately acquire information through research and interviews and then correctly interpret and analyze it and then synthesize it for readers in a way that is clear, informative/understandable to most readers, and accurate).

First, I am generally unlikely to watch a YouTube video that is popular and going around Facebook but that has already been marked as problematic by what I consider to be trusted sources. Almost all the time, the people who created/are the “specialists” in the videos are just one person. They are not drawing on the expertise of multiple experts (the more experts who have studied a particular issue that can weigh in on the topic with generally similar advice or information, the better; that’s science. Science is coming up with hypotheses, testing those through rigorous experiments/studies, and then publishing results and having those peer-reviewed. These videos with a single so-called “expert” do not have that weight of science to back them up.

Another problem that comes up with these videos is that the “experts” have already been shown to be extremists with no evidence to back up their claims or their past claims have been debunked time and time again by scholars in the field who do have the weight of science behind them. No, I’m not going to watch a video made by an extreme anti-vaxxer. I do not agree with those who are anti-vaccination in general and who think that children should not be vaccinated for standard diseases that have in the past wiped out millions and millions. The science does not support anti-vaxxers, and I will not waste time watching a video made by one of them.

Last little point: If I already can see I’m very unlikely to be interested in the videos, I’m not going to click and thereby contribute to these people’s paydays (yes, this is just one reason it’s not “going to hurt anything” if you check some things out that you may initially already be a bit skeptical about).


To those who are saying their freedom of speech is being taken away/violated when these videos are removed from certain platforms, I say: Freedom of speech means the government cannot infringe on what you say. Even that, however, has some limitations: not all speech is protected, such as threats, child pornography, plagiarism and defamation. Private individuals and entities may, however, choose to limit your speech. Facebook and YouTube can do what they please in limiting what we share or post. That doesn’t mean that either won’t face consequences for limiting too much, such as if enough of us customers raise a ruckus about it and it makes a difference to their bottom line; it also doesn’t mean the government won’t look into some of these entities’ practices and establish some laws/rules about how these entities must move forward.

But for the moment, if FB or YouTube is removing a video time after time, those entities have reasons for doing so, and those are outlined under their terms and conditions. Facebook, for example, after being investigated by the government (various times about various concerns), has supposedly set out to do better by its users in terms of what information it allows to be disseminated quickly on its platform. It’s set up fact checks to pop up in response to certain popular videos or articles that keep getting shared that have been debunked thoroughly by reputable sources. It’s also reserved the right to remove some. It’s theoretically trying to at least provide some real news so that FB users who hop on quickly to look at their feeds don’t see something shared and hop off FB without at least having a chance to see the “other side” or the facts. I welcome seeing this kind of give-and-take, so at least some of the information that’s been vetted by professionals is quickly available. I also do try to do due diligence myself when I see something that just seems a bit fishy by searching Google for some related information, ideally multiple news articles from trusted media.


News media are an important part of our democratic republic and are protected right after free speech, and they do perform a vital role in our country. We need to be able to trust that someone is looking into the facts. (That’s another note for another day, but let’s just say for now the “mainstream media” are still the best source we have to look to for the “truthiest” facts. 😉 )

Social media is pretty dangerous when it comes to “facts” because everyone is on the same level. Anyone can say anything on social media. It’s not backed by science, it’s not the opinion of more than one person, it’s not vetted by anyone trained in anything (let’s just say the “average user” here). And any comment, anything you say, will be out there in seconds. Social media, in this case, are the opposite of news media: any news story takes time. It takes time for a trained journalist to track down the facts, to research, to interview experts. It takes time to put the story together. It takes training to know how to sift through that information gained through research and find what’s at the heart of it, the facts/truth as well as they can be found at that time. It takes a good eye and ear and experience that becomes almost a sixth sense (an earned one) of knowing what’s truth and what’s hooey or even just half-truth.

That being said, you have every right to watch any video you want, wherever it is on the scale of facts or expert insight or science. You have every right to demand that a platform not take down what you want it to keep up. You have a right to gather information any way you see fit. This is such a fascinating beauty of our democracy: you can do what you want most of the time, whether it’s great for you and others or is ill-advised, and anywhere on a spectrum of truth/falsehood. You are very welcome to research any topic you want more information about, whether it starts on Facebook with someone linking to an article or YouTube video, or you go to pretty much anywhere on the internet. You are free to do so in our free country! Go USA!

I may at times watch some videos or read some articles or links to blogs because I think they bring up some important points that maybe we haven’t considered or that haven’t been explored enough in the media yet, and I know a lot of my friends have been watching various videos now for that very reason; I support you as you have mentioned this. There may be some considerations we need to think about that just haven’t been discussed enough in “mainstream media.” And I will draw my own conclusions from what I read/watch according to my own life experience and journalism training. My opinions will be similar to others’ and be something plenty of others disagree with. I’m pretty much moderate-to-conservative politically and socially, and a lot of what I conclude will likely align with my views on that kind of scale. Sometimes not.

The novel coronavirus is sometimes exacerbating our political and social views and exposing how many people just don’t trust the media anymore, which I consider pretty sad, in part because I know that most journalists are still doing the best they can to deliver news in the way it’s supposed to be delivered, and in part because television cable channels have distorted what “the media” look like (the endless hours of very wide spans of opinions and heated arguments on cable news have, in my opinion, sullied the important profession of news delivery, making many people in general just have a sour taste in their mouths when they think “news”). And the most important reason I’m sad about that lack of trust is precisely because our great free country needs a functioning media more than it ever has, and ironically, those who are most vocal about the Bill of Rights and other amendments tend to forget that the press is in that set of amendments for vital reasons.

I do get it, though. Our political parties and leaders have become divided by a huge chasm, and we the people are getting sick of it. Most of us want to see our politicians do what we voted them in to do, to work together, to hammer out solutions to problems, to enact laws, that will benefit all of us in some way because they have been crafted by consensus, collaboration, compromise, and even (gasp!) selflessness. And our media have to report on what’s happening. That’s what’s happening, folks. And in a time that’s uncertain and even the experts tend to be sharing information that comes from a lot of different angles, with plenty of differing conclusions and even statistics, we’re going to turn to information that just makes the most sense to us.

Days and weeks matter in this time of COVID-19. A lot can change in understanding of the virus, in reactions and actions, in policies, in the science, because it’s so new, and in science, more time and more data equals better and more accurate conclusions (and consensus with peer review). The media is reporting on all that, too.

In short, we’re confused, we’re exhausted, we’re strung out, we’re frustrated. We sometimes don’t know exactly whom to trust. Eventually, things will change in this time of novel coronavirus. But I hope that our leaders, the media, and we the people will learn from this experience, because all of us can do better, in either a small degree or larger degree (yes, I’m looking at you especially, politicians). We can be a little smarter about what we share and what we say when we share it. Some healthy skepticism is good, and even some healthy trust is good.



Let’s fix our health care system before it breaks entirely

Catastrophic CareI just finished reading David Goldhill’s excellent book Catastrophic Care: How American Health Care Killed My Father — and How We Can Fix It. I don’t say this often, but EVERYONE must read this book. MUST.

It’s important to note that Goldhill is a Democrat and a liberal, as he states in the book. He wants everyone to have access to health care, at reasonable prices for them. But even he is clear that the American health care system as it has evolved over the past 40 years or so is broken and that having our government step in and use the current messed-up system to provide more care is not a viable solution. Indeed, the costs of this bloated, convoluted system are already at levels that can’t possibly be sustained, and as time goes on, the whole system will hit a critical level at which it can no longer function, and no one will receive adequate care.

There are a lot of problems going on. One is that we’re already getting poor care from the system; hundreds of thousands of Americans die every year from medical errors. Most of us have cause to complain about our insurance or health care (which are not synonymous but which are essentially tied together in a sick, symbiotic beast), but we feel helpless to DO anything about it. Goldhill writes that the problem there is that we as patients are simply not the consumers/customers of the business of health care: the insurance providers are. The system itself has pushed us out of the loop so we feel we can’t demand better care or prices.

Goldhill makes his case very clearly and simply and walks readers through how we got where we are today; read my review of the book for more information, but then read the whole book to really get the idea. That background of health care/insurance’s history then allows us to understand why the government “fixes” are just going to make the problems even bigger and worse. By the end, Goldhill even comes up with his own plans for making health care available and affordable to everyone in this country, even for rare and costly illnesses.

I can’t emphasize enough that we as consumers and patients and citizens of this country need to get better informed and then act to change the situation. Only if we all urge our political leaders to make an overhaul — and then prepare ourselves to take more responsibility on ourselves as consumers — will the system change and be something that will give us better care, prices, and customer service. Unfortunately, it may well take a terrible catastrophe or crisis (not too far off in the future) before we decide to act. I only wish we could act before that happens.

Everyone can give something

Whew! It has been quite a week in this country. The election seems to have brought out the worst in everyone, just before the vote and since the results were announced. I’ve been pondering on several topics connected to what has gone on and what people have talked about (or yelled about or written about in scathing words), and one has been the great divide in how people see wealth, or the lack of it. I have observed a lot of heated discussions about the rich, the poor, and what it means for individuals and the government to provide aid to the poor (thereby “taking” from the rich or even the middle class in the form of higher taxes).

What I’ve thought about is that everyone can give of their time and talents, whether they have money to spare or not. Money is not the only resource we all have. Even the poor can give of who they are and what they’re good at.

I live in California, where there are particularly bad problems with the economy, the state budget, and social programs, particularly education. I’ve observed in just the past four years while I’ve lived here most recently just how much education has suffered. Class sizes have gotten larger and larger, and schools’ budgets have gotten smaller. At the same time, I’ve been encouraged to see individuals doing all they can to help schools by just giving of their time. I have four children, one in high school, one in middle school, and two in elementary. My youngest is in half-day kindergarten. The teacher, as most do, asked through notes home if any parents could help out in the classroom. Given that I volunteer in a variety of capacities and write and do editing (part time, the only thing for which I earn any money) out of my home, I can’t give a lot of time to one area, but I can try to do something. So I told the teacher I could help out once a month. I did that the first time a few weeks ago, sitting in the back of the class and helping students with some projects. I watched the teacher manage a huge class of 30 5-year-olds. THAT is a huge job, let me tell you. I also watched one other parent sit at a table and go through all of the children’s daily folders and check that homework was done and everything was in order. She relayed the necessary information to the teacher. I was amazed to learn that this parent is there EVERY DAY, for the whole 3 1/2 hours the students are in the classroom. She volunteers that much of her time. And believe me, it definitely looked as if the teacher would have a hard time doing without her. She was pretty busy with that class FULL of little kids.

Not everyone can give that much of their time. But everyone can do something. Giving of ourselves makes us truly human, in all the best ways, I think. And it brings such a sense of satisfaction to us, while we’re providing needed help to others. It’s important for each of us to give of ourselves voluntarily and from the heart. At the same time, however, I think some people can sometimes use a little nudge. This is the only place in this post I’m going to really write about my “political” view, but here goes: I firmly believe that if people are being given assistance, from the government or from a faith-based organization or other group, then they can give something back for that aid. I love how Habitat for Humanity works: it requires that people give “sweat equity” to help build their own homes. They are provided a wonderful new home of their own, and they put in hours to build it and others’ homes. That’s part of why I like to donate money to that organization; I like its philosophy. I don’t think that requiring this kind of “payment” is all about “fairness,” though that is a part of it (if you’re going to get something, you should work for it in some way); it’s also about helping people to feel that they are valuable and able to give, able to work somehow. Those who are just given things without earning them tend to not feel as confident about themselves. So… I’m not against there being a government-sponsored safety net. Everyone ends up in a rough patch at one time or another, so it’s vital to have something available. But I would like to see that those who use that net for a while give back. Hunt for a new job, perhaps, for half of your day and spend the other half volunteering somewhere. This is just a general idea.

At any rate, I salute those in our society who work hard to take care of themselves (that’s SO many of you!), and then still spend more time working hard to help others. Whether you give money or time or any other of your particular resources, you are helping to build and maintain civilization.

Ann Romney and moms who ‘don’t work’

Well, the latest crazy statement by a political commentator has made its way through the blogosphere today. Since it is such an integral part of my life, I feel compelled to comment.

Here’s the basic info: Hilary Rosen, a Democratic strategist, said Ann Romney wasn’t qualified to talk about women struggling in the economic downturn because she “hasn’t worked a day in her life.” Naturally, this opinion has ignited the ire of many women, stay-at-home moms or not. Rosen made this comment while trying to make the point that because Ann Romney hasn’t held a job in the paying workplace, she can’t be qualified to have an opinion about economic issues that affect women, and can’t be a useful advisor to her husband. First, I must point out that it isn’t necessary to be the one in the family holding down a paying job to be concerned about how the economy is going and how it affects your family, no matter how much money your primary wage-earner makes. Second, and the real ignition for the fire, the comment then belies Rosen’s derisive attitude toward women who choose to stay home to raise their children.

I always find it a little absurd that women who are generally of a liberal slant, who shout about the need for women to be able to “choose,” such as about their own reproductive lives, then turn up their noses at women who make a different choice than they would in family matters. “Choice” implies that there are varied options available, and that it is an individual’s right and privilege to decide among those very different options. It also implies that any of those options are ones that should be respected by others. But in our society today, if a woman chooses an option that others frown on, that woman is often derided and called “old-fashioned.”

I am a mother of four, and my daughters’ ages are in a wide range, almost 16 down to nearly 5. I have two teenagers, an elementary schooler and a preschooler. They have very different needs and schedules and temperaments. I chose from the beginning of my reproductive life to be a mother who would stay at home with her children, and I have held to that. Over the course of 16 years, I have worked part-time out of the home (15 or 20 hours at the very most) for perhaps 3 years total, when financial realities have indicated that my income would be necessary. Right now, I work from my home office on the computer for pay for maybe 5 hours a week. The opportunity to copy edit online has been quite welcome, has added a little extra income, and has kept my skills fresh. I feel blessed not to have to leave the house to do it. I also have various projects I do in the hopes of earning pay from them in the future and/or because they are intellectually and creatively stimulating and satisfying. I also feel blessed that I have the freedom to be able to pursue these projects.

There is no doubt that our economy right now has forced many families, two-parent or otherwise, to make decisions they wouldn’t otherwise have made. Both parents might have to work outside the home; single parents have to work. Wives may work and laid-off husbands stay home with the kids while they continue to search for employment again. It’s not a happy time. Even in brighter economic times, families made decisions that were either “modern” or more “old-fashioned,” according to their needs and wants and interests. Sure, I’d like to see more women able to stay home with their children, at least not working out of the home 40 hours a week, because I personally believe it benefits the kids when that situation is possible. But I know how it feels to just be home with the kids ALL THE TIME. Getting out of the house to a job where you’re appreciated, patted on the back, given breaks and more immediate gratification than a 20-year-long project is definitely an enticing prospect. And a paycheck? It can mean college tuition for your kids, a car that isn’t 15 years old and in the shop every other week, or just a reflection of a job well done that other people in society relate to and recognize. But mothering at home full time? No paycheck, no regular gratification, no guaranteed breaks, no good reason to put on a nice blouse and makeup.

But we still live in a society in which women are just not that great at respecting each other’s choices. Hilary Rosen is just a case in point. Why can’t we just admit to ourselves that we’re all very different and have very different backgrounds, life experiences, needs and wants, abilities, interests, weaknesses, and capacities? Whether we as women are married or not, have children or not, we are going to see the world in very different ways. We also aren’t just polarized to one “side” or the other: we might be working full time but wanting to stay at home; we might be staying at home with kids but really wanting to get out into the workforce. Or we might be working outside the home part-time or working from our home offices. There are a variety of flexible options available so we don’t have to be “one side” or the other: full-time workers or full-time stay-at-homes. (At the same time, our society definitely needs to figure out ways to make more truly flexible options available to both women and men to support families and children.) So we can’t expect everyone to make the exact same choices we do.

I know it took me ages to get used to being the mother of an infant, then a toddler and an infant and then more. It just made me crazy to be at home 24/7 with a very demanding little human being. I wanted to get out and work, do something for me. Even now, the demands of a home and husband and four daughters of varying ages can at times be super-stressful and overwhelming. And my own expectations of what I’d like for my daughters, what I’d like to be able to do for them, are usually more than I’m possibly capable of fulfilling because of time and energy limitations. I can’t possibly be in the high school band boosters and the elementary school PTA and the middle-school PTA and work from home and do my projects and volunteer in church and be in charge of other things and write a book and make muffins every day for breakfast and four-course meals for dinner and shop for food and clothes and do laundry and clean. I can’t be two places at once, which sometimes comes up with four kids. Choices must be made, and they’re rarely easy ones. It’s all about balance and constantly reprioritizing and rebalancing.

At the same time, despite how different we all are, I know that any mother, working outside the home for any number of hours or not, faces similar concerns and struggles to keep balanced, to keep all her balls in the air. So why in the world should we criticize and demean and make nasty comments, rather than using those energies to support each other in our choices and figure out ways to make our society better for everyone? Let’s let “choice” mean something.