‘COVID Parties’ are Bullshit

Some incredibly thin reporting about a story that is almost certainly made up.

When I saw the headline “Alabama students throwing ‘COVID parties’ to see who gets infected” last night, I was skeptical. That remained the case after I got around to reading the story this morning:

ABC News:

Students in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 have been attending parties in the city and surrounding area as part of a disturbing contest to see who can catch the virus first, a city council member told ABC News on Wednesday.

Tuscaloosa City Councilor Sonya McKinstry said students have been organizing “COVID parties” as a game to intentionally infect each other with the contagion that has killed more than 127,000 people in the United States. She said she recently learned of the behavior and informed the city council of the parties occurring in the city.

She said the organizers of the parties are purposely inviting guests who have COVID-19.

“They put money in a pot and they try to get COVID. Whoever gets COVID first gets the pot. It makes no sense,” McKinstry said. “They’re intentionally doing it.”

Tuscaloosa Fire Chief Randy Smith told the City Council on Tuesday that he has confirmed the students’ careless behavior.

In a briefing to the City Council, Smith expressed concern that in recent weeks there have been parties held throughout the city and surrounding Tuscaloosa County, “where students, or kids, would come in with known positive,” according to a video recording of the meeting obtained by ABC affiliate station WBMA in Birmingham.

“We thought that was kind of a rumor at first,” Smith told the council members. “We did some research. Not only do the doctors’ offices confirm it but the state confirmed they also had the same information.”

In his presentation, Smith, who wore a face mask, did not say what is being done to curb the behavior or what schools the students were from. Tuscaloosa is the seventh-largest city in Alabama and home to The University of Alabama and several other colleges.

[…]

It was unclear if the COVID-positive students infected anyone at the parties they attended.

Richard Rush, a city spokesman, said in a statement to ABC News that the city “is currently working with local agencies and organizations to ensure that we do everything in our power to fight this pandemic.”

The whole thing seems like hysterical bullshit. There’s essentially no actual evidence presented in the story. Some vague “students” are having some parties and somehow the fire chief, of all people, has uncovered it? And it has been “confirmed” by “doctors’ offices”? That doesn’t make any sense.

Still, my vague sense that a report that something is happening in a city I haven’t lived in for a quarter-century stinks wasn’t worth the evidence of blogging on it.

Then I read an interesting Twitter thread from Dr. Steven Thrasher, the Daniel H. Renberg Chair of social justice reporting and an assistant professor of journalism at Northwestern University’s Medill School. I’ve taken the liberty of turning it into ordinary text for cleanness of formatting:

OK, I’m calling bs on “news” of “COVID parties”—college students TRYING to get COVID. It has all the failure hallmarks of moral panic, Chomsky’s 4th filter of manufactured consent (flak) & confirmation bias. Let me lay out why you should be skeptical.

The main story everyone is linking to is this ABC News piece, which weirdly has video of upstate NY but the text is all about Alabama? And if you read it closely, the signs of moral panic & manufactured consent are glaring throughout.

A quick primer of what moral panic is, from Wikipedia quoting the British sociologist John Scott. Mass media will whip people up into HYSTERIA about imagined problems without, disgustingly, doing little interview and sometimes NO interviewing of alleged people involved!

When I started reporting on Michael Johnson “intentionally” trying to spread HIV in 2014, it had been a moral panic nightmare for months: news outlets repeated officials’ charges without INTERVIEWING THE ALLEGED CRIMINAL OR ANY VICTIMS.

Same is happening w “COVID parties.”

Look at this WEAK ASS ABC “news” story, and read this charge CLOSELY.

Tuscaloosa City Councilor Sonya McKinstry said students have been organizing “COVID parties” as a game to intentionally infect each other with the contagion that has killed more than 127,000 people in the United States. She said she recently learned of the behavior and informed the city council of the parties occurring in the city.

In the video, which is about NY except for quoting AL’s, McKinstry says, “College kids are having COVID parties where they’re getting tickets, they’re buying tickets, to come to the party & they will invite a couple of people who have tested positive for COVID, so if you are the first person testing positive for COVID, then you win the money.

An outrageous claim, right? But one with things a REPORTER could find.

Where are the tickets?

Where are the invites online?

WHERE ARE THE KIDS?!

ABC News doesn’t have one reporter who can find even ONE COLLEGE KID who has SEEN or GONE TO these parties?

No! Instead, they quote a fire chief: “We did some research. Not only do the doctors’ offices confirm it but the state confirmed they also had the same information.”

Well, if the fire chief can do “some research,” WHY CAN’T ABC NEWS? ABC can’t call the doctors or the state? Can’t get on Facebook/Insta/TikTok & find ads of these parties? Can’t find ONE KID who went?

And here’s the Chomsky propaganda model at work, filter 4

ABC News (and now, derivatively, CNN the Today Show –competitors of ABC!!!- etc.) Take the officials’ account and promote straight up govt propaganda. They don’t report. They don’t find the alleged disease-spreading monsters -they repeat govt claims!

Why would ABC News and CNN and NBC repeat propaganda of govt sources in poorly sourced “news” stories, not even bothering to report?

Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman explains Chomsky’s propaganda model here, perfectly (take 5 minutes to watch)

This story engages in confirmation bias—it advances the narrative that COVID is being spread by wild, unruly, selfish, greedy young ppl at parties.

This lets gov off the hook for PUTTING YOUNG PPL AT RISK NOT AT PARTIES BUT IN SERVICE AND RETAIL JOBS!

ABC has failed—UTTERLY FAILED—at the most basic call of journalism: FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED! But the call to kiss ass of officials + put out viral content which will confirm biases, all while spending no money on reporting, was too great.

Journalist MALFEASANCE!

Why do I care so much? BC this happens ALL THE TIME w HIV. W Michael Johnson & NuShawn Williams, media invented Black predator HIV+ monsters, rather than dealing with the AIDS pandemic & the crisis of ONE IN TWO BLACK QUEER US MEN BECOMING HIV+!

And now, we have a GOD DAMN GLOBAL PANDEMIC, & poor young ppl are being sent back into classrooms, & service workers are being sent to their dorms, & young ppl are being forced to work at the Gap so y’all can shop.

And you’re gonna make up INTENTIONAL COVID PARTIES?

GTFOH!

And EVEN IF you could find one or two such parties (but first, I want the receipts, the guests, the invites, an eye witness, or the covid “winning tickets”), the framing that THIS would be why this awful disease is spreading is, again, JOURNALIST MALFEASANCE, ABC/CNN/NBC.

When I was 1st reporting the HIV case, Johnson was in jail. I started by finding every classmate at his uni & wrestling teammate on FaceBook & messaged them.

Working alone, it took ONE HOUR to start finding interviews.

ABC CAN’T MUSTER EVEN THAT?

I eventually interviewed Johnson in jail, which took some weeks.

But I think ABC should be ashamed for broadcasting a thinly sourced story relying entirely upon two local officials. If they can’t find a single piece of corroborating evidence on their own, it’s not news!

Thrasher is right to be upset here. And he’s right: this is just some incredibly thin parroting of sensationalism disguised as news. And people are naturally going to think it’s true.

FILED UNDER: Health, Media
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Who's on First says:

    Thrasher is right to be upset here. And he’s right: this is just some incredibly thin parroting of sensationalism disguised as news. And people are naturally going to think it’s true.

    Not me. This was BSDAR set off alarm bells without even reading the reporting. ABC should post a nationwide retraction and apologize on tonight’s evening news but I wouldn’t count on it.

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  2. CSK says:

    Exactly how are they planning on preventing parties that aren’t happening?

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  3. Scott F. says:

    And he’s right: this is just some incredibly thin parroting of sensationalism disguised as news.

    When the every day news is so extraordinary, each and every day, you’ve got to ratchet up the sensationalism to get eyeballs.

    News is a business. Same as it ever was.

    @Who’s on First: There won’t be an apology. It worked. We’re talking about ABC News today.

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  4. Mister Bluster says:

    I’m waiting to hear the latest from TNS…(Tyrell News Service).

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  5. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    I saw the headline yesterday on my MSN front page. Shrugged my shoulders and moved on. Until this post today, I didn’t even know what state it was. As click bait goes, they may need to up their game. Then again, it got interwebs outrage, so maybe not.

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  6. Jax says:

    Meh. After watching all the stupid shit kids do on TikTok and YouTube, I would not be surprised one bit to find there had been a party themed like this. Look at all the dumbasses crowding into bars that are now getting sick! “It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal for young people” seems to be the recurring theme for the unlucky ones.

    Definitely a clickbait, breathlessly reported article, though.

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  7. Michael Reynolds says:

    Paranoid, anti-social, borderline OCD, hygiene freak with hypochondriacal tendencies, and now even my dislike of theaters, gatherings and parties is validated.

    The world has finally adjusted to me. I always hoped it would, but what were the odds? I only regret it took this long to get into the mask thing because that would have been brilliant during the fugitive years.

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  8. MarkedMan says:

    While I agree that this is thinly sourced enough that it is probably BS, I would be willing to bet my own money that people, especially young people, are deliberately trying to get infected, based on three things:

    1) Before vaccines for measles and chickenpox, people used to put their children together with neighbors, friends, family kids who were sick, so they could get it all over with together. That’s a pre-vaccine mindset: “it’s going to happen eventually so let’s just get it done with“. I don’t think my mother did this (although she certainly did nothing to separate us four kids And when one got ill we all had it serially), but she and my father discussed it enough when we reflected on pre-vaccine times that I know it was common on the south side of Chicago and rural Ireland and I have no reason to think it was limited to those places.

    2) Anti-vaxers today, in 2020, speak about these parties with such approval and longing that it seems almost certain some of them are doing the same. If they do it for measles why not do it for C19?

    3) This last won’t mean anything to anyone but me, but my 23 year old daughter who has been weathering the epidemic in Brooklyn, has spoken with feeling about just wanting to get it and get done with it. And she is borderline hypochondriac, super worried about any sign of illness. If she’s expressing that feeling, however mildly, I can only imagine what others are up to.

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  9. CSK says:

    This is Gateway Pundit-level reporting.

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  10. Gustopher says:

    I wouldn’t doubt that people are this stupid. After all, it’s just the flu, according to a lot of (stupid) people. And young people are less likely to get very sick, and more likely to be stupid.

    Look at our entire response. Half the country is consumed by idiocy.

    This may be poor reporting, but check Young Republican groups or Future Farmers of America. Better reporting is bound to turn something up. Especially after this reporting giving people ideas.

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  11. Teve says:

    @CSK: ouch.

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  12. Mister Bluster says:

    ” And I think we’re going to be very good with the coronavirus. I think that at some point that’s going to sort of just disappear, I hope.”
    Witch Doctor Trump

    Be sure to hold on to that Roman candle Zippy!
    It’s the best protection against against he Virus!…sort of…I hope…

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  13. wr says:

    As soon as I saw the headline I thought about those “rainbow parties” of a decade or so back in which young teenage girls would give boys a blow job in exchange for a colored wristband, with the goal being to collect an entire rainbow. Lots of experts cited, lots of brow-furrowing, but I don’t recall anyone ever being quoted who had believably been involved in any such thing. Even my normally intelligent former partner got swept up in it, because this then teenage daughter assured him that she had heard of this from people who knew people who knew kids who knew other kids who had done it.

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