Wednesday, April 21

Information Contagion – The New York Times

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Sinclair Broadcast Group recently published an online interview with a conspiracy theorist who claimed that Dr. Anthony Fauci created the coronavirus using monkey cells. Sinclair — which operates almost 200 television stations — has also run segments downplaying the severity of the virus.

Fox News has repeatedly run segments promoting ideas that scientists consider false or that question the seriousness of the virus.

Breitbart published a video this week in which a group of doctors claimed that masks were unnecessary and that the drug hydroxychloroquine cured the virus. It received 14 million views in six hours on Facebook, my colleague Kevin Roose reports. (President Trump tweeted a link to it.)

Why is the U.S. enduring a far more severe virus outbreak than any other rich country?

There are multiple causes, but one of them is the size and strength of right-wing media organizations that frequently broadcast falsehoods. The result is confusion among many Americans about scientific facts that are widely accepted, across the political spectrum, in other countries.

Canada, Japan and much of Europe have no equivalent to Sinclair — whose local newscasts reach about 40 percent of Americans — or Fox News. Germany and France have widely read blogs that promote conspiracy theories. “But none of them have the reach and the funding of Fox or Sinclair,” Monika Pronczuk, a Times reporter based in Europe, told me.

Fox is particularly important, because it has also influenced President Trump’s response to the virus, which has been slower and less consistent than that of many other world leaders. “Trump repeatedly failed to act to tame the spread, even though that would have helped him politically,” The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent has written. The headline on Sargent’s opinion column is: “How Fox News may be destroying Trump’s re-election hopes.”

Another factor creating confusion: The lack of an aggressive response to virus misinformation from Facebook and YouTube. Judd Legum, author of the Popular Information newsletter, has identified some of this misinformation, and the two companies have responded by removing the posts he cited. But Legum told me he had pointed out only a small fraction of the false information, and the companies had done relatively little to remove it proactively.

Twitter took a slightly more aggressive step yesterday, putting temporary limits on the account of Donald Trump Jr. after he shared the false Breitbart video.

C.E.O.s in Congress: Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Tim Cook of Apple, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, and Sundar Pichai of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, will testify today at a House hearing on whether their companies stifle competition. “It has the feeling of tech’s Big Tobacco moment,” one expert said.

Attorney General William Barr clashed with House Democrats in a hostile five-hour hearing.

Barr defended the deployment of federal agents in Portland, Ore., saying that “rioters and anarchists” had “hijacked” peaceful demonstrations. And he denied improperly interfering in criminal cases against Roger Stone and Michael Flynn, two allies of President Trump. Democrats portrayed him as a dangerous political enforcer for the president.

You can watch some of the most contentious exchanges in a Times video.

In other protest developments:

  • The deputy director of the F.B.I. called protests against police brutality “a national crisis” in a memo in early June. The memo suggested that some top federal law enforcement officials embraced an aggressive response to the demonstrations from the start.

  • The Minneapolis police believe an umbrella-wielding man who vandalized store windows during a May protest has ties to a white supremacist group and had hoped to foment looting and sow racial unrest.

  • New York City police officers in plain clothes pulled a protester into an unmarked minivan. Critics said they were adopting tactics similar to those used by federal agents in Portland, Ore.; the police said the protester had damaged police cameras near City Hall.

My colleague Donald McNeil interviewed 20 public health experts about the coronavirus pandemic and found “a pervasive sense of sadness and exhaustion.”

He writes: “Where once there was defiance, and then a growing sense of dread, now there seems to be sorrow and frustration, a feeling that so many funerals never had to happen and that nothing is going well.”

In other virus news:

Horror movies thrive on isolation. Cabins in the woods, sparsely populated small towns, empty motels — these are all places where no one can hear you scream.

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