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Why Government is Always the Most Dangerous Source of


Matt Taibbi <> UnsubscribeTue, Mar 19, 6:48 PM (21 hours ago)
The government just begged the Supreme Court to let it fight “misinformation,” but the plaintiffs were citizens suppressed for exposing official error. Why state lies are the most dangerousMATT TAIBBIMAR 19∙PAID READ IN APP Anthony Fauci continually overstated the infection fatality rate of Covid-19CNN opened its coverage of Murthy v. Missourithe historic censorship case argued in the Supreme Court yesterday, as follows:CNN — For doctors like Eileen Barrett, a pending Supreme Court case challenging the government’s ability to communicate with social media companies isn’t principally a fight about the fraught politics of online speech.Instead, they say, it’s a matter of life and death.“I have seen countless statements that are at best problematic and at worst flat-out disinformation that I’m terribly fearful are causing harm to patients,” said Barrett…If CNN’s line about “a matter of life or death” sounds a bit dramatic, it’s at least a perfect echo of the original defendant in the case, President Joe Biden. In July of 2021, Biden said Internet companies were “killing people” when they refused to remove content his White House deemed “problematic.” However, the White House itself contributed to enormous problems during the pandemic by wildly overestimating both the impact of the disease, and the effectiveness of vaccines. Somehow, this form of “misinformation” never gets proper billing.The government’s performance in oral arguments in the Supreme Court yesterday has already led to huge success on this front, from a public relations perspective. Instead of hearing about a broad, military-scale operation spanning multiple agencies to address social media posts about everything from Ukraine to Gaza to immigration to schools and gender issues, the public heard the case was about “the government’s ability… to combat misinformation,” and stop “posts that officials said spread falsehoods.” Instead of a case about the state attempting to enforce uniform narratives on huge ranges of subjects, and being consistently wrong when doing so, the public will hear yesterday’s case was about occasional, gentle efforts to offer input about one or two emergencies.Here’s the answer to both CNN and Biden, and a snapshot of why this case went to the heart of the First Amendment:Dr. Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford University, one of the plaintiffs in Murthy, was placed on a “trends blacklist” at Twitter, but not for purveying misinformation or disinformation. He didn’t publish hate speech, issue threats, or incite. He has little interest in politics and didn’t attempt to “influence elections.” In a textbook example of why free speech is crucial to the success of democracies, Bhattacharya’s offense was conducting true research that corrected official misinformation.“COVID-19 antibody seroprevalence in Santa Clara County, California” was published on April 17, 2020, at the beginning of the international Covid-19 panic. Bhattacharya tested blood samples from 3,300 people early in the pandemic, uncovering two crucial pieces of information. The first was that the infection mortality rate of Covid-19 was roughly 0.15%, making the disease about 22 times less deadly than the terrifying 3.4% number released by the WHO in early March 2020.Bhattacharya, an ingratiating, forgiving personality, didn’t try to show up officialdom. “It’s still quite a lethal virus,” he told the Stanford Daily. But his study showed the disease was far less lethal than Americans were being told. Dr. Anthony Fauci testified to the House on March 11 2020 that even if the WHO was wrong, Covid-19 was “at least 10 times more lethal” than flu, adding, “I can’t give you a realistic number” on eventual fatalities “until we put into the factor of how we respond,” suggesting it could be “many, many millions” if extreme measures were not taken.Fauci was misinforming the public, and moreover already had access to enough data to know he was doing it. A crucial piece of news involved the Diamond Princess cruise ship that left Yokohama, Japan for a 14-day cruise in January 2020 and had to be kept docked in quarantine after passengers who disembarked in Hong Kong fell ill. Of more than 3,500 people on board, 712 fell ill, and of those, 11 died, an infection mortality rate of .154%, which more or less exactly predicted Bhattacharya’s results.Both the WHO and American officials would eventually concede the same lower infection fatality rate. On the way, however, they took every opportunity to scare the pants off the public, with headlines like “Fauci puts it bluntly: Coronavirus deaths are undercounted” common especially in early months.As Matt Orfalea showed in this furious compilation, even the 3.4% number was amplified through conventional media in early 2020, with commentators denouncing anyone who said otherwise. The misinformation was turbocharged by political anger, since Donald Trump called 3.4% a “false number” and said that based on his conversations with advisors, the real number would come in “way under 1%.” These words sent people like Brian Stelter into a frenzy. “The percentage is 3.4%,” he said, “and no hunch from the president can change that.”Bhattacharya’s other finding was that the infection rate in his Santa Clara sample was “50-85 times higher” than official estimates. This meant the disease was so infectious that interventions in the form of lockdowns especially were unlikely to be effective. Again, data on this appeared early on, but the suppression of social media posts and media appearances of people like Bhattacharya and fellow plaintiffs Dr. Aaron Kheriaty and Martin Kulldorff (formerly of the University of California and Harvard, respectively) meant that even the educated set often didn’t hear about these numbers until too late.I was among the reporters who simply didn’t see research by people like Bhattacharya to understand the issues involved, and this led to a failure on my part to understand the story on a level beyond partisan politics until I started seeing emails chains about the topic in the Twitter Files. I still see evidence of the effectiveness of this early suppression in posts by smart commentators like Freddie deBoer (“COVID Still Makes Everybody a Little Bit Crazy”), which describes the basic debate over Covid-19 as being between “deranged conspiracy theorists” on the right who think the vaccine is causing mass deaths and “left-leaning types” who “continue to douse their houses with anti-bacterial soap, who believe that the next big outbreak is mere days away.”The problem with Covid-19 messaging had far less to do with the relative merits of fears about vaccines than they did with suppression of important research about the need to get the shot in the first place. As Bhattacharya, Kulldorff, and Kheriaty all point out, government officials like Fauci not only wildly overestimated the infection fatality rates of Covid-19 early on, but de-emphasized the enormous age-specific differences in outcomes among the infected, which were known very early in the game. For young, healthy people, the risk of death from Covid-19 was so tiny that even the smallest risk of vaccine injury made getting the shot a bad gamble, which is why a lot of people, far from being “deranged,” have made a decision to stop getting boosted.For older people, meanwhile, the risk of getting Covid was and is great enough that Kulldorff in 2021 published an article suggesting the elderly continue taking the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, even after an apparent “increased risk of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST)” had been discovered as a side effect. Kulldorff argued the risk of side effects was lower than the risk of Covid-19 for the “older population,” but officials didn’t like him countering messages about the J&J “pause,” so he was kicked off the CDC working group on the safety of Covid-19 vaccines.The First Amendment exists precisely to prevent the government from imposing a single narrative on public discourse, even if — especially if — it believes it’s doing it for the public’s own good. The government is often wrong, sometimes accidentally, sometimes due to incompetence, and sometimes for reasons so corrupt it makes you want to drive a fertilizer-filled truck into something. The most infamous examples involve public cases for going to war. We’ve been lied to about what happened in the Gulf of Tonkin, lied to about Iraq and WMD, lied to about the Rambouillet Agreement before Kosovo, even “Remember the Maine!” What was left out of the picture in the Supreme Court yesterday was any recognition of the mischief to which we’ll be exposed if government agencies are able to block off efforts to expose such deceptions.The public’s one defense against such problems is the First Amendment. If the state can not only stifle invaluable research like Bhattacharya’s at such a crucial moment, but get away even years later with characterizing the suppression as an “effort to combat misinformation,” they cut the heart out of our most important constitutional protection.Murthy v. Missouri was an opportunity to remind Americans that under our system, the citizenry, not the government, is meant to be the true line of defense against misinformation. After yesterday, it looks like agencies like the FBI and the DHS will be re-empowered to cast things the other way around. We’re forgetting who we are, and how and why our country was designed the way it was. It might be that we’ll just have to sink even lower before the bulk of the population sees what’s happening.