Fake News for the Week Ending October 23, 2020

Misinformation, disinformation, propaganda, conspiracy theories, and outright lies. That’s what fake news is all about this week, so let’s get started.

  • The topic of fake news encompasses lots of subtopics — fictitious news stories, rumors, conspiracy theories, deliberate or accidental misinformation and disinformation, and propaganda. But what about outright lies? That’s what last night’s presidential debate highlighted, the numerous outright lies uttered by President Donald J. Trump. All politicians shade the truth on occasion, but Trump has taken that practice to new extremes. It is to the point that you can’t believe a single word coming out of his mouth. (Or in his Twitter feed.)

    This blatant disregard for the truth extends to his supporters, especially those in the media — and especially right-wing talk radio hosts and the talking heads on Fox News. (Trump pal Sean Hannity fits in both buckets.) It also extends to the federal government itself, especially as Trump and his cronies override the truthful information from various federal agencies (such as the CDC) with more politically motivated “information” that serves their own venal ends.

    During last night’s debate Trump barraged the audience with so many lies I’m not sure there was any “there” there. CNN did a great job cataloging Mr. Trump’s various alternative facts, which include

    – We’re “turning the corner” on the coronavirus
    – A vaccine for COVID-19 is “ready”
    – “99.9% of young people recover” from the coronavirus
    – He was just kidding when he said that people should “inject bleach” to ward off the virus
    – The Obama administration was a “total disaster” in handling the swine flu in 2009 (it killed 12,500 Americans — fewer than what COVID-19 kills every two weeks)
    Joe Biden received $3.5 million from Russia
    Russia is meddling in the election to defeat him (Trump)
    – The Mueller probe found “nothing wrong”
    China is paying “billions and billions of dollars” in tariffs
    Joe Biden wants socialized medicine
    Joe Biden called blacks “super predators
    – He (Trump) has done more for the black community than any president, with the “possible exception” of Abraham Lincoln
    – The Trump administration has built “over 400 miles of brand new [border] wall
    Immigrants “never come back” for court appearances after being released from custody
    – The United States has the “cleanest” air and water

    These are just some of the things he lied about during a single 90-minute debate. Like I said, Trump lies so much you basically can’t (and shouldn’t) believe a single thing he says. It is disheartening that we’re saying this about the president of the United States, the leader of the free world, the commander in chief, but it is true. Trump lies. He sees — or at least talks about — a different reality than the one we live in. He is a walking, talking, constantly-tweeting example of fake news. He is not just sowing distrust, he is the cause of that distrust.

    If you don’t believe me (and why should you believe me over Donald J. Trump?), check out this online scorecard on the president’s truthfulness. According to PolitiFact, President Trump has uttered true or mostly true statements only 12% of the time. That means that 88% of the time Mr. Trump is telling half-truths and lies.

    Donald Trump would like for you to give him another four years in office. Consider the veracity of his words seriously before you vote.
  • Here’s another one. Several times this past week President Trump has claimed that the CDC said that 85% of people wearing masks catch COVID-19. This, as you may suspect, is not true. What the CDC said, in a September 10 report about the risks of dining in public, is that of 314 people in a surveyed group who tested positive for the coronavirus after dining out, 85% of them had been wearing a mask. Even if you could generalize from this relatively small survey (which you can’t), this is not the same as saying that 85% of people who wear masks catch the coronavirus. (Which, of course, implies that wearing a mask is dangerous and somehow causes COVID-19 — the opposite of which is true.) NBC News has the whole story.
  • The other huge story this week concerns the news that Russia and Iran are using voter registration data to interfere in the upcoming election. This news comes from a surprise press conference held by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, who has a history of being a political lackey of President Donald J. Trump. That shows in his statement, which in itself does a fine job of shading the truth.

    For example, Ratcliffe conflates Iran’s disinformation efforts with those of Russia, making one think they’re equal threats. They are not. Case in point is the big example given by Ratcliffe, that Iran is using voter registration information to send intimidating emails, under the guise of right-wing group the Proud Boys, to voters in Alaska and Florida. Ratcliffe implied that this was hacked information; it was not, the voters’ email addresses came from publicly- available databases. (Russia, on the other hand, has a long history of actual hacking and is widely considered a much more significant threat.)

    Ratcliffe also somewhat absurdly claimed that this Iranian effort was an attempt to harm President Trump’s campaign. That makes no sense; it what way is an email threatening voters who vote against Trump damaging to Trump?

    This illogic was pointed out by Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, who said what the DNI said was very different from the classified intelligence briefing that senators had received earlier in the day. Schumer said that the briefing stated that the emails were intended not so much to help one candidate or the other, but rather “to undermine confidence in [U.S.] elections.”

    But that’s the story that DNI Ratcliffe is spinning. It’s telling that he was accompanied in the press conference by FBI Director Christopher Wray, who could only say “Today, that [election] infrastructure remains resilient. You should be confident that your vote counts.” (Read Vox’s coverage of the press conference here.)

    Here’s the bottom line: foreign election interference is real. Several foreign governments (including Iran and China) would love to see the United States so involved in its own internal matters that it spends less time interfering in their national affairs. Russia, on the other hand, is demonstrably involved in not only sowing internal chaos but is actively interested in promoting the interests of Donald J. Trump (and harming his opponent, Joe Biden). Slate looks into the whole story here.
  • Still on the topic of election disinformation, no, you cannot vote by text or tweet or online. Those are hoaxes circulating via social media to try to keep you from legitimately voting — and, perhaps, steal your personal information. You can vote in person, you can vote in advance (in some states), and you can vote by mail (in some states). You cannot vote online or via text or tweet. CNET lays it out for you.
  • Then there’s QAnon, the loony but increasingly popular conspiracy theory that says Donald J. Trump is trying to break up a cabal of high-profile pedophiles who kidnap and eat children for their natural essence, or something equally insane. According to a new Yahoo! News/YouGov poll, 50% of Trump’s supporters actively believe this insane garbage, which diminishes my faith in the future of mankind. Read all the results from Yahoo! News.

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