- New York Times and Peters publish multiple false statements
- At least two subjects have demanded retractions, corrections
- Peters changes Attkisson quote to suit a false narrative
- Peters objects to reporting of factually correct, complete list of U.S. coronavirus deaths
UPDATE: March 20, 2020: See legal letter sent to NYT.
UPDATE March 19, 2020: The New York Times finds its article needs no correcting. See graphics below that explain.
You know something is up… when reporting something a simple list of all coronavirus deaths in the U.S. get you on the hit list for a New York Times piece.
A defamatory and reckless article by Jeremy Peters of the New York Times falsely claims my reporting minimized coronavirus.
At least one other subject of the article– Rob Schneider– has also pointed out defamation and fact errors made by Peters. Through an attorney, Schneider has also demanded a retraction and threatened to sue The Times if they do not correct the mistakes.
Clearly, some people in high places are uncomfortable with basic facts about coronavirus being reported, and logical questions being asked –unless they are on the prescribed narratives. The problem is when The New York Times, Peters, or anyone else publishes slanted and false information to make their point.
This sort of smear has typically indicated my reporting is onto something important, although I do not always know exactly what when these efforts begin.
My demand for a retraction is printed below.
Meantime, The Times fired its ombudsman several years ago, saying that social media could act as an effective watchdog for its mistakes. Feel free to be part of the social media effort to hold The Times accountable. You can Tweet them at: @nytimes @jwpetersNYT. Make sure they correct their article. Tell them how you feel (civilly).
Demand for correction, retraction and apology
March 18, 2020
Dear Corrections Department and Legal Department:
This is to demand an immediate retraction, correction and apology regarding multiple false and reckless statements made about me, and a misquote from my work, in the Jeremy Peters article on this date entitled, “From Jerry Falwell Jr. to Dr. Drew: 5 Coronavirus Doubters While public health experts warn people to take precautions, these popular media figures insist that the virus is overhyped.”
This article, widely read by an international audience, portrays my reporting in a false light. Not only are numerous facts provably false on their face, Peters also did not reach out to me prior to going to print with these damaging claims and implications.
Further, I first notified Peters and The Times of the issues and requested a retraction in a series of tweets beginning at approximately 5:40pm E.T. but the article has remained on the NYT website, uncorrected, since that time.
False Statement #1: “While public health experts warn people to take precautions, these popular media figures insist that the virus is overhyped.”
Ms. Attkisson has not “insisted that the virus is overhyped.” The record, easily accessible to Peters, proves the opposite. For example, prior to publication of the false Peters article, a published article written by Ms. Attkisson was widely available for review. It does the opposite of what Peters claimed.
- Ms. Attkisson raised the question as to whether declining fatality rates really indicate coronavirus is becoming less deadly, or whether it is a difference in calculation methods, writing: “Is coronavirus really becoming less deadly? Or is our math getting better?”
- Ms. Attkisson factually provided the totals of coronavirus incidences in the U.S. and worldwide. She wrote: “In the U.S., there have been more than 6,500 confirmed cases and over 100 deaths, mostly among the sick elderly. Worldwide there has been more than 200,000 confirmed cases.”
- Ms. Attkisson raised the idea that there are dangers and risks of coronavirus that exceed what we already know. She wrote: “The modeling of how the U.S. health system could be overwhelmed by respiratory patients has not been publicly released. But obviously, the projections are so chilling, public health officials and politicians have taken the unprecedented step of largely shutting down the country.”
- Ms. Attkisson explained the likely rationale for the drastic measures imposed by the government. The source of her information was CDC. She wrote: “Their hope is that social distancing and self-quarantines can both reduce transmission of coronavirus and spread out the infections so that they do not overwhelm America’s hospitals and doctors all at once.”
- Ms. Attkisson used language that clearly did not minimize the anticipated long term impact of coronavirus. She wrote: “No matter how bad it gets, it is important to have an accurate picture of what scientists call mortality rates for coronavirus.”
- Ms. Attkisson reported the risk that public health officials have since emphasized: “The greatest invisible danger might be posed by all of the healthy, young people who are infected but will never know it. They can unknowingly spread the virus on surfaces and in the air to the vulnerably sick and elderly.”
- In a report on her television program, Full Measure, Ms. Attkisson conducted an interview with Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) raising the unaddressed coronavirus risks posed by the one million people who legally cross into the U.S. each day for trace and tourism.
- Over the course of several days when Ms. Attkisson was able to track coronavirus deaths daily, her total count was ahead of and typically exceeded the number of U.S. deaths reported by the rest of the media, including The New York Times. It is the opposite of “minimizing” risks.
- Ms. Attkisson’s reporting on the U.S. coronavirus deaths refers readers to the Johns Hopkins website that tends to show a higher U.S. and world death count than what is widely reported in the media.
- And perhaps most importantly, leaving no room for doubt, Ms. Attkisson explicitly stated the opposite of what Peters claimed. She wrote: “It is important to state that nothing in this discussion is intended to minimize the serious risks that can come with coronavirus infections.”
False Statement #2: “Misinformation about the coronavirus continues to circulate across swaths of the American media — on popular podcasts, in blog posts, in online videos and on prime-time cable news shows — as recently as this week.”
By including Ms. Attkisson as an example, Peters links her to alleged “misinformation.” However, Ms. Attkisson is unaware of having published any false information. In her written articles and podcasts about coronavirus, she repeatedly referred readers and listeners to CDC.gov for the most up to date and accurate information. In each report, she has accurately reported and reflected the facts as described by public health experts and scientists at the time. She has accurately and frequently referenced by name public health officials and peer-reviewed, published studies such as the New England Journal of Medicine’s report about China’s clinical characteristics of coronavirus.
False Statement #3: “Some of the disseminators are entertainers. Others are medical doctors. Some are conservatives who insist the virus is being hyped for political purposes. One is a comedian with no medical training who has raised doubts about vaccinating children.”
None of the descriptions Peters uses to characterize the people in his article fits Ms. Attkisson since she is not a medical doctor or conservative, has not insisted the virus is being hyped for political purposes, and is not a comedian.
False Statement #4: “Even as President Trump and the federal government’s top public health officials warn that the virus is not something to be taken lightly — and the authorities reported more coronavirus deaths in the United States on Wednesday — these commentators make misleading comments, cherry-pick facts and go so far as to claim that the virus could be a hoax or a North Korean plot.”
Ms. Attkisson has repeatedly reported on the increasing number of coronavirus cases and deaths, explicitly noting that it is difficult to keep the totals current because they are moving so rapidly. Nothing in her reporting has stated or suggested the virus is to be taken lightly. She has explicitly stated the opposite. Ms. Attkisson has made no misleading comments. Nor has she “cherry picked” facts of “claimed the virus is a hoax or N. Korean plot.”
False Statement #5: “In the past, she has promoted the debunked theory that vaccines cause autism.”
Ms. Attkisson has never “promoted” any “debunked theories.” Her reporting on vaccine safety, including government-acknowledged links to autism, has received recognition from independent national journalism groups including Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), and has been cited favorably as a reference in the New England Journal of Medicine by a Johns Hopkins neurologist.
False Statement #6: “Now she has taken an intense interest in coronavirus.”
Peters does not know Ms. Attkisson and did not speak with her. He has no factual way to know the level of “intensity” regarding her “interest.” (His characterization is false.)
False Statement #7: “The facts she has chosen recently to highlight falsely leave the impression that the deaths are not all that significant in number and largely contained to one facility.”
False on its face, this statement proves that Peters is the one who “cherry-picked facts” and either failed to actually read or listen to Ms. Attkisson’s full publications, or chose to deceptively characterize them. In fact, Ms. Attkisson did not create false impressions. She merely researched and listed literally every death in the U.S. attributed to coronavirus. At the time, most of them had occurred in one facility. Peters may have his own reasons for not wanting that fact reported, but it would defy basic journalism to do a story about where the coronavirus deaths occurred and to not say where they occurred. As the number of deaths have increased, Ms. Attkisson has frequently updated her reporting with a complete list of new deaths and profiles. Her web-based report provides the list without commentary, certainly with no “minimization,” and refers readers to CDC.gov and other resources for the most up to date information.
False Statement #8: “‘Look at those 30-some-odd deaths — most of them were from Washington State,’ Ms. Attkisson said last week on her podcast.”
Peters misquotes Ms. Attkisson in an attempt to make it fit his false narrative that she was downplaying coronavirus. Ms. Attkisson did not state, “Look at those 30-some-odd deaths….”
The actual full quote from March 13, 2020 is as follows:
“In the U.S., looking at the coronavirus deaths reported within the last couple of days, I wanted to get a profile of them, and it was somewhere around 30, it’s gone a little bit higher since then, but looking at those 30-some-odd deaths, most of them were from Washington State.”
As you can see, Peters picked up Ms. Attkisson’s quote mid-sentence, out of context, and changed the word “looking” to “look” in order to deceptively make it seem as though she were somehow minimizing the deaths.
False Statement #9: “[Attkisson added] that most of those were in an assisted-living facility. ‘The vast majority of those who passed away were from one cluster in the United States — almost none anywhere else’.”
Peters again cherry-picked sections from Ms. Attkisson’s podcast and repeated them out of context, leaving the false impression that she had minimized coronavirus. In fact, Ms. Attkisson factually listed every known death at the time, correctly noting — as did public health experts— that most of them had occurred in the same Washington State nursing home and there were almost none anywhere else in the country. Peters then omits the fact that Attkisson went on to also list each U.S. coronavirus death outside of Washington State, using descriptions provided by public health officials. Listing all coronavirus deaths cannot be accurately characterized as “misinformation” or “minimizing risks” or “highlighting” certain facts to give a “false impression.”
Disparaging statement: “And yet visitors to Ms. Attkisson’s website this week might have come away confused about the severity of the virus, as there were several ads for high-grade protective masks.”
This statement implies that Ms. Attkisson had indicated the virus was not “severe,” which is false. Further, Google ads randomly placed on Ms. Attkisson’s website are controlled by Google and not approved, and usually are not seen, by Ms. Attkisson. If Peters had bothered to contact Ms. Attkisson he could have learned this point.
Inaccurate, incomplete or outdated descriptions:
“Sharyl Attkisson, a former CBS News journalist, has developed a devoted following among right-leaning television viewers.”
“Sharyl Attkisson, a podcast host, has published her own analysis of coronavirus death rates.”
Here, Peters strangely describes Ms. Attkisson by using a title from a former job she left six years ago, instead of her current titles. In fact, Ms. Attkisson’s Sunday television news program “Full Measure” is broadcast to 43 million ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and Telemundo households each week, and has a reach that far surpasses Ms. Attkisson’s viewership while at CBS (or CNN and PBS before that). Ms. Attkisson is also a two-time New York Times bestselling author and recipient of five Emmy Awards, the Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative reporting, among other recognition. The fact that Peters reached back six years on Ms. Attkisson’s resume to describe her using a years-old, former title further demonstrates his ill intent. It is akin to someone writing an article about Peters, referring to him only as a “former reporter for the Michigan Daily.” It is an incomplete, outdated and inaccurate description.
Peter’s multiple false statements about Ms. Attkisson were conjured by listening to her podcast and reading her website, both of which he also omitted naming or referencing reducing the likelihood that readers would access the original material and see that he had mischaracterized it.
The false information in the Peters news article is presented as fact and cannot be defended as “opinion.”
First, there is nothing in the visual presentation of the article that indicates it is anything other than a news article. Second, Peters does not attempt to present his statements as opinion. Third, his description at the end of the article describes him as a national political reporter in the Washington Bureau. Any reasonable readers would take Peters’ statements to be asserting verifiable facts.
Peters and The Times failed to take immediate steps when Ms. Attkisson first posted a notice on social media pointing to the false and misleading information in the article.
As Peters and the Times know, a journalist’s most valuable asset is her credibility and reputation. Disparaging Ms. Attkisson’s work, misquoting, citing it out of context, and falsely asserting that she has “mischaracterized” information is akin to calling an attorney a “crook” or accusing a minister of unethical conduct. It stands to do great harm to her professional reputation and her ability to do her job. The retraction, correction and apology are warranted.
Please reply promptly, but no later than close of business Thursday, March 19, 2020.