"Information is power. Disinformation is the abuse of power."
Let that thought sink in as you sit in some level of isolation brought on by this coronavirus disease, covid-19.
The highly infectious disease is enveloping the world, its number of victims multiplying exponentially day by day.
You're hungry to know just what the virus is, how it started, why the United States -- of all places -- was woefully unprepared for its spread.
The questions don't stop there. Our collective search for information about this ongoing pandemic is really just beginning as the disease claims victims in every state of the union.
Yet we're confronted with a constant push-pull between information and disinformation about it. The former empowers us while the latter misleads us.
The quote, incidentally, comes from Newton Lee, a renowned computer scientist and author, who offered the idea well before covid-19 began its spread to humans.
The thought could not apply more aptly than it does right now.
Consider the apparent clash between President Donald Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.
Fauci, the preeminent expert on such diseases in the U.S., has become the most trusted voice in the federal government on the coronavirus outbreak. He is credited with having a calming influence on the nation, offering reassurance in the face of the pandemic.
He has gained that trust because he has told the people the truth, providing reliable, science-based information on what he knows and admitting what he doesn't know about this health threat.
He has, however, repeatedly found himself having to correct the president's remarks in recent briefings to the nation.
While Dr. Fauci relies on science and a lifetime in medicine, Trump follows his gut in shaping his messages to the people.
The result is the difference between information and disinformation.
Trump's intent may be to put a positive spin on the ongoing crisis as he suggests existing drugs might be used to treat covid-19 victims.
Or when he asserts the nation could get back to normal shortly, perhaps relaxing the social distancing requirements that have shut down so many businesses and put so many people out of work.
He's done both.
Fauci was there when the president hyped the potential use of existing meds to combat the virus. The doctor quickly noted the lack of appropriate trials of these drugs for this use, blunting in real time the hope Trump was trying to forecast.
Those trials are beginning now and may in time prove the drugs useful against covid-19, but the president's promotion of that course of treatment was clearly premature. Fauci spoke up, as he should have.
Notably, Dr. Fauci was not there when Trump suggested on Monday that the administration may soon ease the restrictions imposed on Americans by stay-at-home policies.
The reason for Fauci's absence, Trump said, was "because we weren't discussing" issues Fauci is best at addressing.
Later explanations suggested the White House wanted to provide more social distancing among those who were at the podium.
Anyone who has watched the briefings must have wondered why the participants weren't practicing what they were preaching, as they clustered shoulder to shoulder around the president.
They could have distanced themselves from one another just by having participants be apart from each other, perhaps off the podium, until they needed to speak. But that is too logical a solution.
Instead, Fauci disappeared from the podium at least temporarily.
That's a problem.
Americans need to know the truth about the virus and the nation's response to it. They need to hear it from credible sources.
President Trump, because of the many lies he's told and the disinformation he has spewed throughout his administration, is not so credible.
He cannot command respect from people starving for reliable information.
Clearly, the president is concerned about the struggling economy, the jobs being lost and the impact on business large and small.
Preserving the nation's financial health is his responsibility. Resolving this health crisis must come first, however.
Whether that happens depends on his listening to Fauci and other scientists who are advising -- and sometimes correcting -- a president whose delivery of disinformation borders on abuse of power.
Commentary on 03/25/2020
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