News Outlets: Don’t help the GOP spread harmful disinformation. Tape delay the Republican National Convention()
CNN Worldwide President Jeffrey A. Zucker
MSNBC President Phil T. Griffin
ABC News President James Goldston
NBCUniversal Worldwide News Group President Noah Oppenheim
CBS Corporation President Joseph Ianniello
As our nation battles the dual crises of systemic racism and the coronavirus pandemic, relying on the media for factual, life-saving information is crucial to the health of the American people and our democracy.
We need truthful information to stop the proliferation of disinformation that impedes the American public’s health and safety, and our democracy.
Starting on Monday, August 24th and running through Thursday, August 27th, your network will air the Republican National Convention’s programming. We recognize that you have a responsibility for the fundamental importance of giving equal time to both major political parties, but we request that you put the Republican National Convention’s programming on a 1-minute time delay, so that your network can actively fact check and debunk dangerous disinformation in real time and stop it from spreading. CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, and CBS have previously cut away or run fact-checks in real-time during coronavirus briefings, and this should be no different. The potential risk of unfiltered disinformation emanating in real time, via your network, to millions of homes around the country, is too great.
We have already seen Americans die due to disinformation around the COVID-19 pandemic and the search for a treatment. We have also seen an increase in hate crimes, police brutality, and racial injustice due to inflammatory and racist disinformation on the news.
Make no mistake, the Republican National Convention’s programming will be a primary source of dangerous disinformation about everything from voting rights, to racial justice and police violence, to medical disinformation and dangerous medical falsehoods about the pandemic. It is likely that this information will also include racist and sexist attacks designed to stoke division and hatred. We know this, because we have seen it before. We know who the speakers at the convention will be, and an overwhelming majority of them contribute to the spread of dangerous disinformation every single day. Here’s a quick summary to demonstrate the veracity of this argument:
- Abby Johnson, a controversial anti-abortion “activist.” Johnson has advocated against wearing masks to curb the spread of Covid-19, claiming “the sooner we stop wearing masks, the sooner we build up immunities to stop the virus.” Johnson has also spread unfounded conspiracies about Planned Parenthood and speculated that Tulsi Gabbard would be killed by Hillary Clinton, referencing conspiracy theories that the Clintons have killed multiple people and framed the deaths as suicides.
- Donald Trump, who prior to his presidency pushed the racist “birther” conspiracy claiming Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. and therefore ineligible for the presidency, is now amplifying another racist birther conspiracy about Kamala Harris.
- Mark and Patricia McCloskey, a couple who went viral after photographs showed them waving guns at peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters, have appeared eight times on Fox News spreading disinformation about the Black Lives Matter movement.
- Republican Senator Joni Ernst has claimed Democratic leaders were “trying to stir up panic” about the pandemic and compared COVID-19 deaths to deaths from the flu, while pushing a right-wing conspiracy theory about the coronavirus being developed on purpose in a Wuhan lab.
The real-world impacts of disinformation are clear: Our nation is fast approaching 200,000 deaths from COVID-19–with a disproportionate impact on Black, Latinx and Indigenous people–and medical disinformation about the coronavirus puts lives at risk. Donald Trump’s promotion of unproven Hydroxychloroquine led to overdoses and a medication shortage that made the drug inaccessible to chronic illness patients who rely on it. Disinformation regarding disinfectants led to people drinking and inhaling poisonous household cleaning products. A recent working paper by researchers at the University of Chicago shows that Fox News viewers of disinformation are less likely to comply with public health guidelines and that “those behavioral differences are contributing to the spread of the coronavirus and mortality rate of covid-19.”
The best way to combat the spread of disinformation is to stop it at its source. By putting the Republican National Convention on a one-minute time delay, your network will be able to actively correct disinformation in real time, and prevent the American people from being lied to on your airwaves. The future of our country, our people and our democracy are at stake.
Higher Heights Political Fund
Color Of Change PAC
NARAL Pro-Choice America
EMILY’s List WOMEN VOTE!
United We Dream Action
P.S. Here are some resources on actively dispelling disinformation that can be helpful in your coverage:
- Reporting in an Era of Disinformation: Fairness for Covering Women and People of Color in Politics (UltraViolet et al, August 2020)
- Verification Handbook (European Journalism Centre, April 2020)
- Responsible Reporting in an Age of Information Disorder (First Draft, October 2019)
- Everyone knows headlines are broken. Here’s how news organizations can start fixing them (Media Matters, May 2019)