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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

How Supervisor Desmond Has Amplified False Coronavirus Misinformation

 August 25, 2020 at 10:27 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego County is now off the state's COVID-19 watch list and awaiting guidelines from the state on when businesses may be able to reopen. But since the start of the pandemic, one County supervisor in particular has been outspoken in support of reopening the local economy. And only about roughly 5% of the people in San Diego County. When we do the test, 5% of the people have the virus and then 99.9% of those 99.5% of those are never hospitalized. They either have no symptoms or massive. So I'm just trying to make sure that his, you know, the, his, the numbers match the hysteria, and it's not the case right now. We can still be opening up. That was supervisor Jim Desmond on his podcast. Earlier this summer, Desmond represents large parts of North County, a new voice of San Diego story calls him the most high profile COVID-19 skeptic among local office holders. For more on this, we're joined by reporter Katie Steagall with the voice of San Diego. Katie, welcome to midday edition. Thanks. Well, you recently wrote this article about a supervisor, Desmon winded, his comments on the Corona virus. First catch your attention. Speaker 2: 01:10 The team of voice is San Diego wanted to take a deep dive into the podcast and understand why it was getting so many listeners, but more importantly, what kind of message was actually being put out by a County supervisor outside of the normal supervisor settings. We knew people were tuning in there's over a hundred thousand hits on some videos of the podcast recordings, uh, with his more controversial guests. Speaker 1: 01:34 And he says, you say giving a platform on his podcast to people who believe the dangers of COVID-19 or are exaggerated. I mean, this is really the point of view there, right? Speaker 2: 01:43 There are a few core beliefs that his guests have been sharing. One, you know, that the data's misconstrued that the economy and schools need to reopen, and the herd immunity is going to be the ultimate savior from the virus. These opinions aren't necessarily new though. Right? Most folks we can, we can log into social media platforms and see posts like this, but Desmond's an elected official. So he has a platform and audience, most people at these opinions don't and I do think it's worth noting that Desmond has continued to encourage people to follow basic health protocols, you know, like washing your hands, wearing a mask, even though he's acknowledged people hate it on the podcast and things of that nature, but what's troubling to me and to the editors at voice was, um, that has most of his guests are rarely challenged. So the fact that they aren't being challenged, it, um, it's, they're, they're having these opinions and the way that they're structured with having their, um, their credentials and titles, things like that. They're not experts in the topic of, you know, immunology and the spread of viral diseases. But with the fact that they have doctor in front of their name, or they have these fancy, like data expert, things like that, it makes it appear that they have the credibility to be talking on these issues. When in reality, some of the information they're putting out is just blatantly an accurate, Speaker 1: 03:10 Right? So in an example, a specific example of a guest, they would call themselves a doctor. Then for example, Speaker 2: 03:17 One of the guests, um, her name was dr. Kelly victory and the YouTube clip of the podcast had over a hundred thousand views. I believe it was 117,000 views. Um, and she's a healthcare consultant from Colorado who specializes in emergency medicine. And she was essentially arguing that the, um, that schools needed to reopen because children aren't, uh, significant spreaders of the virus. And she was saying that children were unlikely to get ill and let alone die. But the, the claims that she was making on the, the episode with Desmond were discredited by multiple outlets, including the union Tribune, they brought in experts that were saying here's, um, here's what the actual evidence is behind some of her claims. So they he's having guests on there. That again are stating things that are just inaccurate, but there's never any pushback on the actual podcast. So it's being perpetuated as something that is accurate when it's not, Speaker 1: 04:17 How does supervisor Jim Desmon reconcile the views? He presents on this podcast with the information coming from the county's own public health department, Speaker 2: 04:26 Right? So in that clip, you played earlier, um, he had the, he had the numbers. I believe I put the same quote in my story where we're talking about how, you know, 99.5% of cases are never hospitalized, right? And when you hear it like that, and you hear it coming from a County supervisor, you assume that information to be accurate. Um, however, it did not take me long to go on the County website and break down that data that's readily available to the public and see that Desmond's information on that was just flat out wrong. But the way that aside from his own claims, um, he's relatively detached himself from the things that his guests say on the show, because he'll say things like he wants to provide more insight and information for the, for his constituents. So he wants his goal from what he's told me. And what he's told other reporters is he wants to offer a variety of perspectives to the County because he feels like they're not getting the entire message. Speaker 1: 05:28 Some of the message on this, a podcast from the County supervisor is that there's hysteria coming from public officials and how our local public affairs officials and members of the board of supervisors are responding to Jim Desmond. Speaker 2: 05:42 The County supervisors are predominantly a con a more conservative crowd aside from Nathan Fletcher, right? Um, I did try reaching out to more than one supervisor. However, I'm the only one that was willing to talk to me. Uh, Nathan Fletcher. So Nathan Fletcher called this a risk to the public health. He acknowledged the fact that it's one it's making the county's job harder to do because they're having an elected official promoting these, you know, quote unquote absurd ideas. But also these, these ideas are typically reserved for people who don't necessarily have the platform that Desmond has. And Fletcher even said that ideas like this are usually relegated to the dark regions of the world, where they thought the moon landing wasn't real and biggie was really alive. And these are the same minds that are now influencing public policy. Essentially. Speaker 1: 06:38 The last question I have, and I'm wondering about is your sense of whether Desmond's message and those of his guests is resonating with the public. What kind of impact this might have? Speaker 2: 06:48 District five has a few hundred thousand folks. Um, and with just within that community in general, but, um, I mean, the fact that some of these clips have over a hundred thousand hits on them, that's concerning. Um, you know, obviously not everyone in district five is with Jim Desmond, but the fact that he does have so many thousand constituents and he has this following, I definitely think it's resonating with people on a local and possibly even a national level. When you start looking at how far the spread of Desmond's the guests, that jet that Desmond is bringing on it, it has a local, possibly national spread. Speaker 1: 07:33 I've been speaking with reporter Katie Steagall with voice of San Diego. Thanks very much. Speaker 2: 07:38 Thanks.

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San Diego County is now off the state’s covid-19 watch list and awaiting guidelines from the state on when businesses may be able to reopen. But since the start of the pandemic, one county supervisor in particular has been outspoken in support of reopening the local economy.
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