Columbia Journalism Review

A Time of Opportunity

IN THE SUMMER OF 2015, as Donald Trump began his campaign for the presidency, a bacterium was spreading in New York City. Twelve people had become sick earlier in the year; by August, the outbreak had reached more than a hundred and twenty. A dozen in the South Bronx died. The cause was Legionnaires’ disease, an airborne illness that can result in severe pneumonia, especially among the elderly and others with compromised immune systems.

It was a scary public health emergency that highlighted how difficult it is for officials to identify and trace the spread of disease, even on a relatively contained scale. New cases continued to surface, but the media’s attention soon moved on: Trump was finding his footing as a candidate-provocateur. He went on a live tirade against Megyn Kelly, saying that she had “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.” Then he

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