From Nicole Schuman, writing in PR News…
Laurie Garrett, a Pulitzer-prize winning science journalist and author, and one of the most prolific voices regarding coronavirus news, gave the keynote speech at last week’s PRSA Icon, the organization’s annual international conference.
Garrett delivered a detailed timeline of the progression of coronavirus, paying close attention to the interwoven timeline of misinformation. These cases of misinformation, Garrett implied, originating from various sources, including social media, federal offices and medical professionals, created confusion and unrest amongst the public. Garrett showcased the uneven messaging leading to a greater level of distrust.
“People are defining a trusted source according to political inclinations,” Garrett said. “The days when Walter Cronkite was a single source of truth have disappeared. The bottom line is we don’t have a unified sense of who is a trusted source.”
Garrett found herself among the first reporters covering COVID in American media, the first week in January. She’s also covered SARS, ebola and other outbreaks during her career. Garrett said she saw a classic coverup in China during the early days of the outbreak.
“The Chinese government did screw up,” Garrett said. “Especially in Wuhan. An annual festival was held, which should have been cancelled. [Forty-thousand people shared food at city pot luck banquets and chopsticks at a Spring Festival event.] Dr. Li Wenliang called this out, Chinese officials chastised him. When Wenliang died, he was praised as a hero, so the government started pulling down postings from Chinese websites and chat apps.”
Garrett also noted the Chinese government’s use of influencers to broadcast a more rosy picture of the country, while COVID cases spread.
“The Chinese government was paying influencers to publish positive notes about the head of China, saying the government was bringing the virus under control,” she said.
“Every epidemic has false claims about treatments and cures. What we’ve seen now is deliberately planted disinformation, much from other countries, trying to scare people.”
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