Trump's pandemic playbook comes straight from Putin — chaos is the goal
"Truth is unknowable"
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As daily new cases of Covid-19 hit staggering new heights in the United States, the Trump White House has made it clear it has no plan to halt the deadly spread.
We've never had a President of the United States wage war on America during a national crisis, actively working to undermine the country’s health and well being. Today, Trump represents the "the single largest driver of misinformation around Covid" in the world, according to a recent Cornell University study. And the press still doesn't know how to deal with this post-truth emergency.
The confusion Trump’s generating is on purpose — that's the strategy. The goal is create a nonstop loop of puzzlement to the point where it's not possible to understand what Trump's policy is for the defining public health crisis of our time.
He is intent on contradicting critical public health messaging and downplaying the threat of the virus. Aggressively overruling government scientists with decades of experience, and doing his best to silence key voices, and turn them into targets. Dr. Anthony Fauci told 60 Minutes he now needs around the clock security because of the threats against his life, as he tries to dispense medical advice to a nation under siege. Trump has deliberately undermined the Federal Drug Administration, Center for Disease Control, Department of Health and Human Services and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
It's part of his larger plan to eviscerate public trust in government institutions — Trump has specifically said large drug companies are better suited to oversee vaccine testing than is the FDA. That's what autocrats do. They chip away public faith in institutions, and they work hard to demolish establishments from inside.
For longtime Kremlin watchers, what Trump is doing looks familiar — he's using the Vladimir Putin playbook and what observers in Moscow have called the "fog of unknowability." It's an insidious form of state-backed propaganda that Putin has been practicing years on the Russian press.
“Trump’s team is finding ways to shrewdly approximate Putin’s capacity to shape narratives and create alternative realities,” noted Mike Mariani in Vanity Fair, back in 2017. “Specious narratives, conspiracy theories, and indeed fake news have been part of Russia’s geopolitical playbook for more than half a century.” Added The Guardian’s Luke Harding, a longtime Putin expert, "The goal is to confuse the public and to spread the idea that the truth is unknowable. It’s a form of epistemological warfare."
In the U.S., the news media keep falling for it. Still using the outdated Beltway media playbook where a White House contradiction immediately qualifies as news, the press has wasted untold hours documenting the administration's Covid inconsistencies ("sowing confusion," "conflicting narratives") without acknowledging that the contradictions are the entire point of the misinformation exercise — without asking why the President of the United States remains committed to misleading the public during a health crisis and creating constant bewilderment when lives are at risk?
The press continues to normalize Trump's planned uncertainty. From CNN recently [emphasis added]:
President Donald Trump has lost patience with the head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, as well as with the other public health experts on his coronavirus team because their sober messaging on the future of the pandemic clashes with his rosy assessments.
Trump "has lost patience" with government scientists suggests Trump ever had patience, or that Trump ever intended on listening to solid scientific advice. CNN makes it seems as though the CDC did something wrong to trigger Trump's annoyance. Instead, Trump's approach, borrowed from Putin, has always been to cover the landscape with misinformation, walk-backs, flip-flops and contradictions.
At National Public Radio, host Pien Huang, normalizing Trump's erratic tendencies, suggested, "There appears to be a substantive disagreement between the president and his chief public health official on whether or not a vaccine is going to be available soon." That makes it sound like Trump making up dates for a possible vaccine (this December), means there's a "substantive disagreement" with scientists. It does not. It means Trump is simply making up dates for a possible vaccine.
For Americans, the government-sponsored confusion surrounding the pandemic has become relentless. The CDC's Redfield recently walked back strong and unambiguous comments he made about the importance of masks after Trump publicly contradicted him, and then said Redfield had "made a mistake" about the grim fact most Americans won't have access to a vaccine until next summer. The New York Times reports, “Top White House officials pressured the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this summer to play down the risk of sending children back to school.”
Inside the White House, there's a ceaseless attempt to sow confusion. Over the weekend Twitter took down a tweet posted by Scott Atlas, a dubious White House coronavirus adviser, when he linked to an article that claimed wearing a mask does not help slow the spread of the virus. (The article also referred to the virus was "some seasonal flu.")
And from the Washington Post:
Atlas shot down attempts to expand testing. He openly feuded with other doctors on the coronavirus task force and succeeded in largely sidelining them. He advanced fringe theories, such as that social distancing and mask-wearing were meaningless and would not have changed the course of the virus in several hard-hit areas.
This isn't a distracted White House bumbling its way through a crisis. This is an administration waging war with the truth, just like Putin does. The press needs to stop being amazed that Trump's creating confusion and contradictions, as the pandemic shows no signs of abating.
That's his goal.
📺 GOOD STUFF:
The New York Post’s ridiculous Hunter Biden story continues to reverberate, but not in the way the Post or Trump hoped it would. Turns out numerous Post staffers refused to put their name on the sloppy hit piece, and Fox News also passed on it:
Mediaite has learned that Fox News was first approached by Rudy Giuliani to report on a tranche of files alleged to have come from Hunter Biden’s unclaimed laptop left at a Delaware computer repair shop, but that the news division chose not to run the story unless or until the sourcing and veracity of the emails could be properly vetted.
Both Fox News and the Post are owned by Rupert Murdoch and both are awful and untrustworthy. Some at Fox might be trying to make the network look more respectable by leaking word that it refused to run the Biden story as an exclusive. But the truth is, Fox News’ programming has been drowning in the story for days.
🎸 FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK
Drive By Truckers, “The Perilous Night”
There aren’t many Southern rock bands whose guitars have the swagger of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and whose deeply political, poignant lyrics sometimes read like they’re ripped from the pages of The Nation.
Releasing its second album of 2020, and just in time for Election Day, the Truckers name all the villains in “The Perilous Night.”
Play it loud.
The Klan and the Nazis are taking up the fight
Against their own salvation in the saviors light
We're moving into the perilous night, Amen
Flags of oppression are blocking out the light
Dismantling The Greatest Generation's fight
We're moving into the perilous night, Amen
Thanks for saying out loud what we are all thinking Eric. The press needs to stop using pretty words to describe very ugly behavior.
CNN, like too many mainstream outlets, is still wedded to the old namby-pamby style of reporting on Republican lies, bullying and other undemocratic behavior. Headlines are often the biggest problem because too often they simply repeat Trump’s claims. The linguist George Lakoff has been trying to make Democrats and the media understand how this works for a long time but has mostly been ignored. Trump has successfully used the tactics Lakoff has described to get away with wrongdoing literally for decades. Years ago he bragged about lying when he talked about how he uses “truthful hyperbole” to get his way.
This past June the Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan wrote about Lakoff’s recommendation that the media always use the “truth sandwich” approach when reporting on lies. To do this requires starting with the truth in the headlines — “Trump falsely claims....”, then describing the lies then ending with the facts. That technique has been shown to be effective because it immediately “frames” the story as debunking untruths rather than allowing the lies to “frame” the story.
This month Sullivan reported on an in-depth study by Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society that clearly shows it is mainstream media more than Russia or social media which is helping Trump spread his disinformation and chaos. Simply by writing headlines that repeat Trump’s claims with no indication that those claims are false, the media repeatedly helps spread his propaganda. The BK Center’s head Yochai Benkler also recommends using the truth sandwich tactic stop Trump from spreading misinformation.
Since 2016 the media has repeatedly blames Russia and social media for Trump’s ability to bamboozle the American people but this study shows that they are actually the ones most responsible. Funny how the study isn’t getting much attention. The WaPo has actually relegated Sullivan, a past public editor of the NY Times, to the Lifestyle section as if she is reporting on entertainment or fashion not information that is critical to our democracy.