Misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines has cost lives.
Disinformation about the 2020 election threatens US democracy.
Counternarratives about climate change allow countries and corporations to ignore the effect of their actions on the Earth’s atmosphere.
Dangerous falsehoods, spreading like an invasive species, are emerging as a great challenge to society in 2021.
The election lie finds new life in GOP House candidates. We’ve written over and over in this newsletter about the threat of former President Donald Trump’s false fantasy about the 2020 election. And we’ll continue to do that as long as he repeats the lie that he won.
But rather than becoming ostracized by Republicans, he’s staying very much in their mainstream.
A new CNN report by Alex Rogers, Melanie Zanona and Manu Raju scrutinizes a crop of House candidates in a special program for “Young Guns” – politicians showing promise. Read the report here.
More than a third of these recruits from states across the country have, like Trump, sown doubts about the 2020 election or embraced his efforts to overturn it.
That list includes: Eli Crane and Walt Blackman in Arizona; Cory Mills and Anna Paulina Luna in Florida; Karoline Leavitt, Gail Huff Brown and Tim Baxter in New Hampshire; Jake Evans in Georgia; Tyler Kistner in Minnesota; Monica De La Cruz-Hernandez in Texas; Derrick Van Orden in Wisconsin; and Jesse Jensen in Washington.
Specifics from the report:
When asked who she believed won the 2020 election, Leavitt, a former Trump press aide, said, “Donald J. Trump.”
Baxter, a state representative, told CNN, “President Donald J. Trump is right, it’s time for an audit in every state.” Asked who won, Baxter responded, “The candidate who got the most legal votes!”
And Gail Huff Brown, a former TV reporter whose husband, former Sen. Scott Brown, served as Trump’s ambassador to New Zealand, told a local ABC affiliate in September that “there were a lot of irregularities” in 2020 and “Covid won.”
There are not two sides to this story. It is difficult to cover politics in an unbiased way at a time when so many candidates have embraced falsehoods.
“I think this is actually like a real challenge for mainstream journalism because you’re taught there’s two sides to every story,” said Axios managing editor and CNN contributor Margaret Talev during an appearance Thursday on “Inside Politics.”
She channeled my exact thinking on this.
“There’s not actually two sides to the story,” she said. “There’s a knowable truth. The election was legitimate and Joe Biden … is the legitimately elected President of the United States. The election was not stolen, so that’s got to be the starting point. How do you interview a candidate when there is no baseline for truth, where the premise of the candidacy is built on a mistruth, on misinformation?”
She said it’s a problem for political journalists, but it carries over to other parts of life and across the world where there are rising authoritarian movements.
“When the genesis of the candidacy is premised on a deliberate mistruth, it poisons the well fundamentally,” she said.
Murdoch’s media empire spreads the false claims. The same issue carries over to the media, where The Wall Street Journal published a long letter from Trump that pushed his false ideas about the election.
It was one thing to print his words when he was in office. He was the President of the United States. Now, however, as he tries to mount a political comeback built on the election lie, it is journalistic malpractice to hand him a platform.
Fox News, which like the Journal is owned by Rupert Murdoch, is promoting a new special, “Patriot Purge” with Tucker Carlson, that appears to push what CNN’s Oliver Darcy refers to as “1/6 trutherism,” or the silly idea that the insurrection was a setup.
It’s hard to conclude anything but that Murdoch and his media empire are intentionally pushing the conspiracy theories.
Oil companies and climate change. False information was also the top subject at a hearing Thursday on Capitol Hill, although the topic was climate change and not the election.
Oil company executives from ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP and Royal Dutch Shell were assembled as part of an ongoing investigation by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about whether they intentionally misled the public about fossil fuels contributing to climate change.
“Spare us the spin today. We have no interest in it,” Rep. Ro Khanna, a California Democrat who’s the chairman of the House Oversight Subcommittee on the Environment, said during his opening remarks. “Spin doesn’t work under oath.”
The hearing was framed as a Big Tobacco moment for Big Oil. The tobacco executives took part in a famous hearing in 1994 when they misled lawmakers about their knowledge of the dangers of smoking.
“They too faced a choice. They chose to lie under oath, deny that nicotine is addictive,” Khanna said. “That didn’t turn out too well for them.”
Today’s oil companies all acknowledge climate change and have embraced PR strategies highlighting that they’ll be part of the solution.
“Exxon does not, and never has, spread disinformation regarding climate change,” CEO Darren Woods said during his prepared remarks. “Its public statements about climate change are, and have been, truthful, fact-based, transparent and consistent with the views of the broader, mainstream scientific community at the time.” Read more about the hearing.
Facebook is now Meta. The ultimate facilitator of misinformation and disinformation might be the great democratizer of information, Facebook. Under fire and facing possible new regulation, the tech giant rebranded itself Thursday. The overarching company will go by the name Meta, per founder Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook’s namesake service will now, according to CNN’s Samantha Murphy Kelly, be “just one of the company’s subsidiaries, alongside Instagram and WhatsApp, rather than the overarching brand.”