Spinning the Pandemic, or How the Media Misled Us
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a tragedy of epic proportions leaving a trail of death, despair and fatigue in its wake. What upset Quebec author and podcaster Nora Loreto so much was the way the mainstream media and politicians responded leaving the vulnerable, aged and poor to essentially fend for themselves. Instead of delving into the depths of the disruption, the legacy media, in her words, simply parroted public health directives, reported official case counts and treated us like “a school of goldfish.”
The whole spectacle left Loreto so full of rage she decided to produce an expose lifting the veil on how the Canadian media colluded with the Prime Minister and provincial premiers to conceal its devastating impact, particularly on hourly workers, the disadvantaged, marginalized and unhoused among us. The book, Spin Doctors, takes dead aim at corporate media chains like Postmedia for gutting the newsrooms and rendering them unable to cover the full and unvarnished story.
Passionate, hard-hitting and refreshingly original, the book is sure to appeal to harsh critics of the Canadian response to COVID-19 and skeptics who have lost faith in both political leaders and their newfound allies, public health officers. Consumed by the recent wave of media job losses, Loreto serves up a scathing critique of corporate media (everyone but the CBC and alternative sites) dressed up as a monthly diary-like retelling of the COVID-19 pandemic experience.
Loreto’s book focuses on each month of the first year of the pandemic and delves into the traumatic impact of COVID-19, adversely affecting the most vulnerable from racialized workers to residential care staff to at-risk youth. It demonstrates how politicians and uncritical media fashioned a popular narrative that sustained the status quo, thwarted calls for structural change and effectively glossed over the worst ravages of the crisis. As a radical critic and co-host of the Sandy and Nora Talk Politics podcast, she sees the pandemic as a lost opportunity to initiate large-scale change and tackle the inequities perpetuated by neoliberalism and entrenched in our advanced capitalist system.
While the book is a riveting read, it misses the mark in diagnosing the entirety of the problem. Focusing so heavily on the hollowed out corporate media, Canada’s panic-stricken politicians and suddenly famous public health officers get off easier. Those looking for more on some of the dramatic changes in media coverage–public health media strategies, ritual war-room media briefings and instant medical expert celebrities–will be disappointed. There’s surprisingly little on the dominance of Big Pharma or on the collateral damage of school closures on students and families outside of Ontario.
The pandemic crisis should spark some much-needed critical rethinking of public policy, pandemic planning and its adverse impact on social inequities. Loreto’s claim that “the ruling class” was aided and abetted by the mainstream media and motivated more by “profits than saving lives” does apply to the major banks, retail grocers and health protection product profiteers. Such radical rhetoric, however, will not likely resonate with most ordinary citizens.
Nora Loreto’s monthly calendar narrative style and emphasis on how ‘the media failed us’ actually tends to obscure some of the detailed analysis of actual COVID-19 impacts. It’s also no surprise that, so far, what she terms the “media establishment” remains unmoved by her criticisms.