WASHINGTON: A titanic information war – or misinformation slugfest – over everything from the coronavirus pandemic and the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine, to the Black Lives Matter protest and the Russia probe, is underway in the 98-day lead up to the November 3, 2020 US Presidential and Congressional election. American airwaves and social media are filled with shrill declamations from both sides of the political spectrum, making it hard for the 10 per cent or so undecided swing voters who will have a big say in the outcome of the elections to determine fact from propaganda and fiction.
One such clash centers on the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine in the treatment of Covid-19, a debate that US President Donald Trump waded into again on Monday despite the country’s top experts and the FDA cautioning against its use. In a flurry of tweets, Trump first shared a video of a doctor saying the anti-malaria drug is effective against Covid-19 and masks were not necessary. He followed it up with a flurry of endorsements for HCQ from various medical professionals, and accused the country’s top infectious disease specialist Dr Anthony Fauci of misleading the country on the issue.
The President was also reported to be upset that Dr Fauci stole his thunder with the first ceremonial pitch earlier this week for a delayed baseball season, causing him to claim he (Trump) was going to do the honors in New York City before backing down, apparently fearing a public embarrassment.
Facebook and Twitter took down several of the President’s tweets citing misinformation regulations even as Fauci dismissed Trump’s criticism saying he does not read the President’s tweets. Twitter also temporarily limited Trump’s son’s account for tweeting a video that went against its policy.
Trump and his supporters raged against the social media giants, accusing them of liberal bias, on this issue and other matters. Amid liberal jeering, many of the President’s right wing supporters have tried to decamp to an alternative social media platform that will allow them unfiltered airing.
The battle has now spilled over to the legitimacy of then BlackLivesMatter demonstrations in various cities, in particular Portland, Oregon, a White-majority city where mothers and grandmothers have come out in support of the black community in unprecedented scenes. The federal government has portrayed the movement as violent with some officials describing the city as “Downtown Baghdad.” The President chimed in with his take of the protests even as he has warned of sending more federal law enforcement personnel.
“The Fake News Media is trying to portray the Portland and Seattle “protesters” as wonderful, sweet and innocent people just out for a little stroll. Actually, they are sick and deranged Anarchists & Agitators who our great men & women of Law Enforcement easily control, but who… would destroy our American cities, and worse, if Sleepy Joe Biden, the puppet of the Left, ever won,” Trump raged, adding, “Markets would crash and cities would burn. Our Country would suffer like never before. We will beat the Virus, soon, and go on to the Golden Age – better than ever before!”
The Fake News Media is trying to portray the Portland and Seattle “protesters” as wonderful, sweet and innocent peo… https://t.co/CmYCAHUEQn
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) 1595905121000
Amid such meltdowns, Trump’s critics taunted him with a serious of humiliating hashtags (#LyingTrump, #TrumpKillsTexas, #TrumpGriftsYouDie etc) which further enraged the President. “So disgusting to watch Twitter’s so-called “Trending”, where sooo many trends are about me, and never a good one. They look for anything they can find, make it as bad as possible, and blow it up, trying to make it trend. Really ridiculous, illegal, and, of course, very unfair!” he fumed.
While the President appeared to go back and forth on mitigation steps for the pandemic, advocating masks one day and disdaining it on another, pushing for school re-openings while reeling back from holding a large in-person Republican convention, the debate over HCQ sucked in an Indian-American physician who authored studies saying anti-malaria drugs like hydroxychloroquine were linked to increased deaths of Covid-19 patients.
But the study was retracted by the prestigious Lancet and another journals on grounds that the data was dubious, and an NYT hit piece on the physician, Dr Sapan Desai, cited his former associates describing him as “a man in a hurry, a former whiz kid willing to cut corners, misrepresent information or embellish his credentials as he pursued his ambitions.”
The information/disinformation wars even went to the country’s borders where, Trump critics claimed on the basis of some videos, that a hurricane blew down the new border walls that the President had said was indestructible. The pro-Trump media dubbed the video “fake news,” citing a US Customs and Border Protection statement that it is “not aware of any border wall panels falling over due to Hurricane Hanna hitting the Rio Grande Valley Sector this past weekend” and “the video circulating on social media appears to be from June 2020 when high winds caused several border wall panels that were pending additional anchoring to fall over at a construction site near Deming, New Mexico.”