A version of this story appeared in CNN’s What Matters newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.
In this time of tweets and Toks, 11 seconds is an eternity, and the act of stringing many words together feels like bloviating. It’s boring.
But words matter as much as ever in this time of a deadly pandemic and alternative facts.
Things that are just plain wrong take on lives of their own. A twice-edited video of a government official created a falsehood.
CNN’s Daniel Dale has the full fact check, but the story is that millions of people on Twitter saw an 11-second video of Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, saying these words:
“The overwhelming number of deaths, over 75%, occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities, so really these were people who were unwell to begin with.”
That’s not the whole story. Walensky did say those words. But she was talking about a very specific set of Covid-19 deaths, among vaccinated people tracked in a study.
Walensky was talking about how it was encouraging that the vast majority of vaccinated people were safe from death by Covid-19.
As shared on Twitter by the conservative radio and TV host Clay Travis, the video gave a very different, and wrong, impression.
Travis added his own false context: “The CDC director just said over 75% of ‘Covid deaths’ occurred in people with at least four comorbidities. Since Biden can’t shut down Covid, suddenly all this data is getting shared publicly.”
Still there. The tweet is still online, by the way, although it includes a label by Twitter that says, “This media is presented out of context.” The video clip has more than 4 million views.
Dale, along with other fact checkers, tracked the video back to “Good Morning America,” which had posted a longer but still edited clip. News programs often trim interviews for time, but in this case “GMA” trimmed its own important context.
New direction. The editing of Walensky wasn’t the only example of a context-free headline in recent days.