LAHORE, Pakistan — At least seven people were killed and more than 70 wounded when a powerful explosion ripped through an Islamic religious school in northwestern Pakistan on Tuesday, officials said.
Classes were underway early Tuesday at the school, the Jamia Zuberia madrasa, located in a crowded suburban neighborhood outside Peshawar, when the explosion shook the compound. Officials said an improvised-explosive device was most likely used in the blast.
No group has claimed immediate responsibility.
The majority of those injured were taken to the nearby Lady Reading Hospital. A state of emergency was declared for the city’s other hospitals, which prepared for the crush of wounded victims.
Television footage showed a scene of devastation at the site of the blast. The religious school was cordoned off as officials combed for forensic evidence.
The explosion broke an extended period of relative calm in Peshawar, which for years was the scene of regular terror attacks by the Pakistani Taliban. Militant attacks have ebbed since a successful 2014 military operation in the tribal regions of the province.
The Pakistani Taliban later on Tuesday released a statement denying its involvement in the attack and called the targeting of students a “reprehensible act.”
The threat level was raised to “high alert” in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, after the blast, officials said. Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was “deeply saddened by the terrorist attack.”
“My condolences go to the victims’ families & prayers for early recovery of the injured,” Mr. Khan wrote on Twitter. “I want to assure my nation we will ensure the terrorists responsible for this cowardly barbaric attack are brought to justice ASAP.”
Mr. Kenney, the mayor, said he had watched âthe video of this tragic incidentâ and spoken with Mr. Wallaceâs family âto hear their concerns firsthand, and to answer their questions to the extent that I am able.â
The cityâs police commissioner, Danielle Outlaw, said in a statement, âI recognize that the video of the incident raises many questions.â She added, âI will be leaning on what the investigation gleans to answer the many unanswered questions that exist.â
In a statement, the Council member who identified Mr. Wallace, Jamie Gauthier, said she wanted the police to âimmediatelyâ release the officersâ body camera video from the incident. âThe public deserves a full, unvarnished accounting of what took place today,â she said.
Ms. Gauthier also criticized the officers for firing their weapons. âHad these officers employed de-escalation techniques and nonlethal weapons rather than making the split-second decision to fire their guns, this young man might still have his life tonight,â she said.
District Attorney Larry Krasner said his office was looking into the shooting and urged the public to be patient.
âWe intend to go where the facts and law lead us and to do so carefully, without rushing to judgment and without bias of any kind,â he said in a statement. âIn the hours and days following this shooting, we ask Philadelphians to come together to uphold peopleâs freedom to express themselves peacefully and to reject violence of any kind.â
At around 9:30 p.m., protesters were marching through the streets of West Philadelphia, with a parade of vehicles honking behind them. Just after 11 p.m., video posted on Twitter showed police officers using batons as they clashed with a large group of people on a residential street. Taryn Naundorff, 21, who recorded the video, said the police âstarted forcefully pushing back the crowd and beating anyone who wouldnât back up.â
Itâs not easy to convince popular leaders who have had a taste of power, and who often seek areturn to office as relief from the legal problems they face, to move on. In Argentina, Cristina FernÃ¡ndez de Kirchner, besieged by numerous corruption charges, was expected to pursue a third presidential term in 2019 but reversed course after polls suggested sheâd lose. Instead, she promoted Alberto FernÃ¡ndez, a law professor and former chief of staff seen as less ideological, as her partyâs candidate, and instead ran as vice president. He won by a large majority.
Other leaders may see themselves as the only ones who can defeat their opposition. In Brazil, there is talk that the former President Luiz InÃ¡cio âLulaâ da Silva may run for president in 2022. But while Mr. da Silva remains a larger-than-life figure in Brazilian politics, he would be 76 by the time he runs, and his support has its limits â enough only to get him to a second round in an election, where polls say heâd lose to President Jair Bolsonaro. Passing the baton to the new leaders emerging under Mr. Bolsonaroâs presidency may be a better bet for his Workersâ Party.
The lesson does not just apply to left-wing parties. In Argentina, the former President Mauricio Macriâs center-right coalition will likely try to stage an electoral comeback in the 2023 presidential election. But, given his deeply unfavorable view among voters, his party may be more likely to find success by championing someone else.
Polls suggest that person may be Mayor Horacio RodrÃguez Larreta of Buenos Aires. Though some critics say he lacks charisma, Mr. RodrÃguez Larretaâs reputation as an efficient manager has made him one of the most popular political figures in the country. It would be another example of a less polarizing figure offering a fresh start for Mr. Macriâspolitical project.
While Mr. Arceâs victory in Bolivia is cause for optimism, over time his effort to turn the page on Mr. Morales may become a cautionary tale. As Mr. Corrales wrote, successors who take over from outgoing leaders walk a tightrope.
âWhen a president betrays a campaign promise â in this case, the promise to carry the torch from a predecessor â they disappoint two groups: those who wanted continuismo, and those who wanted real change, with the latter never becoming convinced that you are a true convert,â Mr. Corrales wrote.
A divided Senate voted on Monday night to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, capping a lightning-fast Senate approval that handed President Trump a victory days before the election and promised to tip the court to the right for years to come.
In a 52-to-48 vote, all but one Republican, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who is battling for re-election, supported Judge Barrett, a 48-year-old appeals court judge and protégée of Justice Antonin Scalia.
Wasting no time, Mr. Trump held an unusual nighttime swearing-in ceremony for Judge Barrett on the South Lawn of the White House, a month to the day after a mostly maskless Rose Garden event attended by multiple people who later tested positive for the coronavirus, including Mr. Trump and the first lady. Though more precautions were taken at the ceremony on Monday, neither Mr. Trump nor Justice Barrett wore masks, perhaps because both already have had the virus and could be immune.
Justice Clarence Thomas, who swore in his new colleague, wore no mask, either, even though he is not known to have been previously infected. None of the other seven justices attended.
Mr. Trump praised Justice Barrett’s “deep knowledge, tremendous poise and towering intellect,” calling her a suitable replacement for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the liberal stalwart who died last month and was her ideological polar opposite.
In her remarks, Justice Barrett seemed intent on sending the message that she would not simply do Mr. Trump’s bidding, using the words “independent” or “independence” three times, even though he has said explicitly that he wanted her seated before the election so she could lend her vote in case of a legal dispute over the balloting.
“A judge declares independence not only from the Congress and the president, but also from the private beliefs that might otherwise move her,” Justice Barrett said after being sworn in. “The oath I have solemnly taken tonight,” she added, “means at its core that I will do my job without any fear or favor and that I will do so independently of both the political branches and of my own preferences.”
Neither Democrats nor Republicans seemed to believe that, instead commending or condemning her confirmation as a victory for conservatives and a defeat for liberals. Democrats immediately vowed on Monday night that there would be reprisals.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York called on Democrats to expand the court if they won the presidency and took control of the Senate, an idea that the Democratic presidential candidate, Joseph R. Biden Jr., has so far refused to co-sign. Mr. Biden instead has said that he would set up a bipartisan commission to look at ways to overhaul the court.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, excoriated her Republican colleagues in a fund-raising email to her supporters that was sent minutes after the vote.
“They stole another Supreme Court seat just eight days before the end of the election, after tens of millions of Americans had already cast their ballots, and just 15 days before the Supreme Court will hear a case that could overturn the Affordable Care Act,” Ms. Warren wrote.
In a statement late Monday, the Biden campaign called the Barrett confirmation “rushed and unprecedented,” and issued a call to action based on the Affordable Care Act case.
“If you want to say no, this abuse of power doesn’t represent you — then turn out and vote,” the statement said.
Justices can begin work as soon as they are sworn in, meaning Justice Barrett could be at work as early as Tuesday. The court is confronting a host of issues concerning the election and Mr. Trump’s policies, including cases from North Carolina and Pennsylvania about whether deadlines for receiving mailed ballots may be extended. Under the court’s usual practices, Justice Barrett cannot participate in cases that have already been argued, though they could be argued again before the full court if the justices are deadlocked.
Next Monday, the court returns to the virtual bench for a two-week sitting to hear arguments by telephone.
Welcome to the watch-what-they-do end of the presidential campaign. Don’t pay attention to what the candidates and their aides are saying about their how-to-win strategies in the final days. The best way to tell which states President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. think are in play is to track their campaign travel.
Trips are being announced just a few days in advance, and the operative word is tentative. Candidates will make last-minute adjustments to their schedules based on the latest information from overnight polls (or prodding from worried supporters).
Case in point: Mr. Biden paid a quick trip to Pennsylvania on Monday. This is one of the most contested states on the map, which the president narrowly won last time and where polls now show Mr. Biden ahead. Mr. Trump has spent so much time in the state in recent days that it seems only a matter of time until Pennsylvania starts hitting him up for its resident income tax.
Mr. Biden heads to Georgia on Tuesday and to Iowa later in the week, two states Mr. Trump won in 2016 that are on the edge of the Democrats-have-a-chance map. It’s an aggressive move. Should Mr. Biden lose next Tuesday, expect the second-guessing brigade to inspect his decision to play offense when perhaps the game called for defense, and to invoke the trip Hillary Clinton made to Arizona at the end of the 2016 campaign.
But he is also going to Tampa, signaling how important Florida is, and how Democrats have put the president on the defensive in a state that he needs to win. (If early returns show Mr. Biden winning Florida next week, watch Democrats begin to pop the champagne.) And he is also heading to Wisconsin, as he tries to nail down the Big Three Midwestern states — the other two are Pennsylvania and Michigan — that lifted Mr. Trump over the 270 electoral vote hurdle four years ago.
Mr. Trump is spending a lot of time on defense this week, heading to states that he won in 2016 and where he is struggling today: Arizona and, of course, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Assuming Mr. Trump can hold on to the rest of his 2016 map (and that may be a big assumption), he needs to hold just one of the three key Midwestern states to win re-election.
Interestingly, Mr. Trump is also going to Nevada, a state that Mrs. Clinton won in 2016. Nevada has not been extensively polled, and the surveys that have been done show a tight race there. Some clarity about the state of play in Nevada could come later Tuesday with the latest New York Times/Siena College Poll, which we are expecting to release around 1 p.m. Eastern.
In a decision that could reverberate beyond Wisconsin, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday night that Wisconsin could not accept ballots that arrive after polls close on Election Day, rejecting an appeal by Democratic-aligned groups.
The ruling comes as President Trump has continued to attack the election’s integrity and has singled out mail-in voting in particular. In a tweet late Monday, sent as the decision was still coming down, Mr. Trump falsely declared, without citing any evidence, that there were “Big problems and discrepancies with Mail In Ballots all over the USA. Must have final total on November 3rd.” (Twitter quickly put a warning label on the tweet.)
The Trump campaign and Republican allies are seeking similar restrictions on ballot deadlines in other states. In Pennsylvania, Republicans filed a new lawsuit last week, seeking to similarly mandate that all ballots arrive by Election Day, a decision on which the Supreme Court was locked in a 4-to-4 tie this month. Justice Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed on Monday night, giving conservatives a 6-to-3 majority.
In August, the Postal Service recommended that all voters make sure to mail their ballots no later than Oct. 27 to ensure that they arrive on time to be counted.
Lester Pines, whose law firm, Pines Bach, represented Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, in the Wisconsin case, said he hoped there would be enough time to alert voters who have not returned their ballots. “Don’t mail them now,” Mr. Pines said. “Find a way to get them delivered to the various places where they can be delivered.”
Mr. Pines said one part of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s opinion was “very disturbing,” adding that it seemed to imply that the court might be again taking up the Pennsylvania ruling that it had let stand on the 4-4 vote.
According to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, 1,706,771 absentee ballots have been requested in Wisconsin, and 1,344,535 have been returned. More than 25 percent of those returned have come from two Democratic strongholds, Milwaukee and Dane County. Under state law, ballots must be received by Election Day.
Across the country, Democrats have been requesting absentee ballots at a greater rate than Republicans, and the trend is likely to hold in Wisconsin.
“As you know, more Republicans are going to vote in person, probably because of their preference to do so, and the president has been pushing that,” said Matt Batzel, the Wisconsin-based national executive director for American Majority Action, a conservative grass-roots political training organization. “Democrats have really staked their strategy on pushing absentee ballot requests and following up with those individuals. This ruling is deflating to that strategy.”
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin immediately announced on Twitter a voter education project to alert constituents that absentee ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3 — and began fund-raising around the ruling. “We’re dialing up a huge voter education campaign,” tweeted Ben Wikler, the state party chairman.
The spring elections in Wisconsin were disrupted by a similar set of lawsuits seeking ballot deadline extensions to help alleviate delays in the Postal Service amid the pandemic, as the Supreme Court eventually allowed for a six-day extension provided that ballots had been postmarked by the election.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission estimated that roughly 79,000 additional ballots were counted in April as a result of that decision.
In 2016, Mr. Trump carried Wisconsin by about 23,000 votes.
President Trump will hold his election night party at his hotel in Washington, a senior Republican official with knowledge of the plans confirmed Monday night, setting up a potential standoff with the city’s Democratic mayor over the district’s limits on gatherings.
The White House has largely ignored those limits during the coronavirus pandemic, most notably in August when Mr. Trump hosted more than a thousand supporters on the White House lawn for the speech in which he accepted the Republican nomination for president.
At another event on Sept. 26, Mr. Trump introduced his Supreme Court nominee, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, in front of a crowd of several hundred people in the Rose Garden. The president and the first lady are among at least 11 people who have tested positive since attending the ceremony, which the health authorities later called a “super-spreader event.”
The District of Columbia has little say over events on the White House grounds, but the campaign’s selection of the Trump International Hotel as the venue for the president’s election night festivities could be different.
Gatherings are capped at 50 people in Washington under the city’s emergency orders. At a news conference on Monday outlining the city’s plans for dealing with a second wave of virus cases, the city’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, said she had become aware of the plans for the election night gathering, and suggested that the city could take action against the hotel.
“I heard about something this morning,” Ms. Bowser said. “We will be in touch with our licensee, which is the hotel.”
A Trump campaign spokesman and the hotel did not respond to requests for comment on Monday night.
The Trump hotel, a destination for lobbyists, foreign politicians, religious groups and Fox News personalities, has been the source of multiple disputes during Mr. Trump’s first term, including complaints that the president was blurring the lines between his businesses and his office. It is a few blocks from the White House in a federally owned building on Pennsylvania Avenue. The Trump organization signed a 60-year lease to operate it in 2013.
Hurricanes also sometimes meander, Dr. Kossin said. Hurricane Harvey moved back and forth over the area, increasing the deluge. Sally was heading due west, parallel to the coast, on Monday when it made a sudden right-angled turn to the north early Tuesday.
Such movements may also be linked to slowing atmospheric circulation, Dr. Kossin said. âYou wonât really get meandering until you get a slow storm,â he said. âThey donât go zipping around like go-karts.â
While Sallyâs winds were not as intense as the strongest hurricanes â maximum sustained speeds early Wednesday were about 105 m.p.h., about 50 percent slower than a Category 5 storm â by lingering for longer, the storm may also have boosted storm surge, the wind-driven buildup of water that can quickly flood coastal areas, often with devastating results.
But storm surge can be influenced by many other factors, including the timing of tides and the shallowness of a bay or another body of water. In this case, Sallyâs slow speed âcontributed more to the extreme rainfall flooding than to the surge flooding,â said Rick Luettich, a professor at the University of North Carolina and a principal developer of the leading surge model used by forecasters.
Dr. Luettich said the stormâs surge was close to projections of about five feet. But another characteristic of some hurricanes that is linked to warmer oceans, the rapid strengthening of a storm before landfall, âgave the water a bigger pushâ than earlier forecasts called for, he said.
Hurricanes are not the only kind of storms affected by climate change, and not the only kind that can bring catastrophic flooding to the Gulf Coast or other regions. Record rain from a low-pressure system in August 2016, a large storm but one that did not rotate like a hurricane, led to floods in Baton Rouge, La. A gauge east of the city received 26.5 inches of rain in three days.
That storm prompted an attribution study, research that tries to determine the extent, if any, of climate changeâs influence on an extreme weather event. It found that climate change had increased the likelihood of such a storm along the Gulf Coast in any given year by 40 percent since 1900. In the current climate, there is a 3 percent chance in any given year of a similar storm.
Justice Barrett, 48, who has seven children, will be the current courtâs youngest member, its third woman, its sixth Catholic and its only jurist from outside the Ivy League. A graduate of Notre Dame Law School, where she later taught, she has served on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit since Mr. Trump appointed her in 2017 and has become a favorite of conservatives. Her appointment to the Supreme Court was Mr. Trumpâs third, the most any president has had in a single term since Richard M. Nixon and an important credential for Republican voters who care about the judiciary.
In her own remarks on Monday, Justice Barrett, whose short-sleeve black dress contrasted with the presidentâs heavy, black overcoat on a crisp, 55-degree evening, referred to the speedy Senate approval as âa rigorous confirmation process,â a characterization Democrats strenuously disputed.
But she seemed intent on sending the message that she would not simply do Mr. Trumpâs bidding, using the words âindependentâ or âindependenceâ three times, even though he has said explicitly that he wanted her seated before the election so she could lend her vote in case of a legal dispute over the balloting.
âA judge declares independence not only from the Congress and the president but also from the private beliefs that might otherwise move her,â Justice Barrett said after being sworn in. âThe oath I have solemnly taken tonight,â she added, âmeans at its core that I will do my job without any fear or favor and that I will do so independently of both the political branches and of my own preferences.â
Neither Democrats nor Republicans seemed to believe that, instead commending or condemning her confirmation as a victory for conservatives and a defeat for liberals. Her replacement of Justice Ginsburg means that the conservative wing now controls the Supreme Court 6 to 3, heralding a new era of jurisprudence not only on the forthcoming election, but on hot-button issues like abortion, gay rights and health care.
The House Judiciary Committee Republicans, led by Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, one of Mr. Trumpâs most outspoken allies, taunted Hillary Clinton, who lost to Mr. Trump in 2016, after the Senateâs evening vote.
WASHINGTON â The Supreme Court refused on Monday to revive a trial court ruling that would have extended Wisconsinâs deadline for receiving absentee ballots to six days after the election.
The vote was 5 to 3, with the courtâs more conservative justices in the majority. As is typical, the courtâs brief, unsigned order gave no reasons. But several justices filed concurring and dissenting opinions that spanned 35 pages and revealed a stark divide in their understanding of the role of the courts in protecting the right to vote during a pandemic.
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin immediately announced a voter education project to alert voters that absentee ballots have to be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3. âWeâre dialing up a huge voter education campaign,â Ben Wikler, the state party chairman, said on Twitter. The U.S. Postal Service has recommended that voters mail their ballots by Oct. 27 to ensure that they are counted.
The ruling came as President Trump continued to attack mail-in voting, which Democrats are using far more heavily this year. In a tweet late Monday, Mr. Trump falsely declared that there were âBig problems and discrepancies with Mail In Ballots all over the USA. Must have final total on November 3rd.â (Twitter quickly put a warning label on the tweet.)
The ruling was also the latest in a flurry of election-year decisions by the court that have mostly upheld voting restrictions, and the Trump campaign and its Republican allies are seeking similar restrictions on ballot deadlines in other states. Cases from North Carolina and Pennsylvania are pending before the court, the latter a second attempt after a 4-to-4 deadlock last week. Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who was confirmed and sworn in to the Supreme Court on Monday night, could cast the decisive vote in that case.
In Mondayâs opinions, divisions over voting rights that had been hinted at in some of the previous rulings came more clearly into the open.
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In one concurring opinion, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, joined by Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, wrote that federal trial judges should not alter state voting rules when an election is looming. âElections must end sometime, a single deadline supplies clear notice, and requiring ballots be in by Election Day puts all voters on the same footing,â Justice Gorsuch wrote.
âNo one doubts that conducting a national election amid a pandemic poses serious challenges,â he wrote. âBut none of that means individual judges may improvise with their own election rules in place of those the peopleâs representatives have adopted.â
In a separate concurrence, Justice Kavanaugh wrote that âthe Constitution principally entrusts politically accountable state legislatures, not unelected federal judges, with the responsibility to address the health and safety of the people during the Covid-19 pandemic.â
In earlier litigation concerning Wisconsinâs primary elections in April, the court required that ballots be mailed and postmarked by Election Day. But it did not disturb a similar six-day extension for receipt of the ballots, which had not been challenged in the case then before it.
In dissent on Monday, Justice Elena Kagan, joined by Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, said the stateâs experience in April was telling.
âThat extension of Wisconsinâs ballot-receipt deadline ensured that Covid-related delays in the delivery and processing of mail ballots would not disenfranchise citizens fearful of voting in person,â Justice Kagan wrote. âBecause of the courtâs ruling, state officials counted 80,000 ballots â about 5 percent of the total cast â that were postmarked by Election Day but would have been discarded for arriving a few days later.â
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. filed a brief concurring opinion explaining why the Wisconsin case differed from the one from Pennsylvania in which the justices deadlocked over whether the stateâs Supreme Court could extend the deadline for mailed ballots by three days.
âWhile the Pennsylvania applications implicated the authority of state courts to apply their own constitutions to election regulations, this case involves federal intrusion on state lawmaking processes,â the chief justice wrote. âDifferent bodies of law and different precedents govern these two situations and require, in these particular circumstances, that we allow the modification of election rules in Pennsylvania but not Wisconsin.â
A divided three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in Chicago had blocked the trial courtâs ruling in the Wisconsin case, saying it came too close to the election and amounted to judicial interference in âa task for the elected branches of government.â
The Supreme Courtâs order on Monday let the appeals courtâs ruling stand, restoring a hard deadline for accepting absentee ballots to 8 p.m. Nov. 3, when the polls close.
The appeals court majority, in an unsigned opinion joined by Judges Frank H. Easterbrook and Amy J. St. Eve, said the trial judgeâs extension was improper.
âVoters have had many months since March to register or obtain absentee ballots; reading the Constitution to extend deadlines near the election is difficult to justify when the voters have had a long time to cast ballots while preserving social distancing,â the judges wrote. âThe district court did not find that any person who wants to avoid voting in person on Election Day would be unable to cast a ballot in Wisconsin by planning ahead and taking advantage of the opportunities allowed by state law.â
In dissent, Judge Ilana D. Rovner responded that âno citizen should have to choose between her health and her right to vote.â
âThe inevitable result of the courtâs decision today will be that many thousands of Wisconsin citizens will lose their right to vote despite doing everything they reasonably can to exercise it,â Judge Rovner wrote. âThis is a travesty.â
In his concurrence on Monday, Justice Kavanaugh criticized what he called Justice Kaganâs ârhetoric of âdisenfranchisement.ââ
She responded that she had meant the word literally, not rhetorically.
âDuring Covid, the stateâs ballot-receipt deadline and the courtâs decision upholding it disenfranchise citizens by depriving them of their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote,â she wrote. âBecause the court refuses to reinstate the district courtâs injunction, Wisconsin will throw out thousands of timely requested and timely cast mail ballots.â
Nick Corasaniti contributed reporting from Philadelphia, and Stephanie Saul from New York.
Still, she did earlier criticize Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. for voting to uphold the Affordable Care Act, and she once signed onto an ad calling for overturning Roe v. Wade and its “barbaric legacy.” It is a good bet that she will be among the court’s most conservative justices, probably to the right of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.
Like five other justices, Judge Barrett is Catholic. She has said her faith is central to her identity, and before she joined the appeals court bench, she signed onto statements advocating the repeal of Roe v. Wade and its “barbaric legacy.” But in other ways, she breaks the court’s mold. A Notre Dame alumna, she will be the only justice who did not graduate from Harvard or Yale. She is also raising seven children, two of whom were adopted.
After playing down its implications during the hearings, some Republicans openly celebrated her anti-abortion rights stance on Monday.
“The nomination of Amy Coney Barrett is truly historic,” said Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri. “This is the most openly pro-life judicial nominee to the Supreme Court in my lifetime. This is an individual who has been open in her criticism of that illegitimate decision, Roe v. Wade.”
By the time senators gathered on Monday night for the final vote, many were exhausted from a debate that had lasted through Sunday night into Monday and from jetting back and forth between Washington and the campaign trail.
But after Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the president pro tempore, read the tally, Republicans leaped up from their desks and applauded. Only two did not join them.
One was Ms. Collins, who had left the chamber as soon as she cast a “no” vote. She had framed her decision this time as a matter of principle. Republicans set a standard in 2016 by not confirming a nominee in an election year and should do the same now, she argued. She is trailing in a race in a liberal-leaning state in part because of her constituents’ fury at her vote for Justice Kavanaugh, Mr. Trump’s last nominee.
The other was Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, another Republican swing vote, who sat stone-faced. She ultimately voted to confirm Judge Barrett, but said she feared the hit the court and the Senate would take with the public for proceeding as voters cast their ballots.
Adam Liptak and Emily Cochrane contributed reporting.
Local election officials, politicians and disinformation researchers continue to express concern about how misinformation about voting could disrupt Election Day next week. False and misleading information, research shows, has already been spreading widely.
Mr. Bevin and some of his allies argued, without showing any evidence, that there were voting irregularities and fraud, echoing some false and misleading statements made on social media. The governor initially refused to concede even though returns showed him trailing by about 5,000 votes. Mr. Bevin conceded about a week later.
The race offers some lessons about the power of disinformation in American elections:
1. Misinformation efforts don’t need to be sophisticated to be successful. In Kentucky, an account with just 19 followers sent out a tweet on election night that claimed to have “shredded a box of Republican ballots.” The tweet, sent as a joke by a college student, would eventually reach thousands.
2. Stopping the spread of misleading election information is not easy. Election officials noticed the false “shredded” tweet, which was retweeted by a few popular conservative accounts, and reported it to Twitter. The company removed the post within an hour, but screenshots of the post were retweeted by dozens of accounts, with retweets reaching well into the thousands. Tracking all of those screenshots proved difficult for both election officials and Twitter.
3. One piece of misinformation can beget much more. The sudden spread of the false tweet about shredding ballots seemed to be a green light for other claims. Some tweets started to question the accuracy of voter rolls in Kentucky, others wondered about “hackers” attacking the “cloud” where election results were stored, except there is no “cloud” used in Kentucky elections. And baseless claims of voter fraud were rampant.
4. There are networks ready to amplify and spread misinformation. Some groups on Twitter spread countless conspiracies, be it the QAnon cabal conspiracy or an anti-mask conspiracy. These networks can quickly seize on a piece of conspiratorial misinformation and amplify and accelerate its spread, which is part of why a single tweet from an obscure account reached so many in Kentucky.
5. An extremely close election is particularly ripe for misinformation. Following election night in Kentucky, the brush fire of misinformation that was spreading online quickly took hold offline. Mr. Bevin’s supporters staged news conferences with baseless claims of fraud, and set up a robocall network telling people to “please report suspected voter fraud” to the state elections board. Online, the discussion had now moved far beyond a case of shredded ballots to accusations of a stolen or rigged election.
Twitter’s emphasis on up-to-the-second posts has made the site a must-visit destination for people to find the latest in news and current events. It has also made Twitter a vessel for the spread of false information.
To stem that tide, Twitter on Monday announced a new effort to preemptively debunk, or “prebunk” in Twitter parlance, some of the most commonly circulated false and misleading information about the election.
The company will, for the first time, pin information to the top of users’ timelines about how to vote, as well as a notice that voting results may not come immediately on Election Day — two common topics for misinformation across social media.
“We believe it’s critical that we make it easy for people to find that information,” said Nick Pacilio, a Twitter spokesman. “These prompts will alert people that they may encounter misinformation, and provide them with credible, factual information on the subject.”
The move is the latest in a series of actions taken by Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to place safeguards on their networks in the days leading up to Election Day. Lawmakers and the public harshly criticized the companies for allowing misinformation to spread ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
Facebook, which at three billion users is much larger than Twitter, has announced several changes in the past few months to stem misinformation about the election. It has started to pin facts about voting to the top of users’ timelines, added labels to posts that spread false voting information, placed a ban on new political advertising in the seven days before Election Day, and removed paid political ads entirely after the polls close.
Twitter has taken several steps, too. Last week, the company turned off some of the features that help tweets go viral faster. That includes adding an extra step to retweeting posts, and prompting users to avoid retweeting a post with a link to a news article if they had not already read the attached article.
The new pinned information will appear in the home timeline of every person with a Twitter account located within the United States, and will be available in 42 languages, beginning Monday.
The prompts will also appear in Twitter’s search bar when people search for related terms or hashtags. Each pinned alert will also link out to a collection of credible information on the subject — be it information on how to vote, or election returns — curated within a Twitter “moment” compiled from election experts, journalists and other authoritative sources of information.
In Thursday’s presidential debate, President Trump made several misleading claims about the business dealings of the family of his opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Mr. Trump suggested, without evidence, that Mr. Biden had consulted for his son Hunter Biden to help with the younger Biden’s business. Mr. Trump also said that Mr. Biden had used his influence during his time as vice president to help his son land lucrative business deals. Both claims were misleading.
But the comments nonetheless drew attention to Hunter Biden and his work, according to a New York Times analysis of Google searches and Facebook posts during and after the debate.
Searches for “Hunter Biden” on Google more than tripled during the debate compared with before the event, according to Google Trends data. Facebook posts about Hunter Biden also spiked, according to data from CrowdTangle, a social media analytics tool owned by Facebook.
Nearly 70,000 new Facebook posts popped up after the debate mentioning “false, unproven or misleading claims” about Hunter Biden’s business interactions, said Avaaz, a progressive human rights organization that studies misinformation. The majority of the posts came from Facebook pages that had been repeatedly flagged for sharing false or misleading claims, Avaaz said.
A Facebook spokeswoman said the company’s third-party fact checkers had assessed and debunked several claims related to Hunter Biden.
Mr. Trump’s comments at last month’s presidential debate also led to spikes in internet traffic. After he said that the Proud Boys, a far-right group that has endorsed violence, should “stand back and stand by,” searches for the group soared, as did posts about them on Twitter and Facebook.
Here at Daily Distortions, we try to debunk false and misleading information that has gone viral. We also want to give you a sense of how popular that misinformation is, in the overall context of what is being discussed on social media. Each Friday, we will feature a list of the 10 most-engaged stories of the week in the United States, as ranked by NewsWhip, a firm that compiles social media performance data. (NewsWhip tracks the number of reactions, shares and comments each story receives on Facebook, along with shares on Pinterest and by a group of influential users on Twitter.) This week’s data runs from 9:01 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 6, until 9 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 23.
This week, as the presidential election approached, the most viral news on social media was, surprisingly, not directly related to the election.
Of the 10 most-engaged stories on our list this week, only three — two Fox News stories and a MSNBC story — were directly linked to the candidates. Two other stories that got lots of engagement were Pope Francis’ support for same-sex civil unions and the revelation that the parents of 545 children who had been separated from their families under the Trump administration’s family separation policy were unable to be found.
Here’s the full list:
1. NBC News: Lawyers say they can’t find the parents of 545 migrant children separated by Trump administration (2,702,695 interactions)
2. NBC News: Pope Francis calls for civil union laws for same-sex couples (1,008,956 interactions)
3. New York Times: Pope Francis, in Shift for Church, Voices Support for Same-Sex Civil Unions (870,066 interactions)
4. NPR: Parents Of 545 Children Separated At U.S.-Mexico Border Still Can’t Be Found (818,591 interactions)
5. CNN: Purdue Pharma to plead guilty to federal criminal charges related to opioid crisis (798,605 interactions)
6. Fox News: Source on alleged Hunter Biden email chain verifies messages about Chinese investment firm (709,918 interactions)
7. Fox News: 50 Cent says ‘vote for Trump’ in light of Biden’s tax plan: ‘IM OUT’ (695,310 interactions)
8. NBC News: Texas social workers can now turn away LGBTQ, disabled clients (650,672 interactions)
9. MSNBC: Admiral from bin Laden raid endorses Biden in dramatic fashion (627,050 interactions)
10. ComicBook.com: Michael B. Jordan to Produce Static Shock Movie for DC Comics (520,266 interactions)
Last week, The New York Post published an article featuring emails from a laptop purportedly owned by Hunter Biden, the son of the Democratic presidential nominee, Joseph R. Biden Jr. The emails, about business dealings in Ukraine, have not been independently verified.
So how did cable news treat these two caches, which were both aimed at Democratic candidates during the heights of their presidential campaigns?
The answer: Fox News is giving more airtime to the unverified Hunter Biden emails than it did to the hacked emails from Mr. Podesta in 2016, according to an analysis from the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, which studies disinformation.
While Fox News’s mentions of the word “WikiLeaks” took up a peak of 198 seconds in one day in mid-October 2016, the news channel’s references to “Hunter” reached 273 seconds one day last week, according to the analysis. Fox News did not respond to a request for comment.
In contrast, most viewers of CNN and MSNBC would not have heard much about the unconfirmed Hunter Biden emails, according to the analysis. CNN’s mentions of “Hunter” peaked at 20 seconds and MSNBC’s at 24 seconds one day last week.
CNN and MSNBC covered the WikiLeaks disclosures more, according to the study. Mentions of “WikiLeaks” peaked at 121 seconds on CNN in one day in October 2016 and 90 seconds on MSNBC in one day in the same period.
“In 2016, the WikiLeaks releases were a gigantic story, covered across the political spectrum,” said Emerson Brooking, a resident fellow at the Digital Forensic Research Lab, who worked on the report. “In 2020, the Hunter Biden leaks are a WikiLeaks-sized event crammed into one angry, intensely partisan corner” of cable news television.
As for online news outlets, 85 percent of the 1,000 most popular articles about the Hunter Biden emails were by right-leaning sites, according to the analysis. Those articles, which were shared 28 million times, came from The New York Post, Fox Business, Fox News and The Washington Times, among other outlets. The researchers did not have a comparative analysis for the WikiLeaks revelations.
President Trump has made his war on Big Tech a central piece of his re-election campaign. For months, he has accused Facebook and Twitter of attempting to rig the election by silencing criticism about his rival, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and called for new regulations to rein in Silicon Valley giants.
But Mr. Trump is far from muzzled online. In fact, in recent weeks, he has widened his social media engagement lead over Mr. Biden.
In the past 30 days, Mr. Trump’s official Facebook page has gotten 130 million reactions, shares and comments, compared with 18 million for Mr. Biden’s page, according to data from CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned data platform. That is significantly larger than the engagement gap for the preceding 30-day period, when Mr. Trump got 86 million interactions to Mr. Biden’s 10 million.
Mr. Trump trounced Mr. Biden on Instagram, too, getting 60 million likes and comments on his posts in the past 30 days, nearly twice as many as Mr. Biden’s 34 million. In the preceding 30-day period, Mr. Trump got 39 million likes and comments, while Mr. Biden got 13 million.
Mr. Trump also far outpaced Mr. Biden on YouTube, getting 207 million views on his videos in the last 30 days to Mr. Biden’s 29 million, according to SocialBlade, a data firm that tracks video performance. (SocialBlade’s data, which includes views on YouTube ads as well as unpaid videos, is slightly different than CrowdTangle’s Facebook and Instagram engagement data, which counts mostly engagement on unpaid posts.)
Social media performance is not a proxy for electoral success, of course, and Mr. Trump’s campaign would probably prefer to be leading in swing-state polls than on Facebook and YouTube. Engagement data also does not capture how many people view or click on posts, only how strong a reaction they elicit. And Facebook has argued that data about “reach” — the number of people who actually see a given post in their feeds — shows a more accurate picture of what is popular on the platform. (It does not, however, make this data publicly available.)
But it is useful to look at the president’s claims of partisan bias by tech companies in light of his sky-high engagement on those same companies’ platforms, because it hints at the nature of his complaints. His arguments are not the pleas of an underdog being silenced, but the threats of a star who wants to be allowed to keep his megaphone.
Some of the president’s posts in recent weeks have included misinformation about mail-in voting, dubious claims about Covid-19 and false and unproven allegations of corruption against Mr. Biden. Several of his posts have been taken down or had fact-checking labels applied to them. But these measures do not appear to have dented his account’s overall engagement.
The president’s strongest week on Facebook and Instagram came during his early October hospitalization for Covid-19, when well-wishers flooded his pages with supportive likes and comments. On YouTube, his best day came this week, when he took out a number of ads about accusations against Mr. Biden’s son Hunter, published by The New York Post. (The New York Times has not independently confirmed The Post’s reporting, and Mr. Biden’s campaign has dismissed the allegations as “Russian disinformation.”) Those ads performed well for Mr. Trump, and his channel got nearly 22 million views on Tuesday alone.
One bright spot for Mr. Biden is Twitter, where the former vice president has been performing well of late. According to Axios, which cited data from the media intelligence company Conviva, Mr. Biden has overtaken Mr. Trump in recent days when it comes to the average number of retweets and replies on his posts. (Per-post averages may be one social media contest that the president’s nonstop tweeting habit does not help him win.)
Another platform where Mr. Biden has beaten Mr. Trump? TV. His town hall on ABC last week got a bigger audience than Mr. Trump’s head-to-head NBC town hall, according to Nielsen.
And given Mr. Biden’s significantly smaller social media audience, he is punching above his weight. His Facebook page’s “interaction rate” — a measure of engagement that takes into account how many followers an account has — is currently more than twice as high as Mr. Trump’s.
QAnon conspiracy theory videos on YouTube. Homespun “remedies” for the coronavirus sent via text messages on WhatsApp. Socialist and communist memes on Twitter. Anti-Black Lives Matter posts on Facebook.
For several months, researchers and Democrats have worried increasingly about misinformation in Spanish being spread through social media, talk radio and print publications that target Latino voters.
The problem has been particularly acute in South Florida, where a worrying loop of misinformation has gone from social media to mainstream and back again.
Some of the most insidious messages have tried to pit Latinos against supporters of Black Lives Matter, by using racist language and tropes. But the distortions hardly stop there.
Other news outlets have reported on the phenomenon in recent weeks, and taken together, the reports paint a picture of just how deep and wide the misinformation has spread.
Last month, Politico published an article examining efforts to paint the billionaire Democratic fund-raiser George Soros as the director of “deep state” operations and exploring anti-Black and anti-Semitic efforts that have spread across Spanish-language channels in the Miami area. A local Univision station soon followed with its own article.
A Florida public radio station found that conservative elected officials in Colombia were also helping to push the false idea that Joseph R. Biden Jr. is a clone of left-wing dictators in Latin America, such as Hugo Chávez.
This week, an article in the Boston Globe looked at how the spread of misinformation has driven a wedge between many younger Latino voters and their parents.
It is still too early to tell just what impact, if any, the misinformation is having on who shows up to the polls and who they vote for. But many experts worry that the efforts will only increase in the final days of the campaign, in an attempt to suppress the votes of some Latinos. Understanding how the misinformation spreads in any language could prove key in interpreting the election’s results.
Most people know TikTok for its short-form viral videos, like break-dancing stars or relaxing cooking channels. But TikTok also has a less-publicized darker side — one where Holocaust deniers and QAnon conspiracy theorists run rampant.
This week, the company announced a series of policy changes restricting the types of content it would allow, including a crackdown on QAnon supporters and a prohibition of “coded” language that could serve to normalize hate speech across TikTok.
“These guidelines reflect our values, and they make clear that hateful ideologies are incompatible with the inclusive and supportive community that our platform provides,” TikTok said in a corporate blog post on Wednesday. The approach will not only target outright hate speech and Nazi paraphernalia, but less obvious references to white supremacist groups as well.
The changes expand on TikTok’s existing policies, which had long banned certain forms of hate speech and direct references to Nazism and white supremacy.
The company now, for instance, also bans “coded language and symbols that can normalize hateful speech and behavior.” Some examples include numbers, code words or visual cues that are widely seen as signals to white supremacist groups.
Earlier this week, TikTok announced a wider ban of posts and users related to QAnon, the pro-Trump conspiracy theory, which included expanding a ban on hashtags related to the digital movement.
TikTok’s changes follow in the footsteps of its larger and more popular contemporaries. Over the past month, Facebook and Twitter have each introduced a series of changes to policies on what types of speech are allowed on their services.
Together, the changes represent a retreat from these companies’ long-held embrace of unfettered free speech. In the past, Twitter employees referred to their company as “the free speech wing of the free speech party,” erring on leaving all forms of objectionable content upon its site. That position has waned over the past two years, and especially in the past few months, with the company adding labels and in some cases taking down tweets entirely when they become an issue of public safety.
It is a distinct reversal for Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook, in particular. One year ago, Mr. Zuckerberg championed mostly unfettered free speech on Facebook in a full-throated defense of his content policies in an address at Georgetown.
His views have changed abruptly. Over the last month, Facebook has banned buying advertising that supports anti-vaccination theories, further cracked down on QAnon’s presence and outlawed all forms of Holocaust denial on the platform. All three of those were positions Mr. Zuckerberg defended as views that he may not have personally agreed with but would still be allowed on the site.
TikTok used its announcement on Wednesday to take a thinly veiled swipe at Mr. Zuckerberg’s about-face.
“We’re proud that we have already taken steps to keep our community safe, for example, by not permitting content that denies the Holocaust and other violent tragedies,” TikTok wrote.
For years, it was the subject of countless Fox News segments, talk radio rants, and viral right-wing tweets and Facebook posts. It spawned congressional hearings, Justice Department investigations, and investigations of those investigations. President Trump called it “the biggest political crime in the history of our country,” and suggested that its perpetrators deserved 50-year prison sentences.
Now, weeks before the election, “Spygate” — a labyrinthine conspiracy theory involving unproven allegations about a clandestine Democratic plot to spy on Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign — appears to be losing steam.
The theory still commands plenty of attention inside the right-wing media sphere. But Mr. Trump’s quest to turn Spygate into a major mainstream issue in this year’s campaign may be coming up short. Data from NewsWhip, a firm that tracks social media performance, shows that stories about Spygate and two related keywords — “Obamagate” and “unmask/unmasked/unmasking”— received 1.5 million interactions on Facebook and from influential Twitter accounts last month, down from about 20 million interactions in May.
Part of Spygate’s fizzle may be related to the fact that three years on, none of Mr. Trump’s political enemies have been charged with crimes. Last year, a highly anticipated Justice Department inspector general’s report found no evidence of a politicized plot to spy on the Trump campaign — angering believers who thought the report would vindicate their belief in a criminal “deep state” plot against the president.
And this fall, the Spygate faithful got insult added to injury when a Justice Department investigation into one of their core concerns — whether Obama-era officials had acted improperly by “unmasking” the identities of certain people named in intelligence documents — came up empty-handed.
Few right-wing narratives have been as durable as Spygate, which has morphed over time into a kind of catchall theory encompassing various allegations of Democratic malfeasance. Fox News hosts including Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson went all in on it, as did Republicans in Congress, including Representative Devin Nunes of California and former Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina. But nobody embraced the theory like Mr. Trump, who has returned to it frequently to deflect attention from his own troubles, whether it was the Mueller investigation or his administration’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
As the election approaches, it’s worth looking back on Spygate’s evolution, both because it illustrates the way that partisan misinformation bubbles up through the right-wing media ecosystem, and, ultimately, because it shows how Mr. Trump’s obsession with a confusing, hard-to-follow narrative may have backfired as a campaign strategy.
Here is a (very) abridged version of the main waypoints in Spygate.
May 2018: Mr. Trump seized on the news that an F.B.I. informant was sent to meet with members of his campaign staff, dubbing it “Spygate,” and said that it “could be one of the biggest political scandals in history.” Pro-Trump media outlets ran with the unsubstantiated claims. Top-ranking Republicans initially tried to distance themselves from the theory, although many would later embrace it.
SPYGATE could be one of the biggest political scandals in history!
April 2019: Spygate gained momentum when William P. Barr, the attorney general, testified to Congress that he believed “spying did occur” on Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign, appearing to contradict previous Justice Department statements.
December 2019: Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department’s inspector general, released a long-awaited report detailing his findings about the origins and conduct of the F.B.I.’s Russia investigation. Mr. Trump’s media allies spent weeks hyping the report. (Sean Hannity predicted it would “shock the conscience.”) Followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory also latched onto the Horowitz report, predicting that it would set in motion indictments and mass arrests of the president’s enemies.
But the Horowitz report did not deliver a knockout punch. It revealed errors and lapses in some F.B.I. actions, but found no evidence of political bias in the F.B.I.’s Russia investigation, and rejected Mr. Trump’s suggestion that there was an organized Democratic conspiracy against him.
May 2020: As the country reeled from the Covid-19 pandemic, two developments brought Spygate (which had since been rebranded as “Obamagate”) back onto the national stage. First, the Justice Department dropped its criminal case against the former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn, a central figure in Spygate, who had pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. about his conversations with a Russian diplomat.
Then, days later, a list of Obama administration officials who might have tried to “unmask” Mr. Flynn was declassified and released by Richard Grenell, the acting director of national intelligence. (“Unmasking,” in intelligence parlance, refers to a process by which officials can seek to reveal the identity of individuals who are referred to anonymously in intelligence documents. Unmasking is common, and such requests are made thousands of times a year.) Those named on the list included former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., giving new fuel to Mr. Trump’s attempt to paint himself as the victim of a partisan conspiracy.
By this point, many Trump supporters had pinned their hopes on two government reports, which they hoped would soon blow the entire scandal wide open.
The first was a sweeping investigation led by John Durham, the U.S. attorney from Connecticut who was tapped by Mr. Barr to look into the origins of the F.B.I.’s Russia probe.
The second was a smaller piece of the Durham investigation led by John Bash, a U.S. attorney Mr. Barr appointed to look into whether Obama-era officials had improperly “unmasked” Mr. Flynn and others.
October 2020: With less than a month to go before the election, Spygate/Obamagate continued to unravel. Mr. Barr has told Republican lawmakers that Mr. Durham’s report would likely not arrive before the election. And the unmasking investigation led by Mr. Bash, which many Spygate aficionados believed would lead to indictments and arrests of top Democrats, instead ended with no findings of irregularities or substantive wrongdoing.
Still, for Mr. Trump, hope springs eternal. He has continued his crusade, comparing Spygate to a “treasonous act” that should disqualify Mr. Biden from the presidency.
Obama, Biden, Crooked Hillary and many others got caught in a Treasonous Act of Spying and Government Overthrow, a Criminal Act. How is Biden now allowed to run for President?
WASHINGTON — When some viewers in Arkansas tuned in to their local television news station last week, they found a surprising report: President Trump had defeated Joseph R. Biden Jr. in the state — three weeks before Election Day.
KNWA, the NBC affiliate serving northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas River Valley, said it was all a mistake. The station had been working on its election-night graphics and mistakenly broadcast fabricated results on a banner at the bottom of the screen during its 5 p.m. local newscast.
In an email, Lisa Kelsey, the vice president and general manager of KNWA and other stations in the area, said the slip-up was inadvertent and only a local issue.
A producer activated the wrong control, which displayed “a crawl of information about the election” for about a minute, she wrote, adding that no election results are currently available.
“We take this mistake very seriously and will ensure it doesn’t happen again,” Ms. Kelsey said in an email.
But the episode highlighted concerns about how news organizations report and characterize incomplete returns on election night and whether, by mistake or design, erroneous or misleading data could shape perceptions about who won before the outcome can be officially declared.
The issue has been a particular concern for Democrats, who fear that Mr. Trump’s statements about election fraud and his reluctance to commit to accepting the outcome could lead him to seize on early returns showing him with a lead to assert that the election is over.
Hi, Sue. Our team was working on our election graphics this afternoon and someone accidentally put the election scroll on TV instead of switching it to the news headlines scroll that we normally use during our show. I’m really sorry for the mistake.
A fast-growing network of nearly 1,300 websites is filling a void left by vanishing local newspapers across the country. But many of their stories are ordered up by conservative political groups and corporate P.R. firms, a Times investigation found.
We are publishing the names of those sites so readers can see whether the sites target their area.
We compiled the list with the help of Global Disinformation Index, an internet research group, which analyzed Google advertising and analytics data imprinted in the sites’ digital codes to find links between the sites. We then confirmed that sites belonged to the network by analyzing their layouts, bylines, privacy policies and “About” pages, as well as by interviewing employees and examining internal records of the companies behind the sites.
Columbia University’s Priyanjana Bengani tallied a similar number of websites in August.
The network is run under a web of companies, though it is largely overseen by Brian Timpone, a former TV reporter who has sought to capitalize on the decline of local news organizations for nearly two decades. Mr. Timpone did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
As a guide, the different segments of the network include nearly 1,000 local news sites under the Metric Media brand; more than 50 business news sites; 34 news sites in Illinois under the Local Government Information Services brand; and 11 legal-news sites owned by a U.S. Chamber of Commerce group.
Some of the sites are dormant, and we culled ones from our list that are now defunct. In the past, dormant sites have sprung to life when news hit the region they target, like what happened with the Kenosha Reporter site after protests broke out in Kenosha, Wis., over the police killing of an unarmed Black man there.
But on Saturday, Dr. Scott Atlas, one of President Trump’s most prominent science advisers, took to Twitter to say otherwise.
“Masks work? NO: LA, Miami, Hawaii, Alabama, France, Phlippnes, UK, Spain, Israel,” Dr. Atlas tweeted, rattling off a list of locations where masks had, in his view, failed to protect large swaths of the population.
Not long after, Dr. Atlas reshared his first tweet with a message that seemed to walk back his original statement: “Use masks for their intended purpose — when close to others especially hi risk,” he said. “Otherwise, social distance. No widespread mandates.”
On Sunday, Twitter removed Dr. Atlas’s first tweet, saying it violated the company’s policy against false or misleading information about the coronavirus that could lead to harm.
But the damage had already been done: The post had been retweeted at least 1,800 times, and generated over 7,300 likes and replies. The removal then set off a flurry of anti-mask posts, and accusations of tech censorship, across social media. On Facebook, several right-wing pages shared copies of the tweet, while a series of anti-mask and pro-Trump groups and pages claimed that Twitter was suppressing free speech.
Dr. Atlas, a radiologist with no background in infectious disease or public health, has come under heavy fire in recent months for his stances on the coronavirus, which has killed more than 219,000 Americans. Experts have widely dismissed and criticized his views on lockdowns and masking mandates after he has derided them as unnecessary and even harmful in the fight to halt the pandemic.
Dr. Atlas has also promoted the controversial idea that herd immunity — the point at which a virus can no longer spread easily because enough people have contracted it — can be reached when only a small sliver of the community at large has been infected.
In his now-defunct Saturday tweet about masks, Dr. Atlas cast doubt on their usefulness, saying there was little evidence that they reduce disease transmission. As a send-off, he shared a link to an indictment of face coverings published on Friday by the American Institute for Economic Research, a libertarian think tank that recently sponsored a declaration arguing that the coronavirus should be allowed to spread among young healthy people to expedite herd immunity.
Masks, like all other protective measures, cannot halt the coronavirus on their own. But experts consider the accessories a crucial part of the public health tool kit needed to combat the pandemic, alongside tactics such as physical distancing and widely available testing.
Here at Daily Distortions, we try to debunk false and misleading information that has gone viral. We also want to give you a sense of how popular that misinformation is, in the overall context of what is being discussed on social media. Each Friday, we will feature a list of the 10 most-engaged stories of the week in the United States, as ranked by NewsWhip, a firm that compiles social media performance data. (NewsWhip tracks the number of reactions, shares and comments each story receives on Facebook, along with shares on Pinterest and by a group of influential users on Twitter. This week’s data runs from 9:01 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 9, until 9 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 16.
Facebook said it would reduce the visibility of an unsubstantiated New York Post article about Hunter Biden, the son of Joseph R. Biden Jr., until a third party could fact-check it. Twitter initially banned all links to the article, saying it made the move because the article contained images showing private personal information and because it viewed the article as a violation of its rules against distributing hacked material. But the article still traveled widely on social media, receiving more than two million interactions.
Here is the full list of the week’s most-engaged stories:
1. New York Post: Smoking-gun email reveals how Hunter Biden introduced Ukrainian businessman to VP dad (2,307,293 interactions)
2. ComicBook.com: Two and a Half Men Star Conchata Ferrell Dies at 77 (1,863,725 interactions)
An obituary for Ms. Ferrell, who played Berta, the housekeeper, on “Two and a Half Men,” was shared widely by the show’s many fans.
3. Fox News: Rep. Doug Collins introduces resolution to push for Pelosi removal as House speaker (1,109,988 interactions)
Mr. Collins’s resolution, which claimed that Representative Nancy Pelosi “does not have the mental fitness” to continue as House speaker, was a largely meaningless symbolic gesture of opposition. But it was red meat for conservatives on Facebook, for whom Ms. Pelosi is an engagement-bait villain.
4. CNBC: Facebook, Twitter make editorial decisions to limit distribution of story claiming to show ‘smoking gun’ emails related to Biden and his son (1,032,917 interactions)
5. ET Online: ‘Dexter’ Revival Starring Michael C. Hall Set at Showtime (960,226 interactions)
Another break from politics, this one about a planned revival of the hit TV show “Dexter,” got nearly a million interactions.
6. The Daily Wire: ‘Legendary’: Barrett Asked To Hold Up Notes She’s Using To Answer Questions. She Holds Up A Blank Notepad. (881,469 interactions)
Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing was the subject of two Top 10 articles this week. This one, from the right-wing news site The Daily Wire, focused on her empty notepad.
7. Fox News: Judge Amy Coney Barrett to face Senate confirmation hearing (872,589 interactions)
8. Whitehouse.gov: Proclamation on Columbus Day, 2020 (861,279 interactions)
A White House proclamation about Columbus Day, which took aim at “radical activists” who “have sought to undermine Christopher Columbus’s legacy,” was widely shared by right-wing pages on Facebook and by groups like the National Italian American Foundation.
9. Fox News: Pelosi to announce bill on 25th Amendment after questioning Trump’s health (795,962 interactions)
10. The New York Times: California Republican Party Admits It Placed Misleading Ballot Boxes Around State (722,101 interactions)
A Times article about unofficial ballot boxes that Republican operatives placed in California was shared by several large left-wing Facebook pages, including Occupy Democrats and Ridin’ With Biden.
On Friday, President Trump tweeted a story from an unusual source: The Babylon Bee, a right-wing satire site that is often described as a conservative version of The Onion.
“Twitter Shuts Down Entire Network to Slow Spread of Negative Biden News,” read the story’s headline. The story was a joke, but it was unclear whether Mr. Trump knew that when he shared the link, with the comment “Wow, this has never been done in history.”
Twitter Shuts Down Entire Network To Slow Spread Of Negative Biden News https://t.co/JPmjOrKPcr via @TheBabylonBee Wow, this has never been done in history. This includes his really bad interview last night. Why is Twitter doing this. Bringing more attention to Sleepy Joe & Big T
Emma Goldberg, a reporter for The New York Times, recently profiled The Babylon Bee, and wrote about how the site’s satire is frequently mistaken for reality.
I chatted with Ms. Goldberg about her article, The Babylon Bee’s habit of skirting the line between misinformation and satire, and how it capitalizes on its audience’s confusion.
So, Emma, you wrote about The Babylon Bee, a satirical news site I’ve been fascinated by for a long time. It’s basically the right-wing version of The Onion, right?
Exactly. And what fascinated me in reporting this is that I’ve followed The Onion for a long time — but The Babylon Bee currently gets more traffic than them, at least according to their internal numbers.
That’s so interesting! (As an aside, I’m looking at some engagement data from Facebook now, and it’s telling me that The Babylon Bee has gotten about 45 million interactions with its Facebook page in the last year, compared with 35 million for The Onion.) Why do you think The Bee is doing so well?
Well, they certainly don’t pull any punches. Their mantra seems to be that everything is fair game: the left, the right, Trump. And in general, on the right, swiping at Trump is considered a red line, but The Bee doesn’t seem to care.
They’ve also tapped into a large audience of people who aren’t hard-line Trumpers, but are much more pissed off by the outrage that Trump generates on the left.
Right, sort of the anti-anti-Trump crowd. And the people who run the site, are they pro-Trump? What do they see themselves as doing, within the larger conservative movement?
They are ambivalent about their views on Trump, but they also proudly identify as Christian conservatives. But I noticed that their early coverage of Trump, back in 2016, was much more vitriolic than today’s. They called him a psychopath, or a megalomaniac. Now they’re more bemused by him and the ghoulish ways he’s described on the left.
But I think their willingness to swipe at him, even gently, gets at an important element for successful humor. What media scholar Brian Rosenwald told me is that the humor always has to come before the politics.
So this is a blog about distortions and misinformation, and one thing I’ve noticed recently is that a lot of The Babylon Bee’s most successful articles in terms of online engagement are the ones that are … less obviously satirical.
Totally. And that’s landed them in some hot water.
Like, one from the other day was called “NBA Players Wear Special Lace Collars to Honor Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”
People were sharing that thinking it was real.
They certainly play to that for virality — their best content is right on the reality-satire line.
I’m wondering the extent to which being a satire site — which makes them exempt from Facebook’s fact-checking program — has allowed them to traffic in misinformation under the guise of comedy. Do you think that’s a deliberate strategy?
Well, that’s a great question, because it’s been a big source of controversy for them. They’ve had a few articles that were fact-checked by Snopes and rated “false.” Which The Bee’s writers and editors claim prompted Facebook to threaten them with being demonetized (Facebook denies this). The Bee’s founder, Adam Ford, has claimed that Snopes fact-checked them in ways that were “egregious,” with standards that wouldn’t be applied to, for example, The Onion.
The Bee feels that they’re being targeted unfairly. But Snopes has poked at the fact that their pieces can sometimes be easily mistaken for real news — which might fall on them, not their readers.
Politics aside, it sort of speaks to the impossible nature of being a satirical site in the age of the mega-platform. Because on one hand, you’ve got to write things that are so obviously made up that they can’t reasonably be mistaken for real news, but also close enough to the truth to be funny.
One hundred percent. Truth is funnier than fiction these days.
One thing I’ve wondered is what the whole “owning the libs” media industrial complex (which I’d categorize The Bee as belonging to, even if they wouldn’t) will do if Trump loses in November. Do you get the sense that The Bee cares who wins the election, from the standpoint of comedic potential?
What’s funny is that because they aren’t Trump loyalists, they can see an advantage for their comedy either way. In some senses, comedy comes a lot easier when you’re not the party in power. But on the other hand, Trump is such an absurd figure that he can lend himself to some really wild caricatures. The editor in chief of The Bee told me Trump is great for comedy, so he’d be happy to see him win — a little later, he added that maybe they’re sick of Trump humor and ready for a change. They also see a lot of humor opportunity in the Biden camp, especially playing off the “Sleepy Joe” motif.
So what I’m taking from this conversation is: The Babylon Bee is not a covert disinformation operation disguised as a right-wing satire site, and is in fact trying to do comedy, but may inadvertently be spreading bad information when people take their stories too seriously?
For the most part. But they also seem to find it pretty funny when their content is mistaken for real news — and they’re not exactly going overboard to stop that.
It has said nothing. And what it has done, if anything, remains a mystery.
On Wednesday, the New York Post uploaded a one-minute, 17-second video highlighting the key points of the article to its YouTube channel, which has more than 430,000 subscribers. For most of that day, users who searched for “Hunter Biden” on YouTube saw the video at the top of the site’s “Top News” shelf. As of midday Thursday, the video had 100,000 views — a respectable figure but certainly not the stuff of viral videos.
In recent years, YouTube has made changes to its “recommendation algorithm” for what it calls borderline content — the types of videos that toe the line between what is acceptable on the platform and what it considers to violate its policies. As a result of those changes, YouTube limits such content from being recommended and keeps the videos from appearing prominently in search results or on its home page.
About 36 hours after the video was posted, YouTube said it would remain up without restriction. “Given the information currently available, content about this news story is allowed on YouTube. We will continue to evaluate content against our policies as new details emerge,” said Farshad Shadloo, a YouTube spokesman.
The response from YouTube stood in sharp contrast to the immediate and public reaction from Facebook and Twitter. Facebook said it would limit the distribution of the article on its platform so that third-party fact checkers could verify the claims. Twitter said it was blocking the article because it included people’s personal information, violating its privacy rules, and because the article violated its policy on hacked materials.
The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to subpoena Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, to testify on Oct. 23 regarding the company’s decision to block the article. Mr. Dorsey, along with Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Sundar Pichai of Google, are also scheduled to testify on Oct. 28 about Section 230, the law that shields technology companies from being held liable for some of the content published by its users.
While the number of views on the New York Post video remain subdued, videos related to the article have done extremely well. A Fox Business interview with Stephen K. Bannon, a former White House adviser who played a role in the article, got more than 275,000 views. An interview on Fox News with Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, about getting locked out of her Twitter account after sharing the Post story garnered 795,000 views.
This week, President Trump exaggerated a position taken by the World Health Organization, saying that the agency had vindicated his derision of lockdowns during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The World Health Organization just admitted that I was right,” the president tweeted. “Lockdowns are killing countries all over the world. The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself.”
The World Health Organization just admitted that I was right. Lockdowns are killing countries all over the world. The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself. Open up your states, Democrat governors. Open up New York. A long battle, but they finally did the right thing!
Mr. Trump’s message was rapidly shared by thousands online, including the commentator Lou Dobbs and Representative Andy Biggs, Republican of Arizona, who echoed the president’s rallying cry to “open up” and described the closings as “pseudoscientific” and “tyrannical.”
Mr. Trump did not say which W.H.O. statement he was referring to. But one of the few published recent comments from a W.H.O. official about lockdowns came from David Nabarro, one of several envoys to the organization on Covid-19.
“We in the World Health Organization do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus,” Dr. Nabarro said earlier this month to the British magazine The Spectator. “The only time we believe a lockdown is justified is to buy you time to reorganize, regroup, rebalance your resources, protect your health workers who are exhausted. But by and large, we’d rather not do it.”
“We really do appeal to all world leaders, stop using lockdown as your primary method of control,” Dr. Nabarro said.
Dr. Nabarro described several potential tolls of widespread lockdowns, which have set off economic declines and higher unemployment rates, and have widened disparities in many parts of the world, including the United States.
Dr. Nabarro has also noted that lockdowns may be necessary under some circumstances. In addition, he has advocated for a multifaceted approach to curbing the spread of the coronavirus — a strategy he recently outlined in a written reflection that highlighted the importance of physical distancing, mask-wearing, accessible testing and contact tracing, among other measures, to pinpoint and suppress outbreaks.
In a statement, Hedinn Halldorsson, a spokesman for the W.H.O., reaffirmed that the pandemic needed to be addressed with such a “package” of protective tactics.
“W.H.O. has never advocated for national lockdowns as a primary means for controlling the virus,” he said. “Dr. Nabarro was repeating our advice to governments to ‘do it all.’”
Some countries, like New Zealand, used lockdowns to great success to tame their outbreaks. Others, like South Korea, were able to circumvent them by pushing hard on testing. All success stories, however, have one thing in common: swift action to acknowledge and beat back the virus.
Lockdowns are extreme, and inevitably come with costs, said Syra Madad, a public health expert and epidemiologist based in New York. But they can afford communities much-needed time to ready other methods of containment.
“Had the U.S. been better prepared and responded faster,” Dr. Madad said, perhaps “lockdowns could have been avoided.”
Falsehoods about election interference are swirling online, stoking calls for violence on Election Day. The rumors touch on everything from ballot boxes to how the “deep state” — a so-called secret cabal of elites — is involved.
The misinformation is worrying researchers who track such content, and who said the volume of lies online had soared. Some of the individual lies are shared only dozens or hundreds of times each, but added together they have attracted millions of likes and shares across social media and are inflaming an already tense electorate, the researchers said.
Election-related misinformation has “been building up virality, using Facebook pages and groups as fertile ground,” said Fadi Quran, a campaign director at Avaaz, a progressive human rights nonprofit that studied some of the rumors.
Here is a sampling of some of the falsehoods making the rounds online ahead of Election Day.
A Democrat-led Coup
The baseless idea of a Democrat-led coup against President Trump has gained the most traction among election-related rumors about violence, according to Avaaz. A New York Times analysis found at least 938 Facebook groups, 279 Facebook pages, 33 YouTube videos and hundreds of tweets spreading the falsehood, mostly in right-wing circles.
On Sept. 14, Dan Bongino, a popular right-wing commentator and radio host, posted a Facebook video pushing the rumor. It was viewed 2.9 million times.
In a text message, Mr. Bongino said the idea of a Democratic coup was “not a rumor” and that he was busy “exposing LIBERAL violence.”
Some election-related lies are also circulating among left-wing groups. For instance, a left-wing Facebook page called The Other 98% posted in August that mailboxes were being blocked by unknown actors to effectively discourage people from voting. The post with the false claim collected 39,000 likes and comments on the social network and reached 18 million people, according to CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned tool for analyzing social media.
In total, voting-by-mail rumors have topped election misinformation this year, according to a September analysis by the media insights company Zignal Labs. Nearly a fourth of all the mentions last month about voting by mail on television, in print and in online news — or 3.1 million mentions — amounted to misinformation, Zignal Labs found.
The Covid ‘Scamdemic’
Another election falsehood spreading on Facebook is the notion that an elite cabal, or “deep state,” was interfering with the vote by inventing the coronavirus pandemic.
One post from August that got 795 likes and comments on Facebook was a meme with the caption, “The Covid scamdemic was devised by the Deep State to promote the use of ballots by mail. This is the way the Democrats can create massive election fraud.”
This lie is representative of how the “deep state” is portrayed online as responsible for all sorts of ills against President Trump. In another rumor, the deep state is bent on destroying ballots voting for Mr. Trump. And the deep state is also represented online as being intent on falsifying votes in favor of Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr.
A ‘Civil War’ on Election Day
Another widespread rumor is that a “civil war” is being planned and will erupt on Election Day. The baseless idea is showing up on sites like that of Glenn Beck, the former Fox News host and conspiracy theorist, according to a Times analysis. Mr. Beck’s Facebook page, which has three million followers, has also pushed the rumor.
Mr. Beck did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“If Trump wins the election BLM and antifa are going to burn this country down,” said another post on a pro-gun Facebook page, referring to the Black Lives Matter racial justice protesters and antifa, a loose collective of far-left activists. “If Biden wins they come for your freedom and your guns. Either way a War is coming. Are you ready?”
The posts about a looming civil war aim to create an atmosphere of fear so that voters are deterred from voting on Election Day, misinformation experts said.
Facebook on Tuesday said it would no longer allow anti-vaccination ads on its platform, in another reversal of its longtime stance of avoiding being the referee on thorny issues.
Facebook had previously shied away from stepping into debates over public health, even as anti-vaccination content on its site proliferated. But this year, it took a stand against false information related to the coronavirus to prevent public harm. It also has removed vaccine-related hoaxes that were identified by global health organizations.
In its updated policy on Tuesday, Facebook went further. The company said it would no longer permit people or entities to purchase ads that actively discourage people from getting vaccinated, or that portray vaccines as unsafe, useless or use other harmful descriptions.
“Our goal is to help messages about the safety and efficacy of vaccines reach a broad group of people, while prohibiting ads with misinformation that could harm public health efforts,” said Kang-Xing Jin, Facebook’s head of health initiatives, in a company blog post. “We don’t want these ads on our platform.”
Facebook, which has been under pressure for allowing toxic and harmful misinformation to flow across its site, has lately banned an increasing amount of content. On Monday, the company said that it would no longer accept posts that denied the existence of the Holocaust. Last week, the company expanded a crackdown on the pro-Trump conspiracy movement QAnon and also said that it would suspend political advertising after the Nov. 3 election for an unspecified period of time.
The number of content and ad bans stands out because Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, has long said that he is a proponent of free speech and of allowing all types of content to be posted on the social network. Facebook did not address its position on free speech on Tuesday.
Facebook has faced scrutiny for the amount of conspiracy theories and propaganda against vaccinations. Those who are against vaccines have been highly active on Facebook, operating in private Facebook groups and Instagram accounts. Tuesday’s move will not remove user-generated content.
The company also will still allow ads that argue against creating government policies for vaccination, but the entities running those ads will need to be “authorized,” Facebook said. Those ads will include a “paid for” label along with the name of the organization.
Mr. Jin also said Facebook will elevate posts from partners at the World Health Organization and UNICEF to increase immunization rates through public health messaging campaigns.
The social network positioned its policy change as part of the regular re-evaluations of content across the site.
“We regularly refine our approach around ads that are about social issues to capture debates and discussions around sensitive topics happening on Facebook,” Mr. Jin said in the blog post. “Vaccines are no different. While we may narrow enforcement in some areas, we may expand it in others.”
But since the early days of the pandemic, experts have had to fight to combat misinformed rumors that the coronavirus emerged from a lab as part of a sinister scientific project.
Last week, yet another piece of unfounded and misleading prose entered the fray: a study, posted online but not published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, contending that the virus is artificial and an “unrestricted bio-weapon” released by Chinese researchers.
The manuscript also baselessly denounced several parties, including policymakers, scientific journals and even individual researchers, for censoring and criticizing the lab-made hypothesis, accusing them of deliberate obfuscation of fact and “colluding” with the Chinese Communist Party.
Though scientists immediately condemned the study as disreputable and dangerous, it rapidly commanded a storm of social media attention, garnering more than 14,000 likes on Twitter and more than 12,000 retweets and quote-tweets within days of its posting. Shared on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit, it reached millions of users, and was covered in at least a dozen articles written in several languages.
The paper’s findings, however, have no basis in science.
“It’s ridiculous and unfounded,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University who criticized the study on Twitter the day it was released. “It’s masquerading as scientific evidence, but really it’s just a dumpster fire.”
The publication is the second in a series from a team led by Li-Meng Yan, a Chinese scientist who released an initial paper on Sept. 14, also not peer-reviewed, asserting that the coronavirus was synthetic. Dr. Yan’s background is a little murky. She left her position as a postdoctoral research fellow at Hong Kong University for undisclosed reasons some time ago, according to a July statement from the institution, and fled to the United States. Both papers list Dr. Yan and her co-authors as affiliated with the Rule of Law Society, a nonprofit whose founders include Steve Bannon, a former White House chief strategist, who has since been charged in an unrelated case of fraud.
“That alone should give people pause,” Dr. Rasmussen said of the team’s connection to Mr. Bannon’s nonprofit.
Dr. Yan and her colleagues did not respond to a request for comment.
“We have a very good picture of how a virus of this kind could circulate and spill over into human beings,” said Brandon Ogbunu, a disease ecologist at Yale University.
It may take quite some time to pinpoint exactly which animals harbored the virus along this chain of transmission, if scientists ever do at all — inevitably leaving some parts of the virus’s origin story ambiguous. Like many other conspiracy theories, the lab-made hypothesis “exploits the open questions in an ongoing investigation,” Dr. Ogbunu said.
But there is no evidence so far to support a synthetic source for the virus.
Dr. Yan’s Twitter account was suspended in September 2020 for pushing coronavirus disinformation. She shared the “second Yan report” from a second Twitter account, which has gained more than 34,000 followers.
Together, the papers written by Dr. Yan and her colleagues lay out what they identified as abnormalities in the genome sequence of the coronavirus. They suggested that those unusual features indicated that the virus’s genome had been purposefully spliced together and modified, using the genetic material from other viruses — a sort of Frankenstein’s monster pathogen, Dr. Yan told Fox News in September. The cousins of the coronavirus that had been identified in bats, they said, were also fake, human-made constructions, thus supposedly quashing the natural origin hypothesis.
The authors also contended that the coronavirus’s genome had been manipulated by scientists to enhance the virus’s ability to infect human cells and cause disease.
But outside experts have found no validity in either Yan report. The first was “full of contradictory statements and unsound interpretations” of genetic data from viruses, said Kishana Taylor, a virologist at Carnegie Mellon University.
And the second Yan report “was even more unhinged than the first,” said Gigi Kwik Gronvall, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and an author of a response debunking the original Yan report.
The supposedly strange features found in the genomes of the coronavirus and its natural relatives aren’t actually red flags at all, Dr. Ogbunu said. Viruses frequently move between animal hosts, changing their genetic material along the way — sometimes even swapping hunks of their genomes with other viruses. And many of the purported abnormalities in the coronavirus are found in other virus genomes.
The notion that the coronavirus was “designed” to be dangerous is also “just nonsense,” Dr. Ogbunu said. Scientists don’t know enough about viruses to predict which mutations would increase their lethality, let alone engineer these changes into new pathogens in the lab.
Building the coronavirus from such a mishmash of genetic templates, as described by Dr. Yan and her colleagues, would also raise herculean logistical hurdles for even the most dogged scientists. Part of this process would require researchers to laboriously tinker with thousands of individual letters in the alphabet soup that is a virus’s genome — an absurdly inefficient scientific strategy, Dr. Rasmussen said.
“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” Dr. Rasmussen said. “And this is not that.”
President Trump owes a lot of money: hundreds of millions of dollars of it.
Whom he owes it to has been the subject of countless conspiracy theories. Lately, liberals and othersocial media accounts have been spreading rumors, presented as fact, that he owes it to the Kremlin or Russian oligarchs.
After The New York Times reported that Mr. Trump’s federal tax returns showed that he had personally guaranteed $421 million of debt, questions about who lent him all this money have reached the upper echelons of the Democratic Party. “It’d be really good to know who the president of the United States, the commander-in-chief, owes money to, because the American people have a right to know what is influencing the president’s decisions,” Senator Kamala Harris said at last week’s vice-presidential debate.
The answers are not hard to come by.
According to Mr. Trump’s latest financial disclosure report, filed with the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, he owes at least $135 million to a smattering of small financial institutions such as Ladder Capital. His biggest creditor — to whom Mr. Trump owes well over $300 million — is Deutsche Bank. From 2012 through 2015, the scandal-plagued German bank lent Mr. Trump money for his Doral golf resort in Florida ($125 million), his hotel in Washington ($170 million) and his skyscraper in Chicago (at least $45 million).
Why on earth would Deutsche Bank have lent hundreds of millions to Mr. Trump given his track record of stiffing his lenders, including Deutsche Bank itself?
One conspiracy theory is that Deutsche Bank agreed to make the loans because they were backstopped by Russians — the Kremlin or a state-owned bank or an oligarch. If Mr. Trump were to default, it would be the Russians, not Deutsche Bank, on the hook for the losses.
Another, relatedclaimis that after Deutsche Bank made the loans, it sold chunks of them to Russians. It is common for large loans to be syndicated or securitized — in other words, chopped up and sold to investors. In the late 1990s through the mid-2000s, Deutsche Bank did this with some of its large loans to Mr. Trump.
Under this theory, the president would owe the money to Russians, not the German bank.
There is a certain logic to this. Russians interfered on Mr. Trump’s behalf in the 2016 election. Deutsche Bank is the only mainstream financial institution that’s been consistently willing to do business with Mr. Trump. And Deutsche Bank for decades has had close ties to Russia and has facilitated money laundering for wealthy Russians.
But the theories don’t hold up.
Deutsche Bank didn’t chop up and sell the latest batch of debt — the only portion that is still outstanding, according to bank officials with direct knowledge of the transactions. The loans remain on Deutsche Bank’s books.
It is true that Deutsche Bank was willing to lend to Mr. Trump when few others would. But there is an explanation. To overcome the bank’s wariness, Mr. Trump agreed to personally guarantee most of the debt on all of the loans. That meant that if he defaulted, Deutsche Bank could seize his personal assets, as The Times has previously reported.
The result was that the loans would generate fees and interest payments for Deutsche Bank but would entail little financial risk.
Deutsche Bank remains a vast repository for Mr. Trump’s financial secrets, and the president’s lawyers have spent more than a year fighting against congressional subpoenas for the bank’s records related to Mr. Trump. It is not impossible that evidence will emerge that muddies this picture.
Moments after Mr. Biden revealed his plans, his campaign provided more details about his travel schedule, indicating he would travel to Iowa and Wisconsin on Friday. His campaign had already announced his plans to travel to Georgia on Tuesday and Florida on Thursday.
Trying to stave off any criticism about his travel, Mr. Biden on Monday offered an explanation for his careful approach to campaigning during the pandemic.
âThe big difference between us and the reason why it looks like weâre not traveling â weâre not putting on superspreaders,â he said.
It is not unheard-of for campaigns to make late forays into long-shot states, sometimes to force their opponents to spend more resources there and sometimes to help down-ballot Senate or House candidates. But polling has suggested that Mr. Biden is competitive in both Georgia and Iowa, where the Democratic Senate candidate, Theresa Greenfield, is also in a tight race. An average of current polls shows Mr. Biden with a narrow edge of three percentage points over Mr. Trump in Iowa, according to The Upshotâs calculator, and roughly tied with the president in Georgia.
Mr. Bidenâs schedule in the last week of the campaign may prompt questions about whether his campaign is overly confident in his electoral prospects in crucial battlegrounds like Michigan and Pennsylvania, two states that Mr. Trump narrowly won in 2016. Mr. Bidenâs decision to travel to Wisconsin, another Midwestern swing state that Mr. Trump carried in 2016, also suggests his campaign is perhaps more wary of his chances there.
Mr. Trump spent Monday focused on Pennsylvania. At his first rally, in Allentown, the president ripped into Mr. Bidenâs running mate, Senator Kamala Harris of California, in demeaning and personal terms, saying, âShe will not be the first woman president â you canât let that happen.â Mr. Trump also mocked the way she laughed during her â60 Minutesâ interview on Sunday.