Journalism of a Plague Year

Plague in Phrygia. Art Institute

Journalism of a Plague Year

By Hugh Miller

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

On April 3rd, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for the 14thCongressional district of New York, wrote in a tweet: “COVID deaths are disproportionately spiking in Black + Brown communities. Why? Because the chronic toll of redlining, environmental racism, wealth gap, etc. ARE underlying health conditions. Inequality is a comorbidity.”

The following Tuesday, April 7th, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stood at a podium at the White House and praised the “incredible courage and dignity and strength and activism” of the gay community’s response to the AIDS crisis. Fauci, much of whose career has been dedicated to battling HIV/AIDS, then drew a connection between the “extraordinary stigma” which then attached to the gay community, and a similar stigma and marginalization which, he argued, today was increasing the burden and death toll imposed on African-American COVID-19 sufferers, who make up a disproportionately high number of fatalities of the latter-day plague.

As a philosopher and ethicist, I’ve been reflecting on the role of my discipline in coming to grips with this new and sudden event since it first burst into the headlines in early March. As the novel virus grew from an outbreak to an epidemic and then to pandemic dimensions, and the gravity of the illness associated with it, COVID-19, became clearer, the ethical approach to it became less so, to me.

About cbukro

Casey Bukro was inducted into the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame in 2008 for outstanding contributions to Chicago journalism, after a 45 year career with the Chicago Tribune. Bukro retired from the Tribune in 2007 as overnight editor. He had pioneered in environmental reporting and in 1970 became the first full-time environment specialist at a major metropolitan newspaper in the United States and covered major developments on that beat for 30 years. He won the newspaper’s highest editorial award in 1967 for a series on Great Lakes pollution. The Society of Professional Journalists awarded Bukro its highest honor, the Wells Key, in 1983 for writing that organization’s first code of ethics. He is a past president of SPJ’s national ethics committee and a past president of the Chicago Headline Club. Bukro graduated with bachelor and master degrees from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. In 1998, he received the Northwestern University Alumni Association’s alumni service award for 17 years of volunteer service to the university. He has lectured in environmental journalism and journalism ethics at Northwestern, the University of Chicago, DePaul University, Loyola University Chicago, Columbia College, Columbia University and others. Before joining the Tribune staff, Bukro worked at the former City News Bureau of Chicago and the Janesville Gazette, Janesville, Wis.

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