Misinformation — more deadly than a virus


For the life of me, I can’t fathom how we came to be a nation in which a guy like Dr. Anthony Fauci could receive death threats.

Fauci, as anyone paying the least bit of attention during this COVID-19 pandemic, is considered the nation’s top expert on the subject. He’s a member of the president’s COVID-19 task force, the face of the country’s response to the pandemic, a daily presence on screens and in news stories. Most people, I believe, would agree he has been a calming, reasoned voice in an unsettled time for the country.

Most people, I said. Apparently not all, because numerous news reports say security has been increased for Fauci in recent days. I don’t get it. I just plain don’t get it.

I know a fair number of people in the United States still think the virus is being overhyped, that it’s some sort of conspiracy by liberals or “the media,” (whoever they are), or some sinister group of “deep state” actors. I know even the president fed into that line of thinking for a time. Of late, though, he seems to have been taking the pandemic seriously in his public messaging. So what could Dr. Fauci possibly have done to make someone wish him ill? How could his knowledge and insight be so threatening to anyone?

There’s so much I don’t get about the world these days. I don’t get, for example, the thought process used by the locomotive driver at the Port of Los Angeles who faces federal charges for allegedly trying to derail a train near the U.S. Navy’s hospital ship Mercy. The driver suspected the ship “was not there to help with the coronavirus crisis,’’ according to a news story in the Los Angeles Times. The story further said, “Prosecutors allege that (the driver) derailed the train and deliberately crashed through barriers designed to stop engines before grinding to a halt 250 yards from the Mercy.’’


The Times went on to say the hospital ship carries 12 operating rooms, 1,000 hospital beds and about 800 medical staffers. The news story added, “The ship will house patients who do not have COVID-19 in an attempt to free up regional hospital beds for those who do. Some patients who are already hospitalized in Los Angeles County will be transferred to the ship for ongoing treatment, port officials said.”

To me, that sounds like a mission of mercy in a time of national crisis. To me, the Los Angeles Times is a really good newspaper, and generally its news content — like the news content of this newspaper and most others I read — is researched and sourced. But I’ve come to understand that a segment of the population disagrees with my assessment. At least some segment of the population in the United States doesn’t trust what is printed in the Times or any other of what they call the main-stream media.

Most of those non-believers wouldn’t go so far as to try to wreck a hospital ship just to show people things aren’t as they seem. Most people, whether they trust the news reports or not, wouldn’t threaten a guy like Dr. Fauci, either. A few would, and I have a sense that number is growing across the land. I think it’s growing at least in part because careless misinformation and deliberate disinformation are a growing force, replacing fact and reason for too many people.

Tom Patterson, a Minnesota native and South Dakota State graduate who teaches at Harvard University, noted that growing force in his recent book, “How America Lost Its Mind.”

Patterson opens with the tale of the guy awhile back who fired a weapon in a Washington, D.C., pizza place. The man drove from North Carolina to investigate rumors Hilary Clinton was involved in a child sex ring in the shop’s basement. Fully one-third of respondents to a poll after the incident judged the sex ring story “definitely’’ or “probably’’ true, even though the shop had no basement.

“Today’s volume of misinformation is unprecedented,’’ Patterson writes. I think so, too. I think it’s a more deadly force than a virus. But if a pandemic isn’t enough to restore facts and reason to our collective lives, what is?

Luke Hagen was promoted to editor of the Mitchell Republic in 2014. He has worked for the newspaper since 2008 and has covered sports, outdoors, education, features and breaking news. He can be reached at
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