COVID Schadenfreude Journalism

A new story archetype is all too common.

Variations of the person with X belief/action/attitude regarding COVID suffers horrible calamity Y story, sometimes with an “and they regretted it”/”their family is using the tragedy to warn others” kicker, has proliferated in recent months. Just a quick sampling from a simple Google search:

Guardian (“Rightwing radio host and anti-vaxxer dies of Covid“):

A rightwing TV and radio host who was a vociferous critic of Dr Anthony Fauci and who urged his listeners not to get vaccinated against Covid-19 has died after contracting the virus.

Dick Farrel, who had described Fauci as a “power-tripping, lying freak” who conspired with “power trip lib loons”, had urged people not to get vaccinated as recently as June.

He reportedly changed his opinion about vaccines after falling ill and later being admitted to hospital before passing away on 4 August aged 65. “He texted me and told me to ‘Get it!’ He told me this virus is no joke and he said, “I wish I had gotten [the vaccine]!” close friend Amy Leigh Hair wrote on Facebook.

Business Insider (“Healthy nightclub manager who rejected the vaccine because it was too ‘experimental’ died from COVID-19 weeks later“):

A man who dismissed the COVID-19 vaccine as “experimental” and warned of the reach of “big pharma” has died from COVID-19.

The nightclub manager, David Parker, 56, from County Durham in Northern England, had no underlying health conditions.

Parker’s family is using their sad loss to beg anti-vaxx people to rethink their ideologies and get the jab.

WaPo (“A Texas GOP leader railed against vaccines and masks. Then he died of covid.”):

A leader of the Texas Republican Party hopped on Facebook in May to post about a “mask burning” party 900 miles away in Cincinnati.

“I wished I lived in the area!” wrote H Scott Apley.

The month before, Apley had responded to what Baltimore’s former health commissioner was heralding as “great news” — clinical trials showed that the Pfizer vaccine was effective at fighting the coronavirus, including one of the recent variants, for at least six months.

“You are an absolute enemy of a free people,” Apley wrote in a Twitter reply.

And on Friday, the 45-year-old Dickinson City Council member republished a Facebook post implying that vaccines don’t work.

Two days later, Apley was admitted to a Galveston hospital with “pneumonia-like symptoms” and tested positive for coronavirus, according to an online fundraising campaign. He was sedated and put on a ventilator.

On Wednesday, he died, members of his county’s party announced on social media.

Patrick McGinnis, chairman of the Galveston County Republican Party, said in a statement that Apley’s death was a “tragedy … magnified by his youth, his young family especially his very young son.”

WaPo (“Wife hospitalized for covid gets home to find husband dead from the same virus: ‘It was like walking into a horror movie’“):

Lisa Steadman could not wait to go home to her husband.

The nail technician had spent more than a week in a Central Florida hospital recovering from a serious case of covid-19 while Ronald Steadman, who had also contracted the coronavirus, battled a milder case from home.

During many of their check-in phone calls, she relayed to him how scared she was of dying alone in the hospital. Her health was improving and so was his, he reassured her. Soon, they’d be back together at the Winter Haven, Fla., home they were in the middle of renovating.

But Ronald, 55, did not appear to be home when Lisa returned Aug. 11.

“Ron? Ron?” Lisa, 58, yelled while searching for him throughout the house.

Eventually, the barking of their three dogs led her to their bedroom.

When Lisa cracked open the door, she found Ron unresponsive on his side of the bed and their three dogs in distress. By then, his body had already begun decomposing, she told The Washington Post. The dogs looked as if they had not been fed or given water for at least two days, she said.

“I just went hysterical,” Lisa said. “It was like walking into a horror movie. That’s what I see now when I think of him.”

Neither Ron, who died of covid-19 complications, nor Lisa had been vaccinated, Lisa said. Both had agreed they would wait longer to schedule their shots. Lisa rarely got sick and left her house only for work, and Ron, who was in charge of running the couple’s errands during the pandemic, always wore his mask and stayed away from large crowds, Lisa said.

“Both of us thought that [the vaccine] came out so fast. How could they have done so much testing on it? I was just cautious about it,” she said. “It’s not that I was against vaccines.”

Independent UK (“Anti-vaxxer dies of Covid nine days after saying virus is ‘nothing to be afraid of’“):

A healthy man who died of Covid after refusing to get the vaccine made a “terrible mistake”, his partner has said.

Leslie Lawrenson, 58, died at his home in Bournemouth on 2 July, after downplaying his symptoms and declining to go to the hospital.

His long-term partner Amanda Mitchell, 56, who was severely ill with the virus at the time, said he believed the vaccines were too “experimental.”

BBC (“LA man who mocked Covid-19 vaccines dies of virus“):

A California man who mocked Covid-19 vaccines on social media has died after a month-long battle with the virus.

Stephen Harmon, a member of the Hillsong megachurch, had been a vocal opponent of vaccines, making a series of jokes about not having the vaccine.

“Got 99 problems but a vax ain’t one,” the 34-year-old tweeted to his 7,000 followers in June.

He was treated for pneumonia and Covid-19 in a hospital outside Los Angeles, where he died on Wednesday.

In the days leading up to his death, Mr Harmon documented his fight to stay alive, posting pictures of himself in his hospital bed.

“Please pray y’all, they really want to intubate me and put me on a ventilator,” he said.

In his final tweet on Wednesday, Mr Harmon said he had decided to go under intubation.

“Don’t know when I’ll wake up, please pray,” he wrote.

Despite his struggle with the virus, Mr Harmon still said he would reject being jabbed, saying his religious faith would protect him.

Newscenter Maine (“State lawmaker responds to criticism for attending anti-vax rally after wife reportedly died of COVID-19“):

A lawmaker, under fire for attending an anti-vax mandate rally after his wife reportedly died from COVID-19, has a message for his “haters.”

Republican State Representative Chris Johansen took to Facebook over the weekend to say he has “a hard time understanding these haters” and even called on them to confront him at his home.

A spokesperson for House Republicans confirmed last week his wife, Cindy, died, but would not share specifics.

According to the website for Downeast Direct Cremation Cindy Johansen died on Aug. 11.

A reporter for the alternative news site Mainer tweeted a photo of Rep. Johansen at a Republican-led rally opposing Gov. Mills’ new vaccine mandate for health care workers on Aug. 17.

There is a seemingly inexhaustable supply of such stories. I literally crashed my browser by opening all of them on the first page of my Google News search. And I’m not sure what to make of them.

On the one hand, they’re cautionary tales that may help persuade some people that the virus needs to be taken seriously. But, mostly, they seem gleeful in their presentation. Why, after all, these fools deserve what they got! Yet, as frustrated as I am by the refusal of so many of my fellow citizens to get vaccinated or wear masks when they’re asked to, publicly mocking them for their stupidity—in the mass media, no less—is positively meanspirited.

It’s one thing, I suppose, to enjoy the schadenfreude in the cases of politicians and media celebrities who use their megaphones to persuade others to avoid the vaccine, reject masking, and the like. Not only are they doing real harm but, frankly, they should know better. But some of these stories are about ordinary folks—many of them poorly educated and not unreasonably confused by the messaging coming from their national, state, and community leaders.

One of the links I found was to a story titled “They’re Anti-Vaccine and Dead From Coronavirus” for search optimization but “The Empathy Wars” on the page itself. It’s by Choire Sicha for The Intelligencer. He notes that a lot of folks are simply done with these people.

One home for the most furious of those types is a Reddit board called HermanCainAward, which bestows its titular award … posthumously. The forum is named for the former presidential candidate Herman Cain, a cancer survivor who was opposed to wearing masks to prevent transmission of coronavirus. Cain announced he had COVID about a week after some extensive traveling, which included attending Donald Trump’s infamous and absurd Tulsa, Oklahoma, rally in June 2020. He died about a month later — and, by the way, Tulsa shortly thereafter saw a large surge in cases.

HermanCainAward has some rules. Nominees for the award must have made public anti-vaccine or anti-mask statements and must be very ill or have died from complications of coronavirus. . . .


Much of what you will learn from HermanCainAward winners, thanks to many screenshots from the accounts of people who have died, is just how awful Facebook is. Crappy low-res memes, misinformation, general jackassery, nastiness — it’s bad out there. This is misinformation that kills whole pews of churches. It’s unreal to witness the information filth-pit the anti-vaxxers live in, even if, like some of us, you are regularly exposed to and/or are related to them.

The screenshots that tend to get posted emerge mostly from a similar place — a tea-party/crueler stripes of Evangelical/white-supremacist salad. Comb through enough of them and maybe it’s easy to think there’s not much reason the vaccinated should feel bad for the tens of millions who don’t want to be part of our grand international science experiment.

Urges toward empathy are not going well.

It’s just not that comprehendible to those of us with community norms that say vaccines are good for our neighborhood and school and workplace to comprehend the community norms that say, for instance, that a vaccine is tantamount to government control — where “those who get the shot can legitimately fear losing their job or incurring the wrath of their families and other reference groups,” as sociologist Brooke Harrington wrote earlier this month. Must feel pretty weird when your family puts on yellow stars and goes out to protest other people’s wearing masks!

Attempts to comprehend aren’t going great. The Washington Post covered “regretters” over the weekend; the New York Times did something related a few weeks back about folks who wish they’d gotten vaccinated sooner. Response was mixed! But going further, a few folks have taken a firm stand on a standard of universal empathy. It has not gone well for them.

“Stop sneering at unvaccinated people getting sick,” wrote Will Leitch last week, and pretty much everyone hated it. Reader comments included “I feel no pity for them” and “I’m tired of always having to be the bigger man.”

“Agreed” is how tech-newsletter writer Charlie Warzel tweeted about that column; then he got roasted. “I don’t want to celebrate people dying even if they are reckless & irresponsible,” he wrote.

That seems like a reasonable standard. Again, I at least get the impulse in the cases of politicians and other major activists who are contributing to the problem. But most of this is just punching down.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. charon says:

    But, mostly, they seem gleeful in their presentation. Why, after all, these fools deserve what they got!

    The driver here is anger at the anti-vaxxers. There are also stories in the news of people dying from treatable non-COVID issues waiting on bed availability. Also, things like cancer surg ery being delayed – “elective” translates, in practice, to “not fatal within 24 to 48 hours.”

    Also, these people are spreading the disease to children, immunocompromised people, and causing breakthrough infections that occasionally are pretty serious.

    I am personally furious at the anti-vaxxers and NFLTG.

  2. CSK says:

    And the anti-vaxxers will tell you that 13,627 Americans have been killed by the vaccine.

    As for the 657,381 Americans who’ve died of Covid…hey, that’s just the way it goes. Right?

  3. Jen says:

    We are closing in on two years of this disease. We now know the symptoms, how it’s transmitted, the effect on hospitals, and more. Rather miraculously, we have a vaccine.

    And yet, there’s a substantial cohort who would rather ingest horse deworming medication, or take their chances.

    I do think that these types of stories are a last-ditch effort to try and get through to people.

    Among my friend group, one has a child with cerebral palsy, one a child with type 1 diabetes, another with reduced lung function (was born prematurely), and a number of cancer survivors. I have a family member who has an autoimmune disease. People who refuse a safe and effective vaccine are putting people I care about at risk.

    Honestly, I am pissed off and don’t know that I’m ever going to be able to get comfortable with people who refused to be vaccinated.

    My well of empathy is running quite dry. I am apparently not the only one.

  4. charon says:

    I see it as a kind of Golden Rule in reverse: wishing for others what they themselves are doing to others.

  5. drj says:

    publicly mocking them for their stupidity—in the mass media, no less—is positively meanspirited.

    Besides the fact that these idiots are literally getting other people killed, they also call the vaccinated “sheep,” “communists,” “traitors,” and whatnot.

    But it’s the vaccinated who are being meanspirited? Really?

    many of them poorly educated and not unreasonably confused

    That’s what I call the soft bigotry of low expectations.

    I very strongly suspect that in the majority of cases, the refusal to get vaccinated is a political choice.

    Vaccines are free and readily available. There are no structural factors – apart from possible community opprobrium – that prevent people from getting the shot. There is zero reason to not do so in secret if one must.

  6. charon says:


    many of them poorly educated and not unreasonably confused

    There is a saying “you can’t con an honest man.”

    They do not become rotters by listening to Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, they do that because they already are rotten people.

  7. Kathy says:

    We’re in the position of the Christian god in the joke about the man who refuses all available means to escape a flood. We’ve proposed social distancing, we’ve proposed masks, we’ve proposed hygiene, we’ve proposed vaccines, we’ve explained this is necessary not only to keep yourself safe, but to keep everyone around you safe as well.

    What more do these lousy ingrates want?

  8. Sleeping Dog says:

    All this and the gov of Mississippi declares that Mississippians don’t fear covid because they believe in eternal life. Well, why are they ingesting de-wormer?

    Frankly, I believe in Darwinism.

    As far as covid schadenfreude journalism is concerned, I won’t bother with most of it, beyond the headlines, but it’s hard to not see the irony.

  9. wr says:

    And let’s not forget that some percentage of these people are refusing the vaccine because they think it means they’ll “own” the libs. You know they’re like little J*nos, seeing people begging them to get vaccinated and crowing “I live rent-free in their heads!”

    These guys deserve about as much sympathy as the suicide bomber outside the Kabul airport.

  10. wr says:

    Oh, and just to save time — if an oil executive who has spent years fighting any efforts to stop climate change loses his mansion to fires in Lake Tahoe, I’m not going to be real sympathetic there, either.

  11. Thomm says:

    I guess they should do a reading of the days deaths over a catchy tune to their millions of listeners to their radio show so they can earn a hagiography and subsequent defense upon their passing.

  12. charon says:


    But it’s the vaccinated who are being meanspirited? Really?

    Humans have been evolving as social animals for millions of years. Enforcing group norms is part of being social animals.

  13. Moosebreath says:


    “Yet, as frustrated as I am by the refusal of so many of my fellow citizens to get vaccinated or wear masks when they’re asked to, publicly mocking them for their stupidity—in the mass media, no less—is positively meanspirited.”

    Given that many of the same people spent the last 4 years supporting a President who encouraged them to avoid empathy towards their opponents, to the point of promoting stuff like this [note — NSFW], the number of hoots I give on this topic is far less than two.

  14. OzarkHillbilly says:

    publicly mocking them for their stupidity—in the mass media, no less—is positively meanspirited.

    What do you call it when they go around spreading covid to every person they meet? Myself, I call it first degree assault, murder if someone dies.

    I have no sympathy for these people and their hurt fee fees.

  15. Andy says:

    Most journalism today is about engagement, the industry has whored itself to clicks. And this is one type of story that gets clicks from certain demographics, especially with a catchy headline.

    And we humans like to see people get their “just deserts.” It’s not only the media that enjoys that aspect, they are serving an audience that enjoys it and filling a market demand.

  16. qtip says:

    A story is easier to read and easier to remember than facts and graphs.

    These personal stories might actually be effective?

  17. Han says:

    You must have an interesting definition of “punching down”.

  18. Michael Reynolds says:

    This just got personal for me. My father’s wife – Fox News, Limbaugh when he was alive – we now learn has not been vaccinated. (My sister and niece (both vaxxed) just went down to Oceanside for a visit without being warned.) She is the primary carer for my father (vaxxed) who is in the early stages of dementia. We’re already giving them financial support but if this stupid woman gets sick or dies who the fuck is going to manage my father? I already have two kids, and one demented in-law and her carers on the pad.

    My compassion does not stretch to people killing themselves and spreading death to others out of loyalty to that fat orange piece of shit who degraded the US government and left a stain on American honor. I’d always liked this woman despite her idiot politics. I thought she was something of a model Christian. Unfortunately, she’s a Christian all right, credulous, narrow, stupid and now a menace to herself and anyone she’s around.

    This is NOT punching down, James. Remember Lenny Skutnik? He was the bystander who jumped into the freezing Potomac to rescue people after Air Florida flight 90 tried to land on the 14th Street Bridge. (Sideways.) This is Skutnik jumping in to save people and being told he’s a scumbag and a fool and getting punched by drowning people. We’ve done everything humanly possible to keep these brainless assholes alive, and they abuse us for trying. Fuck them. It’s just a pity so many are past the age of procreation or we might improve the human stock.

  19. Scott F. says:

    Again, I at least get the impulse in the cases of politicians and other major activists who are contributing to the problem. But most of this is just punching down.

    They’re all culpable, James. It’s a bit of “chicken and the egg,” but it seems pretty clear that most of the politicians and pundits aren’t sincere, but rather playing to their crowd – telling them what they want to hear. Most of the pols and Fox celebrities are vaccinated themselves, so anti-vax is a grift for them.

    It’s the unruly mob that’s calling the shots. Trump & Co. unleashed them and they’re in charge now. So, it’s not really punching down when you make an example of the loudest of the mob.

  20. Bnut says:

    I work in an outpatient clinic of a major research hospital (one that helped develop the vaccine). My best work friend, a younger black woman, unbeknownst to me, has not gotten her shots (they have been mandatory for sick leave since March, and you will be fired end of September without it). I am around her hours a day, she is is the nicest, sweetest, caring person in that whole office. Well, she got COVID last week and is now out for a full 2 weeks minimum. She’s obese and has other health issues and I don’t know how well things are going for her. I can’t begin to describe the emotions I feel about the choices she has made. She might be my breaking point on when I decide to stop giving 2 shits and just start being angry. I don’t get angry.

  21. Stormy Dragon says:

    These people have all been terrorizing their communities, and this “you have to be sad they’re gone” is basically just one last act of terrorism on the way out, demanding the sanction of their victims.

  22. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    They believe (they say) that the vaccine is a plot to control or kill them.

  23. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Going another direction for just a second, apart from the Arizona Republic tweet–and it’s Twitter, so poetic license/following the style of the medium/etc.–all of the other tweets and articles seemed to be straight news reportage to this ignint little cracker’s not particularly finely attuned ears. I’m not seeing any glee over their condition, mocking their stupidity, or particular punching down being done in any of the selections you curated to make your point.

    Perhaps your schadenfreuder is set too high. Perhaps I’m one of the NFLTGs Charon is referring to. If it troubles you, then do what I do, sigh and move on to the next headline without reading the article. (They’re pretty much all the same anyway.)

  24. gVOR08 says:

    But, mostly, they seem gleeful in their presentation.

    No. They don’t. I just reread the news stories at the beginning of your post. The comments and social media responses may be something else, but those stories as quoted are pretty straightforward, just the facts, ma’am. Reread them yourself. The reporters may have been biting their metaphorical lips to do it, but they did their professional best to just state the facts. Were the reporters to omit that they had a history of anti-vax? That they were anti-vax is the only reason these deaths, out of over six hundred thousand are newsworthy at all. That a straight recitation of the facts and background makes the subjects look bad is on the subjects, not the reporters.

  25. steve says:

    First, let’s not forget the extreme vitriol tha this come from the anti-vaxxers. It has been awful. People have lost work, friends and relationships with family because they chose to get vaccinated. So a lot of this is just revenge.

    Next, this is kind of like the Darwin Awards. We have always made fun of people who died or got hurt for stupid reasons. This is just another castoff that.

    Next, for people in medicine this really does hurt. It feels like this could have, should have been largely over. Instead we are having another peak. Look at the poor ICU folk in Louisiana. Then cant even transfer a lot fo their pts beaus there is nowhere to send them.

    Last, there has been a bait too much glee. These are real people dying and not all of them, actually most of them, were not involved in the propaganda war. They put their trust in their faith leaders, this neighbors and even their medical professionals (a lot of whom are giving out bad advice). They really arent evil people. French captures a lot of it. What I think he misses in a big way that a lot of this resistance on the part of the evangelical right is just because liberals are doing it. If the left is getting vaccinated it must be wrong.

  26. Michael Reynolds says:


    They put their trust in their faith leaders, this neighbors and even their medical professionals (a lot of whom are giving out bad advice). They really arent evil people.

    Tell me what’s the difference between good people putting their trust in faith leaders as opposed to putting their faith in party leaders? Religion is an ideology. Its adherents choose it over other ideologies. They have agency.

    Evil people don’t sit around stroking white cats while bandying words with 007. This is the banality of evil – weak, foolish people allowing themselves to be turned into societal toxins. They’re as innocent a lynch mob.

  27. JKB says:

    What’s odd is how people won’t deal with the reality of the leaky vaccines. The vaccines do not prevent one from becoming infected with the virus or from getting COVID. They have been show to reduce the risk of serious COVID and death in those over 70 to about that of those in their 30s. That’s going from a survival rate of 94.6% to one of 99.98%. But those under 50 don’t get such dramatic impact since going from 99.98% to 99.997%, the survival rate for those 0-19, is really hard.

    So it is quite debatable whether the vaccine would have saved many of those in the anecdotes. We are barely indicated their age, much less their obesity level, or other comorbidity.

    If the zealots were really serious about the virus, they would have spent the last year trying to train people not to talk into other people’s faces. Eye contact from closer than 10 feet is a clear and present danger. If you look at someone else’s face when you are talking to them, you are a threat in the time of respiratory pandemic. Simple, easy, doesn’t discomfort breathing. But not performative enough to satisfy the fundamentalists.

  28. Michael Reynolds says:


    So it is quite debatable whether the vaccine would have saved many of those in the anecdotes. We are barely indicated their age, much less their obesity level, or other comorbidity.

    No it isn’t debatable. People die who would have lived. Full stop. They died because of people like you. People who lie to make some political point. You are just a tiny little mouthpiece repeating lies because by repeating lies you think you get to posture as a brave, non-conformist truth-teller.

    Because of people like you this pandemic is not over. Because of people like you there will be orphans, widows, widowers and bereaved friends. You are an ally of a deadly virus. You are the disease, @JKB.

  29. Jen says:


    If the zealots were really serious about the virus, they would have spent the last year trying to train people not to talk into other people’s faces. Eye contact from closer than 10 feet is a clear and present danger.

    What fresh hell is this? Are you seriously suggesting this? REALLY?

    We couldn’t get people to stay 6 feet from one another, and you think that preventing EYE CONTACT FROM 10 FEET AWAY is the solution?

    Proximity is only one part of the equation. I’m betting some of these kids weren’t that close to this unvaccinated, infected teacher who took off her mask and subsequently infected half the class of elementary school students (who weren’t old enough to be vaccinated).

    Just stop.

  30. SteveCanyon says:

    As someone who has a brother with delayed cancer surgery because of these people, my frustration is palpable. However I take no joy in anyone’s suffering or death and I think it is wrong to do so. My sympathy though is reserved for the innocents – people sickened through no fault of their own, children who have lost parents, caregivers who have died saving others.

    There is no excuse anymore for the anti-vaxers. The vaccine has been in use for eight months. Its safety and effectiveness has been thoroughly documented and this information is widely available. Those who are still anti-vax are doing so out of gross irresponsibility or deliberate ignorance. Reminds me of smokers i have known who denied or downplayed the health risks because doing so would stop them doing what they wanted. Similarly anti-vaxers are denying the truth in order to indulge political preferences or group affiliation. It’s wrong and it must stop.

  31. @JKB: Since you don’t show your work nor provide any citations, I can only guess what you are doing here, but it seems like you are cherry-picking while ignoring two key metrics: odds of infection after vaccination and odds of hospitalization after vaccination. Those are rather important.

    I also think that you are talking rates in the overall population and not probabilities for the vaccinated, and that is a rather important distinction (but, again, you are just throwing numbers out there and I am not going to reverse engineer them for you).

    Here’s the weird thing: weren’t you against lockdowns due to the economic consequences? Surely, then, since vaccinations make opening up easier, shouldn’t the pro-economic argument be the pro-vaccine argument?

    Or, are you just contrarian because the libs are the more pro-vaccine group?

    Let me state for the record: I supported the lockdown to give us time to figure out how to deal with the virus and I promote vaccination because it is one of the things we figured out to allow to live with this situation.

    So it is quite debatable whether the vaccine would have saved many of those in the anecdotes. We are barely indicated their age, much less their obesity level, or other comorbidity.

    Since the vaccines have been shown to prevent infection at high rates, of course some (probably most) of these people would still be alive. And why are deniers unaware of what “co” means in “comorbidity”?

  32. Mikey says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    And why are deniers unaware of what “co” means in “comorbidity”?

    They aren’t unaware of what “co” means, they’re just ignoring it.

  33. Matt Bernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I can only guess what you are doing here, but it seems like you are cherry-picking while ignoring two key metrics: odds of infection after vaccination and odds of hospitalization after vaccination.

    The second of those is especially important from a public health POV, as sadly we are increasing seeing (perhaps catastrophically so in the days to come in states in the path of Ida).

  34. steve says:

    “Tell me what’s the difference between good people putting their trust in faith leaders as opposed to putting their faith in party leaders? Religion is an ideology. Its adherents choose it over other ideologies. They have agency.”

    No one is an expert in everything. I do medicine for a living but I still need other people to do the research and publish the results I will rely upon when I practice. I rely upon specialists within my own organization to help me figure out whose results are best and what to implement in response.

    A lot of these people have zero medical expertise. Many are not especially sophisticated in data interpretation and dont know when they are being mislead. So they trust someone to help them figure things out. They chose the wrong people. I dont think that makes them evil.


  35. Gustopher says:

    On the one hand, they’re cautionary tales that may help persuade some people that the virus needs to be taken seriously. But, mostly, they seem gleeful in their presentation.

    It’s hard to write the story of “local man faces predictable consequences for his own actions, and endangers others” without making it sound like local man was a fucking moron.

    Since so much of the right wing behavior these days is based on what will trigger the libs, the most effective thing the libs can do is point and laugh. Do they want to be the butt of some lib’s joke? No? Then get the vaccine, you idiot.

    If we ever find out that JKB died from covid and infected his elderly parents whose basement he lives in, I’ll point and laugh.

    I have more sympathy for the non-right-wing vaccine-hesitant. The illegal immigrants who want to avoid the system, and the Black folks who don’t trust the medical system because of their experiences.

    I wish some prominent Black leader would just say “we know the vaccine is safe, we tested it on all those white folks, and they’re fine.”

  36. David S. says:

    Yeah, a lot of liberals followed Trump over the cliff on being against empathy. He made such an excellent villain that it justified giving up on the extremely difficult task of being empathetic towards millions of people.

    Lecturing people on empathy never helps, though, mainly because it’s usually unempathetic to the exact people you’re lecturing. You need to understand those people also, in order to reach them, too. Taken me a long time to figure that out, and I still don’t do it right.

  37. Michael Reynolds says:

    Evil is rarely something you are, it’s something you do. Germans in 1938 weren’t experts, South Carolinians in 1861 weren’t experts, the Taliban aren’t experts. It’s not enough to say, ‘well, they trusted X.’ Does the belief result in the deaths of innocents?

    Most importantly if we’re looking at morality, have these people all been presented with honest alternative beliefs? Have they rejected those alternatives? Why? Based on what thought process? It looks like the bulk of these people are motivated by hate for liberals. That’s certainly the message they’re hearing from Tucker and Sean et al, a message they lap up eagerly.

    It is not possible at this late date to reject the vaccine and not know that you are risking not just your own life, but the lives of people who can’t be vaccinated. So this isn’t even 1938 Germany, this is Germany with the air full of the stench of the dead.

  38. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Religion is an ideology. Its adherents choose it over other ideologies. They have agency.

    The vast majority of people just have the religion of their parents. There’s no real choice, they are taught things as truths at an age before critical reasoning develops, and that “truth” becomes part of their identity and part of their community.

    There is far less agency than you assume.

    Think of your writing. If a character does something that doesn’t fit what we know about them, it will be jarring and feel wrong. The characters are constrained, and can only reasonably react in a few ways.

    You are expecting people to behave out-of-character. It happens, but it’s rare.

  39. Michael Reynolds says:

    @David S.:

    Yeah, a lot of liberals followed Trump over the cliff on being against empathy.

    What smug, self-satisfied bullshit. Billions in tax dollars, endless pleas, people making YouTubes, Tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, calling relatives and friends, a million news articles, people in power begging, public service announcements, celebrities using their popularity, cash bribes for Christ’s sake, all of that stuff? That’s empathy. That’s compassion.

    What you’re talking about is mawkish sentiment. Hearts and prayers. I’ll save my sympathy for the children and spouses these assholes leave behind. Even more for the people they infect who then get sick, who are bankrupted, who die or may never be truly well again, their lives destroyed by the people we’re supposed to feel sympathy for.

    I don’t sympathize with people who for no good reason infect, sicken and kill their fellow Americans

  40. Michael Reynolds says:

    Let me ask you something. Which part of your reasoning does not apply equally to racists? Misogynists? Homophobes? You’re writing a get out of jail free card for assholes. Victims of their parent’s beliefs, poor babies. Your honor, my client had to burn that cross cuz his daddy burned crosses.

  41. Raoul says:

    I read these stories the way I read about people who have been executed. Vaccine deniers are putting themselves and everyone else at risk of dying of COVID. So these stories definitely serve as cautionary tales. Sadly, the consequences of their obtuseness does not end with their death. Who is going to assist raising their children? We are all.

  42. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds: You think we’re getting past racists, misogynists and homophobes?

    Community acceptance is part of the answer, along with generally being taught about equality at a similarly pre-rational age and then being put in situations where the two ‘truths” come into conflict.

    But, generally, people find a way to square the circle — my brother will say that he doesn’t hate black people, just n-ggers, and will then find a way to put every black person except for a mythologized, perfect MLK into that second group.

  43. Michael Reynolds says:

    Look, in the grand scheme of things DNA and environment (experience including childhood) do indeed blur the lines of responsibility. The problem is that there is no way (yet discovered) to account for that without simply throwing up our hands and deciding that no one is guilty of anything. My jail-time buddy who cut the old lady’s fingers off to get her rings no doubt had great sob stories. Maybe his dad liked to murder people, so whaddya gonna do?

    How does one organize a society where no one can be said to have personal responsibility?

    I could sit here and cite this or that or the other circumstance or event in my childhood that explains why I just had to cut my way into a Sambo’s and empty the safe. Believe me, I could construct a decent case. But I wouldn’t feel like much of a man if I did that. So in my life there’s one person and one person only responsible for my actions and that’s me.

    If you want to say that seems simplistic or harsh, fine, but then explain a consistent alternative approach and why that other approach would be better.

  44. Not the IT Dept. says:

    I don’t see any “public mockery”. I see a lot of articles quoting what the recently deceased said about the disease that killed them. And sure, James, it’s the presentation of the news that’s the big deal here. Right. Yup. Uh huh.

    There is no excuse anymore for the kind of people featured in these articles to be publically (and obnoxiously) anti-vax. They’re affluent and at least theoretically educated, and to me their objections seem some kind of “look at me!!!” attention seeking rather than an attempt to deal with the issue. They’re being personally attacked by correct information, don’t you know, and well, gosh darn it, nobody can push them around!

    We’ll see a lot fewer of these articles as we get to Christmas time as the remaining anti’s are eliminated.

  45. Kingdaddy says:

    We don’t have enough of this coverage. I’m glad for the breadth of it, hearing cautionary tales about this reckless, deadly behavior. I wish there were more depth to them, to increase their ability to be cautionary. How many other people were infected? Who did not get emergency care while they occupied a hospital bed? How much did their care cost, and who paid for it? How awful is it to spend your last days on a ventilator? And so on.

    If there are still persuadables who are not persuaded, perhaps additional information might help.

  46. Tony W says:

    1) It’s fake
    2) It’s real, but the government is overreaching
    3) I’m infected, pray for me
    4) Here’s the Go Fund Me to make a donation in remembrance

    My standard response has become something on the order of “My condolences to the people who lost their lives because you were selfishly, needlessly occupying an ICU bed”

  47. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds: There’s a difference between believing in a sky daddy, and cutting off someone’s fingers to get their rings.

    It’s subtle, but it’s there.

    It’s why roughly 85% of Americans do the former, and why only a handful do the latter.

  48. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @steve: I’m not so sure that he’s missing the point as much as reluctant to say it out loud because at heart, these are “his people” and if he says it he’ll simply become yet another RINO pariah. He’s taking as much risk as he can with the admonition to actually read and live scriptural teaching. As his second commenter noted:

    Laura3 hr ago
    David’s French Press pieces, every week:

    I am once again begging my Christian brothers and sisters to employ some common sense and solid theology.

    I’ve lived among them myself. It’s a tough room to work.

  49. Michael Reynolds says:

    Cute but not responsive. I understand if you don’t want to engage on the larger moral and philosophical issues. It’s an un-squareable circle.

  50. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I’m just saying most people don’t make a choice, and it takes something massive to get them to re-examine the “truths” that they have believed since before they were rational beings.

    Morals have nothing to do with it.

    And even if they don’t believe in sky daddy, they fall into some other reason to believe nonsense that tells them they can do what they want right now. Crystal therapy, Objectivism, horoscopes, spite…

    (Spite and trolling turn out to be bigger motivators than I would have expected, and way worse than religion… I always thought I was motivated entirely by spite, but even at my most spiteful, I was nothing compared to modern far right Republicans)

    People aren’t wired to make rational choices all the time. They run on autopilot most of the time — like when you’re driving a car, you don’t consciously think about pressing the brakes. (And, when you were still consciously thinking about it, you were a dangerous driver)

    The problem isn’t that people are giving up rationality to the sky daddy, it’s when people are giving up rationality to the sky daddy. And who influences that.

    In short: your anti-religion rantings are basically “old man yells at cloud”. There will always be clouds of one form or another.

    Also, I think you’re conflating two separate things: most people are religious, and most people can have their logical thinking shut down by emotions pretty easily.

  51. charon says:

    Martin Longman:

    At its most defensible, the religiously principled opposition to abortion isn’t based on a rejection of a right to privacy but on an insistence that a pregnant woman is not one person but two, neither of which has a has a greater claim to the body. When a choice absolutely must be made, for reasons of health or life, most anti-choicers (though not all) will side with the mother, but the idea that the mother can act with autonomy is rejected.

    This moral calculus which divides a woman in two is far from clear-cut, especially because it immediately requires someone other than the mother to be an arbitrator of what constitutes a sufficient reason for her to assert full autonomy. Suddenly we’re investigating why an unwanted or problematic pregnancy was terminated, or trying to verify that the mother played no active role in a miscarriage. Beyond the infringement of personal liberty, this implicates medical and personal privacy.

    Yet, when the subject is vaccination against a deadly virus, this limitation on personal autonomy is completely rejected. Ir’s a point raised by David French in a new essay on the irresponsibility of the evangelical movement with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a kind of hypocrisy easily missed by the pro-choice left simply because we don’t accept the first premise that the state has the right to insert itself into a woman’s reproductive decisions at all points of a pregnancy.

    There can certainly be religious beliefs that imperil others, and a refusal to use vaccinations is one of the best examples. It’s really no different from a religious belief against seeking any kind of medical care for a child. The state can step in in those circumstances to protect the child even though it impacts the religious liberty of the parents.

    So, what becomes clear is that there’s a very inconsistent application of principle by evangelicals when it comes to when personal liberty can be restricted for the greater good. They easily embrace the idea that a woman’s body can be divided against itself, but they insist on the liberty to harm others when it comes to COVID-19. Therefore, they can’t be asked to get inoculated, to wear masks, to socially distance, or anything else because it violates their autonomy. For a movement that argues that women who exercise reproductive choice are criminally selfish, they sure do embrace selfishness with an appalling amount of gusto.

  52. dazedandconfused says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:

    I think it’s obtuse to pretend there aren’t people aren’t having a lot of fun with this. Clearly there are, and I must include myself as one who has indulged a wee bit here and there. The point is rubbing their noses in it is usually counterproductive when dealing with stupid people.

    Forgive me…there I go again…

  53. charon says:


    The problem isn’t that people are giving up rationality to the sky daddy, it’s when people are giving up rationality to the sky daddy. And who influences that.

    These @@$holes do not really have religious objections, they just claim that motivation to exploit the Government and society coddling of “sincerely held” religious beliefs. They really object based on political partisanship but choose not to acknowledge their true motivation.

  54. SC_Birdflyte says:

    It may be schadenfreude, but I can’t help feeling a bit like the citizens of Paris who lined the streets on the Ninth of Thermidor to watch Robespierre take a tumbril ride to the guillotine.

  55. grumpy realist says:

    Sorry, James, but not sorry. At some point one has to take responsibility for the results of one’s belief system. If these idiots decide to listen to a bunch of antivaxxers on Facebook and “stick-it-to-the-libs” types rather than to the majority of doctors, hospitals, and official government health agencies, decide to not get themselves vaccinated (for free) against a potentially deadly disease, then the responsibility for what happens is on their own heads. Why should I feel sorry for them? I feel much more sorry for the overworked doctors and nurses who have been putting themselves at risk to save them when they DO come down with Covid–hell, if they really believed that medical doctors shouldn’t be listened to, why did they go to the emergency room in the first place? They should have stayed home, taken their horse dewormer, drunk their bleach, and not put any further stress on the health care system that they so loudly claimed they don’t believe in. I feel much more sorry for the poor damn bastards they may live with or get in contact with who can’t get vaccinated, due to medical issues or age. (Ever heard of Typhoid Mary? Yeah, don’t have much sympathy for her, either.)

    Stupidity should hurt, and we should just let utterly stupid people reap the consequence of their idiocy, whether that be death or long Covid.

    (One of my friends has been interviewing caretakers for her elderly mother, who is recovering from a non-Covid illness. One of the first questions my friends asks is: “have you been vaccinated against Covid?”)

  56. dazedandconfused says:

    It spans quite a few demographics, it’s not just the FOX newsies. Anybody who harbors a fear of the vaccine can easily bias-confirm those fears with a few goggle searches.

    It’s hardly new.

  57. Gustopher says:

    @charon: Michael and I have wandered far off topic on the inevitable “religion is the cause of mass stupidity” vs. “religion is a symptom of mass stupidity” argument.

    I think for the anti-vaxxer nonsense it comes down to a different set of issues:
    – individual rights vs. community responsibility
    – leaders on the far right stoking anger and resentment
    – no one wants to wear a mask, get a shot, or do anything like that. (No one, left or right, except a few fetishists)
    – everyone wanting this to be over.
    – a tiny bit of rational thought

    It turns out that if you really want this pandemic to be over and done with, so you can just move on with your life, messages of “the pandemic isn’t really bad, you don’t have to do what those people say, just do what you want to do” are really powerful.

    Give people a fig leaf of faux rationality (with made up, inconsistent “facts” as needed), and don’t make them walk anything back, and they will go along with it.

    And they will get angry with people still taking visible precautions because they don’t want to be reminded that the pandemic is still real. That’s the motivation for the mask-mandate bans.

    If Democratic leaders were cynical enough to give that message, would the folks on the left fall for it? Probably, but the Democrats would need a propaganda network as effective as the Right Wing’s.

    As distasteful as Dr. Joyner finds the stories of antivaxxers dying of covid, I think they are one of our most powerful messages.

    No one wants to admit they were wrong, but no one wants to die a stupid, preventable death like a chump.

    (Perhaps we could put homeopathic levels of horse dewormer in the vaccine? Would that help acceptance?)

  58. Gromitt Gunn says:

    Yeah, no.

    I’m about to have to walk into packed classrooms tomorrow for the first time since March 2020.

    My State won’t let my College require masks or proof of vaccination. My College decided at the beginning of the summer, when it honestly looked like we were finally moving past this crisis, to go back to standard classroom sections, and seems to be caught short by the way Delta has taken root.

    My College relies on a COVID self-reporting app for quarantining and contact tracing. You’ve got to check in every morning to give your current status. But there’s no penalty for not doing it. So it relies of people who are anti-mask and anti-vaxx to not only comply with the doing the reporting, but to be honest about it.

    And my 80 year old Mom lives in my guest room because I’m her sole caregiver. It is a 1000 sq foot house.

    So, starting tomorrow, I’ve got to hope that enough of my students are vaxxed and masked and honest in their reporting that I won’t end up becoming a (hopefully asymptomatic) carrier of Delta back into my home. Because if either me or my Mom gets it, we’re both in the cohort that is more likely to have a severe breakthrough case.

    And my region of Texas has not had a single open ICU bed for over two weeks.

    So, no, I have zero sympathy for these domestic suicide bombers running around with the biological weapons acting like they’re patriots. Every single one of them deserves to end up in their own personal hell being haunted by the souls of the innocents they’ve murdered.

  59. Mikey says:

    There is something we should remember, though.

    For every person who’s dying after refusing to get the vaccine there’s probably at least one person who loved them and refused to give up trying to talk them into getting vaccinated while there was still time and I feel bad for those folks

    My brother and I have tried and tried with our mom. We will keep trying until she gets vaccinated, or…well, I don’t want to think about or.

  60. Dutchgirl says:

    I think many journalists would prefer to write up and show in graphic detail the reality of overcrowded hospitals and covid icu patients. But they can’t. So they find the stories they can tell.

  61. Teve says:

    @dazedandconfused: I had the normal dozen or so vaccinations as a kid. And then I went into the military and got probably a dozen more delivered by an air gun. Then when I went to college I wasn’t in contact with my parents and couldn’t get the vaccine records so I had to get the whole routine over again to enroll. Then I worked in hospital labs and had to get vaccinations for that. The last Heptavax-B vaccine I got I literally gave myself because a doctor walked through the lab and said hey anybody needs a Heptavax booster, I just put a new vial in the hematology refrigerator, and I grabbed a syringe within minutes. And then I worked for a company that did contract work for the Mayo clinic in Jacksonville and you had to submit proof of flu vaccine every year to work there. Then I got two Moderna shots this spring. If you have a vaccine, fucking stick it in my shoulder right now. Why would I want to get some shitty disease? But then again, I’ve had Immunology and Serology and I’m also not a complete right-wing tool.

  62. HarvardLaw92 says:

    I’ve begun to consider the possibility that at least some of these people legitimately believe that they’ll somehow magically avoid catching COVID. My personal jury is still out on whether that makes them naive or just stupid, but in the end the result is the same – hubris.

    For people whose typical shtick is personal responsibility, though, they certainly expect the rest of us to move heaven & earth to rescue them when they do become ill. I’m honestly just out of fks to give about them at this point. It’s their innocent victims I still have concern for.

  63. EddieInCA says:

    If one more conservative man from a red state says “No one can tell me what I can do with my body” I’m going to lose my shite. The lack of understanding their own hypocrisy is staggering.

  64. Monala says:

    John Stoehr, who writes a newsletter called the Editorial Board, had a very interesting Twitter thread about how vaccine mandates could work to everyone’s advantage, because right wingers as natural authoritarians are likely to obey them (despite their complaints).

    Here’s his argument:

    You might be thinking that if Biden issues a vaccine mandate the authoritarian anti-vaxxers will take up arms. I want to explain why that’s not as simple as it seems. For one thing, authoritarians are weak on account of being authoritarians. They are rigid but fragile.

    They say they fear losing their freedoms and if you believe that, you might think they’d fight to the death for them. But they really don’t believe that. What they fear — and I really want you to understand this — humiliation. Of what? Pretty much everything a democracy offers.

    … The other thing to keep in mind is that most of these people were trained since their very early childhood to doubt the evidence of their eyes. The sky isn’t blue if the leader, which is usually the Father of the Family, says it’s green. Morality is obedience, not ethics.

    When you grew up doubting the evidence of your own eyes, and when morality is obedient, not ethics, what does that mean re vaccines? It mean you don’t know what to believe. Do you trust Dear Leaders or the government, etc.

    Importantly, when you grew up like this, you don’t know how to choose — you therefore *fear* choosing. When they say I don’t like being told what to do, what they really mean is I don’t like being forced to make a choice I don’t know how to make — what if I’m humiliated?

    I don’t mean to elicit sympathy by the way. My point is that vaccine mandates will remove the potential for humiliation. Vaccine mandates will choose for them. They will, and I know this is hard to believe, help them save face.

    Think about it. They could go to war and risk a lot. Or they could just shrug and say, I didn’t want to do it, I’m loyal to the tribe blah blah blah but if I want to see the Bulldogs beat the Gators, I gotta get vaccinated.

  65. Gustopher says:
  66. Paine says:

    One more for the books:

    Ron Holzner, formerly of doom metal legends TROUBLE and currently in THE SKULL, spoke to the Chicago Reader about the recent passing of his longtime bandmate Eric Wagner. Eric, who was TROUBLE’s original singer, died last weekend after a battle with COVID pneumonia. He was 62 years old.

  67. wr says:

    @HarvardLaw92: “I’ve begun to consider the possibility that at least some of these people legitimately believe that they’ll somehow magically avoid catching COVID. My personal jury is still out on whether that makes them naive or just stupid, but in the end the result is the same – hubris.”

    My personal jury: Whey they followed the preacher who told them that Baby Jesus would protect them from Covid, that was naivety. When that preacher died of Covid and they still followed his medical advice, that cross over into stupidity.

  68. mattbernius says:

    This morning’s article from the Bulwark reflecting on the spate of mid-level conservative media hosts dying from COVID seems especially on point:

  69. dmichael says:

    “Schadenfreude” is not equivalent to “lack of sympathy.” Your use of it shows your bias: I may not have sympathy for those who through their own actions cause their death (as well as endanger others), but it doesn’t mean I take joy in their misfortune.