Janet Holbrook: The president must be held accountable for coronavirus misinformation | COMMENTARY

From WISE’s Janet Holbrook in today’s Capital Gazette, story here.  Please post and share.

President Donald Trump is a super spreader — he fills the public discourse with misinformation and now he is spreading the actual coronavirus. Both are lethal.

Cornell University published a study of misinformation about COVID-19 in which almost 39 million articles published about COVID-19 from January 1, 2020 to May 26, 2020 were examined. The articles were published in print or online, in English and identified using LexisNexis – a huge database of legal and journalistic publications.

Briefly, about 3% of articles included misinformation about COVID-19, over 1 million in 5 months. The top 5 subject areas of misinformation were miracle cures (26%), Deep State/New World Order (4%), Democratic Party hoax (4%), Wuhan Lab/Bioweapon (3%) and Bill Gates (3%).

The graph of the publication of misinformation about miracles cures over time looks a little like the US epidemic curve. It builds rapidly to an initial peak followed by a much steeper peak then declines to plateau at relatively high level and continues unabated.

The plurality of these articles include comments from Trump or mentions him (38%). In fairness, some of these could be articles that attempted to debunk misinformation (16%) – sadly, facts are seriously out-gunned. However, the authors’ interpretation is “findings suggest that President Trump was quite likely the largest driver of misinformation during the COVID pandemic to date”, i.e., May 26, 2020.

It is shocking that the president is implicated as the most common purveyor of misinformation published about COVID-19 in the English language. One might have guessed QAnon or foreign trolls were the major panderers of bogus information about COVID-19. Regardless, Trump stands out and he has promoted a lot of false information about miracle cures. An optimistic reliance on cures is not unique to Trump. Our whole healthcare system is tilted toward “miracle cures” rather than preventing disease.

Even vaccines, which are preventive, are not miraculous. The FDA has said that a vaccine must show at least 50% efficacy to be approved. Hypothetically if there was widespread vaccination in the United on Jan. 1, with a vaccine showing 50% effectiveness, we would have half the number of cases now, 3.7 million cases instead of 7.4 million. Not miraculous. Hopefully, the candidate vaccine(s) will be far more effective but the bar for their approval is set well below miraculous.

The president’s latest miracle cure involves state of the art medical care, a helicopter ride to the hospital, and access to the entire armamentarium of promising treatments for COVID-19. In fact, he may have been suffering from “roid rage” from steroids he was taking when he couldn’t be dissuaded from the car trip around Walter Reed that unnecessarily exposed people to the virus in close quarters. In retrospect, that clown car parade was predictable from a man who risked lives to hold a Bible in front of a church he does not attend.

After benefiting from his extraordinary treatment, he tells us “Don’t be afraid of COVID. Don’t let it dominate your life,” returns to the White House and resumes tweeting out misinformation – COVID-19 far outpaces the flu as a cause of death, it recently displaced accidents as the 3rd leading cause of death in the US.

Now at the White House, he is placing more people at risk of infection, illness, and death. He is an obese man of advanced age with co-morbidities, he should have stayed in the hospital until his doctors in good conscience released him. I don’t want him to pull an Epstein on us. His reckless words and behavior have caused many deaths and continue to do so. He needs to live so he can be held accountable.

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