Nicki Minaj, COVID-19 and the news media

I am a fan of George Strait and his music. I think he is arguably the best country music singer of the last 40 years. Absent evidence of medical qualifications, however, I would not take medical advice from him. The same goes for any number of artists, bands and duos. Having a good voice, a catchy tune or memorable lyrics does not make one a medical professional.

This, of course, brings me to Nicki Minaj and her claim that her cousin’s friend had swollen testicles after taking one of the COVID-19 vaccines. Now, there have been documented side effects, including inflammation of the heart muscle. I personally was sick for about 24 hours with a high fever, body aches and nausea after I got my second shot in late April. I assume this was from my body preparing to go to war with an invading virus, so I took some comfort that the vaccine was working.

The proper response to Minaj would have been to ignore her. But that is not what happened. The White House reached out, public health officials in the federal government debunked her claims, and the news media rushed to “fact check” what the rapper had said – as if large swaths of people were taking medical advice from a rapper. Even a writer at The Bulwark said Minaj’s posts on Twitter “will actually get someone killed,” showing a complete lack of any sense of proportion over a celebrity’s wacky social media posts.

Then the story took a dark turn: Minaj claimed that a “reporter” was sending messages to her family seeking interviews, with a thinly-veiled threat that they would expose personal information if they did not get an interview. I have seen nothing indicating the “newspaper” denied using these aggressive, bullying tactics. We should be crystal clear about this: When President Donald Trump said that the Fake News Media was the enemy of the people, this kind of nonsense is the reason why so many people cheered him.

This does not mean that Minaj was right to expose the personal information of the “reporter” in retaliation, or to encourage her fans to harass that person. That was immoral and should be condemned. But context actually does matter. If Minaj’s accusation is true, the person who started the situation is the “reporter” who was harassing and threatening her family. Had there been no harassment and threats, there would have been no retaliation. If Minaj’s accusation is true, then this is a major scandal and a breach of journalistic ethics by a “news” organization seemingly determined to prove Trump right.

Finally, conservatives need to abandon this idolatry of celebrity. Time after time, someone makes national headlines by “owning the libs” and conservatives rush to make that person the face of the conservative movement or at least make a major star out of that person – regardless of whether that person is actually qualified to be a conservative thought leader. It ought to astonish me that a rapper known for sexually explicit lyrics has become embraced by traditionalist conservatives, but the idolatry of celebrity runs deep even within the conservative movement. It should not be this way and it needs to stop.

No one has behaved well here, and this entire story has been one of overreaction – first by the public health authorities and the news media, then by Minaj and her fans. Sometimes it is better to let it go and move on when a celebrity says something silly, but COVID-19 has become such a bitterly fought culture war that people have lost all sense of proportion. The panic and unbridled rage that spews when someone has a different opinion on pandemic mitigation policy is deeply unhealthy for our nation and for the people who engage in this behavior.