Spin Doctors

How Media and Politicians Misdiagnosed the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Nora Loreto  

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As Canada was in the grips of the worst pandemic in a century, Canadian media struggled to tell the story. Newsrooms, already run on threadbare budgets, struggled to make broader connections that could allow their audience to better understand what was really happening, and why. Politicians and public health officials were mostly given the benefit of the doubt that what they said was true and that they acted in good faith.

This book documents each month of the first year of the pandemic and examines the issues that emerged, from racialized workers to residential care to policing. It demonstrates how politicians and uncritical media shaped the popular understanding of these issues and helped to justify the maintenance of a status quo that created the worst ravages of the crisis. Spin Doctors argues alternative ways in which Canadians should understand the big themes of the crisis and create the necessary knowledge to demand large-scale change.

“Spin Doctors is a remarkable, month-by-month account of the Canadian media’s interest, lack of interest, and choices driven by political and economic interest during the opening waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. With intricate detail and masterful research, Nora Loreto’s deft analysis pulls no punches and uncovers truths from multiple angles—narrating an all-too-real story of ill-prepared politicians, a panicked population, and Canadian journalism’s complicated response to the story of a lifetime.”

— Niigaan Sinclair, Columnist at The Winnipeg Free Press & Associate Professor at the University of Manitoba

“In this clear-eyed retrospective of Canada’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nora Loreto interrogates media practices and political calculations to confront our focus on protecting capital at the expense of protecting people — be it through racist negligence, the avoidable crisis of long-term care homes or the lack of basic worker protections. Loreto’s comprehensive analysis offers an invaluable reckoning that makes it an essential read.”

— Shree Paradkar, Toronto Star Columnist

  • EPUB
  • ISBN: 9781773635064
  • November 2021
  • $34.99
  • For sale worldwide
  • PDF
  • ISBN: 9781773635071
  • November 2021
  • $34.99
  • For sale worldwide

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Reviews

  • Rather than treading over ground that other journalists and writers have covered, Nora Loreto has done something very different with her new book, Spin Doctors: How Media and Politicians Misdiagnosed the COVID-19 Pandemic. While others have focused their attention on the elderly forced to suffer alone in their nursing home rooms, without the company of family and friends for months on end, or on the numbers of Canadians with one or two or three jabs in their arms, Loreto writes about work and workers and what has happened to them during the pandemic. She writes well, with her eyes open and fueled by a wry sense of humour.

    — Judy Haiven, Canadian Dimension, April 2022 (full review)

  • By situating the reader in time, Loreto brings us back to each month of the first year of the pandemic – to each wave, to the messaging at the time, to where we were when all of this was first unfolding. She reminds us that the response and messaging around COVID has not been stagnant – that how the pandemic has been managed by governments and covered by journalists has changed significantly over the course of the last two years. When Omicron hit, many of us were reminded of March 2020, but Loreto encourages us to resist this parallel. She reminds us to be attuned to these changes – to resist the way that history is often flattened to naturalize the present.

    — Athina Khalid, Montreal Review of Books, March 2, 2022 (full review)

  • The dominant argument in Loreto’s thick COVID-19 How-Not-To manual is that the Canadian federal and provincial/territorial governments and mainstream media failed to correctly identify COVID-19 as a threat to collective wellbeing that demanded collective solutions. […] Spin Doctors is a deftly researched, persuasive alt-memoir of Canada’s first year with COVID-19. As we move deeper into 2022, our third year of the pandemic, Loreto’s warnings merit more attention than ever – especially her concerns about the loss of independent, critical voices in mainstream journalism. Governments will continue to craft policies with varying levels of relevance to epidemiological evidence and with suspect impact on equity. Will journalists be able to call them out, and clear up dangerous and widely circulating misinformation? Or will the media continue to propagate the myth of individual risk and responsibility in what is a collective crisis?

    — Martha Paynter, Briarpatch Magazine, March 15, 2022 (full review)

  • Passionate, hard-hitting and refreshingly original, the book is sure to appeal to harsh critics of the Canadian response to COVID-19 and skeptics who have lost faith in both political leaders and their newfound allies, public health officers. Consumed by the recent wave of media job losses, Loreto serves up a scathing critique of corporate media (everyone but the CBC and alternative sites) dressed up as a monthly diary-like retelling of the COVID-19 pandemic experience.

    Nora Loreto’s […] narrative style and emphasis on how ‘the media failed us’ actually tends to obscure some of the detailed analysis of actual COVID-19 impacts. It’s also no surprise that, so far, what she terms the “media establishment” remains unmoved by her criticisms.

    — Paul Bennett, Atlantic Books Today, April 11, 2022 (full review)

  • Loreto began writing this scathing book of analysis early in the pandemic—when she compiled Canada’s first, and only, publicly available and daily updated record of COVID-related deaths in long-term care. It’s an essential book for policymakers and, frankly, anyone trying to make sense of the gong show that was life in the pandemic.

    Loreto is especially strong on long-term care, which, she writes, “was so unprepared for a pandemic that thousands of residents would be sitting ducks, waiting for the virus to attack them in their beds.” While governments deserve blame […], she writes, media coverage isn’t innocent. Rather than focus on systemic reasons for catastrophes in long-term care, in food-processing plants, on farms dependent on migrant labour and everywhere else that COVID-19 got out of control, most media stories focused on individuals. The pandemic was framed as a matter of personal, not collective responsibility; a temporary problem from which vaccines would save us. This frame benefited politicians that didn’t want change, [but] Loreto shows [how] that’s a path to failure, and “‘going back to normal’ will not fix anything that COVID-19 revealed to be broken.”

    — Tadzio Richards, Alberta Views, June 1, 2022 (full review)

  • Spin Doctors relies not on one-off tragedies or impersonal statistics but rather a rhythmic and consistent approach to writing that couldn’t make the author’s argument any clearer: Canadian media failed to write stories that connected the country’s pandemic response to its own capitalistic impulses. And we are now paying the price…

    In chapters that cover how Canada’s COVID-19 response was informed by everything from systemic racism to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit’s inadequacy to injustice around migrant workers’ rights to ableism, Loreto uses Spin Doctors to ask and answer a variety of questions. Her inquiries hold Canadian media to account in the way media itself should’ve held politicians to account.

    — Sarah Krichel, The Tyee, December 2021 (full review)

  • Passionate, hard-hitting, and fiercely contrarian, Spin Doctors is sure to appeal to harsh critics of the Canadian response to COVID‑19 and to skeptics who have lost faith in both political leaders and public health officials. Consumed by recent rounds of job losses, Loreto serves up a scathing critique of the “media establishment” that takes the form of a diary-like retelling of the pandemic’s first year. While the media is Loreto’s primary focus, the real strength of the book is in her thorough, meticulous analysis of the pandemic’s devastating but largely under-reported impact on residential care, food processing, and retail industries. A sense of outrage and cries for social justice run through this book.

    — Paul W. Bennett, Literary Review of Canada, July-August 2022 (full review)

  • The Quebec City journalist, author and social activist likes to take hold of a subject and explore it with every tool at her disposal, and beginning in March 2020 the perfect opportunity presented itself. The result is her second book, Spin Doctors: How Media and Politicians Misdiagnosed the COVID-19 Pandemic, a comprehensive, impassioned and highly readable work that itemizes how a confluence of factors created a perfect storm of denial and unpreparedness.

    Loreto decries the propagation in the early stages of the pandemic of what she calls the “myth of individual responsibility,” whereby an emphasis by both government and media on things like masking and distancing, while clearly useful on the micro level, also served to obscure bigger causal issues. The result, she writes, has been a corrosive social atomization that makes class divisions and economic inequalities — with their disproportionate impact on minorities and the most vulnerable members of society — all the more starkly evident.

    — Ian McGillis, Montreal Gazette, Dec 2021 (full review)

Contents

  • Introduction
  • March - The Pandemic Emerges
  • April - Disaster in Residential Care
  • May - COVID-19 Hits Food Processing Industries
  • June - Systemic Racism and COVID-19 Spread
  • July - The Lie of Personal Responsibility
  • August - The End of CERB
  • September - Back to School in the COVID-19 Era
  • October - Migrant Workers and COVID-19 Outbreaks
  • November - The Race for the Vaccine
  • December - The Gendered Impact
  • January - Disability Erased and Distorted
  • February - The Disaster of Workplace Spread
  • March - One Year in Media Cuts
  • Conclusion: Canada after COVID-19

Authors

  • Nora Loreto

    Nora Loreto is a writer and activist from Quebec City. She is the author of Take Back the Fight: Organizing Feminism in the Digital Age (Fernwood 2020) and From Demonized to Organized: Building the New Union Movement (CCPA 2013). Nora is the editor of the Canadian Association of Labour Media and is an opinion columnist whose writing appears regularly in many publications. She co-hosts the popular podcast Sandy and Nora Talk Politics with Sandy Hudson.

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