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Straining to produce a Both Sides debate about today's deadly pandemic, USA Today's editorial page made a dreadful decision this week and provided a national platform to a senior Trump White House adviser who has spent this year lying about the public health crisis. Given space in USA Today, he used the newspaper to condemn America's top doctor fighting Covid-19. It's a disturbing example of how the media have become so attached to the idea of "balance" they will provide it even if it means putting the public at risk, as this erstwhile and dangerous piece did.
On Tuesday, USA Today published an opinion column by White House trade representative Peter Navarro, who has no medical background. His piece was clearly part of a larger, orchestrated campaign by the White House to smear Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, as the virus spreads without pause across the country on Trump's watch.
"The White House is making a concerted effort to discredit Dr. Anthony Fauci as he becomes increasingly vocal about his concerns over reopening the country amid a national surge in coronavirus cases," CNN recently reported.
The push to discredit is a stunning, irresponsible move by the White House as America's grapples with one of the worst pandemic outbreak in the world. Instead of fostering trust during the emergency, the White House has set out to destroy the reputation of scientific leaders. The fact that USA Today decided to help the White House demean Fauci is unforgivable and reckless. Why the newspaper thought it was a good idea to give Navarro, a White House trade adviser with a dubious background who has called Joe Biden the "candidate of Chinese Communist Party," yet another opportunity to mislead the public about America's top epidemiologist, remains puzzling.
At some point, editors have to realize that providing this radical White House with a forum to push obviously false claims about a public health crisis represents a monumentally bad idea. If the solution means temporarily suspending the Both Sides approach, editors need to do so.
New York Times editorial page editor James Bennet was recently forced to resign when he failed to learn that lesson. He okayed an Op-Ed from a Republican senator who basically urged that martial law be invoked, using the full force of the U.S. military as a way to silence nationwide protests that erupted in the wake of a Minneapolis policeman murdering an unconscious black man, George Floyd. The stunning column, which urged the U.S. Army be sent into cities over the objection of local mayors and governors, came not only at a time of widespread abuse as peaceful protesters were beaten and tear gassed nationwide, but at a time when journalists were targeted for unlawful assault by law enforcement.
As for the USA Today hit on Fauci, it's hard to describe how untrustworthy Navarro is, especially on the topic of Covid-19. Tapped as a dishonest White House surrogate, he has spent most of this year lying about the virus and putting the public at risk. He has falsely claimed "everybody" thought the virus would wash away in warm weather.
He's a huckster who claims "Communist China" weaponized the virus in order to sink the U.S. economy. Note that Navarro “was first recruited by Trump because he wrote a string of books about the Chinese strategic threat – one called Death by China – despite having spent almost no time in the country and having no grasp of the language," the Guardian has reported.
In his USA Today piece, Navarro claimed Trump's belated decision to ban flights from China last winter saved "hundreds of thousands of American lives," which is absurd —nearly 40,000 people traveled from China to the U.S. after the restrictions were announced.
"When I warned in late January in a memo of a possibly deadly pandemic, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases was telling the news media not to worry," Navarro boasted. Left unsaid was that after Navarro wrote that memo warning of a possibly deadly pandemic, he appeared in the press telling Americans they have "nothing to worry about" regarding a possible pandemic. He also stressed the American economy was not "particularly vulnerable to what happens in China" with the virus. Did USA Today not know that, or did the paper not care that Navarro would lie so blatantly about his role in the pandemic fiasco?
More bogus claims from him:
And when Fauci was telling the White House Coronavirus Task Force that there was only anecdotal evidence in support of hydroxychloroquine to fight the virus, I confronted him with scientific studies providing evidence of safety and efficacy.
Here, Navarro twists the truth because at the time in April when the debate about hydroxychloroquine was raging, there were no accepted scientific studies that proved drugs safety and efficacy. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration recently revoked its approval for treating COVID-19 with hydroxychloroquine.
Question: If Navarro had submitted a piece falsely claiming there's no scientific evidence to support the idea that wearing a mask helps stop the spread of the virus, would USA Today have published it in the name of hosting a Both Sides debate?
UPDATED: USA TODAY editorial page editor Bill Sternberg on Thursday issued a statement saying the Navarro column did not meet the paper’s fact-checking standards. I’m glad Sternberg acknowledged the paper’s error. But the problems with the Navarro column were blindingly obvious and it never should have been published.
😃 GOOD STUFF:
One of my favorite stand-up comedians, Mike Birbiglia, hosts a funny and engaging interview podcast. This week he talks with famed Trump lip-syncher Sarah Cooper. She discusses her silent, online transformations into Trump:
I always wanted to be an actress when I was little, and I always got called out for overacting. But for some reason it works in this format because it's kind of like a silent film. I have to emote as much as possible and punctuate things with my face.
🎸 FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK
Nahko and the Medicine for the People, "Lifeguard"
Such a joyful, uplifting, world music sound here. A little background:
Nahko, whose ancestry is Puerto Rican, Filipino and Apache, was adopted and raised by white parents, never meeting his birth mother until he was in his 20s. The story of how his mom was human trafficked and how he came into the world because of sexual assault is deeply tragic. But remarkably, his vision is of forgiveness and joy, and his music is an effort to create healing for himself and his audiences.
I hold my breath
I hold my breath
For humanity's sake
For the way we hold the space
For every color every race
Or political taste