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Editorial: Parson’s allegation of coronavirus ‘propaganda’ is dishonest and dangerous

Editorial: Parson’s allegation of coronavirus ‘propaganda’ is dishonest and dangerous

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During Gov. Mike Parson's live briefing to announce a statewide vaccine incentive program and a new Health Director on Wednesday, July 21, 2021, he accused the Post-Dispatch, the Kansas City Star and Missouri Independent of spreading “propaganda.” Parson, who didn’t cite any examples, often complains about coverage of his administration.

Gov. Mike Parson, embarrassed by another spike in Missouri’s coronavirus infections, has once again resorted to his stock response: Shoot the messenger. Parson on Wednesday singled out the Post-Dispatch, The Kansas City Star and the Missouri Independent nonprofit news site for spreading “propaganda” about the delta variant that’s raging across the state.

It’s a curious allegation, given that the data these and other credible news organizations have reported comes from official figures about new coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths. That data for this supposed propaganda originates with Parson’s own government.

Even worse, Parson himself engaged in spreading misinformation by falsely claiming the Missouri Independent is “a George Soros organization” (a reference to the liberal Jewish billionaire and reliable bogeyman for right-wing fanatics). The trope of a supposed Soros/Missouri Independent connection — one with a disturbing undertone of anti-Semitism — has been debunked by fact-checkers.

Missouri has among the lowest vaccination rates in America, and among the highest new infection rates. That’s not propaganda but verifiable fact confirmed by data from Parson’s own administration. The fact that Parson on Wednesday unveiled a major new incentive program of $10,000 checks to get people to take the vaccine indicates that he understands the scope of the crisis in front of him. And yet, for no apparent reason except his own thin skin for criticism, he insists on taking potshots at mainstream media organizations for reporting the facts.

Parson was asked by a reporter Wednesday about “certain news outlets that are raising questions about people getting the vaccine.” The question was an obvious reference to irresponsible coverage by conservative-media organs like Fox News, whose commentators have outright lied about vaccine-related fatalities and other issues.

Indeed, Parson’s answer began by bemoaning news agencies that engage in “propaganda,” putting out “misinformation, just simply to put fear into people’s minds and just cause chaos” — a perfect encapsulation of right-wing social and new media’s bizarre anti-vaccine campaign. But then Parson revealed that he was actually talking about mainstream Missouri publications that have been reporting the facts from his own administration and warning the public about the ramifications of refusing vaccination.

Parson’s deft shifting of blame from his own end of the political spectrum isn’t quite as irresponsible as the behavior of Fox News or of some of Parson’s own fellow elected Republicans. But the more their base of followers is encouraged to distrust solid information from mainstream sources, the more likely those followers are to embrace the flurry of dangerous lies coming from the right. The result being more vaccination reluctance followed by more deaths and hospitalizations from the coronavirus.

Parson didn’t offer a single specific example of the supposed propaganda he thinks these news organizations are spreading. If he has such examples, let’s hear them. If not, he should heed his own advice from that press conference: “All you’ve got to do is just be honest.”

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