A community journalist nails The New York Times on COVID misinformation

Last week The New York Times reported on local news outlets that report COVID vaccine misinformation. The story, by Sheera Frenkel and Tiffany Hsu, focused on the Freedom’s Phoenix of, well, Phoenix and the Atlanta Business Journal, which were pushing falsehoods from Joseph Mercola, described as “a top spreader of misleading COVID-19 information.”

The story attributes the rise of misinformation on local news sites to the financial squeeze that has left community journalists bereft of the resources they would need to fact-check outside contributions from the likes of Mercola. Frenkel and Hsu also write, “Vaccine misinformation has also been published on sites that purport to be local news, but which are pay-for-play content websites,” but they do not describe the Freedom’s Phoenix or the Atlanta Business Journal as such.

Big mistake — and the Times got nailed by Ed Miller, the editor and co-founder of The Provincetown Independent. “This atrocious piece of sloppy reporting in the country’s best newspaper makes my heart ache,” Miller writes in his most recent commentary. He explains:

Ten minutes of online research would have revealed that the Freedom’s Phoenix is not “a local news site.” It is a national propaganda machine launched in 2015 by Ernest Hancock, a longtime libertarian publisher and radio host who was associated with the paramilitary Viper Militia that conspired to blow up government buildings in Phoenix. The Times reported in 1996 that Hancock defended the militia leaders, saying, “Their crime is educating other people.”

To which I would add: Come on, people. Take a look at the site. This isn’t even a pink-slime project purporting to be a local news organization. It’s pure nut-job right-wing conspiracy-mongering.

Miller wasn’t able to find out much about the Atlanta Business Journal, but suffice it to say that it’s not the Atlanta version of the Boston Business Journal. In fact, there is such a thing, but it goes under the name of the Atlanta Business Chronicle. The Atlanta Business Journal, by contrast, doesn’t appear to be especially business-oriented, and it includes oddities such as a disingenuously straight-up story about the Arizona vote-audit fiasco and a livestream of a church service.

Great work by Miller. All I can add that it’s disheartening to see a Times story I took at face value turn out to be such a steaming pile of — well — misinformation.