Watching the News Without the Scary Soundtrack

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In movies like Jaws in which the frightening thing is apt to appear from nowhere, the deepest terror comes during clear water. The background music is signalling danger, but we can’t see it.

That’s the Rhode Island summer under the cloud of COVID-19.  The governor and her compliant news media are playing the scary music (daaaa-da, daaaa-da), but the creature is always about to strike.

Rob Nesbitt and Bay Gammans’ WPRI story on New Shoreham is typical of the genre.  We get live-angle spy shots of people with no masks.  We get the local executive director of the Block Island Tourism Council, Jessica Willi, saying the problem is “people in general behaving badly.”  We get the dictator, Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo, lecturing us that “we need to do better on Block Island” or else “I might even have to take some action.”  We get the tourism council shifting its efforts away from encouraging tourism.

What we don’t get is any evidence at all that the monster is striking.  The state Department of Health’s COVID-19 municipal data set shows New Shoreham (that’s Block Island) as the only Rhode Island town with zero cases since the epidemic began.  The footnote says that means fewer than five, though, so we have to turn to the week-by-week sheet to one week with “<5” in the middle of July and one on the week that March turned into April.  That’s two to four people, total, all of whom are presumably recovered by now.

Plug your ears against the scary soundtrack for a moment and what you see is a placid ocean scene.  Viewing the story without the producers’ emotional filter, you might find yourself asking:  If this is the result when people aren’t following the governor’s rules religiously, maybe we should question the rules.

With the audio signalling to the audience that something is about to happen, the young woman’s late-night swim in Jaws looks reckless.  But if it were real life and an ordinary day, the scene would have no terror.  If Block Island tourists’ behavior isn’t having a measurable effect, maybe it isn’t actually “behaving badly.”