Sometimes fake news and disinformation is easy to spot. Sometimes discerning the truth is more difficult. With that in mind, let’s move on to this week’s news about fake news.
- Here’s an interesting one. For the past several months videos have been circulating on TikTok, Facebook, and other social media purporting to show President Joe Biden and VP Kamala Harris raising doubts about the COVID-19 vaccines before they started supporting them. PolitiFact called this out as fake news, correctly noting that the videos used highly selective editing to make a point that was not the real point being made. In response, National Review called out PolitiFact, claiming that the fact-checking site was in itself spreading fake news and that Biden and Harris actually did disparage COVID vaccines before they were elected to office.
So what are the real facts?
To understand the atmosphere of the time, think back to the waning days of the Trump administration. Donald J. Trump, president at the time, had racked up more than 30,000 lies or false statements over the previous four years in office, many of which questioned the severity (or even existence) of the coronavirus pandemic and some of which touted dubious “cures” and treatments for the COVID virus. (Anybody remember the whole bright light and bleach thing?) There was much suspicion at the time that Mr. Trump would do or say anything to downplay the crisis and ensure his reelection to office. (This has been confirmed with the onslaught of post-election tell-all books that show Mr. Trump working feverishly to try to overturn the election — including inciting the January 6 Insurrection and pushing the Big Lie that he actually won and had the election stolen from him.)
In addition, evidence has since come to light that Mr. Trump and his staff put tremendous pressure on the CDC to essentially “cook the books” by putting out false or misleading information. Several of the health notices issued by the CDC during this period were shown not to have been written by CDC officials, but rather by Trump staffers trying to put a gentler spin on the crisis.
That led to much speculation at the time that Mr. Trump might prematurely push a COVID vaccine out to the public before it was adequately tested, in order to claim “victory” over the virus and bolster his reelection chances. To put it mildly, nobody trusted the guy — and, apparently, rightly so.
This is the atmosphere that led to the comments from Biden and Harris back in August and September of 2020. Mr. Biden at the time said:
“The way he (Trump) talks about the vaccine is not particularly rational…. People don’t believe that he’s telling the truth, therefore they’re not at all certain they’re going to take the vaccine. And one more thing: If and when the vaccine comes, it’s not likely to go through all the tests that need to be done, and the trials that are needed to be done.”
“Look at what’s happened. Enormous pressure put on the CDC not to put out the detailed guidelines… All these things turn out not to be true, and when a president continues to mislead and lie, when we finally do, God willing, get a vaccine, who’s going to take the shot?
For her part, Ms. Harris said the following:
“I will say that I would not trust Donald Trump… I will not take his word for it. He wants us to inject bleach. I — no, I will not take his word.”
“If the public health professionals, if Dr. Fauci, if the doctors tell us that we should take it, I’ll be the first in line to take it. Absolutely. But if Donald Trump tells us that we should take it, I’m not taking it.”
It’s pretty clear that Biden and Harris were questioning Mr. Trump, not the vaccine itself. They both said they’d trust health professionals if they recommended the vaccine, but that they wouldn’t trust Mr. Trump to tell the truth about it.
Now, the National Review and other right-wingers might be pushing the false narrative that Biden and Harris were against the vaccine before they were for it, or that they opposed it at the time (and support it now) purely for political reasons. That is a shading of the truth that is not fully representative of what really happened. It’s clear now that Biden and Harris have been much more supportive of the science and the experts than Trump was; the former president ignored facts when they contradicted him and supported them only when they made him look good. Biden and his administration go where the facts go, period. That’s the real story here.
- It’s sad when otherwise rational-thinking people get sucked into baseless conspiracy theories. Apparently one of the parents of a survivor of the Parkland school massacre has become obsessed with QAnon and now believes that the Parkland shooting was a “false flag” operation and taunts his son for being part of the “hoax.” The Daily Beast has the story.
- Robert F. Kennedy Jr., son of the former senator and nephew of the former president, has long been an avid anti-vaxxer. Recently he’s branched out into spreading conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 vaccine. How did Mr. Kennedy become one of the “disinformation dozen” super spreaders of COVID disinformation? Business Insider has the story.
- Finally, here’s how to fight fake news with humor. In response to Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA) and other right-wing Republicans who are now claiming, in the face of hundreds of videos that show otherwise, that the January 6 Insurrection was really more like a normal tourist visit to the Capitol, former senator Al Franken has posted the following video humorously supporting Rep. Clyde’s claims by showing previous visits to Congress by normal tourists. I particularly like the “footage” from Mr. Hodgkinson’s 11th grade civics class from Greely, Colorado, invading… sorry, visiting Congress way back in 1958. Those kids were really enthusiastic about being there!