Elsewhere, the daily fail: Along the way, we've come to admire Nicholas Kristof's devotion to human values.
Along the way, we sometimes thought he had a tendency toward a few types of mistakes. To cite one example, we thought he tended to accept, no questions asked, the standard presentations of "educational experts" in ways which didn't help.
We've come to admire his devotion. That said, we were balled by this passage from this Thursday's column:
KRISTOF (4/2/20): It’s baffling that the richest country in the history of the world fails so abysmally at protecting its health workers, especially when it had two months’ lead time. And for hospitals now to retaliate against health workers who try to protect themselves—ousting them just when they are most needed—is both unconscionable and idiotic.We're not sure why that's baffling.
Why are we failing to protect our health workers? For starters, we'd offer the most obvious reason:
We have a deeply disordered person in the Oval Office. There's every chance that, at the end of the psychiatric day, he doesn't actually care.
We also have a widely disordered intellectual and journalistic culture. Anthropologically speaking, this may simply be part of "the human condition." But the way our journalistic culture is working hasn't helped.
As part of our journalistic culture, our major news orgs have agreed--we mustn't discuss the possibility that President Trump is severely disordered.
By the fall of 2017, Yale's Bandy X. Lee was trying to launch that discussion. With this editorial, the New York Times shut her effort down.
It's true that any attempt to conduct that discussion would have been beyond the upper-end press corps' extremely modest skill level. But this is part of our journalistic and intellectual culture. It helps explain the remarkable segment we saw Don Lemon conduct last night.
Lemon introduced two guests. Here's how he described them:
LEMON (4/3/20): New York City has become ground zero for the outbreak in this country. Residents reporting almost constant sirens. In just the last day, more than 6,500 new cases were reported, along with over 300 deaths. Just the past day.We'll admit it. Our failure to protect such people is so extreme that we find it cloying to see them introduced as heroes. In our view, their devotion to duty takes them beyond the realm for which the rest of us have developed words.
So, joining me now, two New York heroes, Dr. Laura Ucik, and also Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez. She is an E.R. nurse and the president of the New York State Nurses association.
I'm so grateful to have both of you on this evening. Let me just thank you right off for what you're doing. And don't tell me that you're not heroes, because you indeed are.
We don't mean that as a criticism of Lemon, who skillfully conducted a remarkable segment about an ongoing state of disgrace.
We'll start with the exchange shown below. Sheridan-Gonzalez had just finished reporting that some nurses at her hospital have already died as a result of their work with coronavirus patients:
LEMON: You've been experiencing coronavirus symptoms yourself. How are you feeling?Moments later, Lemon asked an excellent question:
SHERIDAN-GONZALEZ: I'm OK now. I just want to see if I have antibodies. My test was negative. There is a lot of false negatives. But we're hoping to get the antibodies test to see if we have some kind of resistance. I think that would be helpful.
It doesn't necessarily protect us completely, but it seems to perhaps give us a little bit of immunity, because our colleagues are exhausted. You know, we started off being concerned. The concern turned to worry. The worry turned to fear and then to abject terror. And now we're just almost numb. Many of us are ill. We're still trying to work. But the need for protective equipment is essential.
LEMON: Why do you continue to go put your own life in danger? I know you're speaking on behalf of nurses throughout the New York area.In our view, this kind of devotion lies somewhere beyond the reach of our language and our common conceptions. When Lemon turned to Dr, Ucik, this point became even more clear:
SHERIDAN-GONZALEZ: Correct. Yes. We go in. Nurses do what they do because that's what we have to do. This—we're like the Normandy of this viral invasion. We are on the front lines. We have had casualties. We hope we'll win.
LEMON (continuing directly): Dr. Ucik, you are 28 years old. You're writing your last will and testament. How concerned are you about your health?To our eye and ear, Dr. Ucik seemed like a superb young person—almost unimaginably so. In our assessment, the quality of such devotion is almost baffling in itself, given the moral and intellectual squalor which obtains and largely goes unchallenged in so many other precincts.
UCIK: I'm absolutely terrified. We had people in their 20s die in our hospital this past week. And I realized when that happened that I also might not survive this pandemic. And it's really been a reckoning for me.
I wrote out my wishes. I spoke with my family. I've cried a lot this week. But, you know, this pandemic is something that is affecting everyone, and nobody is really safe from coronavirus.
I think about what it would be like to be in a prison right now or in a nursing home...
She's 28, and she's made out her will. To our eye and ear, it seemed plain that she wasn't exaggerating the state of her personal fear. But she keeps going in.
For us, her personal affect as she spoke was striking and instructive. We think her second exchange with Lemon is also worth recording:
LEMON: You know, Doctor, a lot of people are getting restless under these social distancing guidelines and these stay-at-home orders. What is your message to people who say that I don't know anyone with this virus? My community will never be anything like a New York. I don't think we need this stay at home guidelines. What do you say to them?Ucik and Sheridan-Gonzalez are asking for masks and gowns. Dr. Ucik makes this request at age 28, even as she writes her will and makes her wishes known to her family.
UCIK: You know, I felt that way too, a few weeks ago, when I had friends over, and I realize now how serious this is, both on a personal level—
I had patients who I saw in the office, you know, a week and a half ago, and they were fine, and now they're dead. And the major financial impact for many of my patients and my community at large.
One of my coworkers who is a doctor recently had to PayPal a patient rent money so that the patient could stay home and not risk her life by going to work. So my patients, they're losing their lives. They're losing their jobs. They're losing their homes, and they need basic supports right now like eviction, rent support, income protections.
Those things are just as important as the kinds of protections that Judy and I are asking for, like masks and gowns, because this is something that we're all in together.
And as she keeps going in.
Dr. Ucik is asking for masks and gowns. Is it baffling that a situation like this could be taking place here?
We'd say it isn't baffling. What's striking to us is the contrast—the contrast between this kind of devotion and the sorts of behavior we see in other precincts.
Commander Trump's daily briefings marvels of misdirection and aggressive blame-shifting. Quite routinely, if it weren't for the non-answer answers, there would be no answers at all.
The habitual refusal to answer straightforward questions extends beyond the reach of the president's long-winded campaign monologues. Consider an exchange from Thursday's prime-time event, which started with a reference to the commander's latest (negative) test for coronavirus.
The question was quite straightforward. The non-answer answer was not:
REPORTER 1 (4/2/20): Dr. Birx, with regard to the test, the president’s sample collection took one minute, results reported back in 15 minutes. I realize [he's] the president of the United States, but when will everyone get to take a test that works that quickly and you get results that quickly?The question was quite straightforward. Can you find an answer in the non-response response?
BIRX: So, these are new tests and we have prioritized the groups that we think have the least access to testing now. And who do we mean by that?
We mean the Indian Health Service—they’re often in remote areas; rural areas; the governors of the northwestern states that may not have the advantage of these high-throughput machines that are often across the East Coast and in high metro areas—Colorado—and then across the West Coast.
So we’ve prioritized the presidential 15-minute test to the Indian Health Services and public health labs so that they can support nursing home testing and other areas where we think surveillance is absolutely key. So at this moment they’re prioritized in that way.
TRUMP: It’s thirteen to twelve hundred.
BIRX: Yes, twelve hundred of them are going out that way.
To her credit, the reporter attempted to follow up. The official White House transcript helps us see the futility in such attempts:
REPORTER 1 (continuing directly): So do more of those tests need to be made in order for more people—Reporter 1 was interrupted twice as she tried to restate her question. That said:
TRUMP: They are being made.
REPORTER 1: Okay. So in a matter of—
TRUMP: They’re moving very quickly—it’s happening—in this case.
BIRX: So I’m glad you asked that because, today, there’s 18,000 of these machines already out there. We’re trying to find out exactly where everyone is because you can see that gives you amazing flexibility. Because if people would allow it to be loaned to a state that’s in a hotspot or a state where you want to do additional surveillance, 18,000 tests, 18,000 machines, is a huge amount. And it really gets to your very question about how we can prioritize what we have at the same time we’re moving out what is new.
And so really figuring out who should those go to, how—who can we ask communities—because these will be in the community—to share those machines into the community who need the testing now. And I think that’s really an incredible question that really needs to be answered over the next 24 hours.
Even as Dr. Birx expressed her pleasure with the reporter's very question, can you find an answer to that question? When will everyone get such tests? Can you find an answer?
Reporter 1's simple question had been met with a string on non-answers. And sure enough! At this point, the press corps' greatest gods, Scattershot and Look Over Here, imposed their will on this reporter's effort:
REPORTER 2 (continuing directly): Dr. Birx, a point of clarity about the face-covering guidance. You said it’s still a point of debate. You said—you used the phrase, “the guidance, if it comes out.” Is the guidance coming out? And when?Instead of insisting on an answer to Reporter 1's question, Reporter 2 returned to the topic of masks.
The press corps has loved the topic of masks because it's so simple-minded and easy to picture that even they can grasp it. So it has gone, down through the years, with so many other topics:
Who would you like to have a beer with? What's up with that clothing and hair?
Scattershot and Look Over Here control large swaths of our non-discourse discourse. We think of scattershot congressional hearings, in which each member has to get on TV. We think of press "briefings" like this.
Given our species' state of evolution, we live with this familiar behavior as if it makes sense. Meanwhile, walking among us are Don Lemon's guests.
Is it baffling that we aren't protecting Sheridan-Gonzalez and Ucik? Major anthropologists keep telling us that it's actually par for the course.
It's bred in the bone, these despondent future experts say. Our species contains quite a few Trumps, then ever so slowly works its way up to the level of Lemon's astonishing guests.
We saw Lemon's segment in rerun in the 3 AM hour. We're glad we happened to catch it.