The media also assumes that the public will be able to see through its lies to see these facts. That Covid-19 is actually quite dangerous may seem like an obvious point, given that more than 210,000 Americans have died from the disease and hundreds of others die every day.
But many Americans don’t accept this danger, especially since Trump has managed to subdue the obvious reality since the very beginning of the pandemic. Rumors and conspiracy theories have sprouted like wildflowers in its wake. Now, back in the polls and with an increasing outbreak of his staff, Trump is embarking on his most damaging disinformation campaign yet: the virus is nothing and America is back.
No one should believe this claptrap, but millions will. The Cornell researchers – a team led by Sarah Evanega, director of the Cornell Alliance for Science – analyzed 38 million English-language papers published between January 1 and May 26 this year. They found countless subjects of misinformation about the virus, of miracle cures. to conspiracy theories about Bill Gates and Dr. Anthony Fauci and the supposed links of 5G cellular technology with the disease.
The researchers found that while “basic resources” such as anti-vaccination groups had an impact, “they contributed much less to the overall volume of misinformation than more powerful actors, particularly the US president.”
Why is the president such a powerful source of mendacity? It’s not just that he says many things that aren’t true; it is that everything the president says is reinforced by the media. Some of these statements could be as part of an attempt to correct the president; the vast majority are not. The researchers found that “much of the misinformation goes to the public uncorrected.”
One could argue that the way to mitigate this problem is for reporters to challenge the president’s lies, and perhaps to beat him much less. But I’m not sure if this is the answer too. Studies have shown that fact-checking is of mixed effectiveness against misinformation. And as long as Trump is president, it isn’t really an option not to cover him – especially now, in the midst of a heated campaign and a pandemic in which he has played a leading role.
For me, the president’s medical treatment last week makes a point that undoes months of propaganda: Covid-19 is clearly a very bad disease. It can take you from one moment to the next with high dollar donors only to need supplemental oxygen the next day.