Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Covid: Another Accountability-Free Crisis

The classes that brought you the War on Terror and the Great Recession are getting away scot-free yet again.

Credit: Phil Pasquini

A story published on Friday by the Charlotte Observer blared: “Covid Hospitalizations in Charlotte Are at a 3-Year High. Should You Get the New Booster?” Residents of Mecklenburg County, where Charlotte is located, must “stay up to date with their Covid-19 vaccines and get tested if they have symptoms,” the paper warned, noting that only 14 percent had received boosters. Judging by at least one pandemic metric, then, Charlotte is suffering worse coronavirus outcomes than the city has in a long time, and the ignorance and complacency of the public are as usual to blame. 

Except not really. The story was utter balderdash. If it held any deeper lesson, it was that the institutional rot exposed by the pandemic, not least the awful combination of media sensationalism and laziness, are still very much with us. And the failures will continue to pile up, threatening to once more overwhelm common sense in the next crisis, unless Americans demand a thorough, sober, and credible reckoning for all major actors, public and private.


Relying on the New York Times Covid tracker, the Observer noted that during the week of Dec. 30, “there was an average of 124 daily Covid-19 hospitalizations.” This neglected to mention that the Times metric captures average daily hospitalizations per 100,000 population—meaning the story was facially incorrect even on its own terms. More to the point, the Times’s daily admissions data, which is based on hospitals’ self-reporting to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, captures tested as well as “suspected” cases, which all but invites data bloat.

Compare the findings of the Covid Act Now monitoring system, which uses data from the HHS as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and aggregates these with a population-weighted average. Using that more precise measure, Act Now reports a total of 133 hospitalizations for the county for the week of Dec. 30, or 9.7 admissions per 100,000 population—a figure that puts Mecklenburg at low risk.

The CDC’s own County Check system likewise characterizes Mecklenburg’s hospitalization rate as low and gives the county a “green” rating on admissions. The agency also shows 97 total hospitalizations for the week of Jan. 6, or 7.1 admissions per 100,000 population, a 30 percent decline from the previous week. Overall (not just for hospitalizations), Mecklenburg County is at low risk for Covid, according to the CDC.

Let’s tally the failures of the Observer. The paper failed to appropriately characterize the Times data it was relaying. It didn’t offer sufficient context about the limitations of said data. It failed to inform readers about what other tracking systems are saying about their city and county. And the reporter, Evan Moore, apparently didn’t even bother looking up the underlying CDC figures or attempting to square his breathless doom-mongering with the agency’s own county rating. 

In an older journalistic age, Evan Moore would be disciplined by his editors for these lapses, and perhaps even lose his job. As it is, the worst he probably got was a well-justified “ratio” on X, the app formerly known as Twitter.

Now multiply the Evan Moore problem by an entire national establishment—nay, an international establishment—making mistakes of the kind over the course of a world-historic event like the pandemic: inviting us, initially, to go party in Chinatown, to prove that we aren’t racists afraid of a Chinese-incepted virus; then urging us not to mask lest health workers come up short; then telling us to actually mask up, even out of doors, and to muzzle our 2-year-olds, too; then forcing our children to stay home, even though we knew that kids transmit the virus at a lower rate and are at minuscule risk from it; then censoring stories about the potential laboratory origins of the virus before concluding that the lab theory has merit; then telling us that getting vaxxed would render masking unnecessary; and then telling us that, actually, the jab doesn’t stop transmission, and we need to keep masking and get boosted every few months; then making access to groceries and other public services conditional on being vaxxed and boosted; then dropping all that because…reasons.

Never mind the poor and incompetent Evan Moore of the Charlotte Observer. Have any of the major decision-makers—the people running the major newsrooms, the censorious social-media platforms, the duplicitous and high-handed public-health apparatus—paid a serious price for a pattern of failure that amounted to a lot more than a few whoopsie-daisies here and there? Of course not. 

None of the principal architects of the catastrophes that have punctuated my adult life since 9/11, from the Iraq War to the financial crisis, has faced serious accountability or paid a price. And so it is with the architects of the Covid catastrophe. Let’s not be surprised if they get away with it the next time around, too.