Editorials: Rude questions; and Fake news

White men in suits demonstrating their disregard for health protection measures. When called to account many deaths from now, which of them will plead insanity? White House photo, via Wikimedia.

Rude questions

Is this or that prominent and elderly politician deranged, or suffering from dementia? It’s a totally rude sort of question. Over the years when it has been posed it has been both a malpracticing amateur diagnosis of a patient not examined and a below-the-belt political punch. The presumption that one who has a different opinion must be stupid or crazy is one of the most banal and juvenile political errors.

Yet, in a time of a pandemic that creates particularly high health risks for senior citizens, it’s not just bad decisions or policies determined by greedy little interests instead of the public interest that ought to concern us. In the United States, the coronavirus infection has roamed the halls of Congress and affected the immediate families of senators and representatives. The president is talking delusional stuff and doing unreasonably risky things in light of the pandemic. On other side of the political aisle some appear to thrive in the new era of shut-in online politics, while the mental acuity of others appears to deteriorate.

Voters and party leaders need to be asking rude questions about very prominent politicians. It’s not a mere excercise in ordinary lowbrow public discourse. It’s a serious set of questions.


Is this video about contagion a play on people’s fears? It will fly over the heads of those most woefully uninformed, but it’s based on senses of fear and of neighborly compassion among those with some appreciation of the danger. Do we want to let politicians not particularly known for their commitment to the public interest suppress this?

The politicians’ expressed “fake news” concern is mostly fear of the truth

A couple of weeks ago legislator Crispiano Adames and Health Minister Rosario Turner said that they wanted to use the criminal law against “fake news.” They stated the problem as false information that generates fear.

With media people now mostly staying at home and the least healthy legislators working on, it’s hard to say just what has been done, but it appears that no such measures have passed. However, given the propensity, worse in other places than in Panama, for “mind over matter” political ideologues to brand any data they don’t welcome as “fake news,” let’s look at Panama as a case study with probable wider applications.

First of all, let’s notice what Adames and Turner were NOT talking about. No sanctions were or are suggested for the suppression of information that puts people’s lives at risk. Like when the health authorities suppressed news of the coronavirus outbreak at Colegio Beckman and left that school open for days after what was known to them should have led them to close the place.

And where are the main dangers of false information being published?

* Quack cures are bad enough, but worse are the ones that are toxic. As in, for example, Donald Trump touting a chemical used to clean fish tanks and in low doses as an anti-malarial drug as a cure for the coronavirus. It isn’t. A foolish Arizona couple took a hint, twisted it, ingested the substance and rather immediately became ill. He died. She remains in critical condition. Of course Trump will deny any relationship to that act of medical foolishness that his bizarre political propaganda suggested.

* Denial and dismissal that implicitly suggests or overtly urges disobedience to health quarantine decrees need not be factually untrue to be dangerous to the community. Like, for example, telling teenagers that they personally are unlikely to get very sick if they go out and congregate, and if that means them passing on an illness deadly to their grandparents, it’s the old folks’ concern and not theirs.

Generally, however, is the generation of fear such a horrible thing? People SHOULD be afraid of this pandemic, afraid enough to stay home and put up with many inconveniences.

Unreasonable fears, tinged with unconscionable hatreds, are in fact out and about in the land. The blaming of members of Panama’s long-established Chinese community for the pandemic, or of members of the more recent Venezuelan immigrant community for panic buying, have not elicited rebukes from the politicians, some of whom maintain their positions by playing on such phobias. That sort of false information is dangerous, but that seems not to be the danger that Adames and Turner contemplated as targets of their wrath.

Was it Rosario Turner’s intention to say that giving notice that there was a problem at Colegio Beckman three or four days before the government admitted it was her concern? The story was in the online rumor mill, but The Panama News hesitated to pass it on because there wasn’t confirmation. But it wasn’t fake news. It was the truth.

And what if dangerous nonsense does get expressed online? The defense to that is to publish the truth. The truth is the not-so-secret weapon that ministries and public officials ought to brandish as they monitor and refute the false rumors. It doesn’t tend to work, however, if for those people and institutions the truth is only a part-time cause.



National Nurses United urges Congress to quickly pass new legislation to address the inadequacies in the Trump Administration’s response to the pandemic. Specifically, we urge Congress to mandate that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration promulgate an Emergency Temporary Standard on COVID-19 protections for health care workers. An OSHA emergency temporary standard is a critical step in ensuring that all nurses on the frontlines of the coronavirus response are given the proper respirators and personal protective equipment to safely care for patients with confirmed or potential COVID-19 infection.

RNs and NNU co-presidents Deborah Burger, Zenei Cortez, and Jean Ross             

Bear in mind…


I attribute my success to this — I never gave or took any excuse.

Florence Nightingale                       


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