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Looking Back on the Sadism of the Covid-19 Shaming Campaign


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As Matt Orfalea's new video shows, apologies are due for the media campaign against "the unvaccinated," which unveiled open cruelty as public policy strategy
Matt Taibbi and Matt Orfalea
May 21, 2023

May 21 2023

There’s a scene in videographer Matt Orfalea’s arresting new “Nobody is Safe!” compilation in which Jeff Van Gundy — one of the sharpest basketball announcers alive, and one of my favorites to watch — leans back and says, “I don’t even understand what that means, ‘I’m doing my own research.’”

The whole quote, from a preseason Heat-Rockets game Van Gundy called in October of 2021:

(Snip)

In hindsight, who knows, that might have been where Van Gundy got the idea. Make no mistake, however, there was and is an active campaign against people who do their “own research.” This was a mostly unexplored theme in the #TwitterFiles material, as we did repeatedly see anti-disinformation “experts” identifying people who didn’t quickly accept official messaging without question as already, in a way, spreaders of mis- or disinformation.

We touched on this a little in a report about the Stanford Virality Project, which advised that “just asking questions” was a tactic “commonly used by spreaders of misinformation.” We also saw it in an Aspen Institute report on misinformation, which recommended “strikes” against people they called “savvy spreaders,” i.e. those who used phrases like “just asking questions,” evading censors by “couching” misinformation as mere “uncertainty”:

(Snip)

Now that the Bidens, Faucis, and Rochelle Walenskys turned out to be wrong about so many questions, the lack of apology about the sadism is glaring. Perhaps that’s because this campaign worked as intended. In the #TwitterFiles we saw anti-disinformation “experts” appearing to consciously blur lines between genuine disinfo (“garlic, ginger, honey, and lemon” cure Covid-19) and healthy skepticism (vaccines do not prevent infection). We also saw efforts to describe what the Stanford project called the “vaccine passport narrative” as anti-vaxxer propaganda-by-proxy. Once people accepted the emotional imperative of hating and shunning, officials found all sorts of uses for the emotion, including fury at resistance to authoritarian measures.

Orf’s video is a warning. The topic is irrelevant. He’s showing the template of how one segment of the population can be trained to despise and shun another as official policy. We’ve seen this before, including after 9/11, but I don’t remember any official/media campaign being quite so visceral. Unless there are apologies, this will continue to feel like a dry-run for something even worse that may still be coming. Aren’t these behaviors we want to un-learn?

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