MINOT, N.D. — The legendary motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D., is taking place this week. It's been on-going since Friday, Aug. 7, and will conclude on Sunday.
Not surprisingly, the decision to hold the rally amid the coronavirus pandemic has earned the event a lot of negative publicity.
"Despite Virus, Thousands Converge on Sturgis for Huge Rally," the New York Times reports.
"60% of Sturgis residents were against a motorcycle rally that brings in thousands but the city approved it," CNN screams at us.
According to a report from Fox News, the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe aims to block bikers headed to the rally from crossing their lands.
Online, I saw one troll joking that he was going to watch the live online stream of the event so he could pick out which bikes he wanted to buy from the resulting estate sales.
Is all of this concern about the rally, expressed with varying degrees of reason, warranted? Or is it an overreaction?
And if it's an overreaction, what does that mean for the news media's credibility when reporting on the virus?
Let's revisit another South Dakota event which provoked similar levels of concern, and hysteria, in the headlines. It happened just last month, on the Fourth of July weekend when President Donald Trump held a celebration at Mount Rushmore, which isn't all that far from Sturgis.
The president, and everyone who supported or attended the event, were acting irresponsibly, said the critics.
Except, since the event happened, there has been no evidence of a resulting outbreak.
"South Dakota health officials say it doesn't appear the July 3 Mount Rushmore fireworks attended by President Donald Trump turned into a hotbed of coronavirus infections, either among South Dakotans or out-of-state tourists," ABC News reported nearly two weeks after the event.
What if we get the same outcome from Sturgis?
I hope we do.
That's what every reasonable person is hoping. Still, many in politics and the news media have invested themselves heavily in a narrative holding that the Sturgis event is dangerous, and the consequences for holding it during the coronavirus outbreak will be dire.
If those predictions turn out to be false, or even just dramatically overstated, as they were with the Rushmore event, we'll see another blow to the news media's credibility at a time when we can hardly afford it given all the misinformation floating around on the internet and other venues.
Remember, we went through a time when protests and rallies against lockdown policies were denounced by the same pundits and medical experts who then turned around and endorsed Black Lives Matter protests, only to do another about-face and begin condemning public gatherings again once those protests died down.
As I wrote last month, that sort of thing leaves the public wondering why they should listen to the experts.
There has been much attention given to those who, with reasons ranging from ideology to just plain old obstinance, have downplayed the seriousness of COVID-19. President Trump, certainly, has been a target for this criticism, and in many ways rightfully so.
But how about some criticism for the exaggerators and alarmists whose apocalyptic pronouncements — which are also often driven by politics — have so often turned out to be wrong?
I can understand the trepidation many feel about holding an event like Sturgis right now. It's justifiable, but much of the alarmism isn't, especially given its ideological provenance.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.