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  • Writer's pictureMonica Harris

When Yesterday's "Misinformation" Becomes Tomorrow's Headlines

Updated: May 30, 2023

Are rapidly shifting COVID policies a sign of changing “science” or merely proof that “science” has been politicized?

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably noticed that People in Charge have been busy revising their policies on the COVID endemic (that’s what I’m calling it now because this virus is obviously everywhere and it’s never going away).

But if you’ve paid really close attention, you’ve noticed that many of the claims made by conspiracy theorists, right-wingers, and anti-vaxxers — labelled “misinformation” only months ago — are now being accepted as fact.

A critical thinker might find this puzzling. How can people who clung to positions with such conviction suddenly believe what they passionately rejected?

It’s tempting to attribute this to the evolving nature of the “science,” but I suspect something else is at play: information re-branding. This is a clever tactic that allows People in Charge and "experts" to reverse their positions so seamlessly that we almost forget what their original positions were (the key word being “seamlessly,” because calling attention to the reversal would rob them of credibility and weaken trust in their narrative).

Information re-branding is rampant now, but it’s not new. We saw the first signs in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election.

In 2019, Hunter Biden was accused of using his father’s political connections to snag multi-million dollar deals with foreign companies. Most people don’t remember the peculiar evolution of this story: it was “real” news when Joe Biden lagged in the polls, then morphed into “fake” news when he became the Democratic nominee, only to become “real” news again after he took office. (FYI Hunter is currently under federal criminal investigation for violating tax and money laundering laws).

Query: If the media hadn’t re-branded this story as fake news after Biden became the nominee, is there a chance he might have lost the race he won by a mere 44,000 votes? Hmmm. File that away for now.

Fast forward to March 2020. Governor Andrew Cuomo was slamming Trump for his mismanagement of the COVID crisis during daily press conferences and blaming him for the deaths of thousands of New Yorkers due to a lack of ventilators. Later that year, when allegations surfaced that Cuomo had (ironically) adopted policies that needlessly increased deaths in nursing homes, they were repeatedly debunked. Yet somehow the story became real news shortly after Trump lost the election, igniting a scandal that forced Cuomo to resign.

Query: Would Americans have condemned Trump’s handling of COVID if they’d known thousands of people had died at the epicenter of the crisis at the hands of his most vocal critic? Hmmm. File that away, too.

Are you seeing the pattern? “Misinformation” seems to be stuff we shouldn’t believe now, but we can when it’s re-branded in 12–18 months.

Information re-branding took a break for a year as governments, the scientific community, and the media embraced a singular narrative on COVID. Then it reared its head again.

From the moment the novel coronavirus hit U.S. shores, there was speculation that it hadn’t originated at a wet market in Wuhan, but at a lab in the same city dedicated to (coincidentally) the study of highly infectious coronaviruses. But this claim was aggressively debunked, and anyone who considered it was written off as a right-wing conspiracy nut or Q-Anon disciple.

Until April 2021. That’s when Robert Redfield, former head of the CDC, opined that COVID-19 more than likely escaped from a lab.

But Redfield wasn’t alone. It turns out people at the highest levels knew the virus likely escaped from a lab but did everything in their power to hide this because they feared the truth would “hurt international harmony.” This might lead a reasonable person to wonder: Might scientists be suppressing other truths about this crisis for the sake of maintaining “international harmony? Hmmm. Something else to file away.

We’ve seen the same information re-branding with natural immunity. The innate protection humans get when infected by a virus — a phenomenon scientists have acknowledged for centuries — was relegated to voodoo science in 2020, despite numerous studies to the contrary. Governments relentlessly pushed vaccination, insisting it provides more protection than being infected naturally (a feat not accomplished by the measles, polio, or smallpox vaccines).

Now the scientific consensus has done a 180 and embraces what it adamantly rejected. Last week, the CDC acknowledged that natural infection is far superior to vaccination alone. The “science” has literally come full circle in 24 months.

Yes, we know the “science” is always evolving. But when doctors and scientists are censored and shamed for voicing theories that go against the scientific consensus, the “science” can’t evolve organically. When People in Charge suddenly decide to embrace what they’ve repeatedly ridiculed and dismissed, it looks a lot less like evolving science and a lot more like information re-branding.

And this brings us to current events.

For two years, anyone who dared to suggest that COVID hospitalizations might be inflated was accused of being a conspiracy theorist. The possibility that someone might be injured in a car accident, test positive, and be counted as a COVID patient was considered outlandish. In May 2020, Reuters claimed "there is no evidence that New York City hospitals are inflating their case numbers."

But last month, New York Governor Kathy Hochul quietly dropped a bombshell: as many as 50% of the state’s COVID patients were likely admitted for reasons unrelated to the virus. Around the same time, the UK government disclosed that its COVID hospitalization stats were similarly “skewed.” Germany acknowledged the same errors in their data, attributing them to a computer “glitch.” And this week, the Biden administration announced it was working to “recalculate” hospitalizations to get a more accurate read on the number of patients actually hospitalized because of COVID.

These admissions prompt some pretty common sense questions:

If we’d known the disease had hospitalized half as many people as we thought, would we have complied with lockdowns that destroyed the economy and wrecked our lives?

If hospitalizations have been inflated, have the resulting deaths also been inflated?

And if these data are unreliable, how reliable are hospital data for vaccinated and unvaccinated patients?

The implications are staggering.

But when it comes to re-branding, the “science” behind masking takes the cake. And this week it kicked into high gear.

Remember in early 2020 the CDC told us we didn’t need to wear masks unless we were sick or caring for someone who’s sick? Days later, the agency abruptly shifted its guidance, citing a change in the “science.” We were advised to mask up, symptomatic or not, indoors and outdoors. Predictably, Americans who questioned the shift and pointed to studies doubting the efficacy of cloth masks were accused of spreading harmful “misinformation.”

Until two months ago. That's when the “science” changed again.

Dr. Leana Wen, CNN’s resident health expert, got tongues wagging in December when she announced that Omicron had proven cloth masks to be “little more than facial decorations” (N-95 masks were the better choice now). Come again? Cloth masks worked for Alpha and Delta, but were useless against Omicron? At that point, anyone trying to make sense of the “ever-mutating scientific consensus” on facial protection threw up their hands.

Fast forward to this week, when the mask “science” changed again.

On Monday, four Democratic governors announced — in perfect unison — their plans to lift indoor mask mandates in the coming weeks. That means no cloth or N-95 masks.

Dr. Wen immediately supported the move, arguing the need to shift from making masking a “government-imposed requirement” to making it an “individual decision.” Say what? Make masking an “individual decision”? Isn’t that what millions of anti-science Americans have been vilified for saying for the past 18 months? And what about those N-95 masks you recommended in December, doctor?

But wait, there’s more.

These governors also want to lift mask mandates in schools, a move that goes directly against the guidance of the CDC. Keep in mind that just a few months ago, anyone who claimed the immense developmental harm to children outweighed any benefits of masking was accused of peddling “dark money,” anti-science lies.

Ah, but this week the “science” changed on that front , too.

Dr. Wen insisted defended this abrupt pivot, saying “[w]e must have an honest conversation about masking in schools. There needs to be an ongoing risk-benefit analysis, as there is for any intervention.” Okay, but why weren't we doing this risk-benefit analysis last year? Or even last month?

But it’s not just Dr. Wen. In the past week there’s been a tidal wave of “experts” suddenly urging us to do what hundreds of millions of Americans have begged their governments to do for more than 18 months: get back to normal and learn to live with COVID.

Once again, anyone with common sense has to wonder what the hell is going on. Why are so many People in Charge suddenly taking their fingers off the panic button?

According to Wen and Democratic leaders, the science hasn’t changed; the circumstances have changed. Cases are falling now, hospitalizations are down, and the Omicron variant has turned out to be mild. So we can all relax.

Except cases in California and Connecticut, two of the states that are rolling back mask mandates, are still quite high. In fact, cases nationwide are nearly three times higher than they were in December 2020 when Alpha was raging. Hmmm.

As for COVID hospitalizations: last month we were told the numbers were record-breaking. If they’re falling now, might that be because recalculated data are showing a dramatic reduction in patients hospitalized for COVID rather than with COVID?

Sure, Omicron turned out to be mild, but South African doctors insisted this was the case when they discovered it and told the rest of the world not to freak out. (In fact, one of the first doctors to identify Omicron claims she faced “a lot of pressure from European scientists and politicians” to portray Omicron as more dangerous than it actually was).

So why did the Biden administration reject South African “science” and hit the panic button? And why, when cases were blowing up less than a month ago — with “surging” hospitalizations and swamped testing centers — are we suddenly able to relax now? How do we go from full-blown panic to “let’s get back to normal” in four weeks?

I don’t know what’s prompting this flurry of re-branding. I can only speculate, and I’m noticing that a lot is unfolding now that has nothing to do with the endemic, but may be spooking people who stand to benefit if endemic-related information is rebranded:

Now I’m going to ask you to pull out those items you filed away earlier about Hunter Biden, Governor Cuomo, and the lab leak and ask yourself a few questions:

Is it possible that hospitalization numbers are being recalculated (and reduced) to give the appearance — before midterms — that Biden is getting America back to normal?

Is it possible the sudden concern over the impact of masks on children’s health has less to do with the “science” and more to do with how irate parents may vote in November?

Is it possible that Democrats are clueing into the fact that Americans are simply fed up with COVID?

If you’re a critical thinker, you’re probably asking these same questions. We may not know what’s really going on or why, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that if Americans are politically divided on COVID, it's because the People In Charge have blatantly and shamelessly politicized the “science” they keep telling us to trust.

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