Media Mix, Sept. 11, 2021

Taro Kono

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about the media narrative that young Japanese people are generally hesitant about being vaccinated for COVID-19. As part of the narrative-reinforcing process, the web magazine Litera went on about vaccine czar Taro Kono’s media campaign earlier this summer to change young people’s minds about the vaccine, when, in fact, they didn’t need changing. What needed to happen was making more vaccines available so that they could get vaccinated, but for a number of reasons, some of which I wrote about earlier this year, there weren’t enough doses. Litera, perhaps cynically, suggested that Kono’s media blitz was more about him promoting his new book than getting young people in line for a jab, and, in truth, I can see their point if only because Kono seems to be one of the rare public Japanese figures his age who not only understands the value of social media, but knows how to use it. 

What seems to have set Litera off was not so much Kono’s perceived phoney appeal to young people but rather his avoiding some of the issues central to this role as vaccine minister. On Aug. 26, it was discovered that one batch of the Moderna vaccine amounting to 1.63 million doses was probably contaminated with foreign substances, which meant they would have to be thrown out. That’s a huge waste, especially cosidering the shortage that was already plaguing the government’s rollout program. But as Litera noted, Kono said nothing on Twitter that day about the Moderna problem, which isn’t to say he didn’t tweet anything. All he talked about was his new book (and, perhaps as a sop to responsibility, something about schools in Hiratsuka, his constituency, being closed until Sept. 3 owing to the pandemic). As a result, said Litera, Kono came off as “clueless,” though the implication is that he didn’t want to associate his position with the Moderna issue. In fact, it was the next day that the Shibuya pop-up vaccination venue opened, and the media clamor over the problems I described in the column both overshadowed the Moderna story and exacerbated the attendant outrage. Litera mentions a number of other embarrassing vaccine-related developments that Kono pointedly ignored on social media, including an instance where he seems to have manipulated data to make it seem as if Japan was in a “better position” than other developed countries with regard to immunization coverage. Actually, right now that may be true, but at the time Litera mentions, it wasn’t. Of course, Kono could be Japan’s next prime minister, and this tendency (or talent, depending on how you look at it) for dissembling on social media may come in handy. Neither Abe nor Suga seems to have been very good at it, but they had lots of flunkeys watching their backs. 

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