This Week in Misinformation: The Wages of Falsehood-Peddling
26 January 2023
Keeping up on misinformation in the news is basically the best thing you can do for your brain. Glad you’re here!
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Reliability scores for media outlets cited in the summary are in parentheses for each, courtesy of the terrific folks at Ad Fontes Media.
Now, on to our top stories.
Politicians who lie were let off the hook on multiple fronts.
The New York Times (42.49) reported that Kevin McCarthy, then House Minority Leader, intervened with Twitter on behalf of Marjorie Taylor Greene when she was suspended for spreading COVID misinformation last year, cementing an alliance between the two. Going a step further in his commitment to helping the former QAnon believer who just started her second term, McCarthy named Greene to the House committee that will investigate the federal government’s handling of the pandemic (Politico, 42.88), of all things.
Donald Trump, meanwhile, was reinstated to Facebook and Instagram (via Truth Social), though he has not observably mended his ways (New York Times, 42.49) and has trafficked increasingly in QAnon content since his suspension (VICE, 38.67). Meta warned in a sternly worded statement that it would keep an eye on Trump’s posts for conspiracy theory stuff and content that--bizarrely--might cast doubt only on upcoming elections. (One recalls that the January 6th Capitol attack was motivated by false claims about an election that had already passed--claims that Trump still pushes almost every day, through his many other means of reaching people.)
Cable news networks that lie had a less good week as the Dominion lawsuit against Fox reached Rupert Murdoch himself.
The Australian-American billionaire and network owner was deposed by attorneys in the suit (Reuters, 47.46), which could result in Fox paying out $1.6 billion in damages for defaming the voting systems company after the 2020 election. Murdoch was also in the headlines for backtracking on plans to merge Fox and News Corp (New York Times, 42.49), but the Dominion lawsuit was not cited as a factor in that decision.
Fox has--perhaps ironically if irony were still alive--invoked a number of debunked claims about the 2020 election (NPR, 43.38) in its defense in the case. Meanwhile, news organizations including The New York Times (42.49) have petitioned the court to place sealed evidence from the case into the public record. Here’s to making discovery fun again!
Even more dramatic consequences, however, caught up with the January 6th schemers.
Four additional Oath Keepers were convicted of seditious conspiracy (Associated Press, 48.80) and other federal crimes they did on and before the day of the Capitol attack because they wrongly believed that the election had been stolen from Trump. Others, including Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, were earlier found guilty of this most serious charge.
Several Proud Boys are also still on trial for similar crimes, and those proceedings are producing new insights as to the central role of violence in the group’s culture (CNN, 42.44) and how a number of them anticipated full-fledged civil war as they planned their January 6th activities (MarketWatch, 43.56).
Climbing up the command structure, electors scheme architect John Eastman was recommended for disbarment by the State Bar of California (Reuters, 47.46), which charged the former personal lawyer to President Trump with 11 counts of ethics violations, including how he misled courts and publicly pushed false statements about voter fraud.
You know we’d never forget… your beloved grab bag: new texts from the Cyber Ninjas show how Trump influenced the Arizona election audit; Mike Lindell kind of ran, disastrously, for RNC chair; Trump’s Miami resort is set to host a conspiracy theorist conference; the latest Damar Hamlin thing is to assert that Pfizer is hiding him and parading a body double around; a ‘Thanks Pfizer’ meme is the latest viral COVID misinformation; new social platform Post rolls out a Trust Metric that will determine accounts’ reach on the site; a judge blocks a California law aiming to curb the spread of COVID misinformation by doctors; deepfakes go international; Elon Musk personally produced a 2016 video that exaggerated Tesla’s self-driving function; and John Durham was at one point investigating Trump, not the FBI, for crimes in his Russia-focused “investigate the investigators” probe.
All that, and a lot more, below. This is This Week in Misinformation.