By Kathleen Adamson, January 24, 2022
Spin Doctors: How the Media and Politicians Misdiagnosed the COVID-10 Pandemic, Nora Loreto, Fernwood Publishing, November 1, 2021, 368 pp., $35.00
“You know how this all turns out. You know whether the Delta or Lambda variant trigger a fall wave in Canada. You know if the Omega variant ever comes to pass. You know what October 2021 looked like. You know if COVID-19 sticks around til 2022, or if the global death toll hits ten million, or if it dies out.”
It’s rare to start a book review with lines from its last page but, in this case, knowing the ending is not the point. We know that the Omicron variant is here, that the Delta variant did indeed trigger a fall wave in 2021, that the global death toll as of January 17, 2022, is approaching 5.6 million souls. But Spin Doctors by Nora Loreto is not here to make predictions. Its goal is to tell us how we got here, and at this, it succeeds admirably. Spin Doctors is a thorough, well-cited triumph of research, and it reflects Loreto’s commitment to journalistic integrity.
The twelve chapters of Loreto’s new book cover one year of the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, beginning in March 2020 and ending in March 2021. Along with the chronological narrative, each chapter hones in on a theme. Some subjects—residential care, systemic racism, vaccine development—will be somewhat familiar to readers, but Loreto’s analysis goes far deeper than any article or series ever could. In her discussion of long-termcare, for example, Loreto explains the difference between the various branches of Canada’s long term care system, differentiating between retirement residences, group homes, and other forms of residential care. She details how long-term care in Canada had become—and still is— “a complex web of private and public operators, many extracting profits from their workers’ low wages and residents’ care,” a situation which has allowed politicians to wriggle away from responsibility for the deaths and appalling conditions in Canada’s long-term care residences.
It’s a shocking testament to neglect and piecemeal privatization that should sober up any Canadians who persist in smugly comparing ourselves to the United States. We, too, have work to do.
Nora Loreto has packed Spin Doctors with data and is an ideal example of the importance of long-term, thoughtful coverage of current events. It is an antidote to the pandemic of cultural amnesia that has spread alongside COVID-19—a pandemic spread through social media and irresponsible journalism and encouraged by the corporate owners who choose to smooth over their failures with political donations than invest in the ‘public’ services they purport to dispense.
As someone who suffers from pandemic fatigue as much as any news junkie, I was surprised to feel a sense of relief as I read Spin Doctors. It is a much-needed reminder that confusion, rage, distrust, and nausea are not inevitable outcomes of a pandemic. If you are suffering from any of those symptoms, it is certainly worth reading.
One of the most important themes in Spin Doctors is the static, inadequate nature of Canada’s COVID-19 media coverage. As Loreto observes, much of the in-depth, nuanced coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic was held behind paywalls—the hurtling speed of pandemic coverage in a press environment that was already moving at a breakneck pace. Month after month, the same faces appeared—Dr. Bonnie Henry, Francois Legault, Doug Ford. Very few people questioned if it really had to be that way.
Did limiting the number of voices in the media serve the Canadian people, giving a sense of stability and security, or did it allow the government to control the narrative, and cover up its shortcomings? Many press conferences, at the provincial and federal level, kept the focus on incoming ‘variants of concern’ rather than accountability and action against workplace and long-term care outbreaks. Journalists, by and large, did not dissect this focus. Early in the pandemic, an emphasis on ‘pre-existing conditions’ by the media meant that many healthy Canadians were able to detach themselves from a sense of community responsibility and concern. It’s possible that this contributed to the anger and resentment that have become inseparable from COVID-19.
With the pandemic going into its third year, it is time to drop the idea that criticism of government and media is inevitably anti-social or anti-science. Nora Loreto finishes her book with a call to arms.
“Your time is precious. Your time is needed. Your time is now.”
Kathleen Adamson is a musician, composer, academic, and community activist based in Montreal, Canada.
Other reviews by Kathleen Adamson
The Rebel Christ: Scriptural support for a radical Jesus November 26, 2021
Jigging for Halibut with Tsinii: Its relatively still waters run deep September 24, 2021
Marcus Aurelius: No abstracted ponderer July 8, 2021