Fake News for the Week Ending September 17, 2021

The news about fake news continues to be dominated by Donald Trump’s Big Lie about election fraud and disinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine. Conspiracy theories and fake news will never go away.

  • With the “Justice for J6” rally scheduled for tomorrow in the nation’s capitol, the January 6 Insurrection is being “repositioned” by conservatives to be something less or different from what it actually was. Call it gaslighting, call it fake news, call it a disinformation campaign, but Republican politicians and right-wing media blatherers are going to extremes to paint the extreme violent behavior of the rioters as nothing more than a pleasant walk in the park. Among those peddling these falsehoods:
    • Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), who portrayed those arrested after the riot as “political prisoners”
    • Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who described the attackers as “people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement”
    • Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who said on the House floor that “the people who breached the Capitol on Jan 6 are being abused”
    • Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), who accused law enforcement officers who arrested the rioters of “harassing peaceful patriots” and “law-abiding citizens”
    • J.D. Vance, Ohio Republican Senatorial candidate, who said that while there were “some bad apples” among the insurrections, “most of the people there were actually super peaceful”
    • Tucker Carlson, Fox News pundit, who described the death of violent insurrectionist Ashli Babbitt as an “execution” and questioned whether officials are “now allowed to kill unarmed women who protest the regime”
    • Julie Kelly, conservative journalist, who suggested that Washington police officer Michael Fanone, who suffered a heart attack and a brain injury during the riot, was lying, calling the injured officer a “crisis actor”

Then there was the astounding accusation from Greene, Carlson, and fellow conservative commentator Candace Owens that the FBI or the Justice Department was actually behind the riot, as some sort of “false flag” operation, as well as disgraced former president Donald Trump’s continuing claim that he actually won the 2020 election but had it stolen from him via some sort of massive but as-yet-undetectable voter fraud. It’s almost too much to take, and the lies keep coming. This deliberate disinformation is doing perhaps irreparable harm to American society and trust in the democratic process. A lot of people hoped that the fake news era would dissipate when Trump left office, but the opposite appears to be happening. (Chris Cillizza of CNN has a good analysis of the whole situation.)

  • You ever wonder if there’s some sort of “invisible hand” behind the spread of all this fake news? Well, there apparently is. Cybersecurity firm Mandiant claims that a Chinese-based online influence operation, originally formed to discredit pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, is targeting Americans in an effort to exploit divisions over the COVID-19 pandemic and “physically mobilize protestors in the US in response.” Get inside the story from CNN.
  • A new report from New York University details how disinformation posted on Facebook and other social media has exacerbated this country’s political divide, “”Social media is the mechanism for spreading the kind of mis- and disinformation that fuels the fire of political polarization,” one of the authors stated. Axios has the story.
  • In a letter to Amazon, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) accused the tech giant of “directly profiting from the sensationalism of anti-vaccine misinformation,” claiming that “(r)ecent investigations indicate that Amazon’s algorithms are boosting anti-vaccine products throughout the site over fact-based vaccine information and pushing customers towards content bubbles of extreme disinformation.” Strong stuff but arguably true. Read the text of the letter here.
  • How do we fight the spread of COVID-related disinformation? Professors Nicoli Nattrass and John P. Moore draw on their experiences fighting conspiracy theories during the rise of AIDS around the globe to offer some suggestions. They recommend emphasizing stories about vaccine skeptics who’ve contracted or died from COVID-19 to push back against the third of the country who remain resolutely unvaccinated. Read their recommendations on Michael Smerconish’s website.
  • Finally, comedian Norm Macdonald passed away this week, aged 61. When Norm was the anchor for the Weekend Update segments on Saturday Night Live back in the 1990s he may have been the first to use the term “fake news,” starting off each fake newscast by saying “I’m Norm Macdonald and now the fake news.” I always liked Norm’s smart and sarcastic humor; he will be missed. Let’s remember Norm by replaying some of his best Weekend Update moments.

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