A Comprehensive Guide to Trump's Lies on the Coronavirus -- Plus: Top COVID Fact-Checking Sources
Updated: Apr 23, 2020
In Uzbekistan, a rumor recently swirled that ginger, onion and garlic could be used effectively to treat coronavirus.
In Croatia, a story spread online that installation of a 5G network in the capital city of Zagreb triggered COVID-19.
In Portugal, reports circulated that using cocaine would kill the virus.
In each country, however, a credible fact-checking enterprise knocked down the claims, which were disseminated online, and authoritatively declared the accounts “False.”
The three journalistic operations -- Fatabyyano, Faktograf and Observador, respectively -- are part of a global network established by the Poynter Institute, a prominent journalism education non-profit based in St, Petersburg, Florida, to assess, verify and/or debunk information about the coronavirus in 70 countries and 40 languages. The data base of the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, part of Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network, now contains more than 3,000 fact-checks.
Linked to the instantaneous global reach of social media, the combination of widespread anxiety, fear and hope in every country has triggered a vast, fast-moving tsunami of false information about the pandemic – some of it originating with the President of the United States – that Poynter's network makes an effort to slow down, scrutinize and pass judgment on, using journalistic best practices and professional standards for credibility.
It is "the largest collaboration among fact-checkers ever," Baybars Örsek, director of the Poynter operation, told the Washington Post, "and that by itself is a pretty strong indicator that the amount of misinformation around Covid-19 is unprecedented."
Fact-checkers overwhelmed. So great is the volume of raw information about the virus (at post time, plugging “Covid 19” into the Google machine yielded 2.8 billion results) that Snopes.com, the most venerable fact-checking company on the internet, has begun cutting back on the number of posts and stories it publishes about the pandemic.
Since its start up in 1994, before many people were even wired, Snopes journalists have been checking out news reports, rumors, urban myths, allegations, controversies, speculations and wild ass claims -- then delivering high-quality, contextualized and evidence-based analyses of them for readers and users.
"Snopes, which delves into everything from bizarre urban legends to intricate government policies, has been overwhelmed with so many Covid-19-related questions that the website can’t keep up.
The company has done something that seems counterintuitive: It has scaled back operations by publishing fewer stories. There have been no furloughs or layoffs; but Snopes is encouraging employees, whose lives have been turned upside down by the pandemic, to take time off if needed.
It’s a predicament other fact-checkers and journalists are facing: As the novel coronavirus has swept the globe, so has misinformation about the virus.
The World Health Organization has referred to the abundance of articles, commentary and social media postings about this one topic — some accurate, some not — as an “infodemic” which “makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.”
The money squeeze. Like many journalism organizations throughout the nation, Snopes now is being squeezed between an unprecedented demand for its work product and a worldwide pandemic recession that is contracting revenues to pay reporters to produce it. Citing Snopes General Manager Vinny Green, the Post reports:
"Since the pandemic began, Snopes has looked into questions about whether Pat Robertson blamed oral sex for covid-19 (not really, but it seems some readers misinterpreted a lame satirical piece as news); explored a rumor about thieves distributing masks laden with toxic chemicals (false, it turns out); and investigated claims that Ivanka Trump stands to profit from the pandemic because of a trademark on coffins in China (yes, she holds the trademark, but no, there’s no evidence she’s selling coffins).
And Snopes has seen a record amount of traffic to its site since the dawn of the crisis. Green, citing Google Analytics, said the website had 37 million visitors from late February to late March, a jump of 43 percent from the previous 30-day period. But more eyeballs on a website doesn’t always translate to more revenue: Many news outlets are breaking readership records these days but experiencing declines in ad sales. Some are pleading with readers to become paid subscribers; Snopes is selling premium memberships."
“The fact-checking industry is so undervalued and underinvested," he said, "that even with this traffic boom and the rise in prominence and responsibility at this moment when people are relying so heavily on fact-checkers for credible information, we have no hopes for scaling up our businesses.”
Trump Lies. Amid the pandemic, a cottage industry has arisen within the news industry that seeks to keep up with and track the flood of misinformation that spews daily from the mouth of Donald Trump.
The New York Times checked in last weekend with a 6000-word magnum opus (carrying six -- 6, count 'em, 6 -- bylines) that disclosed in painstaking detail his ignominious failure to act responsibly in the face of a pandemic, which public health and national security officials repeatedly warned him about; the paper also intermittently provides a comprehensive catalogue of Trump's words and actions, nailing down his inept performance during the disaster.
As a political matter, Trump now is attempting to pull off a colossal campaign pivot, trying to portray himself as a great hero who's saved thousands of lives – after downplaying the pandemic for two months in a lethal leadership fiasco that in fact cost thousands of lives.
Among the best journalism we've read aimed at holding Trump accountable is that produced by Tim Miller, an erstwhile Republican operative and oppo research specialist, who now writes for the conservative website The Bulwark.
Among other things, Miller has set forth the theory that the entire 2020 presidential campaign can be summed up in two tweets, one from Trump and the other from Democratic U.S. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, which Miller has combined into a screen grab:
"February 5, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy left a Trump administration briefing on the Coronavirus and fired off a tweet: “Bottom line. They aren’t taking this seriously enough…Local health systems need supplies, training, screening staff.”
On March 9, Donald Trump—with access to an additional month’s worth of data and intelligence—fired off a tweet of his own…comparing the virus to the flu and suggesting that “life and the economy go on.”
Taken together, it looks like this:"
"That’s it. That’s the Democrats’ case for November.
(snip) Nothing complicated. There’s really not much more to say. The president had all the information about the threat of the virus at his fingertips in February. The Democrats said he wasn’t taking this threat seriously and pressed him into action. It’s all right there, in their own words, with time stamps and everything."
Miller also periodically presents well-curated and annotated chronologies of Trump's own statements that put to lie his present, preposterous self-portrayal as a "wartime president."
At a time when Trump is escalating his war against the news industry, reporters from a host of top media organizations also are churning out their own collections of incriminating statements and behavior, viz:
And one more: Vice President Mike Pence's lies about Trump's lies.