Again and again, so-called journalists in big media outlets exaggerate or even outright invent stories to scare or outrage the public. The audience just buys it wholesale and never notices when, a day or two later, it all turns out to be complete bullshit. Today’s example: Ivermectin.
It’s that time of year again on The Private Citizen, where we look at why modern journalism sucks so much. On another note, there will be a few extra episodes coming out in the coming days, before the show will go on another hiatus for a couple of weeks. You have been warned.
Having previously discussed the endemic problems in journalism today, I’m picking up this topic today to discuss the latest outrage story which, once again, has to do with the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. How could it be otherwise? This time, we’re going after people who are taking Ivermectin, a deworming drug which is thought by some experts to have anti-viral properties that could supress RNA viruses like SARS-CoV-2. As was done with Hydroxychloroquine in connection to treatment of the same illness, the issue was turned into a political question way ahead of any dependable scientific evidence being available to make a decision if the drug is actually helping people.
The big media outlets, once again concentrating of questions of regulatory approval rather than actual benefit, are trying to scare the public off drugs that, in both cases, have been administered to patients for decades. In Ivermectin’s case, the discoverers of the drug actually won a Nobel Prize, no less. Still, if someone challenges the mighty wisdom of the bureaucracy of the state – in this case the FDA – an example must be made of them. And thus, journalists, instead of doing some actual research, just invent some shit to cause panic and outrage (maximising exposure of their reporting and thus profit) and play moral police (to stroke their own egos and demonstrate that they are better people than most of their audience). It seems that nothing much has changed in the world of journalism in the last year.
Matt Taibbi has a very nice writeup of how it went down this time around.
Citing a report of Oklahoma emergency rooms so overwhelmed by ivermectin overdoses that gunshot victims were going untreated, MSNBC anchor Joy Ann Reid Sunday proposed sticking the swallowers of “horse paste” at the back of the line in order to prioritize the more deserving, “rather than allowing the ivermectin people” – she spoke the words as if holding a vile wriggling thing with tweezers – to “take up all the beds”. This was a network anchor despising a group of people so much that she itched to deny them medical care, not only despite having never met them, but despite the fact that they may not even exist. The “overwhelmed Oklahoma E.R.” tale later seemed to go sideways, the latest in a line of crackups by media lost in the throes of a moral panic.
The tale of mobbed E.R.s originated with a September 1 print story in the Tulsa World, followed by a piece by Oklahoma City-based NBC affiliate KFOR. Both interviewed a Dr. Jason McElyea, who spoke in the KFOR piece of “gunshot victims having hard times getting to facilities.” Separately he spoke about both the overcrowding problem and of seeing ivermectin overdose cases, but we don’t actually hear him making the connection that it’s the “ivermectin people” causing the bed shortage. That was done by KFOR, whose chyron and tweet identically read, PATIENTS OVERDOSING ON IVERMECTIN BACKING UP HOSPITALS, AMBULANCES.
The line spread the next day with a retweet by Rachel Maddow – the real patient zero of this mess – followed by tweet-pushes by MSNBC executive producer Lauren Peikoff, the Guardian, the Business Insider, the Daily Mail, Newsweek, the New York Daily News, Daily Kos, Occupy Democrats, Reid, moral mania all-star Kurt Eichenwald, the humorously dependable wrongness-barnacle Eoin Higgins, and of course my former employers at Rolling Stone. My old mag got most of the catcalls on social media, after adding a full written story that widened the scope beyond Oklahoma to note in a tsk-tsking tone that “even podcaster and anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist Joe Rogan bragged” of taking ivermectin.
The original report would have been sensational enough, if true. McElyea told stories of backed-up ambulances, patients “in worse conditions than if they’d caught COVID,” and “scariest” of all, “people coming in with vision loss.” Nonetheless, in the game of Twitter telephone that led from KFOR to the Stone, details were magically added. Reid somehow knew the hated overdosers not only swallowed “horse paste” but had done so “instead of taking the vaccine.” Occupy Democrats knew for whom the horse-pasters voted, noting that so many Trumpers are overdosing that emergency rooms are full. MSNBC contributor Dr. Jason Johnson even speculated Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe was somehow profiteering from the misery: Wonder if Inhofe (R-OK) has any financial ties to ivermectin. Wouldn’t be the first time he appeared to have profited off #Covid-19…
Things appeared to go south when the Stone put out an “update” with a statement from Oklahoma’s Northeastern Hospital System Sequoyah, which said Dr. McElyea “has not worked at our Sallisaw location in over 2 months,” and, worse, that “NHS Sequoyah has not treated any patients due to complications related to taking ivermectin,” which “includes not treating any patients for ivermectin overdose.” Of course that was only one hospital system, and it wasn’t clear if it was relevant to McElyea’s story. However, Rolling Stone then put out a second update noting that, “Rolling Stone has been unable to independently verify any such cases,” adding: The National Poison Data System states there were 459 reported cases of ivermectin overdose in the United States in August. Oklahoma-specific ivermectin overdose figures are not available, but the count is unlikely to be a significant factor in hospital bed availability in a state that, per the CDC, currently has a 7-day average of 1,528 Covid-19 hospitalizations.
So it’s basically all bullshit. And still, people continue to believe these stories. And they never notice the retractions. I spoke to several people this week, some of them journalists, that still believed that this was a credible story.
To be, once again, completely clear hear – for all the bots and algorithms out there – this is not about whether Ivermectin is a working treatment or prevention for SARS-CoV-2 infections. This is about how bad current journalism has gotten and how it is rotting out the core of our information society, almost every single day.
Taibbi, who seems to be as fed up with the current state of affairs when it comes to the work of our colleagues, sums it up nicely in his piece:
News has become a corporatized version of the “Two Minutes Hate,” in which the goal of every broadcast is an anxiety-ridden audience provoked to the point of fury by the un-policed infamy of whatever wreckers are said to be threatening civilization this week: the unvaccinated, insurrectionists, Assadists, Greens, Bernie Bros, Jill Stein, Russians, the promoters of “white supremacy culture,” etc. Mistakes are inevitable because this brand of media business isn’t about accuracy, but rallying audiences to addictive disgust. As a result, most press people now shrug off the odd error or six – look at Maddow leaving her tweet up – so long as they feel stories are directionally right, i.e. aimed at deserving targets.
I never thought this could happen, but people like Maddow, Reid, and the editors of the New York Times opinion page have taken over the role once occupied by Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. As a kid I tilted blue in my politics in significant part because I couldn’t stand (or understand) crusading moralists like Falwell, whose entire raison d’être was driving millions of followers to hate and fear people they not only seemed to know nothing about, but claimed they hoped never to meet: gays and lesbians, punk and rock musicians, rappers, comics who used naughty words, fantasy gamers, and scariest of all, goth teens who drew pentagrams on their Trapper-Keepers.
Falwell and his imitators mixed a conspicuously un-Christian unforgiving attitude with undisguised glee at the suffering of anyone they understood to have brought divine retribution upon themselves. Sound familiar? Remember the fundamentalist opinion on AIDS patients, that “if the homosexual community would stop doing what they are doing, they would stop getting what they are getting?” Then there was Falwell’s take on New York after 9⁄11, that “when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad,” and “the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians [and] the ACLU… I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.’”
That brand of pious sadism is now baseline norm in the wing of the media business where I once worked. Today’s press constantly makes religious icons out of tendentious bureaucrats like Bob Mueller and “Saint” Anthony Fauci, strives all the time to turn changeable news narratives into inflexible Holy Writ, and delights even more than Falwell in its own version of divine retribution stories.
Some Hilarious Turns
Despite being a despicable example of bad journalism all around, this story created some hilarious moments. One of those moments came when Joe Rogan, probably the most successful and influential podcast today, posted a video to Instagram explaining that he had contracted SARS-CoV-2 and explaining his treatment plan – which included Ivermectin. The media establishment jumped on this for the simple reason that Rogan is, as far as they are concerned, a tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy nut who must be ridiculed.
He must be ridiculed because, on his show, he has the balls to do what many established journalists are deadly afraid of: To talk to people with an open mind. Sometimes these people make sense and sometimes they are total nutcases. And Rogan listens to all of them with a very open mind, sometimes too open, I’d admit; almost like a toddler. But at least the guy doesn’t play moral police and has enough respect for his audience to at least comsider they might be mature enough to decide for themselves if what they are presented with is good information or not. But no, we can’t have this! And so Rogan must be mercilessly attacked from every side.
Now what’s hilarious here is that these journalists are so bad at their job, they can’t even do a hit piece correct. Because they fail to understand even the most basic elements of a story. This isn’t even on the level of not having done any research. This is on the level of not being able to think logically like an adult. Because the key to that whole story is that Rogan is fine. As he said in his video: “I really only had one bad day. Today I feel good.”
You can’t do a scare story on a drug based on a guy who took the drug and is fine, you morons! What is most amazing is that in some of the moral policing scare stories, they straight up quote Rogan saying that, complete destroying the whole premise of their theory and the story built around it! You can’t make this shit up… Now, I’m not saying that Ivermectin helped Rogan in any way – if anything, it was probably the monoclonal antibodies, which seem to be a very good, if extremely expensive, solution. But it clearly doesn’t seem to have harmed him.
And speaking of can’t make this shit up, of course I’ve talked in the past of how substandard journalism from established sources goes hand-in-hand with censoring alternative journalism. Well, this time it completely backfired, as Ivermectin-critic David Fuller had his video investigation of why Ivermectin isn’t effective against SARS-CoV-2 banned and deleted off YouTube. Yes, you read that right, YouTube banned a video as medical misinformation that iterated exactly the currently accepted medical consensus. Now the gatekeepers are banning their own arguments off platforms. Sounds familiar? Yeah, kind of what happened to this very show. The culture wars are in full swing.
In a double irony, Fuller’s banned video also addressed this very problem:
Discussion of Ivermectin has also led to censorship from the Big Tech platforms. But the free speech/censorship dynamic is only part of the story - is also shows how broken our information landscape is – with the advocates on one side, and the skeptics on the other – creating echo chambers and filter bubbles, and broken sensemaking.
Long-time producer Fadi Mansour writes in:
First of all, I’m sorry that I haven’t been sending feedback for a long time, a little due to being busy, but then laziness. But I’ve been listening to the new episodes all the time, so thank you for the great information and analysis.
I’m also a Security Now listener, and it was along with Linux Outlaws and No Agenda, my first introduction to podcasts. No Agenda and Security Now were because of a recommendation from a friend, but Linux Outlaws I found by myself, as I was very much into Linux at that time. I can’t tell exactly when I started, but should be around 2006.
While introducing Steve Gibson and SpinRite, you mentioned that there are Linux tools that can do the same: On one hand it would be interesting to tell which, and on the other hand, I would like to mention that while in one mode, SpinRite forces the HD controller to read and then write the different sectors, and in this process to discover and issues in the underlying physical location, and relocate them. But a feature that should be special to SpinRite is that in case of detecting an unreadable sector (as reported by the controller), it will try to force read the data, and statistically try to reconstruct it.
From a technical point of view, SQRL is very interesting, but you were describing that it would help alleviate tracking and de-platforming. But here, allow me to disagree. Although SQRL will help decouple the data managed by a site from the identity of the person generating it, but if site decided to ban a person based on the type of information he is creating, then even if his identity cannot revealed, but he would have lost something by the ban. Take for example a trading site, where the “reputation” (trade history) would be lost by the ban.
On another note, while reading the feedback, about Afghanistan, and people serving in the military you had an interesting comment that reminded me of an interesting song: Mutiny In the Common Soldiery by The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing from their album This May Be the Reason Why the Men That Will Not Be Blamed for Nothing Cannot Be Killed By Conventional Weapons.
If you have any thoughts on the things discussed in this or previous episodes, please feel free to contact me. In addition to the information listed there, we also have an experimental Matrix room for feedback. Try it out if you have an account on a Matrix server. Any Matrix server will do.
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