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.