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“Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics:” The Dangers of Media Malpractice

With most of the Western world having now completed its ‘quarantine’ (literally, 40 days) and beginning to reopen the economy, some media practices deserve scrutiny. After all, when President Trump and Bill Maher end up voicing the same criticism of media outlets like the New York Times, something is awry with the ‘Fourth Estate’. Sensationalism, fearmongering, and an – irresponsible, at best – misuse of statistics by many in the media when reporting on the pandemic are at least partially responsible for the psychological toll affecting the world’s citizens. Moreover, if you believe health depends on a combination of psychosomatic factors, media malpractice could be linked to some fatalities. 

Recent criticism of the NYT shouldn’t come as a shock to Greek-Americans. After all, in the beginning of March, they ran an utterly reprehensible article about migrants in Greece that represents a textbook case of fake news. The reporters didn’t even include quotes from the Greek authorities they were criticizing, while amplifying accusations by Turkish officials – even though they openly engage in human trafficking, flaunt international law, and are waging a hybrid war on Greece. The purpose of the article was likely to pressure the Greek Government into resuming its lax migration policies, which are yielding a huge payday for dubious NGOs, certain industrialists, and subversive forces spearheading the push for unchecked globalization – all while doing little to ease the suffering of the comparably few refugees who are being trampled by the flood of economic migrants, undoubtedly mixed with sleeper agents.

Sure enough, in the midst of this pandemic, despite the fact that the entire nation was on lockdown, with civil liberties like the freedom of assembly or religious expression unilaterally suspended via executive orders, the moratorium on refugee applications (which can be filed by anyone, regardless if they actually are a refugee) was quietly lifted and Greece agreed to become the port of first entry for illegal migrants recovered in the Mediterranean coming over from Libya. Incidentally, Libya’s nominal Premier Fayez al-Sarraj notoriously signed a memorandum with Turkey some months earlier violating international maritime law and divvying up Greece’s Exclusive Economic Zone between the two nations. Meanwhile, as droves of migrants are massively being transferred inland from their island camps (voiding the repatriation process?), health authorities are discovering new epicenters of coronavirus cases in migrant quarters.

Still, media coverage wasn’t all bad for Greece. It has been receiving widespread praise for its handling of the pandemic. What’s hard to understand is that other Balkan nations, such as Bulgaria, have been quietly generating equally impressive results, while avoiding extreme measures like cordoning churches during Holy Week, but aren’t receiving analogous publicity.

Interestingly, Bulgaria proceeded with another important political move that the media poopooed. Skopje reportedly received a list of conditions it must adhere to in order to avoid Sofia vetoing the former’s EU accession bid, including the demand that it drop its claims to the existence of a “Macedonian language” and a “Macedonian” minority living in Bulgaria. Even though Bulgaria’s demands are also important matters of national interest for Greece, as irredentist elements in Skopje continue to falsify history and misappropriate the term “Macedonia” beyond even the already excessive limits of the deplorable Prespes Agreement, all Greece’s foreign ministry could manage to do is issue public congratulations to the onomastically challenged northern statelet for its accession to NATO.

Whether these events are somehow related is left to the reader to decide. Nonetheless, it’s important to remember that the growing convergence between corporate interests and the media has been a concern well before the appearance of this latest pandemic. If the media are directly supported or even owned by corporations and moguls with very diversified portfolios, what’s to ensure that investigative journalism won’t be muzzled or that reporting won’t be spun in a manner favoring special interests? Can the Fourth Estate really conscientiously exercise its role of checking the government and transnational corporations – including increasingly influential ‘non-profit’ foundations – in a democracy if it is beholden to them?

The answers aren’t easy, but the questions must continue to be asked. For example, Bill Gates is now the single largest financer of the WHO. Should one man have this much influence over health policies affecting billions? Even as our politicians and health officials flip-flop over issues like wearing masks (making staggering reversals in a matter of weeks, thus undercutting their credibility even further), it seems like policymaking is often more psychological and whimsical than evidence-based. This only serves to make the media more influential.

It’s remarkable how people in some professions would be fired on the spot or subject to prosecution for their carelessness, while politicians get a free pass (at least until election day), and the media is given general immunity without ever having to account for their errors.

As Greek-Americans, we should be proud of individuals like Dr. John Ioannidis, who are making momentous contributions to linking accurate data to policymaking to combat the “lies, damned lies, and statistics” often manipulated to advance ulterior motives. We should also vigilantly remember the words of Socrates that “an unexamined life is not worth living.”

Follow me on Twitter @CTripoulas

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