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U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., right, speaks during a news conference alongside U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene

U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo)., right, speaks during a news conference as U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) looks on at the U.S. Capitol on June 23, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Win McNamee / Getty Images)

Right-Wing Media and GOP Have Blood on Their Hands for Covid-19 Misinformation

People are dying unnecessarily, and it's a crime, with a list of suspects that shouldn't surprise anyone.

Rex Huppke

 by Chicago Tribune

These recent headlines tell the story of a crime:

"COVID-19 infections are rising again in parts of Illinois."

"US COVID-19 cases rising again, doubling over three weeks."

"Covid-19 cases are surging in 46 states."

Hospital beds in Missouri, Mississippi, Alabama and a number of other states are again filling up with COVID-19 patients, a crisis that was entirely preventable. Virtually every American hospitalized right now with COVID-19 is unvaccinated.

People are dying unnecessarily, and it's a crime, with a list of suspects that shouldn't surprise anyone: Fox News talking heads attacking medical experts, Republican lawmakers stirring doubt about vaccines and social media companies allowing vaccine disinformation to overwhelm sound medical advice.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy released an unusual advisory Thursday labeling health misinformation an "urgent public health threat," calling it "one of the biggest obstacles that's preventing us from ending this pandemic."

"Today, we live in a world where misinformation poses an imminent and insidious threat to our nation's health," Murthy said from the White House. "Simply put, health misinformation has cost us lives."

We've heard this anecdotally throughout the pandemic, even before vaccines were available. A father who believed rhetoric coming from the former administration that the coronavirus was no worse than the flu and wound up on a ventilator, then in a grave. A mother who bought into foolish claims that face masks threatened our freedoms before falling ill to the virus, spreading it to others and spending weeks in intensive care.

Then came the vaccine, safely and swiftly driving down the number of infections. With that success came the noise of right-wing opportunists eager to politicize the very act of getting a vaccination, to cast a nefarious cloud over the current administration, as it's the one now responsible for taming the pandemic.

At the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, the audience cheered feverishly when a speaker noted that President Joe Biden missed his goal of having 70% of American adults vaccinated by July 4.

Lauren Boebert, a cartoonishly absurd Republican representative from Colorado, pranced across the CPAC stage like a country music singer with a head injury, crowing "don't come knocking on my door with your Fauci ouchie," referencing Anthony Fauci, the country's leading infectious disease expert.

Newsmax host Rob Schmitt recently said on air: "I feel like a vaccination in a weird way is just generally kind of going against nature."

Fox News blabberer Tucker Carlson routinely sows doubt about the efficacy of the coronavirus vaccines, always under the cowardly guise of "just asking questions."

"So maybe it doesn't work, and they're simply not telling you that," Tucker opined.

Millions of people take him seriously, and some of those millions are refusing vaccines and surely adding to the list of the sick and dead.

At a recent fundraiser in Effingham, Illinois, Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene fear-mongered the crowd of about 500 by rambling on about "Biden's little posse that's gonna show up at your door, you know, that intimidate you, they probably work for antifa by night and then they come and intimidate you to take the vaccine by day."

She then said: "Well, you get to tell them to get the hell off of your lawn."

On Tuesday, the Nashville Tennessean reported: "The Tennessee Department of Health will halt all adolescent vaccine outreach—not just for coronavirus, but all diseases—amid pressure from Republican state lawmakers."

The report also noted that "the health department will take steps to ensure it no longer sends postcards or other notices reminding teenagers to get their second dose of the coronavirus vaccines."

COVID-19 cases in Tennessee have more than doubled over the past two weeks.

In Florida, presently among the worst places in the nation in terms of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths per capita, Gov. Ron DeSantis decided this would be a cute week for his campaign to start hocking "Don't Fauci My Florida" T-shirts and beer koozies.

This is all profoundly stupid, wickedly irresponsible and—because numbers, unlike right-wing squawkers and politicians, are incapable of lying—transparently deadly.

Many dance gingerly around this subject, not quite wanting to "go there," but I will: The lies spraying from the mouths of these fatuous lunkheads are leading Americans to the grave. They are causing unnecessary deaths. These frauds have blood on their hands.

They are hurting families, prolonging the pandemic and thus damaging the economy, and putting us all at risk of vaccine-evading variants that might bubble up from waves of new infections.

Assisting these mopes are social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which amplify misinformation and make it nearly impossible for regular Americans to sort fact from fiction.

Of the Big Tech companies, Murthy said: "They've allowed people who intentionally spread misinformation—what we call disinformation—to have extraordinary reach. They've designed product features such as 'like' buttons that reward us for sharing emotionally charged content, not accurate content. And their algorithms tend to give us more of what we click on, pulling us deeper and deeper into a well of misinformation."

We're watching Americans die needlessly when there's a safe and readily available vaccine. It's beyond dumb.

Please talk to vaccine-skeptical friends and loved ones, present them with sound information and plead with them to pay heed. Be careful what you share on social media, and push back hard on tech companies that profit off the swift spread of misinformation. They must do better.

As far as the rhetoric goes, I'll say this: There's nothing about anyone's politics or choice of news sources that would ever make me want them to die.

But if your politicians and news sources are actively putting you at risk, it might be time to ponder just who they're looking out for. Because it's certainly not you.


Copyright © 2021, Chicago Tribune
Rex Huppke

Rex Huppke

Rex Huppke is a Contact Reporter at the Chicago Tribune.

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