Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest—who is, of course, challenging Governor Cooper this fall—went on Wilmington conservative talk-show host Joe Catenacci’s show on Thursday morning to share some deep thoughts about the state’s coronavirus-induced shutdown, such as: How come layabouts can sunbathe on the lawn of an art museum without getting hassled by The Man, but good, upright citizens can’t amass in front of abortion clinics to shame women without getting arrested? 

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Abortion protesters have been arrested in Charlotte and Greensboro for violating stay-at-home orders, but they weren’t quite “three people walking and praying.” Never mind that, though.

Forest, trying to gently put some daylight between himself and Cooper, who’s gotten solid marks for his handling of the crisis—the last time Dan tried, it didn’t go well—said the state needs to “start making determinations about how to get back to life based on real data, and I think we’ve seen a lot of data out there that’s a bit faulty, and certainly a bit biased, and certainly not the full story.”

Hmm. Go on, Dan: 

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“I try to remind people when I’m doing radio and things like that that the media, the newspapers and the TV stations, they’re in the business to sell advertising, and panic and fear gets people watching, and that sells advertising for them. So while on one hand, you may think they’re trying to provide you a public service announcement about what’s going on, they’re still in the advertising business and the viewership business and those types of things and they’re trying to sell you a product, and fear and panic stokes viewership and advertising dollars.

“So keep that in mind and be wise, be smart, social distance, do all the things that you are doing out there, and you’re already doing those things, and your listeners are, too, you can tell by the numbers in North Carolina. But at the same time, don’t panic. I mean, all things have to be kept in perspective related to these things, and, uh, this too will pass.

“And we gotta be, we gotta learn from this and get a whole lot better because certainly, America was unprepared, our country was unprepared, our state was unprepared, and our local communities were unprepared for this. And we’ve been through pandemics before, so we shouldn’t be unprepared. We need to be prepared in the future, whether it’s something like this or it’s hurricane recovery or anything else, our preparation’s pretty critical. And, um, we haven’t been prepared.”

So … the media is trying to scare you, but it’s working, so keep doing exactly what you’re doing, just don’t panic, which is what the media wants you to do, but also we weren’t prepared for a pandemic, and we should have been, because preparation is important.  

Some unsolicited advice for Team Forest: Maybe don’t let him go off-script so much.  

But let’s circle back to the first part, in which Forest riffs on how the media is overhyping the pandemic to sell advertising.

It’s true that “If it bleeds, it leads,” is a real phenomenon. It’s also true that the coronavirus has been a traffic bonanza (including for the INDY)and some of those clicks have translated into subscriptions (or Press Club memberships).

But if Dan Forest really thinks the pandemic has been a boon to the news business, he might not be the brightest crayon in the box. 

See, increased readership is usually great. Salespeople take those numbers to businesses and tell them, “Look, if you buy an ad in our newspaper or a spot on our website, look how many people will learn about your business!” Advertiser gives us money, readers learn about advertiser’s products, everyone wins. 

Except if all the businesses are closed. 

What if, by hyping the pandemic, the “media”—which, in Dan Forest’s monochromatic thinking, is apparently a single, monolithic entity—convinced the governor to close down restaurants and bars and nonessential businesses and events and concerts and almost everything else? Who exactly are our salespeople supposed to take those extra eyeballs to?

Now we have a product to sell, but there’s no one to buy—supply without demand.

By Forest’s logic, the media collectively decided to kill demand so we could increase supply. That’s … not a particularly good business strategy.  

If Forest had thought this through before running his trap—or maybe read some of the “media” he’s so quick to blame—he might have realized local journalism is acutely in crisis. Readership and subscriptions are up, but ads—the things that keep the lights on—are way, way down. 

All over the country, local newspapers have laid off staff, furloughed employees, and cut salaries. Some have closed altogether. The newspaper chain Gannett announced massive furloughs and pay cuts at the end of March. Yesterday, the already-in-bankruptcy McClatchy—the parent company of The News & Observer—announced that it was furloughing 4.4 percent of its staff (mostly in sales) and laying off four executives, including N&O publisher and president Sara Glines. Executive editor Robyn Tomlin will take over as president. 

So, no, Dan, it does us no good to hype the pandemic. The pandemic is what it is, and, if we’re doing our jobs, we report what it is: It’s making people sick, it’s killing some people, it’s taken the economy into a tailspin, and it’s all been made worse than it had to be by that incompetent clown of a president you fawn over.

But maybe we should give you the benefit of the doubt. Maybe you don’t really think the media is pumping up the coronavirus for fun and profit. Maybe, instead, this is part and parcel of your very deliberate strategy to train your supporters not to believe what they read—as your website puts it—“from the Democrat Party and liberal media that have abandoned North Carolina values.”

Maybe, in other words, you’re not an idiot; you just think your supporters are.  

Contact editor in chief Jeffrey C. Billman at 

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