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Please Advise: Who’s Least Likely to Lie to Me about COVID-19?

Dr. Steve’s handy guide to spotting the pandemic scamsters. (He’s looking at you, Donald Trump.)

Steve Burgess 11 Apr

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Find his previous articles here.

[Editor’s note: Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a PhD in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to the rich and famous, the troubled and well heeled, the wealthy and gullible.]

Dear Dr. Steve,

I am confused by all the different public voices weighing in during the COVID-19 crisis. Which ones should I pay attention to?



Dear B,

You have come to the right place. I am a doctor. And a fraud. Thus my resume is perfectly suited to the moment. Comes the hour, comes the scam.

Dr. Steve does not have a storefront, alas, which does hamper his potential activities. He finds himself envious of the store in Port Coquitlam that was offering products to protect people from COVID-19, run by a man who calls himself a doctor and a scientist. He claims degrees in nutrition and physiology. Well, in addition to the degree in centrifugal rhetoric listed above, Dr. Steve also boasts a PhD in mixology and has dabbled in cryonics. He is currently seeking test subjects for an experimental therapeutic frozen yogurt. Watch this space.

In Canada the scamming has been minimal so far. Medical spokespeople like Dr. Bonnie Henry and Dr. Theresa Tam are becoming heroes for briefing us with straight, solid information, detailing infection rates and reminding us of the importance of distancing and hand washing. Not only are they doctors, they also play them on TV. After this crisis is over Canadian versions of Grey’s Anatomy, The Good Doctor and other medical shows will all have to be dubbed by a Dr. Henry or a Dr. Tam. We shall accept no substitutes.

Canadian political leaders have stepped up, or tried to. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has attempted to keep Canadians up to date, in the process paraphrasing U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt who once said “Speak moistly and I’ll hit you with a big stick,” or something similar. Think deeply; laugh freely; but do not speak moistly.

As March came in like denial and went out like reality, the truth began to sink in, sometimes in surprising places. Ontario Premier Doug Ford did a shocking U-turn and began to sound compassionate and reasonable. His cabinet members probably wanted to have him tested for some sort of illness. Someday perhaps Ford may write a book about the three spirits who came to visit him one terrifying and life-changing night. Or perhaps in a few months he’ll steal Tiny Tim’s crutch and we’ll know he is back to being Doug Ford again.

Other politicians have been more consistent. In times like these people need steady reliability, and thank goodness Peter MacKay has provided it. Before the pandemic crisis, MacKay’s Conservative leadership campaign was a runaway train derailing and crashing into an exploding shit show. He has maintained that momentum. On April 8, Carleton University assistant professor Stephanie Carvin tweeted a statement she’d received from the MacKay campaign.

It read in part: “Canadians are a resilient people. We have overcome diversity before.”

Positively Churchillian. “We shall fight them on the beaches; we shall fight them on the landing grounds; we shall fight them in the shawarma joints and the Korean restaurants with all those weird, gristly menu items we don’t understand; we shall never surrender!”

South of the border though, it’s been scammier. Watching the Prevaricator-in-Chief go from predicting zero deaths to predicting hundreds of thousands of deaths was like watching Dr. Evil figure out inflation. Still, the White House upping the projected death toll to 240,000 seemed a rather transparent ploy. If King Edward III of England had been wise enough to proclaim “75 per cent of you will be dead in a year” during the Black Death pandemic, he could have stood up in 1350 and said “Not much more than 40 per cent. Nailed it!”

Trump’s bizarre promotion of hydroxychloroquine continued even as researchers refuted the notion that it is a proven treatment. Trump even shut down Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, before he could answer a question about the drug. It’s like America has a split personality these days. So when you are weighing information, Befuddled, try to remember: Dr. Jekyll is always more knowledgeable than President Hyde.

Of course, Jared Kushner gets to speak sometimes too. Dr. Steve is envious. Although not a medical doctor, Dr. Steve did once have a white coat and a stethoscope left over from a Halloween costume. If only he had kept them Dr. Steve could be addressing the White House press corps on COVID-19 measures right now.

Meanwhile, religious authority figures have suggested the coronavirus might be God’s punishment, among them Reverend Franklin Graham and His Holiness Hulk Hogan.

It’s a theory, certainly. But Americans who say COVID-19 is punishment from God never seem to consider the rather obvious situation that God might be pissed about. The allegations are stacking up: the amoral, adulterous, porn-star-boinking, teenage-locker-room-creeper currently in the White House makes King Herod look like Abraham Lincoln. If God is still in the smiting business, President Trump should soon be lunching on McDonald’s new Frog and Locust Quarter Pounder.

But in this unprecedented situation the public does not merely seek information from authority figures. They turn also to literature and cinema. This month the experience of watching post-apocalyptic movies has gone from “Wow, could that really happen?” to “Hey, they got that part wrong.”

Naturally we have also turned to poets, musicians and scribes for enlightenment and comfort. Bob Dylan has his first hit single in years with “Murder Most Foul,” a 17-minute long number about the Kennedy assassination.

Why not? We’ve got nothing else to do. To paraphrase an earlier Dylan classic, “The Times, They Are a-Draggin.” If you start listening to “Da Doo Ron Ron” by the Crystals at 1:06 p.m., it’s over before 1:09. You’ve still got the whole afternoon ahead of you. It’s just not enough.

As the pandemic continues songs ought to become progressively longer. Dylan should probably release a 13-day song about the Cuban Missile Crisis. It could become the next Tiger King. (That smash hit Netflix documentary series is pretty disturbing, but the most truly disturbing thing is watching “Tiger King” Joe Exotic run for president and seeing interviewees snicker at the idea that a skeevy, felonious narcissist could ever become president of the United States.)

In short, Befuddled, Dr. Steve suggests that you should pay attention to legitimate authorities. Doctors, for example. And Dr. Steve recommends his pineapple-flavoured frozen miracle cure, coming to select stores soon.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Coronavirus

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