This is a personal project of mine, simply tracking disinformation and lies about the coronavirus directly related to the mainstream media.
There has also been numerous lies from our politicians (i.e. Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, several state governors, and more), but this article is solely tracking the media.
There are sure to be a myriad more than I come across, but there will be enough here to properly frame how much disinformation abounds in a time when we need truth and transparency more than ever.
I think it’s important to note, that while I am trying to point out disinformation by citing multiple sources to counter false claims, I myself am not immune to biases (i.e. I do not watch Fox News, so will likely end up with fewer examples from them). I try not to supply commentary or context beyond the facts, but in some places it feels necessary.
If you feel any of the following are incorrect, or incomplete, leave your rebuttal sources in the comments and I’ll follow-up.
April 8, 2020: ABC News claimed (this article has since been updated) the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) warned Trump about the coronavirus outbreak in “late November.” Soon after the report by ABC an official statement from Col (Dr.) R. Shane Day, Director, National Center for Medical Intelligence, Defense Intelligence Agency issued a response that “no such NCMI product exists.”
April 2, 2020: Bloomberg publishes an article by Noah Feldman stating economists must “embrace the hardheaded reality” and “delight in…putting a measurable economic value on human life.” It suggests economists place more value on opening the economy than do epidemiologists, who place more value on saving lives. The majority of them do not think this. According to a survey by IGM, 57% of economists believe sustaining lockdowns to eliminate a resurgence risk is of greater economic value than abandoning lockdowns.
January 29, 2020: BuzzFeed tells everyone NOT to worry about the Coronavirus because the flu is more dangerous (the article has since been updated). It should be noted that COVID-19 had been declared a public health emergency for the United States on January 27, 2020, two days prior.
Don’t worry about the coronavirus. Worry about the flu. https://t.co/x2ugwJGjF2— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) January 29, 2020
March 30, 2020: CBS News uses footage from an Italian hospital when reporting on New York City outbreak. When asked, CBS admitted it was an “editing mistake.”
April 4, 2020: CBS uses the same misleading clip of an Italian hospital when talking about Pennsylvania.
After @CBSNews was called out for airing footage of a hospital in Italy and saying it was New York, they apologized and said it was an error.— ALX ???????? (@alx) April 8, 2020
Less than a week later, they aired the same footage, this time when talking about Pennsylvania.
(h/t @lieggiji) pic.twitter.com/omTu6twgPm
March 26, 2020: Jim Acosta reports “The United States now has more coronavirus cases reported than any other country in the world.” Hillary Clinton chimed in on March 27, 2020.
This is factually correct. The problem is it’s so poorly framed that it omits how little we know about China’s reporting of confirmed cases, especially since they are “expelling” American journalists from the country.
March 30, 2020: Oliver Darcy tweeting, his colleague, Brian Stelter’s story.
Trump is self-isolating at Fox News, @brianstelter reports.— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) March 30, 2020
“As the crisis has deepened and the death toll has risen, Trump’s only national TV interviews have been with Fox News.” https://t.co/5TkPYGF83j
Several days earlier CNN didn’t even want to air the president’s press briefings. In fact, all the major outlets except Fox News cut away from the briefing while it was live.
April 6, 2020: In a newsletter from CNN’s Brian Stelter, arguing that Trump’s response to coronavirus is a 9/11-level failure, along with “Pro-Trump media outlets trying to bury the Trump White House’s failures.” This can be compared directly to his criticisms (or lack thereof) of Obama’s response to H1N1.
April 9, 2020: CNN runs article based on ABC report that “US intelligence agencies started tracking coronavirus outbreak in China as early as November.” Office of DNI had already issued a response (see ABC timeline above) to parts of the ABC story that were incorrect, but CNN shares the story anyways.
As we told CNN earlier today, this story contains inaccurate information. https://t.co/cFb2q1Cvr4— Office of the DNI (@ODNIgov) April 9, 2020
April 10, 2020: CNN (allegedly, because there is no substantiated source that I could find) uses picture of people during Hurricane Harvey while discussing coronavirus in San Francisco.
April 16, 2020: CNN publishes an article claiming Elon Musk (or Tesla) never delivered the 1,000 ventilators they claimed to have delivered. Elon Musk then provided Twitter screenshots of the hospitals thanking him for the ventilators along with how many ventilators went to each hospital. In addition he provided emails with confirmation of receipt. A simple Twitter search would have revealed some of this information.
April 16, 2020: CNN anchor Chris Cuomo is spotted “with his wife, another woman and three kids who were playing around on the property.” This contradicts what Chris Cuomo has been saying live on CNN where he was quarantined alone in his basement.
4 days later Chris Cuomo pretended to leave his basement for the first time.
This thread details all the events that transpired:
I’m very surprised it’s not a giant story that the governor added a month to our blanket lockdown but his brother broke quarantine and literally traveled to another town *while actually sick with Coronavirus* and got a pass on it. https://t.co/sqyLGxJTNm pic.twitter.com/CyQbqlR3SP— Karol Markowicz (@karol) April 20, 2020
April 3, 2020: Trevor Noah of The Daily Show tweets the following video, highlighting disinformation from right-wing pundits. There’s a couple minor contextual issues, but the biggest problem is the left-wing pundits (i.e. AOC, Pelosi, De Blasio, etc.) get a pass. I don’t watch The Daily Show, but given that it’s on Comedy Central, it’s tough to judge this too harshly, as they don’t position themselves to be taken seriously.
Hannity. Rush. Dobbs. Ingraham. Pirro. Nunes. Tammy. Geraldo. Doocy. Hegseth. Schlapp. Siegel. Watters. Dr. Drew. Henry. Ainsley. Gaetz. Inhofe. Pence. Kudlow. Conway. Trump.— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) April 3, 2020
Today, we salute the Heroes of the Pandumbic. pic.twitter.com/35WLDgoHcf
Here’s a list of 35 liberal journalists, politicians, and scientists who were conveniently left off the list.
January 31, 2020: Nick Robins-Early pens an article claiming Senator Tom Cotton (R) has “spread misinformation and panic” about coronavirus. There are two main complaints: 1) a tweet from January 30, 2020 encouraging Americans to get out of China and 2) that the coronavirus may have come from a “level-four super laboratory” in Wuhan.
April 16, 2020: Dr. Oz tells Sean Hannity “I just saw a nice piece in The Lancet arguing the opening of schools may only cost us 2 to 3%, in terms of total mortality. Any, you know, any life is a life lost, but … that might be a tradeoff some folks would consider.”
Dr. Oz later apologized, but this article from the Huffington Post exacerbates the issue by failing simple math and suggesting Dr. Oz is okay with ~1 million children dying.
Here’s the actual math:
March 22, 2020 (week of): I don’t have the exact air date, but Rachel Maddow went live with this claim the week of March 22, 2020. One week later the USNS Comfort arrived in New York.
Flashback to last week when @maddow claimed it was “nonsense” when President Trump said there would be a Navy Medical Ship operational in a week.— Benny (@bennyjohnson) March 30, 2020
The USNS Comfort arrived in New York City this morning.
March 31, 2020: Rachel Maddow tweets out a confirmed cases trajectory created by Financial Times, declaring “US trajectory is worst in the world.”
This is the gray area of disinformation. Is it true that this chart by the Financial Times shows the US having the worst case trajectory globally? Yes, that’s true. But Rachel Maddow (likely) knows that we don’t even have accurate case counts in the United States, let alone the world. Ms. Maddow makes know distinction between total cases and per capita, nor does she mention testing per capita. At best this is lazy reporting, and at worst it’s the ability to say the words “US is worst in the world” while a political party she has nothing in common with holds the White House.
April 1, 2020: Joe Scarborough states “Everybody saw this coming in early January.” China did not report a death until January 11, which it denied had human-to-human transaction (confirmed incorrectly below by WHO), and the US did not have a confirmed case until January 20. On January 31, the Trump Administration began restricting travel.
Glen Greenwald points out that Joe Scarborough has zero tweets about coronavirus in January, while discussing impeachment 29 times, and sports 7 times.
April 20, 2020: Mika Brzezinski states “Joe Biden saw this [coronavirus] coming. He was writing about this in USA Today in January.” Either Joe Biden didn’t see this coming, or didn’t heed his own advice. Here he is March 2 (a month after his Op Ed in USA Today), holding a rally.
April 27, 2020: Joe Scarborough states the 25th amendment is “de facto abolished” if it can’t be used against Trump for his coronavirus response. This is not how the 25th amendment works…at all.
The 25th amendment is not impeachment, and it is not there as a backup in case an impeachment attempt fails. It’s meant to be impossible to invoke unless the President is legitimately incapacitated.— Eddie Zipperer (@EddieZipperer) April 27, 2020
March 30, 2020: After a press briefing where President Trump said “something is going on” with the number of masks, NBC publishes and article stating there is “no evidence for Trump’s suggestion that masks are ‘going out the back door’ of New York hospitals.” (Vox, ABC, Independent, Washington Post, and many others jump in with similar articles.) There’s one big problem: on March 6, 2020 Andrew Cuomo told reporters that there are “actual thefts of those products,” and he’s asking “the state police to do an investigation…”
New York Times (NYT)
March 24, 2020: A NYT article states the US “currently has between 160,000 and 200,000 ventilators, but could need up to a million…”
March 27, 2020: The NYT issues a correction to their article on ventilators clarifying that the US won’t need a million ventilators, but that a million people over the course of the outbreak may be put on a ventilator. It’s encouraging to see corrections being made, but the problem is this is the information age. Once it’s out there, the damage of misinformation is done. As an example, the incorrect facts of this story were repeated by CNN’s Brianna Keilar on air.
April 2, 2020: NYT publishes an article detailing locations in the US that didn’t stay home as coronavirus spread. See one of the charts used as evidence below.
Sam Harris adds a political twist to the data by requesting 2016 count-level elections results. The problem with this correlation? There’s an equal amount of data to suggest this isn’t political. For example, take a look at these maps:
Correlation is not causation. Some people have to drive farther to the supermarket, others may be searching for work, etc. As @politicalmath notes “The fact that the largest deep blue state and the second largest deep blue state are likely to end up as two polar examples of COVID response indicates that interpreting everything through political lens might not be helpful.”
Here’s another interesting read that discusses the need for in person cash, due to the amount of unbanked citizens in the south.
Pod Save America
Pod Save America is another smaller outlet that may not deserve to be included with mainstream outlets. However, since they are founded by former President Obama staff writers, I felt their reports should be scrutinized.
March 31, 2020: Pod Save America states the following:
Jan. 1: China tells Trump admin that this is a horrific pandemic.— Pod Save America (@PodSaveAmerica) March 31, 2020
Jan 20: First American gets coronavirus.
The time we lost waiting for him to realize what everyone was telling him is heartbreaking. https://t.co/w9UJ8OkXqp https://t.co/crLUPRzyad
The Chinese government was lying to WHO as late January 14, 2020. There is no record of any agency informing any government outside of China to the severity until late January.
April 25, 2020: Politico tweets “In Lansing, you cannot find anyone, Republican or Democrat, on the record or off, who does not admire the skills of the state’s 49th governor.” But just a week ago there was a massive in-vehicle protest of the severe lockdown conditions (USA Today and NBC reports).
February 13, 2020: Here’s an article (that has since been updated) by Vox making fun of “tech bros” for not wanting to shake hands amid the coronavirus concerns.
March 2, 2020: Vox tweets: “Oh, and face masks? You can pass on them.”
2/ Oh, and face masks? You can pass on them.— Vox (@voxdotcom) March 2, 2020
Masks are only useful if you have a respiratory infection already and want to limit the risk of spreading, or if you’re working in a hospital in direct contact with people who have respiratory illnesses. https://t.co/IEFrOOxEkE pic.twitter.com/XC2LN8qZJm
April 2, 2020: Matty Glesias, Co-founder and editor at Vox, informs people he bought a face mask “in February when they were available.” If the Co-founder and editor doesn’t take the advice of Vox, should you?
To people asking where you can buy a mask, I don’t know. I ordered mine in February when they were available.— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) April 2, 2020
But here’s a guide to making one at home. https://t.co/YH4YMnDKJf
Washington Post (WAPO)
February 17, 2020: WAPO reports “Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) repeated a fringe theory suggesting that the ongoing spread of a coronavirus is connected to research in the disease-ravaged epicenter of Wuhan, China.”
Contrast the above report with this one…
April 3, 2020: WAPO reports “Scientists don’t rule out that an accident at a research laboratory in Wuhan might have spread a deadly bat virus that had been collected for scientific study.”
Some thoughts about this experiment…
The speed of news surrounding the coronavirus started to slow the last week of April 2020. That same week most of the new stories were discussing Gilead’s Remdesivir trials and potential vaccines. It’s likely that we’ll see two more sources of disinformation the rest of the year:
- Non-medical professionals sharing “cures” and news of “cures”
- Polarized data analysis (i.e. once we have the true CFR people will begin to take sides on “we overreacted with the lockdowns” versus “we did the right amount to save millions”)
My interest has waned considerably in covering this topic. Mainly because I’ve learned one important fact: the current media can not keep up with the speed of information. They will continue to be wrong at an alarming rate, but I don’t think it should be a measure of their character as much a measure of their capacity.