Things to Remember From The COVID Spring #1: Public Relations

I think it is worth remembering that an obsession with public relations and authoritarian information management got us into this mess.

The Chinese government silenced the doctors that first identified the Coronavirus and tamped down the free flow of information through censorship and propaganda. The Trump administration spent weeks downplaying Covid-19 as “just another flu” and were “worried about the numbers.” Even now some organizations are obsessed with controlling the message and making sure people don’t speak their minds. This needs to stop.

We need to all recognize that the only message now is that we are not individuals—we need our communities, our organizations, our governments and our friends. We need honesty, we need transparency and we need to trust the people beside whom we have lived and worked all these years. Viruses don’t respond to spin. They don’t care if you understand science or not. They will infect you regardless of whether you watch Fox or CNN, whether you are Evangelical or atheist.

What we do know is that viruses thrive in ignorance. They proliferate quickly and easily in the cleared open spaces of stupidity. They love the selfish, the narrow-minded, and the craven who even at this time—when most of us are demonstrating our love of community by staying in our homes—are trying to figure out the best way to manage opinion and make sure they don’t look bad.

When this is all over I hope we banish the slick marketers, the cynical PR people and the shallow “leaders” who are more concerned with the image of leading than actual people. I hope that we then invest in the knowledge and systems that we now recognize as truly valuable—social safety nets, institutions of care, underpaid service workers, teachers, news reporters, public health workers, all those institutional and government bureaucrats that actually do the work.

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