Wednesday. 15/4/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Rewriting the playbook

There’s an old trick in the journalists’ playbook. If a conflict is brewing, ask a defence official whether they rule out military action. The inevitable response – “We don’t rule anything out” – yields juicy headlines: “Country X doesn’t rule out military strike against Country Y.” The danger, of course, is that Country Y might view this as an actual threat. And just like that, the media has unintentionally made actual military conflict that little bit more likely.

Such a move was used this weekend to corner the popular Dr Anthony Fauci (pictured), director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Fauci was asked repeatedly on CNN whether the US “could have saved lives” had it implemented social distancing earlier. How was he to respond? Of course it could have done. Frankly, so could almost every other country. Yet Fauci’s answer was diplomatic: “no-one is going to deny” that lives could have been saved, he said, but “what goes into those decisions is complicated”. That didn’t prevent headlines such as, “Fauci concedes US could have saved lives” being written, drawing the ire of the easily offended President Trump, who retweeted a call for Fauci to be fired.

This is not to say that the Trump administration is blameless or that it shouldn’t have acted sooner to quell the outbreak in the US. But let’s give our governments and, in particular, our health officials a break. We all now live in a world of social distancing but that doesn’t mean that the initial unprecedented decision to shutter businesses was an easy one to make; think back to how you felt just two months ago, when social distancing wasn’t the norm. There will be plenty of time for 20-20 hindsight when this pandemic is over. For now, I would rather see Fauci stay in his job than read that juicy headline.

Elections / South Korea

Masked voting

Life on the Korean peninsula will appear strangely normal today. While Pyongyang is busy celebrating the birth of its eternal president, Kim Il-sung, with cruise missile tests and elaborate festivities, South Korean voters will be choosing 300 national assembly lawmakers in what is being described as the world’s first pandemic general election (strict health guidelines are in place at polling stations). President Moon Jae-in’s ruling Democratic party, which won a majority of just one seat in the last parliamentary election in 2016, is ahead in opinion polls and has been keen to take credit for the country’s handling of the health crisis. But electoral reforms could also play a role, including a reduction in the voting age from 19 to 18 and new rules that give smaller parties a better chance to win seats. A victory would be a boost for Moon as attention turns to South Korea’s presidential elections in 2022.

Society / USA

Counting the toll

As many governments learn on the job amid the fog of the pandemic, Baltimore’s John Hopkins University has become a go-to source for its coronavirus dashboard that maps the spread of cases in both the US and worldwide. Joshua Sharfstein, vice-dean for public health practice and community engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says that the pandemic has been like “a call to arms” for the university to provide clear and instructive information.

Dr Sharfstein, who regularly collaborates with public-health agencies about issues ranging from obesity to addiction, says that although ways must be found to avoid shutting society down completely, we should be wary of so-called miracle cures such as chloroquine – at least until credible clinical trials can be completed over the coming weeks. The good news? “The truly apocalyptic scenarios that we had been looking at are not coming about,” Sharfstein told The Monocle Minute. “I think that is because of social distancing.”

Media / Europe

News feed

Newsrooms around the world are struggling to cope with the realities of this pandemic. To mitigate some of its impact, the Netherlands-based European Journalism Centre has teamed up with the Facebook Journalism Project to launch a €2.7m fund to support local and regional media organisations across Europe. There are three types of grants available: a €5,000 engagement fund to help local media engage communities; an emergency fund with grants of €10,000 and €25,000 for financial support to address critical business needs; and an innovation fund of €50,000 for newsrooms to invest in technology to aid their coverage of the pandemic. Though Facebook more broadly faces complaints for undermining print-media revenue streams, this is nevertheless a smart move at a time when access to information is particularly important. Applications for grants open tomorrow; you can find more details at europeanjournalism.fund.

Retail / Switzerland

Sign of the times

Baselworld, the world’s biggest luxury-watch trade fair, has suffered a severe blow. Heavyweight brands Rolex, Tudor, Patek Philippe, Chanel and Chopard have announced that they are permanently leaving the event and creating a new fair in Geneva that will debut in April 2021. The reason? Tensions over what the brands have called a “unilateral” decision by Baselworld to move its May 2020 event to January 2021 (due to the coronavirus pandemic), and disputes over payments and credits related to this year’s cancellation. Baselworld had already been shrinking: in 2017 it had 1,300 exhibitors but last year that number dropped to 520 and the Swatch Group pulled out. Yet the departure of these marquee brands is particularly devastating. It puts the future of the event in doubt and is a great loss to the city of Basel, which has long been an enthusiastic host for the industry’s biggest annual meet and greet.

M24 / The Urbanist

Tall Stories: Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna

We take a look behind the fanciful façades of Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace and chat with one of its residents to see what it’s like to live like an emperor.

Film / Global

Designing the news

How do you unpack stories in the most engaging way while building a credible and comprehensive brand? Monocle Films showcases best design for paper and screen too.

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