Opinion | Susan Knopf: Please don’t kill the messenger
For the record
If I tell you there’s a new pothole around the corner, on a route you often take, am I bad person? Am I malevolent? Do you think I dug the pothole in hope of ruining your car’s alignment? Of course not. Yet we have this visceral reaction to information that does not please us, information with which we do not agree. America seems to be having a hate affair with facts.
Fox News’ Pete Hegseth admits he hasn’t washed his hands in 10 years. “Germs are not a real thing,” he says. “I can’t see them, therefore they’re not real.” It gets better. Hegseth attributes his good health to his poor hygiene. He apparently has decided to ignore all the warnings from the U.S. Center for Disease Control, touting the benefits of frequent hand washing. You probably don’t want to eat at his house. His fact filter is, “Seeing is believing.”
Hegseth isn’t alone. Lots of people put us at risk with their beliefs that ignore documented facts. If the danger isn’t in front of their faces, if they can’t see it, they just don’t believe it. Measles were considered eradicated in 2000 after no cases were reported for 12 months, according to the CDC. This medical success was attributed to the safety and efficacy of the childhood vaccination program. Yet in 2014 we saw a record 667 cases reported.
This year we already have 101 measles cases reported in Colorado, California, Texas, Washington, Oregon, Illinois, Georgia, New Jersey and New York. This increase in infection rates, in a previously eradicated disease, is attributed to continued viral disinformation regarding the safety and efficacy of vaccines, resulting in parents refusing to vaccinate their children. One of the pernicious issues that keeps popping up is the debunked link between the vaccine and child development. The CDC has done nine studies in the past 15 years all of which concluded there is no link between vaccines and autism.
For the record, one in four people infected with measles will be hospitalized. For every 1,000 children infected, one or two children will die and one or two will become deaf and/or intellectually disabled, according to the CDC. Why would anyone take such a risk with their child’s life? Many parents don’t perceive the risk. Since measles was eradicated, parents are not afraid. Some cite “natural immunity” is superior to the immunity achieved through vaccination. Often religious or philosophical reasons are cited for refusal to vaccinate.
I can personally attest to the folly of “natural immunity.” My husband thought he possessed such an immunity to chicken pox. His mother and our pediatrician both warned him he had no such immunity. When our oldest child contracted chicken pox in 1991, my husband came down with a case so virulent, he almost landed in the hospital. He had hundreds of pox covering his arms and legs and even down his throat. In the early 1990s, more than 10,000 people per year were hospitalized with chicken pox, and 100 to 150 died. I was delighted when the vaccine became available in 1995 and no other person in our family ever again faced this painful, and possibly fatal, illness.
Then again, I’m a pragmatist. I make decisions based on facts. I’m sort of a fact collector. Some folks collect stamps. I like to collect information. So I’m always confounded by people who make decisions some other way, without facts.
Our president said, “I just don’t believe it,” commenting on the National Climate Assessment released last November and produced by 13 federal agencies and more than 300 scientists. The president often tweets that the weather on any given day is proof climate change is fake news, conflating a single day’s weather with long-term data collection and rigorous scientific analysis.
Remember that the Fox News guy who only believes what he can see; and others don’t believe what they do see. Our president can’t seem to get his mind wrapped around the idea that his citizens don’t want his wall. Polls state 60 to 65 percent of Americans do not want a wall. Most importantly, existing border barriers aren’t working. Flooding in sister cities of Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Mexico, proved border fencing and other security deterrents exacerbated flooding devastation, causing the loss of life and costing more than $8 million. Now people in the Rio Grande Valley (some say is more of a delta than a valley) are objecting to wall construction approved by Congress in 2018. They don’t want the same flooding disaster as Nogales. Much of the proposed barrier would be erected in flood-prone areas.
It’s tough when the facts don’t support the plan. It’s tougher still when people say they want the facts, but then call the information fake news. It gets worse when they demonize the messenger.
Our president is famous for calling out individual journalists, or persecuting whole networks simply because he doesn’t like the coverage. The Greek essayist Plutarch recorded, before the time of Christ, general Tigranes cut off the head of a messenger bearing bad news. After that, no one would dare bring him any news but flattery. Does that sound familiar? Its one thing to read it in an article, it’s quite another when friends do it.
Recently a friend advised me of dangers we should anticipate on a trip we are planning next fall. I wasn’t angry at her. Apparently as a collector of information I am alone in this appreciation, “Don’t kill the messenger.” Apparently, it is all too common and well understood — the person bearing unpleasant tidings is screwed.
I like to share information. I like to gather people around me who are likewise so inclined. But I have learned of late, the hard way, one must be very careful sharing tales of pitfalls and potholes. Sometimes people become hurt or aggravated when they get information they asked for, but really didn’t want to hear. And then they just want someone to blame, so they kill the messenger. The blame is easy, but there are consequences. Resistance to facts can kill you. Two people died in the Nogales flood in 2008, my husband could have died from chicken pox and failure to heed my friend’s travel warnings could have deadly consequences. And up here in the mountains, the weather can kill you. Please don’t kill the messenger.
See our digital online version of this column for links to source material. Susan Knopf is a Summit County resident. She writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily News. She has won awards from the Associated Press and United Press International for her news reporting.
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