Fake News for the Week Ending July 23, 2021

What’s real and what’s fake? That’s what this blog is all about.

  • Case in point, the ongoing feud between Dr. Anthony Fauci and Senator Rand Paul (R-TN). The senator has it out for the doctor and takes every opportunity to accuse him of one transgression or another. I’m not sure why, but Paul is a COVID doubter to the core and it may just be an attempt to find a villain or deflect attention from the very real problem of the coronavirus. Whatever the motive, Paul’s latest thing is to accuse Fauci and the National Institute of Health (NIH) of funding what is called gain-of-function research with the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Paul (baselessly) claims that the Wuhan lab’s research led to the creation and release into the wild of COVID-19. Dr. Fauci rejects the accusation, telling Paul at a Senate hearing this week, “Senator Paul, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

    So who’s telling the truth and who’s making up fake news? In this instance, the reality isn’t easy to discern.

    Dr. Fauci is correct that under one, somewhat narrow, definition of gain-of-function research, the NIH did not fund anything of the sort at the Wuhan lab. Senator Paul is correct that the NIH did fund some research that some researchers might define as gain-of-function. Who you believe, then, turns on a technicality.

    What has not yet been proven as true is whether the COVID-19 coronavirus actually originated in the Wuhan lab and was either deliberately or accidentally released from there. There is no evidence of that and most scientists say that the likelihood of that happening is much less than the virus having “jumped” in the wild from some animal species to humans. So even if Senator Paul is right about the NIH funding gain-of-function research, it would be fake news to connect that to the COVID-19 coronavirus — at least at this point in time. Things could change if new facts emerge.

    To the original point, while there is often a very clear line between truth and lies, that isn’t always the case. Some folks can fudge the facts, as Dr. Fauci appears to be doing, and others can stretch the available information, as Senator Paul appears to be doing, to try to prove another point. I’m always a big supporter of truth and facts, as we all should be, but this is one instance where reality is a little fuzzy. (The BBC has a more in-depth analysis of this conflict for your reading pleasure.)
  • Here’s one that’s much more black and white. Alleged congressperson and certified crazy person Marjorie Taylor Greene was suspended from Twitter (for a whole twelve hours) for deliberately tweeting misinformation about the COVID vaccine. Ms. Greene may believe in the nonsense she’s peddling, but it’s all totally fake. CNN has the story.
  • Speaking of fake news about the COVID vaccine, the Biden administration is taking a hard line with Twitter, Facebook, and other social media for enabling the spread of vaccine disinformation. President Biden himself said of platforms allowing the spread of such disinformation: “They’re killing people.” That’s strong language but essentially true. Read more in the HuffPost.
  • More COVID vaccine disinformation. Speaking at a rally in Anaheim, California, controversial attorney Thomas Reinz claimed he had evidence from an anonymous government whistleblower that 45,000 people had died within days of receiving the COVID vaccine. As you might suspect, and despite the fact that InfoWars and other conspiracy-minded sites have spread that assertion, there is absolutely zero proof of that actually happening. Just more fake news from a known right-wing crank. Snopes does the usual debunking.
  • We can’t have a week in fake news without mentioning the former resident of the White House and current unemployed crank Donald J. Trump. Mr. T commented this week on the ongoing alleged “audit” of Arizona’s 2020 presidential election results, which itself is subject to ridicule by those living in the reality-based world. According to the disgraced ex-president, the firm conducting the so-called “audit” has uncovered a “massive number of voter irregularities and fraud” in what Trump calls the “corrupted election.” He went on to say, in a formal statement full of his usual unusual capitalization, “Arizona shows Fraud and Voting Irregularities many times more than would be needed to change the outcome of the Election.” Unfortunately for Mr. Trump, that appears not to be true. According to an Associated Press investigation into the results, Arizona county election officials have found just 182 cases of potential voter fraud (only four of which have led to charges), which is somewhat less than “massive” — and well below the 10,457-vote margin by which Joe Biden beat Mr. Trump in the state. FactCheck.org does the usual fact checking on this one.

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