I’m coronavirused out. Every news show, every radio station, every newspaper has something on it. Talking heads, talking bodies, talking everything, mostly spreading little more than panic. Panic by a public behaving more like spooked cattle on a drive to market. They’re spooked by the call of a wolf in the distance rather than being thinking, rational adults. This does not mean to say that precautions shouldn’t be taken, they should, but the constant bombardment of information, much of it hysteria, is driving otherwise rational people to do irrational things.

Every time I see a shelf of empty toilet paper or bottled water, or grown men and women fighting over a paper towel roll I’m reminded of that scene from the great film Red River. The cattle get spooked because one of Wayne’s cowboys, the one with the sweet tooth, knocks over a bunch of pots and pans that wind up spooking an already restless herd. The herd is restless because a wolf is howling in the distance. 

         The pots and pans crash caused by the sugar fiend makes such a racket that the cattle simply take off, with Wayne yelling, “STAMPEDE”. The ensuing chaos destroys the camp, kills men, and has cattle crushing each other underfoot as they, in their frothy state, try to outrun a threat they thought was imminent. 

The event sets the cattle drive back as Wayne’s men have to chase down the crazed animals in order to get them to stop. They even have to kill some of them mid-stampede in order to slow down the rest. The scene is well done and quite frightening. In the end, the only thing that slows the out of control herd is that they run out of room to backtrack, getting stuck in a gully at the foot of a mountain. There is no place to go, so they simply stop after they realize this fact. They become calm and docile again once they realize the folly of their action. The cowboys, along with Wayne, begin to pick up the pieces, finding dead cattle and dead friends, victims of the stampede along the trail.

         This is what rolls through my mind every time I see these store scenes. I’d like to think that we are not spooked cattle, but I’m having a harder and harder time believing it. Taking toilet paper directly out of one another’s hands, draining stores dry of Purell (washing hands with soap and water is better). Even bottled water is being hoarded (I still don’t get that one – the faucet will work, unless you live in Flint, MI…and why is that travesty not addressed fully yet). Videos are surfacing of people fighting each other over supplies as though there will be nothing left for anyone, ever.

         I wonder if that howling wolf, that one howling wolf in the film, laughed at the fact that he created such a stampede. He had to marvel at the power of his voice, so powerful that thousands of head of cattle were spooked and the noise of pots and pans clanging, initiated by one person with a sweet tooth created the stampede he lit.

         This brings me to our news media. I can’t help but think our news media and their accompanying talking heads are that wolf. Howling on television and then sitting back laughing, just a little, at the ensuing craziness of the stampede. They stoke the fires by placing blame on everyone else; the CDC, the Chinese (where it ought to be), and, of course, the President who they revile more than any other figure in history. No matter if you like him or not, any action he takes will be wrong in their eyes, every action, and that further fuels the charge of the cattle. Were there mistakes? There has never been a situation in which anyone in a leadership role hasn’t made them, however, the magnification of errors of this particular President borders on reckless, regardless of which side of the political fence one sits.

         Yes, there are some voices of reason among the howling wolves, and precautions should be taken. Yes, the message from the government is somewhat garbled, with too many people saying too many things. There is an attempt to get one message out…I know first-hand as I have a friend that works in the White House, but there are too many know-it-alls on twitter and other platforms, including the mass media, that are making that impossible. The President doesn’t help himself either when he, acting as an intrusive CEO rather than facilitator, steps on the messages emanating from the experts. He should step back and allow those he’s appointed to do what they do. Let them work, let them deliver the message, one message that can be heard among the howls of the media.

         The fact is that in times of crisis, people will show you who they really are. We, the citizens of the United States, are one people, and to this point, we’ve done a good job, relatively, of proving that point. Somewhere along the way, though, we’ve lost the idea that we are (were) a melting pot. We are becoming more and more separated, preferring our differences than our similarities. We are losing that melting pot status and are becoming a large gathering of diverse people rather than a nation. A people whose primary concern is their race, creed, ideology, tribe or anything else that emphasizes  the separateness of us rather than our one central idea – E Pluribus Unam. Once upon a time, that was our great strength, but the howling wolves have succeeded in enlarging that division, a division exacerbated by crisis. 

         There are signs of hope, to be sure. Last week, an elderly couple, afraid to go into the store remained in their car until someone, a young woman, was kind enough to answer their call for help. She walked to their car window, listened to their concern for exposure, and did their shopping for them. 

A nineteen-year-old superstar basketball player, Zion Williamson, paying the stadium workers for their time off out of his own sense of morality and generosity. Companies, like Fabletics who will compensate their workers for their missed time, and other actions. Over the weekend, the federal government announcing unprecedented plans to bolster the economy and doing so in a largely bi-partisan fashion. There are many more examples of which these are a few. The howling wolves? They’re out there, still singing their songs and trying to spook the cattle, who remain skittish, prepared to stampede at a moments notice. Even John Wayne’s cowboys lost their heads, and Wayne himself, turned on Montgomery Clift, the man he’d raised as his own since he was a kid (in the film). Eventually, though, in true Hollywood fashion, they patched things up in the end and the cattle drive was successful.

         We will be during this crisis as well. What we can’t do is continue to be spooked cattle, allowing the media wolf to drive us to a continued stampede. That’s how they make their money. They have a clear agenda; blow this event up as much as possible, sow division, take down the President, and watch as we run for the gulley, destroying everything in our wake. They’ve been doing this since the Spanish-American War in 1899 when the term “yellow journalism” became known. They will continue to do it, and now that there are multiple outlets for them including social media, they will continue to do so in a more aggressive fashion.

 Don’t let them. Think, be calm, rational, and in control. Help those around you that need it. Don’t buy into the hype, hysteria, and hand wringing. Listen to the wind, not the howl of the wolf.