Conspiracy Rush

The effort by Trump and his allies to downplay the threat from the coronavirus has taken a dark and dangerous turn. Rush Limbaugh, who was recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Trump, has been dismissing the danger of coronavirus, falsely claiming it is just like a "common cold." But now Limbaugh is suggesting that his millions of listeners ignore the warnings of a top CDC official, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, because she is part of a deep state plot to take down Trump. 

Limbaugh's evidence? Messonnier is siblings with Trump's former Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein. When Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation, Rosenstein was in charge and eventually appointed Bob Mueller, drawing the ire of Trump loyalists. 

What does this have to do with Messonnier? Nothing. Messonnier has been working at the CDC for 25 years. If her presence is part of a scheme to bring down Trump, she's been playing a very long game. But Limbaugh suggested his listeners ignore everything she has to say because she probably hates Trump. 

So you’ve got here the CDC urging Americans to prepare for a coronavirus virus outbreak. “This might be bad, could be bad. Keep your kids at home. Don’t go anywhere. It might be bad. We’ve got 53 cases. It might be bad. It could be! The stock market’s plunging.” 

Okay. This person running this agency, who does she donate to? Well, her brother is Rod Rosenstein…

Okay. I clarified this. Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the Centers for Disease Control — which today warned it could be bad, it might be bad, don’t go to school and don’t go to work, stay home and teleconference — is the sister of the former deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. Well, take that; do what you want with it. It may mean nothing. Might… Who knows? It’s just in that town, I’m telling you, everything is incestuous. Most of that town is establishment oriented or rooted, which means they despise Trump.

Messonnier drew the ire of Limbaugh and others on the right because she contradicted Trump's claims that coronavirus was "very much under control." Instead, she said it was only a matter of time before coronavirus starts spreading within the United States. 

[A]s more and more countries experience community spread, successful containment at our borders becomes harder and harder.  Ultimately, we expect we will see community spread in this country. It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.  We will maintain for as long as practical a dual approach where we continue measures to contain this disease but also employ strategies to minimize the impact on our communities. At this time, there’s no vaccine to protect against this new virus and no medications approved to treat it…[W]e are asking the American public to work with us to prepare in the expectation that this could be bad...

Messonnier and Limbaugh have very different takes on the coronavirus. That is probably because Messonnier is a physician who has been working on infectious disease control for 25 years, and Limbaugh has no idea what he is talking about. 

The consequences of Limbaugh's actions could be life or death. If the coronavirus does begin to spread within the United States, the public will have to rely on experts like Messonnier. If Limbaugh's 20 million listeners choose to his conspiracy theories instead, they could put themselves and their families in danger. 

Coronavirus conspiracy theories spread on Facebook, Twitter

Limbaugh is just one part of the right-wing media ecosystem advancing conspiracy theories about Messonnier. Joe Hoft, a prolific pro-Trump propagandist, wrote a piece trashing Messonnier on Gateway Pundit, a conspiracy website. 

Hoft claimed the fact that Messonnier held the press conference while Trump was traveling in India was proof that she was out to get Trump.

This was eerily similar to past Presidential trips when former and corrupt DAG Rod Rosenstein and the corrupt and criminal Mueller gang would drop shocking news as the President was overseas...Rosenstein’s Deep State friends, the Democrat Party, regularly schedule hateful events when the President is overseas...Now we know why the CDC was fear-mongering – Dr. Nancy’s brother is Rod Rosenstein.  What a sick family and horrible people.

Last month, Facebook announced a policy to "remove content with false claims or conspiracy theories that have been flagged by leading global health organizations and local health authorities that could cause harm to people who believe them." But that hasn't stopped the rapid spread of the Gateway Pundit article on Facebook's platform. Within hours, Hoft's screed was shared over 750 times.

The Messonnier conspiracy theory is also spreading rapidly on Twitter.

Twitter does not have a policy to remove harmful disinformation about the coronavirus, although the company has pledged to stop "coordinated attempts to spread disinformation at scale."

Trump's anger

It's unclear whether Trump is aware of the attacks on Messonnier by Limbaugh, Hoft, and others. But he is a voracious consumer of right-wing media. And, according to CNBC correspondent Eamon Javers, "the president’s anger about the CDC briefing yesterday is focused on Dr. Nancy Messonnier." 

Trump views the coronavirus as a political problem that could threaten his reelection chances by precipitating an economic downturn. Trump was upset that Messonnier's press conference prompted a stock market sell-off which could rob Trump of a valuable talking point. "Trump has become furious about the stock market’s slide, according to two people familiar with the president’s thinking," The Washington Post reported

Ousting Messonnier, however, may not be an option. As Popular Information reported on Tuesday, two years ago, Trump fired the people in charge of coordinating responses to global health emergencies and potential pandemics from the National Security Council and the Department of Homeland Security. Now, the nation faces a potential pandemic with no one in charge. 

In an attempt to regain control of the narrative, Trump held a rare press conference in the White House Briefing Room on Wednesday evening. He called the administration's response to the coronavirus, which has been plagued with contradictions and confusion, a "tremendous success." 

Trump announced that Vice President Mike Pence would be in charge of the response moving forward. Pence has no apparent medical expertise and, as recently as 2000, questioned whether smoking was deadly. "Time for a quick reality check. Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn't kill," Pence wrote

In a debate during Pence's campaign for Congress in 2000, Pence reportedly claimed, "there was no causal link medically identifying smoking as causing lung cancer." That link was established in 1964. As governor of Indiana, Pence presided over "a massive HIV outbreak spurred by public health funding cuts and Pence’s moralistic stance against needle exchanges."

Trump also said that the "vaccine is coming along quickly," a false claim he's made previously, and administration officials were forced to walk back. Later in the press conference, a doctor from the National Institute of Health said that it would be at least a year before a vaccine is available. 


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