The Talking Heads Know Nothing About COVID but Pretend to Know Everything

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Illustration: Israeli news anchors gesture to coronavirus graphs on the news.
Illustration: Israeli news anchors gesture to coronavirus graphs on the news.Credit: Eran Wolkowski

Show me an expert – from any field of putative expertise – who, invited to a morning talk show, says: “Sorry, I may be an expert, but I know nothing about this particular topic. Thanks anyway.” The reserve-duty officer, retired prosecutor or ex-politician has yet to be born who doesn’t have something to say on every subject du jour.

All too many experts-on-whatever comb their hair, daub makeup, don their best shirt and speak to the cameras with authority (they’re experts, no?) on matters of which they know nothing, or assume they know something, or once knew something. What they do know is now irrelevant because they’re no longer part of the decision-making process and no longer sit on committees. The information they have is the same information that you and I get from the newspapers, social media and friends at the local café.

About the coronavirus and the delta variant, and maybe the variant that will follow it, they know nothing. The virus repeatedly surprises them, disappoints them, confounds their predictions and resurges.

They know nothing but pretend to know everything. Maybe behind the closed doors of the coronavirus committee, they say to each other, “Between you and me, I have no idea what to do, but I can’t say that publicly. They’d kill us if we admitted ignorance. So, let’s keep these minutes classified for 30 years. No one will ask why.”

They turn to statistics, the last refuge of the ignorant. They strain to force the coronavirus to comply with their numbers: Today there are this many severe cases so in a week there should be this many. Armed with statistics, they seek safe haven in data they understand: the space shortage in hospitals, the insufficient budgets and wait! How about a lockdown? That, they understand.

They don’t dwell on details before urging lockdown, such as the difference between severely ill patients and those on a ventilator; or between the Green Pass and the Purple Badge, or what miracle saved the anti-Netanyahu protestors from mass contagion and what demon cursed the Haredim, or what exactly is secret about the agreement the government signed with Pfizer. And what about the ventilators that our best and brightest nabbed? Where did they go?

They don’t know, nor do we. We rely on the newspaper, or as it’s called nowadays, “the media.”

The media doesn’t know anything either but that never stopped it from sounding authoritative. The media is deep inside. It has people who don’t know more than you do, but they have “sources.” The sources don’t know much either, but ignorance never closed a single mouth in Israel. Remember, the news shows have six hours to fill – so much time, so little content. The intelligent viewer watches, listens and then tells herself: “So, fine, they know nothing.”

We know nothing, and it drives us nuts. Kill as many children as you want in Gaza and it won’t move us as the vaccine does. The anti-vaxxers will yet bring down Sharon Alroy-Preis, the Health Ministry’s head of public health, as they brought down Bibi; they’ll put Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz against the wall. When no one knows anything, the debate goes to places where everyone knows everything, to places of incitement and hate. Hate is something we understand. Just let us show you what we can do.

There’s no information, but plenty of speculation and wishful thinking. Everything is fodder: freedom of choice and the right to privacy and bodily autonomy. It brings us to heights not reached even by the conspiracy theories about Rabin’s assassination.

Others, by contrast, come in the name of solidarity. Solidarity is beautiful. It surrenders principles for the common good. But we don’t have that kind of solidarity and when there’s no solidarity anywhere else, why should it suddenly appear in the face of COVID-19?

In the absence of information, the tendency is to transform a personal problem into a national one – let others decide for me. But I don’t intend to let others decide for me. I don’t believe the experts or the pundits. So how do I decide? I listen to both sides, seek out recommendations, and listen to warnings. I will decide whether to be vaccinated (or not) the same way I decide what series to watch next on Netflix.

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