Is the New York Times trying to inflate the number of COVID-19 deaths?

For those who read the New York Times, the Sunday edition was a scary one. A headline blared, “Official Counts Understate the U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll.” The subheading was even more disquieting (and ungrammatical): “Inconsistent protocols, limited resources and a patchwork of decision-making has [sic] led to an undercounting of people with the coronavirus who have died, health experts say.” Ah, those experts. What would we do without them?

The article opens, as all Times articles are wont to do, with anecdotes. Once upon a time, the Times included those anecdotes to create “hooks” that made facts more compelling. Somewhere along the line, though, Times´ writers made the mistake of believing that the plural of anecdotes is data.

That’s why Sunday's article opens with three anecdotes about unnamed people – a coroner, a funeral director, and some paramedics – all of whom think people they saw might have died of COVID-19. However, they don’t know, so they’re marking those deaths down as not from COVID-19.

With the anecdotes in place, the writers are ready to terrify their audience:

Across the United States, even as coronavirus deaths are being recorded in terrifying numbers — many hundreds each day — the true death toll is likely much higher.

With the anecdotes in place, the Times moves on to the experts. Er, sorry. The expert, singular. We hear from Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, who “definitely think[s]” there’s under-reporting.

We also learn that the CDC has issued new guidelines to help with uniformity, saying the deaths should be identified as COVID-19 if the person tested positive or if “the circumstances are compelling within a reasonable degree of certainty.” (You can read the new guidelines here -- and then contemplate the fact that they, too, will undoubtedly result in inflated numbers.) The article then assures us that it’s helpful to have good numbers (duh!).

The Times article next moves to Julio Ramirez, 43, who tragically died at home with all the symptoms of COVID-19. Nineteen days after his death, he was finally diagnosed as having COVID-19 when he died (although, since he died at home, that still makes COVID-19 the likely cause of death, not the certain cause). The health department would not respond to the Times’ questions.

The Times then explains that, in a vast federal republic, a variety of professionals across America fill out death certificates, all of which list the immediate cause of death as well as underlying diseases. Given this patchwork, the federal government is keeping a running tally but actually won’t have more precise numbers for as long as a year.

Having inserted a fact, the Times heads back to anonymous people's concerns:

[T]hose who work with death certificates say they worry that relying only on those documents may leave out a significant number of cases in which coronavirus was confirmed by testing, but not written down in the section where doctors and coroners are asked to note relevant underlying diseases.

And so it goes. More anecdotes, more unsourced opinions, more people who have feelings about things. Geraldine Ménard, chief of general internal medicine at Tulane Medical Center in New Orleans, when talking about patients’ flu-like deaths in February and March (when flu is common) says, “I remember thinking it was weird. I’m sure some of those patients did have it.”

What the Times has done is not news. It’s a pastiche of gossip, random opinion, and sad stories, all intended to frighten people. Perhaps time's passage will prove that the story's ultimate premise is correct; namely, that COVID-19 deaths are currently unreported. As of now, though, this "news" report, stripped down to its flawed essentials, doesn’t make the case.

If you go outside the Times, there are facts out there. The most interesting fact is how the models seem to have grossly underestimated the cases. Former Times reporter Alex Berenson has been doing something the Times eschews: Math. What Berenson discovered is that the current predictions – all of which were made assuming that lockdowns were already in place – are way off the mark.

One senses that leftists are relishing COVID-19’s rampage through America. Part of this is the fact that Progressivism thrives on emotion, the more hysterical, the better. Additionally, mainstream media articles use extremist predictions as a springboard for attacking Trump. A subset of this media hatred for Trump is the fact that television news outlets are refusing to carry President Trump’s more optimistic press conferences.

The media are riding the COVID-19 wave, hoping that, when it hits the beach, it’s the equivalent of a tsunami that destroys the Trump presidency. They may get a surprise, though, if the wave breaks before the beach and they’re the ones that wipeout.

For those who read the New York Times, the Sunday edition was a scary one. A headline blared, “Official Counts Understate the U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll.” The subheading was even more disquieting (and ungrammatical): “Inconsistent protocols, limited resources and a patchwork of decision-making has [sic] led to an undercounting of people with the coronavirus who have died, health experts say.” Ah, those experts. What would we do without them?

The article opens, as all Times articles are wont to do, with anecdotes. Once upon a time, the Times included those anecdotes to create “hooks” that made facts more compelling. Somewhere along the line, though, Times´ writers made the mistake of believing that the plural of anecdotes is data.

That’s why Sunday's article opens with three anecdotes about unnamed people – a coroner, a funeral director, and some paramedics – all of whom think people they saw might have died of COVID-19. However, they don’t know, so they’re marking those deaths down as not from COVID-19.

With the anecdotes in place, the writers are ready to terrify their audience:

Across the United States, even as coronavirus deaths are being recorded in terrifying numbers — many hundreds each day — the true death toll is likely much higher.

With the anecdotes in place, the Times moves on to the experts. Er, sorry. The expert, singular. We hear from Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, who “definitely think[s]” there’s under-reporting.

We also learn that the CDC has issued new guidelines to help with uniformity, saying the deaths should be identified as COVID-19 if the person tested positive or if “the circumstances are compelling within a reasonable degree of certainty.” (You can read the new guidelines here -- and then contemplate the fact that they, too, will undoubtedly result in inflated numbers.) The article then assures us that it’s helpful to have good numbers (duh!).

The Times article next moves to Julio Ramirez, 43, who tragically died at home with all the symptoms of COVID-19. Nineteen days after his death, he was finally diagnosed as having COVID-19 when he died (although, since he died at home, that still makes COVID-19 the likely cause of death, not the certain cause). The health department would not respond to the Times’ questions.

The Times then explains that, in a vast federal republic, a variety of professionals across America fill out death certificates, all of which list the immediate cause of death as well as underlying diseases. Given this patchwork, the federal government is keeping a running tally but actually won’t have more precise numbers for as long as a year.

Having inserted a fact, the Times heads back to anonymous people's concerns:

[T]hose who work with death certificates say they worry that relying only on those documents may leave out a significant number of cases in which coronavirus was confirmed by testing, but not written down in the section where doctors and coroners are asked to note relevant underlying diseases.

And so it goes. More anecdotes, more unsourced opinions, more people who have feelings about things. Geraldine Ménard, chief of general internal medicine at Tulane Medical Center in New Orleans, when talking about patients’ flu-like deaths in February and March (when flu is common) says, “I remember thinking it was weird. I’m sure some of those patients did have it.”

What the Times has done is not news. It’s a pastiche of gossip, random opinion, and sad stories, all intended to frighten people. Perhaps time's passage will prove that the story's ultimate premise is correct; namely, that COVID-19 deaths are currently unreported. As of now, though, this "news" report, stripped down to its flawed essentials, doesn’t make the case.

If you go outside the Times, there are facts out there. The most interesting fact is how the models seem to have grossly underestimated the cases. Former Times reporter Alex Berenson has been doing something the Times eschews: Math. What Berenson discovered is that the current predictions – all of which were made assuming that lockdowns were already in place – are way off the mark.

One senses that leftists are relishing COVID-19’s rampage through America. Part of this is the fact that Progressivism thrives on emotion, the more hysterical, the better. Additionally, mainstream media articles use extremist predictions as a springboard for attacking Trump. A subset of this media hatred for Trump is the fact that television news outlets are refusing to carry President Trump’s more optimistic press conferences.

The media are riding the COVID-19 wave, hoping that, when it hits the beach, it’s the equivalent of a tsunami that destroys the Trump presidency. They may get a surprise, though, if the wave breaks before the beach and they’re the ones that wipeout.