Trump is main source of Covid 'infodemic', Cornell study says

Covid-19 spread from China, but much of the "infodemic" is coming from the White House.

According to a new study from Cornell University, President Donald Trump is the world’s biggest spreader of coronavirus misinformation.

Nearly 38 percent of the “misinformation conversation” began with Trump doing things such as promoting unproven “miracle cures” for Covid-19 or claiming with zero evidence that the pandemic was a “Democratic Party hoax” aimed at derailing his presidency, the researchers from the Cornell Alliance for Science found.

Talk like that is dangerous, alliance Director Sarah Evanega said.

“We were interested in exploring this issue because the World Health Organization has identified Covid misinformation, which it dubbed an ‘infodemic,’ as a serious concern in fighting the pandemic,” she said. “If people are misled by unscientific and unsubstantiated claims about the disease, they may be less likely to observe official guidance and thus risk spreading the disease.”

In other coronavirus developments:

  • Cruise ships will be barred from sailing in U.S. waters for at least another month, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Nearly 3,700 confirmed or suspected cases of Covid-19 on cruise ships in the United States have been reported to the CDC since March 1 and at least 41 people died, the agency said.

  • Around 837,000 people filed for first-time jobless benefits last week as the pandemic-battered U.S. economy continued to struggle. The unemployment rate was 4.8 percent when Trump took office in January 2017. It’s 8.4 percent now.

  • Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves announced he would not extend his mask-wearing mandate even though his state has the fourth highest rate of new infections in the country with 17.8 percent, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Research Center. "We should not use the heavy hand of government more than it is justified," Reeves said.

  • Hospitals in the parts of Wisconsin where the number of coronavirus cases have recently spiked are running out of beds for patients. In Green Bay, where Trump on Saturday is supposed to hold a campaign rally, Bellin Hospital was reportedly already at 94 percent capacity. Wisconsin right now is the state with the third highest rate of new infections with 21.14 percent, according to Johns Hopkins.

  • White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said Trump has no plan to cancel the Green Bay rally, even though Wisconsin's governor has urged the president to reconsider. "Yeah, so the president believes that people have a first amendment right to political speech," McEnany said. "He is having a rally. People can choose whether or not to come.

  • Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who has gotten bipartisan praise for aggressively attacking the pandemic, reported that for the first time in 187 days the state recorded "zero new Covid-19 deaths."

  • A Pennsylvania federal appeals court said Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, can resume enforcing size limits on gatherings while it appeals an earlier lower court ruling by a Trump-appointed federal judge who threw out statewide crowd size limits and other measures aimed at stopping the virus from spreading.

  • New York, which was once the nation's hot spot, reported more than 1,300 new cases on Thursday. That is the most since May. While the state continues to maintain a less than two percent infection rate, clusters of new Covid-19 cases have been reported in Brooklyn, Queens and Rockland County. People in New York City who refuse to don masks could be hit with fines of up to $1,000.

The Cornell study, released Thursday, appears to be the first comprehensive look at pandemic misinformation in the media, and the researchers reached their conclusions after using a content aggregator to analyze 38 million Covid-19 articles from English-language news outlets around the world.

They found that Trump drove major misinformation ”spikes” when he talked about using bleach to cure Covid-19 or when he advocated unproven treatments like hydroxychloroquine.

Trump’s false claim about the pandemic being created by the "deep state" to install a “new world order” was also a big driver of misinformation. So was the president’s promotion of conspiracy theories that Covid-19 was a bio-weapon that was “intentionally or accidentally released by a laboratory in Wuhan, China.”

Much of Trump's false Covid-19 information was dispensed at his coronavirus press briefings, which he ditched in April after his advisers warned they were hurting his polling numbers. He called those briefings "very successful" while touting high viewership numbers.

Evanega said the media bears some of the blame for spreading Trump’s false Covid-19 claims.

“Unwittingly or unintentionally, media do play a major role in disseminating misinformation because they amplify the voices of prominent people, even if those sources are incorrect,” Evanega said.

NBC News has been fact-checking Trump since the start of the pandemic, including in July when the president gave his first Covid-19 press briefing in months. He has regularly overstated his administration's response to the crisis that has now killed 208,208 people in the U.S. and created the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

There was no immediate response to the study from the White House, but Trump has generally dismissed any criticism as “fake news.”

Olivia Troye, a former White House Coronavirus Task Force adviser-turned-whistleblower, said she wasn't shocked by the findings in the Cornell study.

"It’s exactly what I saw every day," Troye said on MSBNC. "We would meet as a task force, and the president would go out and say something very contradictory to what the experts and doctors were telling him.”

The study was not the first time Trump has been accused of spreading false pandemic information and lying to the American public about the true extent of the coronavirus crisis.

According to a recently released book, Trump was caught on tape telling the reporter Bob Woodward back in February that Covid-19 was “deadly stuff” but then continued to downplay the danger in pronouncements to the public and politicized the use of masks by refusing for months to wear one in public.

Trump also continues to insist that his administration has done a “phenomenal job,” even though the U.S. leads the world in the number of Covid-19 deaths and infections (7,270,398), according to the latest NBC News tally.