What distinguishes our country from authoritarian governments in China, Russia, Iran, Cuba and North Korea? There are several answers to this question including free speech, due process under the law, freedom of assembly, and others. But perhaps the most important is freedom of the press.
However, freedom of the press comes with an implied responsibility – to report the truth without bias. Only then can our democracy function properly. Sadly, the media is letting us down, and our democracy and our freedom are at stake.
By now, nearly everyone acknowledges the fact that our media has become bias toward the left. This undeniable fact was perhaps first acknowledged by long-time CBS News correspondent Bernard Goldberg in his 2001 book, Bias – A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News. Goldberg explained that this bias was often unintentional, but nevertheless real. Many journalists on the left are so surrounded by others like them that they cannot recognize their bias.
But this bias that may have begun unintentionally, has now progressed to undeniable reporting of misinformation, or the stifling of the truth, in the pursuit of a political agenda. Perhaps the most recent and undeniable demonstration of this change was in the months leading up to the 2020 presidential election. Many of the media on the left determined it was their job to do everything possible to rid the country of President Donald Trump – even if it meant disseminating harmful, often dangerous misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dr. Scott W. Atlas, Stanford University Medical School Professor and Hoover Institute fellow recalls the vicious media treatment he received during his brief tenure as a presidential advisor to President Trump on the pandemic response in the months leading up to the election of 2020 in his new book, A Plague on Our House – My Fight at the Trump White House to Stop Covid from Destroying America. In my last post, I discussed six myths that were widely promoted by the media during the early days of the pandemic, despite scientific evidence to the contrary. (see Covid Pandemic Myths) Today, I want to further address this issue of media bias and how their promotion of misinformation contributed to prolonging the pandemic and causing needless harm and deaths.
Dr. Atlas begins, “I arrived in Washington in the middle of a crisis, in a heavily polarized nation burdened by fear, encountering a hostile media inflamed during an election year. I learned quickly, abruptly, what was meant by a “Washington Welcome.” Once I was unveiled as an advisor to President Trump, my eyes were opened by the realization that even in this once-in-a -lifetime crisis, the dissemination of truth is not the priority of American media.”
This bias is not confined to the legacy media – newspapers and television – but also pervades social media platforms and even publishers, which are controlled by Big Tech. Dr. Atlas says, “But it was not just the content of the media; it was the way it was delivered that influenced the public. Nowadays, misleading stories are easier to invent and quicker to amplify on both platforms.” He says the American media proved to be a uniquely unreliable purveyor of information. American media stood out in editorializing the pandemic, worse than all other English-language news sources.
To prove his point, Dr. Atlas says more than nine million articles had been published from January 31 through July 31, 2020. Here are some frightening statistics about the media’s performance during that time:
- America’s reporting was alone in virtually always being negative – nine of ten stories by all of America’s major media outlets were negative in tone. Fox News articles were as negative as those from CNN. But outside the U.S., the major news stories were negative only half the time.
- On the vaccine – the most important hope of almost everyone – America’s major media were particularly negative. Vaccine stories in the U.S. major media were 45 percentage points more likely to be negative than vaccine stories in the non-U.S. media.
- American media intentionally omitted or delayed reporting positive news.
- Even when new Covid cases were declining in the U.S., articles describing increasing cases outnumbered stories of decreasing cases by a factor of more than five to one.
- Work on a vaccine was reported on February 18, 2020, by the UK’s news, but Fox News, CNN, the New York Times, and the Washington Post did not begin any coverage of Professor Gilbert’s Covid-19 vaccine until late April.
- The earliest available report about a vaccine development in the U.S. major media, dated April 23, began with England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, saying that the probability of having a vaccine “anytime in the next calendar year” is “incredibly small.” (The vaccine was announced just six months later and was being given to Americans in December, 2020.)
- America’s media created a frightening, false narrative about schools with biased news. While the world’s data was overwhelmingly positive about schools reopening, 90 percent of school reopening articles from U.S. mainstream media were negative; only half (56%) were negative in other countries. (Europe’s schools were widely opened for fall 2020, whereas only 18 percent of U.S. schools were in-person and 60 percent were virtual-only.)
What accounts for these differences? Did the coming presidential election impact the results? There can be little doubt it did as the media sought to do everything in their power to rid the country of President Trump. That meant demonizing Dr. Atlas once he was associated with President Trump, regardless of the scientific basis for his policy conclusions. This attack upon him was not limited to the legacy media, but was strongly supported by Big Tech, including Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.
In August, Facebook told the Washington Post they had taken down seven million posts “for spreading coronavirus misinformation.” Atlas gives three other examples of Big Tech censorship:
- On September 11, YouTube pulled down an interview recorded three months before on June 23 in which he discussed the safety of school reopening and the extremely low risk for children from Covid-19, including the low risk of transmission from children to adults.
- On October 18, Twitter blocked his account. He had posted a multipart tweet the day before questioning the efficacy of masks, listing cities and states where cases surged despite masking and quoting authoritative data, including CDC, WHO, and Oxford.
- On March 18, 2021, Florida Governor DeSantis assembled an expert panel to discuss the pandemic. The panel included Atlas, Martin Kulldorff of Harvard, Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford, and Sunetra Gupta of Oxford. Despite the world-renowned expertise of these four doctors and scientists, YouTube took down the interview when their views contradicted the views of the White House Corona Virus Task Force. They cited this as “medical misinformation.”
I have personally experienced censorship by Facebook and Amazon. In September, 2020, when my own book, Changing Healthcare, contained material about the Covid pandemic, it was rejected by the publishers at Amazon until that material was removed. When Facebook considered some of my blog posts as too controversial, they were taken down.
We live in dangerous times when the free exchange of ideas is no longer free. This is especially frightening when those ideas concern our healthcare. Science is never settled – it is crucial there exist an atmosphere of open discussion among scientists and the community to allow for the full expression of points of view that will lead to the most accurate conclusions. Our future health depends on it. When the media interrupts this free exchange of ideas, we are no better off than those who live in the authoritarian countries of this world.