A bill before the U.S. Senate would create a federal task force that would determine a response to COVID-19 information that “misleads” people or conflicts with “official government health guidance and pandemic response efforts.”
Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) mentioned his proposed Covid-19 Misinformation and Disinformation Task Force Act of 2020 several times during November hearings before the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on early treatment and at-home treatment for COVID-19 (see related articles, pages 12 and 13).
Peters, the ranking member of the committee, claimed: “misinformation and disinformation” are running “rampant” in the country. His proposed task force would sift through health information and work to slow the spread of information that is not “rooted in science.”
Peter’s offered more detail in a September 14 news release on the bill he introduced in August. Peters is the ranking minority member of the committee. “This commonsense legislation will create a coordinated response to safeguard Americans against bad actors who seek to mislead the public about the most effective ways to protect ourselves from this highly contagious virus,” said Peters.
Censorship is the Crux
Harvey Risch, M.D., a professor of epidemiology at the Yale University School of Public Health who testified at a hearing in November says the fact that none of the Democratic senators present questioned any of the witnesses for the majority suggests the real purpose behind the bill is to censor opposing views.
“If [Peters] were truly interested in what parts of our testimony could be true or not, he would have asked us,” Risch told Health Care News. “This lack of questioning demonstrates that he is not interested in facts. He is interested in the narrative—his own—only.
“[Peters] is attempting to choose censorship as the tool to suppress all dissenting expert voices instead of discussing what those voices have to say and letting logic and reasoning guide policy,” said Risch. “The censorship that Sen. Peters proposes violates the legal opinion that such abrogation of fundamental human rights has to be necessary and that no alternatives exist. … It is dangerous tyranny and a short step from there is to any political opposition and to any policy deemed to be in the public interest.”
Hunting ‘Foreign Adversaries’
Backing the bill along with Peters, Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Jack Reed (D-RI), in a joint news release, said “foreign adversaries” are engaging in misinformation campaigns about COVID-19 undermining and dividing the American public.
Led by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) and staffed by representatives from the Department of Homeland Security, State Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other federal agencies, one of the main responsibilities of the task force would be to create a public awareness campaign and explain how “foreign adversaries” might be involved. The task force would not be part of any specific department of government but instead, be a Federal “interagency.”
In his opening statement at the November committee, Chairman Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) reiterated his public advocacy of “allowing doctors to be doctors—to practice medicine, explore different therapies, and share their knowledge within the medical community and with the public.”
“I believe international, federal, and state medical agencies and institutions have let us down,” said Johnson at the hearing. “I fear too many have been close-minded bureaucrats, potentially driven by conflicting interests and agendas.
Johnson has a history of supporting physicians’ freedom to treat patients, including having sponsored the Right to Try Act, which was signed into law in 2018 to allow terminally ill patients to use experimental treatments after preliminary FDA approval.
Speaking at the hearing, Johnson chastised social media platforms and conventional media institutions “to ask the right questions and censor what they do not understand.”
Risch gave the point of view from someone on the front lines treating COVID-19. “Over the course of the pandemic, we have been subject to such massive media censorship of alternative viewpoints by real experts—clinicians treating thousands of COVID patients day in and day out, scientists dispassionately discussing the data and how epidemics play out—that informed public discussion has been difficult at best, with only a small section of the public media carrying these messages,” said Risch.
Ashley Bateman (email@example.com) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.