A COVID story made the rounds last week, based on a South Dakota nurse's exasperated Twitter thread. Many patients, she wrote, are angry at caregivers and "gasping for breath" while insisting that the coronavirus isn't real—right up until they get intubated. First, CNN picked it up by interviewing the nurse, then the Washington Post and host of other outlets followed suit. But at Wired, David Zweig makes the case that these outlets failed a basic journalistic duty by amplifying the claims without proper vetting. To be clear, he's appreciative of the nurse's work in the ICU, and his beef is with how outlets presented the story, not with the nurse herself. Where's the context, he wonders. Are patients like those described by the nurse common or an anomaly? You won't find those answers in coverage.
"Little or no effort was made to assess the scope of the problem that (the nurse) so memorably described," writes Zweig. He called hospitals in the same part of South Dakota and talked to nurses himself but could not find similar tales. He also had a communications rep for one of the medical facilities where the nurse works reach out to other nurses, only to find the same. "Most patients are grateful, and thankful for our help,” one nurse told her. Zweig notes that in her CNN interview, the nurse herself floated the possibility that what she described was an anomaly. "We have a lot of patients who are very, very grateful for their care, and very thankful for what you do," she said. "But unfortunately that’s not what I'm remembering right now." In stories like these, context matters, writes Zweig. Read his full critique. (Read more COVID-19 stories.)