Some people, in their infinite wisdom, love saying the media adores tragedy.
It happened after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting when Dana Loesch, the former National Rifle Association spokesperson, said that "many in legacy media love mass shootings." In case you had any doubt, journalists don't, in fact, love mass shootings.
And it happened again yesterday when Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida tweeted that journalists were somehow celebrating the rapid rise of COVID-19 cases in the United States.
"Some in our media can't contain their glee & delight in reporting that the U.S. has more coronavirus cases than China," Rubio tweeted. "Beyond being grotesque,its [sic] bad journalism."
I can only imagine what Rubio believes we journalists do with our time. Does he think that when we get together during our morning news meetings, we remove our wigs and strip the skin from our faces to reveal the true monsters beneath, like in the 1990 movie The Witches?
Does he think we gather 'round a boiling cauldron and cast spells for bad news to improve ratings and increase readership? Does he think we giggle and jump for joy when our crystal balls show us the destruction bound to unfold in our communities?
News flash, senator: Journalists aren't sociopaths. We hurt when our communities hurt and cheer when our communities win.
Coronavirus has disrupted every aspect of people's lives. Millions have lost their jobs and have no safety net. Commerce has mostly halted. Vulnerable and underserved populations face potentially insurmountable risks. People staying at home while following social-distancing guidelines might be feeling the weight of isolation that could later manifest in mental health conditions.
As of yesterday, the United States had 122,653 COVID-19 cases and 2,112 deaths. Of those positive cases, many patients will experience mild symptoms and recover. Others will experience more severe, even critical, symptoms. For every death and infection, there are untold people — parents, children, grandparents, friends, cousins, aunts, and uncles — who will carry the trauma of uncertainty until their loved one recovers, or grieve their loss without saying a proper goodbye.
To think journalists would celebrate any of this tragedy is unconscionable and, frankly, sick.
I think I speak for many people when I say that what we want most from our elected officials is leadership and decisive action. We don't want your petty tweets. We don't want your bullshit and your grandstanding. We don't want to hear about your made-up TV ratings.
And I think I speak for many journalists when I say we want people in power to give a damn about their communities and the people who live in them as much as we do.
We believe our industry is a force for good. That's why we do what we do.
If the public doesn't see, hear, and read about the pain, sorrow, confusion, and desperation our nation is facing in this unprecedented moment in history, people won't give COVID-19 the respect it is due. We do what we do so that — maybe — people will listen. If our elected officials had taken the advice of medical and scientific professionals sooner rather than mess around and ignore intelligence warnings, maybe our state and country would be in a better position than they are now.
Reporters aren't to blame for the incompetence of some of the leaders who are failing us right now. We're here to report the facts, including the inaction that has contributed to a skyrocketing number of cases.
And right now, no matter what anyone says, journalism is an essential industry. How much would people know about coronavirus if journalists weren't paying attention to every reliable source of information and amplifying their message? How much would people know if they weren't tuning in to morning or evening newscasts? If they weren't listening to NPR? If they weren't reading a newspaper with their coffee? If they weren't seeing and sharing links to stories on social media?
Without journalists, how would our communities know how to stay safe when making essential runs to the grocery store? Where to get tested? How to help victims of domestic violence while in self-quarantine? Who would shed light on the vulnerable populations in prisons, immigration detention centers, nursing homes, and rural communities and out on the street?
Media outlets everywhere are cranking out stories at superhuman speed to keep people informed, all while our own industry is under threat. Coronavirus is fast-tracking the decline of local news. Journalists continue to work despite demoralizing pay cuts and layoffs.
We are not the enemy of the people. We are simply people. We fear and worry about the same things as the next person. We're terrified of the rapid downward spiral of the industry we believe in and love. We're afraid of losing our jobs. We're afraid of the phone call that might come with news that someone we love is sick or dying. Our jobs, too, have the potential to be disastrous for our health. Some journalists are sick and continue to work their asses off. Some have died. If our senator thinks journalism is so "grotesque," is he celebrating those tragedies?
We care about our work and our communities. We are passionate about stories and the people behind them. We don't always get things right. Sometimes we screw up, in big and small ways. That's because we're human, just like you. Most of us do everything we can to fix our mistakes and learn from them.
We know things are overwhelming right now. You might be experiencing information overload. It's OK to take a break from the news or limit your consumption. We all need to be as informed as possible, but it's OK to turn away for a while for your well-being.
Here's the thing about being a journalist, though: We can't look away. Every update, every new case count, every death, and every recovery is important for us to know.
But when you're ready to turn on your TV again or tune in to public radio or pick up that newspaper (or read it online), we'll be here.
Please be patient with us. News is changing by the minute, and some days we have just as much trouble keeping up as you do. Journalists are grateful for every person who has trusted them with a story and for every person who consumes news. We can't do what we're doing right now without you. If there's a story you think needs telling, please reach out. If there's a dark corner somewhere that needs a flashlight, we've got the batteries ready to go.
We're here for the good and the bad. And despite what Little Marco thinks, the only thing we'll be celebrating is our recovery from this pandemic. The only thing that could give us glee is the successful development of a vaccine or a flattened curve. We'll be happy when people in our communities stop dying and when our medical professionals, first responders, and essential workers can safely go home without worrying about infecting their families.
That journalists feel joy in times of suffering is a nauseating and tired trope that goes against everything we stand for.