The New York Times published a story about a 30-year-old man who died of the coronavirus after attending a Covid party in Texas—only they provided no sources to confirm what happened, and the whole thing may have been an urban myth.
The National Review's Michael Brendan Dougherty revealed the story writing that The Times piece included four of the major components of coronavirus urban legend stories amid the pandemic: a young person died of the illness, after believing the virus to be a hoax. This was reported to have happened in a Republican state, and the man had failed to socially distance.
These four points are what Democrat politicians and talking heads might refer to as a perfect storm. If the story is to be taken at face value, the implication is that the man who died was more than likely Republican, subscribed to the conspiracy theory that the virus was a hoax, believed therefore that social distancing was irrelevant, didn't place enough value on his own health in light of the risk, and died as a result.
Dougherty wrote that "the only thing missing was a MAGA hat and a rueful dying admission, 'I shouldn't have trusted Trump or my Republican governor!'"
The first iteration of the story was drawn out in these three paragraphs:
"A 30-year-old man who believed the coronavirus was a hoax and attended a 'COVID party' died after being infected with the virus, according to the chief medical officer at a Texas hospital."
"The official, Dr. Jane Appleby of Methodist Hospital in San Antonio, said the man died after deliberately attending a gathering with an infected person to test whether the coronavirus was real."
"In her statements to news organizations, Dr. Appleby said the man had told his nurse that he attended a COVID party. Just before he died, she said the patient told his nurse: 'I think I made a mistake. I thought this was a hoax, but it’s not.'"
The initial sub-headline read: "'I thought this was a hoax,' the man told his nurse, a hospital official said."
Not only did the original story not include specific names attached to the people involved, the story did not provide a date or time as to where this party took place or if had even happened at all. It was all rumour.
Dougherty added that it is curious the press would be allowed inside the room where a man reveals his "self-incriminating final words."
The New York Times soon backtracked on the initial telling of the tale by adding in a couple more paragraphs:
"The Times could not independently verify Dr. Appleby’s account. On Monday, the San Antonio health department said its contact tracers did not have any information 'that would confirm (or deny)' that such an event had happened there."
"In recent days, the hospital distributed video of Dr. Appleby describing the case, along with a press statement. She did not say when or where the party took place, how many people attended or how long afterward the man was hospitalized with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. She said she was sharing the story to warn others, especially in Texas, where cases are surging."
The ABC article that The Times referenced in these two paragraphs has since been taken down. These two paragraphs also draw out the fact that the junior reporter who was writing this piece was not even in Texas at all, but at a desk somewhere—likely at home.
The sub-headline was changed entirely since the first instance of the story, and it appears that the entire content of the story has undergone significant changes, "edit by edit," according to Dougherty.
Dougherty added that "there are no editor's notes on it documenting the changes in the published story and the huge tonal shift from credulousness to skepticism."