As the once-celebrated Information Age devolves into the hell-hole-ish Misinformation Age, many of us feel a desperate sense of despair. It's one thing to have diverse perspectives on issues; it's entirely another to have millions of people living in an alternate reality where up is down, left is right, and a global pandemic is a global hoax put on by a powerful cabal of Satanic, baby-eating, pedophile elites.
Watching a not-insignificant portion of your country fall prey to false—and sometimes flat out bonkers—narratives is disconcerting. Watching politicians and spokespeople spout those narratives on national television is downright terrifying.
Clearly, the U.S. is not the only country with politicians who pander to conspiracy theorists for their own gain, but not every country lets them get away with it. In a now-viral interview, New Zealand's Tova O'Brien spoke with one her country's fringe political party leaders and showed journalists exactly how to handle a misinformation peddler.
Her guest was Jami-Lee Ross, leader of the Advance New Zealand party, which failed to garner enough votes in the country's general election this weekend to enter parliament. The party, which got less than one percent of the vote, had spread misinformation about the coronavirus on social media, and Ross's co-leader, Billy Te Kahika, is a known conspiracy theorist.
But O'Brien came prepared to shut down that nonsense.
First, she asked if Ross had any regrets about his time in politics, and when he gave a typical politician answer, she didn't let it slide. "Do you want to have another crack at answering that?" she responded, "Because I asked you if you have any regrets. You've just been part of the political movement which has been peddling misinformation during the election campaign. Do you have any regrets?"
And the whole interview went on like that, with O'Brien not letting Ross to get away with skirting direct questions about the role he played in spreading misinformation.
When he said he had joined forces with Te Kahika because he'd seen a lot of growth on social media, O'Brien said, "So you sold your soul for political ambition." Ouch.
When he tried to say that he himself hadn't pushed the "Plandemic" idea even though his co-leader had, she responded,"You know exactly what you were doing; you were whipping up fear and hysteria among vulnerable communities."
When Ross started trying to equate COVID-19 mortality rates with the flu, O'Brien interrupted him: "No, no, I do not want to hear any of that rubbish," she said. "If you're going to come on the show and say things which are just factually incorrect, I can't do that, actually." Then she moved on to her next question.
Yes. Yes. Yes. That's how it's done.
This is kind of amazing https://t.co/04QOzeCJfF— Molly Jong-Fast🏡 (@Molly Jong-Fast🏡)1603025003.0
For his part, Ross stayed calm and cool—almost disturbingly so—during the interview, while also giving typical politician answers to O'Brien's questions.
Some may say that O'Brien was too hard on Ross, that her role is to be a neutral presence in a news interview. But a journalist's job is not to give equal weight to every voice; it's to inform the public with factual information and to be an accountability check for those in power. And when more and more people can't seem to tell the difference between fact and fiction, it's all the more important to shut down b.s. as soon as the smell of it hits, not when it's already been smeared in people's faces.Perhaps it should give Americans some comfort that even New Zealand—whose leaders acted swiftly, listened to its public health experts, rallied the nation in a unified effort, and managed to nearly eradicate the coronavirus—has kooks who push the "Plandemic" idea. Perhaps. (As a reminder, New Zealand has seen only 25 deaths and has just 37 active COVID cases in the entire nation of 4.9 million people. Their COVID death rate per million people is 135 times lower than the U.S. The nation has been hailed as an examples of how a clear, decisive response in the beginning makes a huge difference in controlling an infectious disease outbreak.)
If nothing else, this interview should give American journalists some inspiration for how to handle spin doctors who use "alternative facts" to push their political points. Some interviewers have finally started pushing back harder on misinformation here, but Ms. O'Brien's interview truly was a masterclass in how it's done.
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