Do We Panic Too Much? (Spoiler: Yes We Do)

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


I’m not sure what brought this on—oh, who am I kidding? I know exactly what brought this on. Anyway, I was thinking about recent public panics and started listing a few of them in my mind. This is just off the top of my head:

  • Crack babies
  • Super predators
  • Lehmann/AIG/Countrywide etc.
  • Mad cow
  • Deepwater Horizon
  • Daycare child molesters
  • Ebola
  • ISIS/Syrian refugees

I’m not saying that none of these were justified. Big oil spills are no joke. Ebola was certainly a big deal in Africa. The financial collapse of 2008 wasn’t mere panic.

And yet, generally speaking it seems as if public panics are either completely unjustified or else wildly overwrought. Am I missing any recent examples where there was a huge panic and it turned out to be wholly justified? HIV would have been justified in the early 80s, but of course we famously didn’t panic over that—other than to worry about getting AIDS from toilet seats. Help me out here, hive mind.

POSTSCRIPT: I should mention that despite my choice of illustration, I’ve never really blamed anyone for the tulip panic. Personally, I think tulips are worth going crazy over.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest