[This is part of our Meme Factory project.]
July 2020: Trump reaches 20,000 false claims / The White House directs all COVID-19 data to bypass the CDC
Also on this page: Trump’s 2020 reelection disinformation campaign gears up.
In a representative democracy, one of the citizenry’s fundamental duties is to serve as a check on madness and corruption within the government. This task requires a shared reality based on accurate information about what is going on in the nation and world and what the government is doing.
Below please see:
- Articles about Trump’s record-setting collection of falsehoods.
- An article about Trump’s internet disinformation campaign and its reality-bending effects. [Also see our break-down of a Trump push-poll (as of August 2020, our response is still a work-in-progress).]
- Articles about the Trump White House preventing the CDC from testifying in the congressional school-reopening hearing. And about the Trump Administration’s directive that hospitals no longer send coronavirus-related data to the CDC, but instead to the Department of Health & Human Services, where the data is NOT open to the public.
- A link to a nonprofit attempting to revive US American Democracy.
- Another link to a similarly-minded nonprofit.
- A discussion of the choice in this upcoming presidential election.
- A link to the NYC Journal Politics page, where we sometimes post politics-related essays.
Related Articles & Resources:
In his USA Today Op Ed, the editor & chief writer of The Washington Post Fact Checker compares Trump to other politicians:
Our worst rating is four Pinocchios, meaning “a whopper.” Most politicians earn four Pinocchios about 15% to 20% of the time. But nearly two-thirds of Trump’s statements during the 2016 race received Four-Pinocchio ratings.
He goes on to report that the rate at which Trump makes untrue statements has been accelerating throughout his presidency.
He averaged six [false or misleading] claims a day in 2017, nearly 16 a day in 2018 and more than 22 in 2019. Indeed, the president made more false or misleading claims in 2019 than he did in 2017 and 2018 combined.
Kessler notes that partisanship complicates the reception of his work as a fact-checker. As an example of the increasing partisan divide, he compares a 1960 and a 2019 study, asking Democrats and Republicans whether or not they’d be disappointed if one of their children made a cross-party marriage. In 1960: 4% of Democrats and 5% of Republicans answered in the affirmative; in 2019, the numbers had jumped to 45% of Democrats and 35% Republicans.
He closes the USA Today Op Ed with a few wise words:
Trump exemplifies the social media creature who exists in a partisan world of his own, refusing to let conflicting facts get in his way. But that’s a dangerous path and certainly not model behavior. By diversifying your social media and news diet, you can learn from people who challenge your assumptions. Be open to new ideas and don’t jump to conclusions. Remember: Every politician is trying to sell you something — so, buyer beware.
CBS News summed up the highlights of their interview with Glenn Kessler:
Why President Trump is different from other presidents: “What is unique about Trump is that he misleads and says false things and lies about just about everything on a regular basis.”
Trump’s motivations for making false or misleading claims: “I actually thinks he often believes what he’s saying, even if it’s completely contradictory to what he’s said the day before.”
Why Trump supporters stick with the president despite his propensity for making untrue claims: “Part of Trump’s secret sauce for being elected in 2016 was he said things that a lot of his core supporters already believed to be true, but previous candidates wouldn’t say it because they actually knew they weren’t true.”
Glenn Kessler’s Washington Post piece commemorating Trump’s 20,000 prevarication contains a sampling of Trump’s false and misleading statements, as well as a discussion of the untruths he repeats the most.
2. The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President by McKay Coppins in The Atlantic, February 10, 2020
Subtitle: “How new technologies and techniques pioneered by dictators will shape the 2020 election”
Synopsis: The article begins with the author (McKay Coppins), during the height of the impeachment trial, setting up a Facebook account and liking President Trump’s page.
Soon he’s inundated by an alternative reality. He watches the proceedings and finds them damning for Trump’s case; but then his Facebook feed takes the same proceedings, cuts pieces out of context, and makes it look like the day had exonerated Trump.
I was surprised by the effect it had on me. I’d assumed that my skepticism and media literacy would inoculate me against such distortions. But I soon found myself reflexively questioning every headline. It wasn’t that I believed Trump and his boosters were telling the truth. It was that, in this state of heightened suspicion, truth itself—about Ukraine, impeachment, or anything else—felt more and more difficult to locate. With each swipe, the notion of observable reality drifted further out of reach.
He explains the wide-spread use of this kind of twist-and-flood style of reality contortion by “illiberal political leaders all over the world”.
Scholars have a name for this: censorship through noise.
The article contains a section on the effort, spearheaded by Donald Trump Jr., to smear journalists who write unfavorable pieces. He notes that Trump’s general assault on the press is a well-loved tool of demagogues. When people begin to see the free press as just one more narrative among a pile of perhaps-true narratives, the press can no longer hold politicians accountable.
Relativism is the real goal of Trump’s assault on the press, and the more “enemies of the people” his allies can take out along the way, the better.
But while reducing the press to one voice among many may be a demagogue’s initial goal, the ultimate goal is for the demagogue to become the sole trusted source of information. Apparently, within his base, Trump has already succeeded with this goal:
A CBS News/YouGov poll has found that just 11 percent of strong Trump supporters trust the mainstream media—while 91 percent turn to the president for “accurate information.”
The article goes on to relate the president’s internet advertising director’s intentions to begin targeting local news, which will enable them to erode trust in one of the few news outlet people still believe in.
Republicans are also experimenting with news that looks local but that is actually created by partisan groups.
Coppins then discusses the debate within Democratic campaigners about whether or not they should adopt the weapons of disinformation exploited by the Trump Administration Republicans. Absolute high-ground? Anything to defeat Trump? Some compromise? In that context, he describes one Democratic strategist’s use of the hometown-news-like ads.
The article concludes with a few reactions from Trump rally attendees when the author points out Trump’s inaccuracies:
One woman told me that, given the president’s accomplishments, she didn’t care if he “fabricates a little bit.” A man responded to my questions about Trump’s dishonest attacks on the press with a shrug and a suggestion that the media “ought to try telling the truth once in a while.” Tony Willnow, a 34-year-old maintenance worker who had an American flag wrapped around his head, observed that Trump had won because he said things no other politician would say. When I asked him if it mattered whether those things were true, he thought for a moment before answering. “He tells you what you want to hear,” Willnow said. “And I don’t know if it’s true or not—but it sounds good, so fuck it.”
Related: Our break-down of a Trump push-poll (as of August 2020, our response is still a work-in-progress).
3.White House Stokes Hopes that Key Hospital Data Tracking Could Soon Return to the CDC (Phien Huang, NPR, 8/20/2020) White House blocks CDC from Testifying on Reopening Schools Next Week (Jim Acosta, CNN, Friday, 7/17/2020) & Trump Administration Strips C.D.C. of Control of Coronavirus Data (Carol Gay Stolberg, NY Times, Tuesday, 7/14/2020) & Snopes Fact Check: Did Trump Admin Remove CDC as Overseer of Covid-19 Hospital Data? (Jessica Lee, Snopes, July 15, 2020)
August 2020 Update:
The August 20, 2020 NPR article reports that Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House Coronavirus Task force that the CDC is building a new system for coronavirus data and once that is done, they’ll be in charge of it. Dr. Birx gave no time frame. But then Michael Caputo of the HHS gave this statement: “The process for COVID-19 data reporting has not and is not changing.” So …
Also from this article:
“But an NPR analysis showed that weeks after the data collecting change, information posted to the public HHS site was spotty, incomplete and riddled with errors.”
The article also relates that the hospital data is used to estimate the number of total hospital beds in an area, which hospitals use, when COVID-19 cases rise, to figure out if they’re likely to face an immediate shortage of beds.
The article includes a couple quotes from medical professionals who are having trouble using the new data and concludes with a quote from Lisa M. Lee (once chief science officer for the CDC’s public health surveillance; now an associate vice president at Virginia Tech):
If the CDC were put back in charge of the data “for the long haul, we would have a much better system,” she said, “[because] we have professional surveillance scientists at CDC and public health professionals who have the expertise to handle data that are this complex.”
From July 2020:
The White House is not permitting any officials from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (The CDC) to testify before next week’s (ie: the week Sunday, July 20, through Saturday, July 26, 2020) House Education and Labor Committee hearing on reopening schools.
The CDC’s director Dr. Robert Redfield has recently stated that wearing masks is a critical part of reopening the schools. Per Redfield:
“Because to me, face coverings are the key. If you really look at it, the data is really clear — they work,” Redfield said.
NY Times Article:
The Trump Administration has directed hospitals to send all of their coronavirus data directly to Department of Health and Human Services, rather than sending it to the CDC. The Health and Human Services database Trump has chosen as the new coronavirus data repository IS NOT open to the public.
Jen Kates of the Kaiser Family Foundation asks:
“How will the data be protected?” she asked. “Will there be transparency, will there be access, and what is the role of the C.D.C. in understanding the data?”
Michael R. Caputo, spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services states:
“Today, the C.D.C. still has at least a week lag in reporting hospital data,” Mr. Caputo said. “America requires it in real time. The new, faster and complete data system is what our nation needs to defeat the coronavirus, and the C.D.C., an operating division of H.H.S., will certainly participate in this streamlined all-of-government response. They will simply no longer control it.”
Snopes rated the claim that the Trump organization has removed the CDC as overseer of coronavirus hospital data as “True”:
In sum, considering the official memo on the website of the HHS that explicitly states that hospitals should no longer report COVID-19 data under a system managed by the CDC, as well comments by officials under the leadership of Trump in July 2020, we rate the claim this claim “True.”
The Snopes article quotes many concerns raised by medical experts, including this one from Thomas File, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America:
Collecting and reporting public health data is a core function of the CDC, for which the agency has the necessary trained experts and infrastructure. Placing medical data collection outside of the leadership of public health experts could severely weaken the quality and availability of data, add an additional burden to already overwhelmed hospitals and add a new challenge to the U.S. pandemic response.
4. Protect Democracy.org is a nonpartisan group formed in response to Trump’s danger to US American Democracy, but which sees the issue as ultimately deeper and more systemic.
They break the threat and their response into 6 main categories:
Corrupting Elections, Spreading Disinformation, Delegitimizing Communities, Politicizing Independent Institutions, Executive Power Grabs, Squashing Dissent.
5. The Day-One Democracy Agenda has this plan:
We’ll take the White House. We’ll take the Senate. Then, we’ll enact a bold, day-one democracy agenda to ensure our country works for everyone, not just a powerful few.
The only way we get there is if 2020 presidential candidates do three things:
1. Propose a bold democracy agenda;
2. Make democracy their top legislative priority;
3. Get real about how we get it done: ending the filibuster
6. At this moment in US American history, the best hope to push against corruption is to elect Joe Biden and as many Democrats as possible in November 2020 and then keep the pressure on them to enact anti-corruption measures. In a two-party system, the way to move things towards the better is to vote for the better party and work within that party to make it better. In the age of Trump, the Republican party has caved to the fallacy that the ends justify the means. The further one goes down that rabbit hole, the more one discovers that one lives only for means, and that the means keep getting stupidier, uglier, meaner. We should vote Trump and his Republican enablers out, and then work to make sure the Democrats adopt rules and abide by norms that safeguard our democracy.
7. Sometimes we try to write political essays. They end up at NYC Journal – Politics
About the Image: It’s a polar bear swimming under water that we got from Unsplash.com, attributed to Dana Reale (https://unsplash.com/@dana63301). We thought it was really neat.
Original content by B. Willard & A. Whistletown; copyright AM Watson
[This is part of our Meme Factory project.]
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