A former Republican state senator in Alabama died after contracting COVID-19. Larry Dixson, who also was the former executive director of the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners, reportedly was exposed to the coronavirus at a social gathering with “a couple guys,” died on Friday after going on a ventilator.
NBC News reports that a friend of Dixon’s, Dr. David Thrasher, a pulmonologist from Montgomery, said Dixon’s wife, Gaynell, told him that his last words to her were a warning.
“We messed up. We let our guard down,” Trasher said Dixon’s wife said Dixon said. “Please tell everybody to be careful. This is real, and if you get diagnosed, get help immediately.”
NBC News’ headline reads, “Former Alabama state senator dies of Covid at 78, warns in last words, ‘We messed up.'”
The story went international, with numerous outlets reporting similar headlines.
What Dixon reportedly said is true; COVID-19 is real. If you are diagnosed, you should seek medical attention. People should take precautions, especially if you are over the age of 60 or have risk factors.
My problem with this story is that the lede is based on second-hand information. Actually, it is third-hand information since AL.com appears to have first reported this. This quote has blown up into a sensational account that garnered international attention (a noticeably absent quote from other local press coverage).
Also, journalists are playing fast and loose with the term “last words.”
That phrase conjures the picture of a deathbed statement or confession. It’s powerful. When, in all likelihood, Dixon was still at home (assuming Alabama hospitals don’t allow visitors right now) with his wife before he took a turn for the worst. I don’t know; this lacks context. Were those really the last words he said to his wife? Or did he say it during the last conversation with his wife? I don’t know. We are getting this second or third-hand without context. Considering he was on a ventilator, he wasn’t saying anything at the end.
Also, why did Dr. Thrasher, who apparently treated Dixon’s initial symptoms, mention a private conversation with the widow? Why is he talking to the press at all?
A quick Google search of Dr. Thrasher shows that he talked to the press during the pandemic a lot and appears to have an agenda. Did he embellish the truth? Maybe. Maybe not. He’s out there enough in the media enough that I would want to verify and not take what he said as gospel truth.
Even if he did not embellish the truth, the national press just ran with an unverified third-hand quote and made it the lede of their story because it fits their narrative. It checks their boxes – a Republican former state senator from a southern state that handled COVID-19 in a way they disapprove.
Had this been a Democrat from California, would this make national news? I have my doubts. Regardless, this is piss-poor journalism on display.