Misinformation labelling has been all the rage during the COVID-19 pandemic. It fits in perfectly with the virtue-signaling, cancel-culture society they’ve ushered in through the rise of social media. “Fact-checkers” have been appointed as arbiters of truth and fiction. Just don’t look who signs the Fact-checkers’ paychecks and you can trust the version of reality they ordain for you.
Before COVID, misinformation or disinformation was not so commonplace in everyday language. For many this might seem like yet another new word we need to add to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. However, the use of misinformation/disinformation is anything but new.
An apropos disinformation/misinformation effort comes out of the tobacco industry's playbook. In the face of accumulating, seemingly-irrefutable evidence linking lung cancer to smoking cigarettes in the 1950s, "...the tobacco industry would launch a new strategy, largely unprecedented in the history of US industry and business: it would work to erode, confuse, and condemn the very science that now threatened to destroy its prized, highly popular, and exclusive product." Using a PR campaign to co-opt science via the Tobacco Industry Research Committee (TIRC) and the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), the tobacco industry was a wolf in sheep's clothing for decades.
From a press release announcing the first TIRC chairman:
"It is an obligation of the Tobacco Industry Research Committee at this time to remind the public of these essential points:
1. There is no conclusive scientific proof of a link between smoking and cancer.
2. Medical research points to many possible causes of cancer… .
3. The millions of people who derive pleasure and satisfaction from smoking can be reassured that every scientific means will be used to get all the facts as soon as possible."
Sounds like the underlying (emphasis on LYING) messages regarding COVID-19 from NIH, Fauci, CDC, FDA, etc. over the last 18 months.
Media of course was also targeted to fulfill their agenda. They employed several known successful PR and advertising strategies and all the while "science was treated as the analog of common political debate and social controversy." Face-to-face relations with big media outlets were key to success, as was repetition of core mantras: 1) they understand their responsibility to public health; 2) they pledge deep commitment to scientific research into tobacco health concerns; 3) be skeptical of statistics; & 4) they urge consultation of “independent” experts. Independent, of course, meant TIRC experts. They capitalized on the media principle that controversy sells and even used scientific informants in order to prepare rebuttals against upcoming new scientific findings and reports, often before they were released publicly. Horse paste anyone?
Of course the TIRC could see that the battleground would transition from media and public opinion into legislation and the courts. Heavy-handed lobbying, SAB “expert” testimonies selected by the TIRC, continued reliance on the "no proof" argument (Fauci’s favorite), and the molasses-esque nature of bureaucracy and legal proceedings all worked to their advantage for decades. A fire escape plan map modeled for this COVID debacle could suggest "You are here."
To me, the parallels are chilling. It's like a decades-long strategy has been condensed and employed over the last 18 months but with a new twist. Since they learned how useful skepticism and debate were to securing their interests, they've gone a step further to disallow viewpoints and debate opposing their narrative. If their deployment has been so condensed, I only hope the sea change can be proportionally as swift.
In 1995, in response to his observations of the tobacco industry, a Stanford University historian named Robert Proctor coined the term "agnotology" for the study of how ignorance is produced deliberately. I'm sure that's been levied against us, among other tactics, from the get-go with COVID (or likely prior as well). Sadly it's worked so far on a large percentage of our population. Maybe we'll have a field of study on how to deliberately undo purposely engendered ignorance at the end of this.
~Pebble in the Pond