On November 14 a South Dakota nurse tweeted about her remarkable experiences with Covid patients in denial:
Her story quickly went viral on Twitter and then made its way into the regular media.
She even appeared on CNN for a seven minute long interview:
“Their last dying words are, ‘This can’t be happening. It’s not real.’ And when they should be spending time Facetiming their families they’re filled with anger and hatred”
That’s quite a picture she paints.
Her story seemed to confirm a lot of people’s prejudices about other people — especially those in red states — supposedly not taking Covid seriously, being angry, reckless and in denial, to a ludicrous degree.
For a typical example, here is how Toronto Star columnist Bruce Arthur responded to the story:
When a story is this outrageous yet at the same time perfectly confirms your own biases and prejudices it is wise to stop for a moment and critically examine it. But it appears that very few people did, not even reporters at serious media institutions such as the Washington Post and CNN.
If they had, they would have found the following:
As you can see, there were no Covid patients on ventilators, only one Covid patient in the ICU, and only six Covid patients in the hospital.
Now remember what Doering tweeted:
“It’s like a horror movie that never ends.”
“You just go back and do it all over again.”
And she makes it clear she was talking about recent events (“the last few days”):
Moreover, in response to a question she said:
This all creates the impression that there have been a large number of Covid patients on ventilators in her hospital, and a fair number of them very recently. Which is clearly not the case.
And it did not appear to be the case a month earlier either. This news article from October 13 describes a situation that was pretty similar to the current one: Six hospitalized Covid patients, one in the ICU. The article doesn’t say whether or not that person in the ICU was on a ventilator.
- Covid didn’t really hit South Dakota hard until September
- Covid patients are much less likely to be put on ventilators nowadays than they were back in March and April
it seems exceedingly unlikely that her hospital has had a significant number of Covid patients on ventilators, let alone that a fair number of them were angrily denying that Covid was real up until the very moment they were intubated.
So it seems clear that Doering made up her story, naturally not expecting that her tweet would go viral and reach millions of people. But instead of walking it back, she went on CNN and added even more detail.
That’s on her.
But she is just an ordinary person, who likely just got carried away in the moment.
The real responsibility here lies with media organizations such as the Washington Post and CNN, and with the countless reporters and pundits who breathlessly amplified her story for clicks and ratings.
It took me about three minutes to find the data that refutes her story. That’s four minutes less than the duration of the interview CNN did with Doering.
By refusing to adhere to even the most basic journalistic standards, these media organizations promoted a story that was not only false but that perpetuated and hardened prejudices and stereotypes. The story gave one group of people the thrill of feeling intellectually and morally superior to another group, filling them with disgust and outrage at the other.
Fueling this kind of division and tension in society may be a great way to get clicks and likes and retweets, it is also irresponsible and abhorrent.
And while Doering may face professional consequences for her tweet and her appearance on CNN, it is unlikely that the media most responsible for this hoax will too.