Journalists’ Behavior over Luke Letlow’s Passing Is Abhorrent — and Telling

Ellen Carmichael
·7 min read

On Tuesday evening, Congressman-elect Luke Letlow’s (R., La.) family announced that he passed away at the age of 41 due to complications from COVID-19. He left behind a young family, including two small children, as well as a vast network of friends in Louisiana and Washington, D.C., all devastated by his passing.

Some progressive Twitter activists and left-wing reporters couldn’t wait to begin their grave-dancing. Letlow deserved to die, they mused, because he didn’t take COVID seriously enough. They scoured his online presence to find any proof that he engaged in so-called “denialism.” Some, such as Vox’s Aaron Rupar, pointed to an October video where the then-candidate had the audacity to advocate for reopening the economy while maintaining state and federal precautions on coronavirus. Molly Jong-Fast of The Daily Beast also shared the video. Hundreds of their followers joined in, blaming Letlow for his own death and expressing that he was unworthy of pity because of his politics. For them, his death was further proof that those who dare propose policy prescriptions that differ from their own, no matter how rational or mainstream they may be, just have it coming to them.

Setting aside the lack of evidence for their claim that Letlow denied the dangerous realities of coronavirus, the COVID ghouls and scolds clearly see themselves as worthy and qualified judges of their fellow man. It is they who decide whether or not people act appropriately enough to be spared death by coronavirus. As Michael Brendan Dougherty recently put it, they feel empowered to “turn every sick person into either a blameworthy fool or a blameless victim,” an extraordinarily arrogant and inhumane view of human suffering.

In no other health circumstance would such brutality toward the afflicted be tolerated. We do not deem individuals who become sick by engaging in known “risky behaviors” — unsafe sex, abuse of alcohol, drug use, poor diet, smoking, dangerous driving — as deserving of pain and misery. So, mocking and haranguing those who become sick or die due to COVID-19, a novel virus from which we cannot possibly shield ourselves entirely, is unconscionable.

But for these individuals, any expectations of their own behavior — namely, to not be a terrible person in the face of others’ grief — are secondary to soothing their own anxieties about the coronavirus. Blaming others may help them temporarily make sense of the sickness and death, but it can never provide them lasting relief from the unpleasant uncertainties this virus inflicts on us all.

That doesn’t stop their callous campaigns from continuing. Look no further than the death of my former boss, Herman Cain, whose death from COVID-19 complications was touted as proof Republicans denied the risks of the coronavirus (never mind that Cain had a lengthy track record in both speech and practice of taking the virus seriously). These are the same individuals who were downright jubilant when President Trump and many on his team contracted the virus but are seemingly silent about COVID-19 diagnoses of other leaders who also benefited from ample safeguards, such as Letlow’s delegation colleague Congressman Cedric Richmond (D., La.) who contracted coronavirus while campaigning for Democratic Senate candidates in Georgia this month.

Even among ordinary people, an individual’s desire to participate in day-to-day activities such as church services and dining out is enough cause to hector him for contracting the coronavirus. Prominent progressives, left-wing activists, and their media allies have routinely contended that if only Americans weren’t so stupid, selfish, and negligent — and in particular, if red-staters could abandon their silly notions of constitutional rights and their incessant desire to keep local businesses open — this pandemic would have been over a long time ago.

But, for all the insistence that it is American obstinance that is perpetuating the pandemic, there’s not much evidence for such accusations. We are actually now masking at higher rates than ever before, which has been confirmed by observational studies showing broad compliance in retail establishments by customers and staff. Meanwhile, the TSA reports that since March 15, 2020, the rate of passengers passing through checkpoints is about 25 percent of 2019 totals. Americans have significantly curtailed socializing with others, despite scientists telling the New York Times that the data do not support claims that small gatherings catalyze coronavirus surges. And even as the very real pains of prolonged isolation and widespread depression caused by COVID-19 persist, the vast majority of American families have still greatly altered their holiday traditions by canceling plans, limiting gathering size, enforcing social distancing, and even requiring face coverings. The repeated insinuation that pigheaded Americans have refused to do what it takes to defeat the virus is tone-deaf, cruel, and simply untrue. In reality, we have sacrificed a lot more for a lot longer than anyone thought we could.

And when the self-appointed COVID cops aren’t too busy condemning those who have gotten sick, they’re deciding who should be allowed to avoid illness via inoculation. With doses in the very early days of the vaccine rollout limited, they want to forbid Republican lawmakers from getting the inoculation because, as they again claim without evidence, they didn’t take the pandemic seriously. CNN contributor Ana Navarro-Cárdenas and liberal writer Kurt Eichenwald launched indignant tirades against Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) for receiving his COVID-19 vaccine, casting blame on him for health systems not administering the vaccine quickly enough to frontline workers and even for how bad coronavirus has gotten in America.

Of course, they found no room to criticize Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.), 18 years Rubio’s junior, who received the vaccine at the same time he did. There was also noticeably no outcry about the highest-ranking Democrats, such as President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, receiving their vaccines after spending months portraying it as rushed and unsafe in hopes of scoring political points against President Donald Trump during the campaign. For progressives, COVID-19 denialism disqualifying someone from receiving a life-saving vaccine is exclusive to having different approaches to solving problems caused by the pandemic, but mysteriously doesn’t include fear-mongering the one surefire thing that will actually protect people.

For the COVID nags, politics, not people, is everything. The pandemic has given them an opportunity to test out long-held policy preferences, including the government financially coercing people to adopt certain behaviors. To them, having a different approach is tantamount to wanting people to die. Wanting to spare your kids the developmental, educational, and social consequences of distance learning means wanting to kill their teachers. Missing the financial stability and personal fulfillment of having your business open? You want to stay in business, and thus, you’re okay with getting people sick. Feeling distressed because you can’t bury your loved one but watch large-scale political demonstrations take place without officials intervening? Stop being selfish.

Perhaps most disturbing is the utter lack of qualifications these individuals have to make such judgments. They don’t have the humility to concede lawmakers across the political spectrum are forced to weigh ever-changing public-health guidance with other policy factors when governing. Meanwhile, no serious epidemiologist would ever expect policymaking to be dictated exclusively by health directives, but talking heads are convinced enough of their own expertise to demand they must be. They also seem unwilling to accept that with so many aspects of the virus unknown throughout the pandemic and the efficacy of many of our mitigation efforts still unclear, most lawmakers and the public are doing all they can to prevent any sickness and loss of life. Still, it’s easier to blame someone, and even easier if that someone doesn’t share your political philosophy.

They do so at our country’s peril. While one may glean fleeting satisfaction by blaming others for the pain and uncertainty we’re all experiencing, the scars from the scolds will persist long after the pandemic is blessedly behind us. People understand they’re being closely watched and judged, and they’re acutely aware that those who disagree with them will find no room for mercy or compromise — or worse, think them deserving of death because they disagree with their worldview.

Instead, we should all try to be kinder and more gracious toward each other. Most people are doing the absolute best they can, often making incredibly tough decisions amid extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Nearly everyone knows the coronavirus is a threat they must take seriously. No one wants people to get sick and die, and it’s time to stop acting as if they do.

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