Who profits from a pandemic?

Courtesy of Pew Research
Everybody is getting a piece of the American wallet these days. Once again a national crisis has made headline news, and our country has been swept into a circus of vendors trying to tell us every who, what, when, where and why of the new coronavirus. As we head further into these unsteady times, I beckon everyone to remain on guard for any snake-oil vendors who may try to profit off of your anxiety. 

For example, the phrase “Never let a good crisis go to waste” has made its way back into public discourse. Because it’s such a wonderful and perfectly descriptive phrase for conspiracy theorists to use during a pandemic, I wanted to know who said it. The answer is former President Barack Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. He used the phrase in 2008 during the financial recession to describe partisan actions which could be taken during times of crisis, specifically mentioning the energy crisis in the 1970’s. Now, however, he and the phrase have returned for a different reason. 

“PATHETIC – Democrats are using Rahm Emanuel’s playbook of never letting a crisis go to waste,” Marc Lotter, the director of strategic communications for Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign, tweeted. “Their demands have NOTHING TO DO with helping the American people combat the Chinese Virus – this is about fulfilling their liberal wish list/Green New Deal.”

At the hands of the Trump campaign, a phrase calling for unity became a distorted implication of treachery and a jumping point for the internet to dive head first into paranoid conspiracy theories. Social media posts claimed everything from global extermination agendas to WHO conspiracies to plans to steal the election, many rallying for Trump in 2020. 

The phrase’s original context and 2020 rebirth promoting conspiracy and political agenda on the internet are both terrifying and representative of American’s current situation. There are entities out there taking advantage of us and we cannot let ourselves be overcome with enough fear to fall for it. 

Our health systems are failing in a health crisis. Millions lose their jobs every day. On top of all of this, we have a president willing to stoke hysteria for the sake of his political campaign. 

In a March Pew Research Center study, the spread of infectious disease was the number one reported “Major Threat” facing America. Much like Lotter did with his re-defining of the phrase we originally spoke about, a few keystone industries in our society are profiting big time from this new anxiety.

Latest data shows a shift in public opinion since COVID-19. Courtesy of Pew Research.

Television news, for example, seems to be adapting to life since the national emergency declaration fairly well. According to Nielsen Media Research, CNN saw a 119% rise in primetime viewership of all ages, Fox News saw 60% and MSNBC saw 37%. These types of ratings offer big bucks to news organizations with little incentive for news that might mitigate the severity of the situation in the public’s eye. 

In a bit of sobering comedy, television news ranks among other American ‘essentials’ thriving during quarantine: Netflix, liquor, weed and pornography. Forbes’ latest report has all four reporting huge upticks in 2020. Pew Research even reports an increase in the standing of the news industry specifically due to coronavirus coverage. Counter this with the “fake news” mentality, which was so strong such a short time ago, and a disheartening picture becomes clear. 

We forget our anger far too easily when we are forced in a crisis to ask for help. All good lies contain truths inside them, yes, but all good information sessions contain sales pitches too. Perhaps then it isn’t just the politicians who aren’t letting this crisis go to waste, but capitalistic society as a whole. 

Be wary out there. 

About Author

Brock Blasdell is a student journalist from Mesa, Arizona. He was hired onto the Mesa Legend in late 2018 as an Opinions Editor, and soon became the publication’s News Editor in 2019. He is now an Alumnus Correspondent for the paper. His writings emphasize college history, civil involvement, and personal reflection on modern American issues, while also analyzing and critiquing the role of modern media in national politics. Twitter @Brockblasdell

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