Almost two weeks ago I offered at NRO a few synopses of various theories about why California — which, for a variety of reasons, had seemed so ripe for a New York–style epidemic — had nonetheless strangely been exempt at least for a while from the virus’s spread. I included the pedestrian possibility of some previously acquired “herd immunity,” given the state’s singular exposure from November to January 31 to direct flights from China, including those from Wuhan, and initial CDC and media reports last year of an unusually early and severe assumed flu hitting the state.
Within a few days, I was hit by media inquiries and private calls asking about my ongoing “coronavirus antibody testing studies.”
Despite ad nauseam corrections that I had never claimed in the NRO article or elsewhere to be a doctor, much less an epidemiologist or a conductor of any such study, and that the Hoover Institution is not a medical school, the fake news still spread.
I got dozens more calls and emails from private citizens who thought they had the virus and wanted confirmation of that supposed fact, in order to venture out and help others with antibodies. Some said they wanted “in” immediately.
Others called saying they were scared that they had an unknown illness and wanted confirmation of what it had been.
And some were from Chinese media sources wanting such “lab” confirmation that earlier herd immunity developing in California pre-2020 was the final proof needed of an American origin, rather than a later Chinese genesis of the virus. (Oddly they apparently assumed that if any such future study were to show some sizable herd immunity in California, and thereby suggest an earlier outbreak than what was assumed in late January 2020, it would not mean the Chinese were lying about the first dates of the infection. Would the Chinese media wish to explain why flights from Wuhan to the U.S. were open throughout January when, for mysterious reasons, the Chinese themselves had blocked travel earlier than the ban from Wuhan to other parts of China?)
Oddly, the more one agreed to go on California radio or be interviewed to correct the glaring media errors, the more the media ignored the correction and instead wanted to know about “your ongoing lab studies” and “herd immunity.”
When pressed, none of these California reporters could cite the NRO article or any nonexistent study, and seem uninterested in being directed to a number of excellent essays and analyses on various hypotheses from Stanford Medical School affiliated scientists and doctors, some of whom are conducting or about to conduct antibody studies.
Fake news is real.
I used to laugh every time I heard someone like Elon Musk say that we are living in a Matrix-like simulation. These days, not so much.
Don’t call the funny farm just yet. On the major question of the nature of sense experience, I remain with Aristotle and against Bishop Berkeley. Matter is real. But there is also the question of how we perceive “the news”; how established media institutions present and frame information; how we are supposed to respond to the “takes” purportedly expert and knowledgeable voices serve up to us by the second on social media. And here, I’m skeptical.
It’s hard not to be. Think of the headlines we’ve encountered since the beginning of this year. We were told the Covington Catholic boys were smug racist Trump supporters on the basis of a snippet of video. A young man, a private citizen, whose only offense was traveling to Washington, D.C., to march for life, was transformed at light speed into a symbol of hate and systemic oppression. However, just as Nick Sandmann’s reputation as a villain was about to set in stone, additional videos revealed that the students’ encounter with a far-left American Indian activist and the Black Hebrew Israelites was far more complicated than initially reported. The Covington Catholic boys had been smeared. People who cast themselves as agents of professional knowledge, expertise, and moral authority had circulated and amplified a lie in the service of a political agenda. Not for the first nor last time.
We were told Jussie Smollett, a rising gay African-American actor and singer, had been the victim of a hate crime committed by MAGA-hat-wearing Trump supporters in the dead cold of a Chicago night. Journalists and bloggers who asked questions about Smollett’s story were decried as bigots, even as key details went missing and the shifting timeline became more and more curious. Then the city’s African-American police commissioner announced Smollett had been arrested for orchestrating a bizarre hoax. The state’s attorney filed charges—charges subsequently dropped after behind-the-scenes lobbying by Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff.
We were told that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin were in cahoots to hack the emails of the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign; that Trump might have been a Russian agent since the late 1980s; that the key to the conspiracy might be a server in Trump Tower relaying information to a Russian bank; that the indictment of Donald Trump Jr. was imminent; that Trump Sr., according to the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, had committed “treason”; that Michael Cohen had met with Russian intelligence operatives in Prague; that Trump had directed Michael Flynn to speak to the Russians prior to Election Day 2016; that Trump had instructed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress; that Paul Manafort had met with Julian Assange in the Ecuadoran embassy in London during the campaign; that secret indictments in an Alexandria courthouse would be unsealed on the day Robert Mueller filed his report on possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. None of it happened.
We were told that Michael Avenatti, a trial attorney who appeared seemingly out of nowhere to represent Stephanie Clifford, aka “Stormy Daniels,” in her (tossed-out) defamation suit against Donald Trump, was a defender of the rule of law and election integrity who posed, in the words of Stephen Colbert, an “existential threat” to the Trump presidency. Avenatti appeared incessantly on cable news, earning the equivalent of $175 million in media exposure between March and May 2018. Last September, an article in Politico Magazine carried the headline, “Michael Avenatti Is Winning the 2020 Democratic Primary.” When Avenatti said he represented a client who had been a victim of gang rapes and druggings at parties attended by Brett Kavanaugh during high school, NBC News interviewed the client despite being unable to verify her (ludicrous) accusation. By last November, when he was arrested for domestic assault in Los Angeles, Avenatti had appeared on television more than 200 times in the space of 8 months.
On the morning I wrote this column a federal grand jury indicted Avenatti on 36 counts, including fraud. “Defendant AVENATTI would embezzle and misappropriate settlement proceeds to which he was not entitled,” reads just one sentence of the mind-boggling 61-page indictment. What media authorities had presented as true—that Avenatti was a serious attorney whose evidence would destroy the Trump presidency—has been revealed, once again, as utterly fallacious, a con. It’s up to the jury to decide if Michael Avenatti is a criminal. What’s beyond dispute, has been for a while, is that he is an unserious person, out for attention, celebrity, the notoriety and status fame brings. In the months of his ascendance, however, cable anchors and journalists did their best to avoid or downplay the truth of Avenatti’s character, lest it distract from their attack on the president’s.
As the influence of establishment media outlets has waned, their attempts to control the narrative have intensified. The cable networks and major print outlets have become more politicized, not less, as social media and streaming video make it much easier to expose hoaxes and puncture holes in the received wisdom. The Sentinels who protect the liberal media matrix are vigilant against thoughtcrime, they anathematize dissent, but they are less interested in the canons of professional journalism, such as presenting both sides of a story and refraining from baseless speculation. Right now they are heralding Ilhan Omar for her courage, turning Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez into the flag-bearer of the Democratic Party, and confident that no matter the opposition Trump will be defeated. Best be skeptical. As with all the other bogus stories, reality will make itself felt in the end. It always does.
by Erik Wemple • Washington Post
The New York Times on Wednesday appended a correction to a story about a climate change study:
Correction: August 9, 2017
An article on Tuesday about a sweeping federal climate change report referred incorrectly to the availability of the report. While it was not widely publicized, the report was uploaded by the nonprofit Internet Archive in January; it was not first made public by The New York Times.
That correction, which sits at the foot of the story, dutifully straightens out the record. Yet given the magnitude of the screw-up, it should sit atop the story, surrounded by red flashing lights and perhaps an audio track to instruct readers: Warning: This story once peddled a faulty and damaging premise. Continue reading