PRESS EDITORIAL: Vaccine for an ‘infodemic’

The fake news chickens are coming home to roost.

The relentless disparagement of journalists as purveyors of false information tagged with the cliche label “fake news” has eroded the credibility of print and digital newspapers, network television news operations and other news organizations often described as the mainstream media.

This has suited the purposes of politicians who don’t like what the press reports about them, but it leaves the country, and the world, less prepared to deal with a crisis like the anticipated pandemic caused by the new coronavirus.

At a time when truthful information based on verified facts is essential to the effort to fight a disease spreading rapidly around the world, social media and the conspiracy theories that thrive there like bacteria in a petri dish and the fevered claims of pundits on cable and radio “news” programs are disseminating information that is false but widely accepted as truth.

The World Health Organization is calling the misinformation about the coronavirus spreading on social media and websites an “infodemic.” The head of the agency’s emergency programs said, “We need a vaccine against misinformation.”

That anti-misinformation vaccine already exists in the reporting by the professional journalists of traditional news outlets. Brave reporters, including several from U.S. news organizations, working in a totalitarian country that does not countenance freedom of the press, alerted the world to the genesis and spread of the Covid-19 disease caused by the coronavirus in China, even as that country tried to suppress the release of information about the outbreak to their own citizens and the world.

Like the disease itself, the coronavirus story has traveled from China to many countries and journalists have tenaciously held on to it, tracking its progress and educating readers, viewers and listeners with information gathered from the best sources in the world, the scientists who know and understand viral diseases and their threat to humanity.

Now available from such mainstream news outlets as the New York Times, Washington Post and many daily newspapers served by the Associated Press to anyone open to reading it is comprehensive, practical information on what to expect from the coronavirus and what people can do to attempt to avoid it, presented in a context that is neither alarmist nor complacent.

Contrast that with the claptrap found on some social media platforms, including crackpot cures, reports of authorities hiding the deaths of hundreds of thousands of coronavirus victims and that old favorite, conspiracy theories about nefarious actions of our own U.S. government, including one claiming military helicopters are secretly transporting infectious coronavirus sufferers to be stashed in communities.

At least it can be said that such nonsense is too looney for many people to believe. But then along comes one of the biggest and loudest names in punditry, who has millions of listeners, some of whom surely regard his words as Gospel, proclaiming this through his microphone last week: “Now, I want to tell you the truth about coronavirus.

Yeah, I’m dead right on this. The coronavirus is the common cold, folks.”

That was Rush Limbaugh. Give him credit for a perfect batting average. In three sentences, he drove three falsehoods into the ears of his listeners.

It wasn’t the truth. He wasn’t right. And coronavirus is not the common cold.

The only connection between a cold and Covid-19 is that both are caused by infective agents that are members of a large family of viruses that can result in various diseases.

As of press time, the Limbaugh “common cold” had caused more than 3,000 deaths.

At a press conference last week, President Donald Trump announced falsely that coronavirus cases were diminishing in the U.S. and that vaccine would soon be available.

When news outlets reported that the Trump administration’s own health officials corrected the president on both counts and predicted a surge of cases, Trump blamed the mainstream news media for alarming the public.

More fake news, of course.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494
 

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