By David Loomis
INDIANA – A second front in the commander-in-chief’s “war” on the “invisible enemy” of COVID-19 is an “infodemic” — a global tsunami of misinformation.
Examples of the latter are found on the publicly accessible Facebook pages of local Trump supporter, conservative activist and shop owner Tammy Graham Curry. She has been a prominent public figure in Indiana County’s controversial 2015 property-tax reassessment and more recently in support of gun rights.
Ms. Curry’s Facebook page — and a companion page devoted to her small business — is a rough barometer of local conservative sentiment, and that sentiment seems as strong as ever for the president, who swept the county 2-1 in 2016.
ELSEWHERE, polling data document the president’s popularity in decline. FiveThirtyEight.com on April 29 reported a majority of Americans disapprove of the president.
Among Pennsylvania voters, an April 22 Fox News poll reported former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee in the Nov. 3 election, leads the incumbent by 8 percentage points in the critical swing state – wider than the margin of error.
On April 23, the Associated Press published results of its poll of American adults on trust in the president. “Just 28% of Americans say they’re regularly getting information from Trump about the coronavirus,” the AP reported, “and only 23% say they have high levels of trust in what the president is telling the public.”
That same evening, as if on cue, the president led a daily White House briefing. The official transcript documents him musing about “injection” of “disinfectant” so it can do “a tremendous number on the lungs” of COVID-19 patients. Turning to one of his advisers, the president concluded, “So, it’d be interesting to check that.”
Public reaction was immediate, bipartisan and negative. Even the president’s favored “Fox & Friends” recoiled.
MS. CURRY RESPONDED on April 24 that the president’s critics are “haters.” She re-posted on her Facebook page a defense of the president’s remarks by an unnamed “respiratory therapist”:
“I was not going to touch on this any further today because of the ignorance of haters,” Ms. Curry wrote in an all-caps prologue. “But read this. Thank God someone has some common sense.”
An excerpt from the reposted “therapist” explained:
A lay person like Trump will say disinfectant and a medical person would say “medicine”. Medicine dumped into the lungs happens all the time! I personally have dumped respiratory medicine down an Endotracheal tube directly into the lungs. When babies are born prematurely, guess what? Yes we “inject” the lungs with a medicine called surfactant that helps keep the alveoli open to oxygenate the lungs. Antibiotics are sometimes injected into infected parts of lungs through a chest tube. So what I want the general public to know, is that we do “inject” medicine into peoples lungs, that yes act like a disinfectant (antibiotics), so why is everyone in uproar over this?
The mystery therapist may be expert at respiratory ailments among preemies and at the semantics of medical lexicology. But the therapist does not address the president’s “sarcastic” musings about quack cures for a pandemic.
Ditto other pandemic-related posts that have appeared on Ms. Curry’s Facebook page citing elderberry syrup (“getting better after using it, even after weeks of antibiotic therapy with no results”), disinfectants (“Doctors DO call certain washes, used internally, Disinfectants!! Much like the one used vaginally for UTI’s!”) and ultraviolet light (including a brand used in ductwork and “proven to kill viruses”).
MS. CURRY RESPONDED to an April 29 message sent by Facebook Messenger.
“I’m not interviewing, nor am I giving you permission to use my words,” she wrote. “Not sure how you are ‘monitoring’ my page, or who is monitoring it for you, but I find it intrusive.”
“My focus right now is helping other small businesses,” she wrote. “That should be everyone’s.”
Indeed, on April 30, she was on Facebook organizing a local car cruise through Indiana at midday on May 1, converging on the courthouse and at malls to show support for reopening businesses closed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Correspondents asked whether they could exhibit Trump gear.
“It is NOT a political rally or protest!” was the reply. “Far too many small businesses have suffered financially and emotionally as a result of Governor Wolf’s shut down of businesses. We need to show our support and let Harrisburg know we do not support the actions of Governor Wolf.”
David Loomis, Ph.D., emeritus professor of journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is editor of The HawkEye.
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