SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea is confident that there is no basis to the recent swirl of rumors that the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, is gravely ill, the South’s chief policymaker on the North said in comments reported on Monday.
It is highly unusual for a senior South Korean official to publicly dispute news reports about what is happening inside North Korea’s secretive leadership. Normally, South Korean officials maintain a neither-confirm-nor-deny policy, at least on the record, for fear of disturbing sensitive relations between the two Koreas.
South Korea has repeatedly issued statements, including one from President Moon Jae-in’s National Security Council, that there was “nothing unusual” in the North, a stock phrase it uses to cast doubt on unsubstantiated news reports on North Korea.
Still, the rumors proliferated on social media, often picked up by mainstream news outlets, largely because North Korea has not reported a public appearance by Mr. Kim for two weeks or responded to lurid claims about his health.
The prevalence of such rumors was also fueled by fears over what might happen to the unpredictable, nuclear-armed regime in Pyongyang should its totalitarian leader be incapacitated. Although most past rumors about the health of North Korean leaders have turned out to be groundless, some proved true, like the speculation that Mr. Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, had a stroke in 2008.
Mr. Kim, the South Korean unification minister, called the current torrent of rumors symptomatic of an “infodemic.”
He said that when the South Korean government’s National Security Council issued a statement reporting “nothing unusual” in the North, it did so after carefully assessing a complex set of sources of information. But he said he could not go into details, given the nature of intelligence-gathering work.
“I want to emphasize that when officials say such things, they don’t do it idly,” Mr. Kim said, referring to General Hyten’s comment and the constant intelligence cooperation between South Korea and the United States. “They say them based on assessment of information.”
Kim Jong-un last appeared publicly on April 11. Speculation about his health began swirling after he missed state celebrations for his country’s biggest holiday, the April 15 birthday of his paternal grandfather, Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea.
The rumors gained traction after Daily NK, a Seoul-based website relying on anonymous sources inside the North, reported last Monday that Mr. Kim was recovering from heart surgery performed on April 12. The next day, CNN reported that Washington was monitoring intelligence that Mr. Kim was “in grave danger.” Unconfirmed news reports followed that China had sent doctors to North Korea.
Mr. Kim, the unification minister, criticized the original Daily NK report.
The website reported that Mr. Kim had undergone surgery at Hyangsan Hospital, a clinic “dedicated to treating the Kim family” that is near Mount Mohyang, north of Pyongyang.
But the South Korean unification minister said that Mr. Kim had not gone to Hyangsan, and that the hospital there was just a “regular local health clinic” not capable of conducting a major surgery.
In recent days, longtime North Korea experts in Seoul have begun speaking out against rumors based on anonymous sources in China.
“Even if Kim Jong-un is indeed dead or in a critical condition, there is a near-zero chance for North Korea to have told the Chinese,” Chun Yung-woo, a former senior presidential aide for foreign affairs, said in a Facebook post on Sunday. “People who don’t know how much the North Koreans distrust the Chinese are likely to believe such a possibility.”
Kim Byung-kee, a former intelligence official who is now a lawmaker and a member of the National Assembly’s intelligence committee, said on Sunday that groundless rumors about North Korea proliferated partly because few were held accountable for spreading false information.
“When it comes to North Korea, no matter what you say, you are not held responsible for the consequences and people soon forget,” Mr. Kim said on Facebook on Sunday.
LONDON — Each evening at the stroke of 5, a British cabinet minister and two expert advisers walk into a clubby, wood-paneled room at 10 Downing Street and take their places behind three socially distanced lecterns.
The room is empty but for a large screen, which flickers with the images of journalists, most of them at home, who politely pepper the officials with questions about Britain’s response to the coronavirus. The experts show slides with bars and graphs, and the minister briskly ends the proceedings in under an hour.
This is Britain’s answer to the White House’s daily coronavirus briefing — and except for the starting time, Downing Street’s genteel exercise is the antithesis of the fiery, freewheeling spectacle presided over by President Trump across the Atlantic.
At one level, that is surprising. Britain has been hit hard by the pandemic and the government has come under fire for mishandling its response. Prime Minister Boris Johnson initially played down the threat in ways that echoed Mr. Trump, and British papers have published lengthy investigations of his missteps.
But unlike at the White House, the Downing Street briefings have not become an arena for bitter recrimination or dubious science, to say nothing of wild speculation about injecting people with bleach to kill the virus.
For starters, they have not been dominated by a single lightning-rod personality since Mr. Johnson was sidelined last month with his own case of the virus. He turned over the briefing duties to a rotating cast of ministers, who come across as earnest understudies.
So there is none of the gladiatorial combat of Mr. Trump’s clashes with reporters, none of the awkward moments when the leader second-guesses the scientists and no fulsome expressions of praise by subordinates like Vice President Mike Pence. There is instead a sense of dutiful inquiry.
The exchanges are unfailingly cordial — journalists preface follow-up questions with “if I may” — the atmosphere is cool and the conversation periodically veers into the academic, as ministers defer to the scientists to explain issues like whether the transmission rate of the virus has fallen to below one.
For those missing tennis this summer, tuning in to Downing Street is like watching a crisp gentlemen’s match at Wimbledon. The White House briefing is more like a sweaty night of mixed doubles at Flushing Meadows during the U.S. Open.
And yet, for all the cultural differences, there are deeper parallels between the sessions. Both governments are trying to shape the narrative of how they are handling the pandemic. Both are on the defensive. And both are led by populist politicians who bring campaign-style tactics to an unpredictable crisis.
“Johnson and Trump are both much happier in campaign mode than governing mode,” said Alistair Campbell, who as the press secretary for Tony Blair when he was prime minister built a well-oiled P.R. machine.
These days, Mr. Campbell said, he was spending “most of the time watching these wretched briefings,” not just Downing Street and the White House, but also those led by Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, whom he praises effusively.
“Trump is clearly using his briefings with a campaign focus, to attack his opponents and galvanize his base,” Mr. Campbell said. “Johnson, less dangerously but just as politically, is using them to give the sense of being vaguely in control.”
His ministers rarely concede that the government should have done anything differently, even though Britain’s soaring death toll puts it on a par with the worst-hit countries in Europe. They deflect questions about why they have tested so few people, or why hospital workers still do not have enough masks.
“We must stick to the plan, and we must continue to be guided by the science,” said Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, on April 9, while refusing to give details about either. Mr. Johnson has deputized Mr. Raab to take over his duties temporarily, but the understudy has little of his boss’s charisma.
When the questions get uncomfortable, the politicians dodge and weave. On April 10, a reporter asked the health secretary, Matt Hancock, how many health workers had died during the outbreak.
“I think this is a question for you, Ruth,” Mr. Hancock said, tossing it to Ruth May, the nation’s chief nursing officer, who said it would be inappropriate to get into numbers.
Things were a bit looser when Mr. Johnson was at the podium. Early in the crisis, he often appeared with the chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, and the chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance. The news media nicknamed the trio “Boris and the boffins” — British slang for science mavens.
On March 3, Mr. Johnson told reporters, who were then still seated in the room, that he had visited patients in a hospital. “I shook hands with everybody, you’ll be pleased to know,” he said, turning to Dr. Vallance for validation.
“Wash your hands,” he replied, with a regretful shake of his head that was reminiscent of how Anthony S. Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, sometimes reacts to Mr. Trump.
Mr. Johnson’s absence has made the briefings less riveting but perhaps more informative, because it encourages reporters to direct questions to the scientists. Some communications analysts said the lack of focus on a single person was a good thing — and one that should be emulated by Mr. Trump.
“The president and the prime minister are catnip for a very frisky press corps,” said Ari Fleischer, who was press secretary to former President George W. Bush. “Without them,” he said, “you’d get different experts and different questions.”
He said Mr. Trump should appear only three times a week, and there are signs the president may take his advice.
But while Mr. Trump and Mr. Johnson are often compared, they are very different, not least in their communications style. Under Mr. Johnson, Downing Street has hammered a single message, centered on Britain’s National Health Service and emblazoned on the lecterns in the briefing room: “Stay Home. Protect the N.H.S. Save Lives.”
Under Mr. Trump, the White House message shifts daily, depending on the whims of the man delivering it.
“These are not sessions that provide clarity,” said Martha Joynt Kumar, an expert on White House communications. “There is more obfuscation than clarity.”
When Mr. Trump’s name comes up, British officials tread gingerly.
On Friday, Jenny Harries, who is a deputy to Dr. Whitty, the chief medical officer, was asked about the president’s reference to disinfectants. “I wouldn’t have a specific message to Donald Trump,” Dr. Harries said with a smile. “I’d have a specific message to anybody who suggested they should be injecting anything into their bodies.”
That message was: Don’t do it.
With moments like that, Downing Street’s briefings remain popular. They draw between 8 million and 9 million viewers on weekdays, well above the usual audience for BBC’s news shows, according to Enders Analysis, a media research firm in London.
“The U.K. conferences are a genuine attempt to brief the nation, even if the poor quality of politicians and journalistic questioning means they don’t always succeed as well as they should,” said Andrew Neil, a prominent BBC host.
“At least the intent is there,” he said. “The White House equivalents are largely platforms for a show-pony president.”
These are, safe to say, uncertain times.
The confirmed global cases of illness from coronavirus are approaching 1.5 million, and reported deaths are well into the six figures, but what are the true rates of infection and mortality?
We don’t know.
Last week, Dr. Robert Redfield, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that up to 25 percent of people infected with coronavirus show no symptoms. But at the White House coronavirus task force briefing on Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, gave a markedly broader range.
“It’s somewhere between 25 and 50 percent,” Dr. Fauci said. “And trust me, that is an estimate. I don’t have any scientific data yet. You know when we’ll get the scientific data? When we get those antibody tests out there.”
This type of uncertainty about facts, numbers and science is called epistemic uncertainty. It is caused by a lack of knowledge about the past and the present — “our ignorance,” said David Spiegelhalter, a statistician and chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at the University of Cambridge.
Science is full of epistemic uncertainty. Circling the unknowns, inching toward truth through argument and experiment is how progress is made. But science is often expected to be a monolithic collection of all the right answers. As a result, some scientists — and the politicians, policymakers and journalists who depend on them — are reluctant to acknowledge the inherent uncertainties, worried that candor undermines credibility.
Then there are scientists like Dr. Fauci, who has also acknowledged uncertainty about matters like the time needed to flatten the curve, to develop an antibody test and to find a vaccine.
“I will say what’s true, and whatever happens, happens,” he told Vanity Fair.
What happens when scientists do acknowledge uncertainty is the question behind a study, published March 23 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences. It explored “The Effects of Communicating Uncertainty on Public Trust in Facts and Numbers.”
“The accusations of a post-truth society, and claims that the public ‘had had enough of experts,’ prompted us to investigate whether trust in ‘experts’ was lowered by their openly admitting uncertainty about what they know,” said Dr. Spiegelhalter, one of the principal investigators.
The study’s findings suggest that being transparent about uncertainty does not harm the public’s trust in the facts or in the source.
“These results indicate that people ‘can handle the truth’ about the level of certainty or uncertainty of scientific facts and knowledge,” said Anne Marthe van der Bles, a psychologist at the University of Groningen, who is the lead author and an affiliate with the Cambridge research team.
Using online surveys, the study measured reactions to uncertainty expressed in statements about various subjects: the number of tigers left in India, the increase in global average surface temperature between 1880 and 2010 and unemployment figures in the United Kingdom. The survey was replicated “in the wild” with a field study on the BBC News website. The researchers tested uncertainties presented quantitatively, with a numerical range or percentage; and more qualitatively, using a word such as “estimated” or “approximately.”
The precise numerical statements were more effective both in conveying uncertainty and in maintaining trust. (There was in fact a minor reduction in trust, but the researchers deemed the effect so small as to be trivial.)
“I find it heartening, and very good advice,” said Ed Humpherson, the director general of the Office for Statistics Regulation in the U.K. “Being trustworthy depends not on conveying an aura of infallibility, but on honesty and transparency.”
Starting on March 19, the experiment was replicated in several countries with statements about the severity of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Early results confirm the paper’s findings.
“So, where there is uncertainty around — for example, the death rates from Covid-19 — people shouldn’t feel concerned about communicating this to the public,” said Alex Freeman, a co-author, and the executive director of the Winton Centre. “It may be important to do so.”
The public, in turn, must be open to considering and adapting to new evidence, said Lorraine Daston, a historian of science at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. “We the public must expect scientific views on the nature of the virus and how best to combat it to change as more evidence comes in, and be prepared to change our conduct accordingly,” she said.
Varieties of uncertainty
The Cambridge team has been exploring uncertainty in its many forms for a while now. Last year, they published a theory paper, reviewing related research. At a conference of uncertainty quantification specialists about two years ago, Dr. Freeman asked attendees to write definitions of uncertainty on Post-it notes and stick them on the wall. “Every one was different,” she said. “I have to say my favorite was: ‘Anything and everything that can **** up a decision’ [insert descriptor of your choice].”
The recent study, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, focused on people’s reactions to epistemic uncertainty: things we don’t know about the past and present but in theory could come to know, through measurement. The team is now researching perceptions of aleatory uncertainty — unknowns about the future due to randomness, indeterminacy, chance or luck. (In Latin, alea means dice or gambling.)
Most uncertainty is a mix of epistemic and aleatory elements. For instance: How many more people will get Covid-19? And once transmission is suppressed below the R0=1 threshold (the reproduction number required to rapidly reduce the number of cases to low levels), how will we avoid a rebound?
Common wisdom from the psychologist’s perspective is that people do not like uncertainty, especially about the future, and that it generates a negative response. (Psychologists call this “ambiguity aversion.”) From the statistician’s perspective, the hypothesis is that people have a positive reaction and trust information more when the communicator is being open about uncertainties in facts and figures.
“The motivation was to try to adjudicate between these competing hypotheses,” said Sander van der Linden, a principal investigator, and a psychologist and the director of the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab. “Ultimately we didn’t find support for the notion that communicating uncertainty enhances public trust, but it also didn’t substantially undermine it.”
Models are the maps, not the territory
Either way, there is little to assuage our most pressing existential uncertainty: When will the pandemic end?
In the early days of the outbreak, when data was beginning to emerge from China, we were in a state of “deep uncertainty,” also known as “radical uncertainty” or “Knightian uncertainty.” (The economist Frank Knight distinguished between risk and uncertainty about a century ago.) Deep uncertainty is the quagmire of unknown unknowns; there are no constraints.
Risk is yet another type of uncertainty, usually pertaining to things in the future that might turn out badly. Risk encompasses the known unknowns and can be calculated with probabilities. As more reliable data comes in, said Dr. Spiegelhalter, “the Covid-19 pandemic is rapidly becoming a constrained problem.”
Earlier in March, he sought to tame the uncertainty and the fear by investigating exactly how much “normal risk” infection with coronavirus represents.
We face normal risk daily — “We are all going to die sometime,” said Dr. Spiegelhalter. And the odds increase from one day to the next, with age.
Working with the latest (albeit uncertain) data about Covid-19 mortality rates, he found that getting infected essentially compressed a year’s worth of normal risk into a couple of weeks. His risk of dying in the next year, as a 66-year-old man, was about 1.5 percent. “Very roughly, getting Covid-19 seems to be like packing that much risk into the time that you are ill,” he said. “Of course, if you survive, you still have your standard ration of risk to deal with.”
Statistical science, he said, “is a machine, in a sense, to turn the variability that we see in the world — the unpredictability, the enormous amount of scatter and randomness that we see around us — into a tool that can quantify our uncertainty about facts and numbers and science.”
But as he acknowledged in his book, “The Art of Statistics,” models “are simplifications of the real world — they are the maps not the territory.” (This is reminiscent of Jorge Luis Borges’s story, “On Exactitude in Science,” about a map growing as large as the territory it was meant to represent.)
The limitations and uncertainties inevitably get exploited in politicized narratives, and entangled in misinformation and disinformation, making it all the more important to confront them head on.
Neil Ferguson, who heads the team of epidemiologists at Imperial College London that produced the influential March 16 report modeling the virus’s spread, said that it is the role of modelers, in presenting the projections, to at once indicate the uncertainties “and to evaluate effectively how the uncertainties — the extent of asymptomatic infection, for instance; the overall lethality of this virus — might change the conclusions, particularly qualitatively rather than quantitatively.”
In communicating uncertain or ambiguous results for governments, Dr. Ferguson usually includes “confidence bounds” or “error bars.” But in doing a radio interview, for instance, he tends to opt for more qualitative descriptions. He was surprised to hear that the study’s results indicated that quantitative statements are more effective in conveying uncertainty even with a more general audience. “Maybe I’ll take that on board,” he said.
The study is, in a sense, proof of the value in acknowledging these unknowns. As Dr. Spiegelhalter noted, it is “an empirical test of humility.”
SYDNEY, Australia — Cardinal George Pell walked out of prison on Tuesday after Australia’s highest court reversed his 2018 conviction for molesting two choirboys decades earlier — liberating the most senior Roman Catholic cleric to ever face trial over child sexual abuse.
The world may never be able to assess whether the court’s reasoning was sound.
The panel of seven judges ruled that the jury lacked sufficient doubt about the accusations against Cardinal Pell, the former Archbishop of Melbourne and treasurer for the Vatican. Jurors, the court argued, ignored “compounding improbabilities” caused by conflicting accounts from the cardinal’s main accuser and other witnesses.
But no one outside the court case can test that comparison. The central evidence — the testimony of the main accuser, on which the case “was wholly dependent,” the judges wrote — has never been released, not in video, audio nor even redacted transcripts.
It is just one glaring example of the secrecy and lack of accountability that has shaped the Pell prosecution from the beginning. No criminal trial in Australia’s recent history has been as high-profile nor as hard to follow and scrutinize.
The case has been a model of opaque operations, starting with judges who dismissed related allegations early on, followed by gag orders preventing media coverage and a refusal to release evidence — even when a jury verdict is dismissed as unreasonable.
Legal experts said that the case made clear just how much power judges in Australia have to suppress public oversight and overrule jury verdicts, raising questions about whether the system adequately values citizen participation. At every stage, critics argue, Australia’s courts exhibited a penchant for secrecy and insular decision making that resembled the Catholic Church’s flawed and damaging response to sexual abuse within its ranks.
“It’s endemic to various areas in the landscape of Australian governance,” said Jason Bosland a law professor at Melbourne University. “We have this approach of ‘well you just have to trust us.’ It’s a problem.”
Australia’s legal system is built on British common law. There is no explicit protection in the constitution for free speech, although the High Court has said it implicitly does in some cases. And verdicts by juries can be thrown out if an appeals court determines that their decision was unreasonable or could not be supported given the evidence.
The success of such appeals is rare — but it worked for Cardinal Pell. If the decision came as a surprise, it’s largely because of how little the public could see along the way.
From the very beginning of the case, Australia’s judges resisted legal principles that treat criminal trials as public events in order to ensure accountability for a justice system that promises an impartial rule of law.
Early on, a sweeping suppression order restricted what journalists could publish, barring even the most basic details such as the number of people involved in the original complaint. Strict rules that apply to all criminal cases, aiming to protect juries from information that might prejudice their decisions, also contributed to both a news and accountability blackout.
The court prevented any mention of additional accusations lodged against Cardinal Pell and pressured news outlets to delete stories already published. “Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell,” a book by the journalist Louise Milligan, was pulled from bookstores to avoid risking a contempt of court charge.
Journalists could not report on the case as it happened, meaning the original trial, which ended with a hung jury, largely disappeared. Even reporting about the suppression order, because it was a court document related to the proceedings, would have been considered breaking the law.
“A problem in this case is that the public mostly couldn’t watch,” said Jeremy Gans, a professor at Melbourne Law School who closely followed the trial. “Most of us didn’t know any of the details, and none of us have seen the complainant’s testimony.”
There was a reason for caution. Australia’s sexual abuse laws require that the identities of child victims be protected — in this case, the main accuser was 13 years old at the time of the alleged abuse in 1996. He came forward in 2015.
But critics question whether the public’s right to know could have been preserved.
“There should be some way of providing the public with access to the transcript in a way that doesn’t reveal the identity of the person so people can judge whether or not to agree,” Mr. Bosland said. “The only way the judicial branch of government is held accountable is through principle of open justice, and that requires that the public be given as much information as possible.”
In its ruling on Tuesday, the High Court essentially decided the criminal case of one of the world’s most powerful religious figures based on how a jury had handled testimony that no one outside the proceedings has been able to assess.
The judges’ order suggested that jurors put too much faith in the main accuser’s account without adequately considering the “unchallenged evidence” of additional witnesses. The prosecution, the order indicated, did not do enough to interrogate those who said the scene following a Sunday Mass 20 years earlier would have been too busy to allow for what was alleged — including the accusation the cardinal forced his penis into the accuser’s mouth after catching the two choirboys drinking wine in the priests’ sacristy.
But without the testimony of the accuser for comparison, it’s difficult to assess what led the jury to deliver a guilty verdict.
Even some victims and their representatives said on Tuesday that they were beginning to question whether justice required completely obscuring the complainant’s testimony.
Steven Spaner, Australia coordinator for the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said that as the trial went on, culminating in acquittal, “it started to look like this was not a fair deal, this was power, this was those who can influence using their influence.”
Cardinal Pell’s prominence has always seemed to hover over the proceedings. “Big George,” as he was known in his hometown of Ballarat, Australia, carried a domineering mien and management style from his early days in the priesthood through his rapid rise up the ranks.
He was often the public face of the Catholic Church’s response to the abuse scandal. As archbishop of Melbourne, he set up an alternative resolution process for abuse survivors that the Vatican admired, and many Australians viewed with skepticism. It initially capped payments at 50,000 Australian dollars, or $31,000, with compensation conditioned on victims keeping their traumas confidential.
Many saw him as a protector of finances first, and parishioners second.
“There are a lot of people saying Pell was a scapegoat for the tragedy of this whole thing,” said Dr. Peter Wilkinson, a former Catholic priest and researcher in Melbourne. “That’s a reasonable argument. People were angry, extremely angry, and the allegations against George Pell gave then a human target for their anger.”
A statement from the Vatican said Pope Francis “welcomes the High Court’s unanimous decision,” adding that he “has always expressed confidence in the Australian judicial authority.” He offered his morning Mass on Tuesday for those who suffer from unjust sentences.
But for many of those who have been living with the legacy of abuse in the church, the High Court’s decision is a blow to their faith in a justice system they had just started to trust.
Lisa Flynn, a lawyer representing the father of the deceased accuser in a civil claim, said that her client was struggling to understand how the criminal justice system had ultimately “failed both the choirboys” — the one that testified and a second who died before the trial.
She said that the High Court’s decision revealed systemic issues in Australia’s capacity to deal with sexual violence and to trust the verdicts of its citizens.
“The voice of the victims in this matter,” Ms. Flynn said, “haven’t really been heard.”
NEW DELHI — The Media One anchorman Vinesh Kunhiraman went on air as usual on March 6, ready to tell the station’s five million viewers in India’s Kerala State about the death anniversary of a beloved comedian and the latest news on the coronavirus pandemic.
Just a few minutes into the broadcast, he saw the managing editor rush to the studio floor, gesturing wildly. “I realized something was not right,” Mr. Kunhiraman recalled.
The station’s uplink suddenly went dead. Mr. Kunhiraman’s image dissolved into a blue screen. A bland message told viewers there was no signal. “We regret the inconvenience,” it said.
But this was no technical difficulty. The station had been cut off by an order from India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The government decided to block the channel for 48 hours because it had covered February’s biggest news story — the mob attacks on Muslims in New Delhi that flared into broader unrest — in a way that seemed “critical toward Delhi Police and R.S.S.,” the order said.
The R.S.S. is a Hindu-nationalist social movement with close ties to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party.
“It was shocking the central government took such a decision,” said R. Subhash, an editor at Media One. “It was an attack on the freedom of the press.”
India’s free press has played a crucial role in protecting this country’s democracy since its independence from Britain in 1947. But journalists here now feel under attack.
Since Mr. Modi came to power in 2014, they say, his government has tried to control the country’s news media, especially the airwaves, like no other prime minister in decades. Mr. Modi has shrewdly cultivated the media to build a cult of personality that portrays him as the nation’s selfless savior.
At the same time, senior government officials have pressed news outlets — berating editors, cutting off advertising, ordering tax investigations — to ignore the uglier side of his party’s campaign to transform India from a tolerant, religiously diverse country into an assertively Hindu one.
With the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Modi has gotten more blatant in his attempt to control coverage and, as with other difficult stories, some Indian news executives seem willing to go along.
Right before he announced the world’s largest coronavirus lockdown, on 1.3 billion people, Mr. Modi met with top news executives and urged them to publish “inspiring and positive stories” about the government’s efforts. Then, after the lockdown stranded half a million migrant workers, with some dying along the highways, his lawyers persuaded the Supreme Court this week to order all media to “publish the official version” of coronavirus developments, although outlets are still allowed to carry independent reporting.
An association of leading broadcasters was quick to praise the court decision, which many intellectuals said was yet another attack on India’s constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech.
Through an aide, India’s information and broadcasting minister, Prakash Javadekar, initially agreed to discuss the government’s media policies. But in the two weeks since then, Mr. Javadekar has declined to answer any questions, including a written list emailed to him. His aide cited the demands of the coronavirus crisis.
India’s media universe is vast, perhaps the biggest in the world: More than 17,000 newspapers, 100,000 magazines, 178 television news channels and countless websites in dozens of languages. Thousands of Facebook pages call themselves news publishers, and YouTube is filled with local bulletins on everything from real estate trends to police raids.
But Mr. Modi’s ministers have leaned on business leaders to cut off support to independent media, slowly strangling their operations. His government has pressured media owners to fire journalists who have criticized the prime minister and told them to stop running features like hate-crime trackers that have embarrassed Mr. Modi’s party.
Mr. Modi is backed up by an army of online allies who discredit and harass independent journalists; female journalists, in particular, have been besieged with abuse and rape threats. And the police say Hindu nationalists were behind the 2017 murder of Gauri Lankesh, a female newspaper editor hailed as one of India’s most crusading journalists.
And for the most part, Indian news outlets have knuckled under, concluding that since much of the public supports the prime minister, they should, too. Even skeptical journalists censor themselves, afraid to be branded anti-national by a government that equates patriotism with support for Mr. Modi.
His government has also imposed the strictest restrictions on foreign journalists in decades, suddenly and without explanation. Visas have been tightened, and foreign journalists have been banned from hotbeds of unrest such as northeast India and Jammu and Kashmir, a Muslim-majority area that was stripped of its statehood in August and put under a severe crackdown.
The Kashmir story was seismic, but many Indian journalists, looking back on it, feel that they toed the government line and overlooked grave human rights abuses.
“We didn’t do justice to the big story,’’ said Rajdeep Sardesai, one of the country’s leading news anchors. “We should have gone out there and reported the situation from the ground aggressively and independently.’’
There were security restrictions on where Indian reporters could go, Mr. Sardesai said, but he admitted it was more than that.
“A large section of the Indian media,” he said, “has become a lap dog, not a watchdog.”
The business model in India doesn’t help. Well before Mr. Modi first became prime minister in 2014, newspapers and television stations have relied on government advertising, allowing politicians to reward friendly outlets and punish critics.
And media owners often run other businesses for which they need the government’s favor, making them reluctant to take on those in power.
With the coronavirus pandemic dampening advertising and restricting newspaper circulation, news organizations are now sliding into crisis. One of the most independent, The Indian Express, just decided to cut salaries.
Even as Mr. Modi constantly touts India as the world’s largest democracy, its ranking on the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index is 140 out of 180.
“In the past six years, the Indian media has deteriorated,” said Shakuntala Banaji, a media professor at the London School of Economics. “There is no semblance of truth or responsibility left in the vast majority of media reports.”
Pressuring the advertisers
The apologetic calls from advertisers have become so common that NDTV executives are no longer surprised.
One corporate boss begged the station to take his company’s logo off the screen, saying the government was squeezing him too hard. Another executive broke down in tears as he canceled a large advertising contract.
No TV channel has come under more pressure from Mr. Modi’s government than NDTV, an influential network that airs in English and Hindi. Mr. Modi’s grudge goes back to 2002, when he was chief minister of Gujarat State, and NDTV journalists reported that his government stood by while hundreds of Muslims were massacred in religiously driven violence.
When Mr. Modi became prime minister, his administration began a full-scale assault on NDTV. The government accused it of laundering money through a deal with NBC, the American TV network. The accusations have dragged on for years, and NDTV denies any wrongdoing.
“The thing in India is, you can file a case, and win it 10 years later,” said Prannoy Roy, one of NDTV’s founders. “The process is the punishment.”
The effort to brand NDTV as unpatriotic has been devastatingly effective. In one November 2016 email, the luxury automaker Daimler told NDTV that it would not proceed with a marketing campaign because “there are people associated with the channel that are linked to anti-India stuff, by the public at large.”
A Daimler spokeswoman said Friday that the email did not reflect the company’s views and that the campaign had been rejected for economic reasons.
As money dried up, the station laid off hundreds of journalists. NDTV now gets much of its advertising from state governments, many of which are controlled by opposition parties.
‘Stay firmly with the national government’
Many within India’s news firmament have embraced Mr. Modi, sensing how much the popular mood has swung away from India’s founding secularism and toward Mr. Modi’s brand of strident Hindu nationalism. Right-wing TV anchors, led by Arnab Goswami of Republic TV, compete to outdo one another as the loudest Modi supporters.
As the government announced the crackdown in Kashmir, M.K. Anand, the managing director of Times Network, sent his editors a directive.
“We are India’s leading news broadcasters,” he wrote in a WhatsApp message, seen by The New York Times. “It is important that we stay firmly with the national government at this juncture instead of focusing on finding faults.”
The Modi government has been particularly concerned about broadcast media, which reach into every corner of the country. It has approved very few new TV channels, and even Bloomberg, the American media giant, has been unable to get a license, despite investing millions of dollars with its Indian partner.
In this environment, sharp criticism of Mr. Modi can end careers. After a host at the Hindi news channel ABP questioned the results of one of the prime minister’s initiatives to help poor farmers, the satellite transmission of the show was interrupted every time it was broadcast, said several people who worked at the station. The channel’s owners pressured the host, Punya Prasun Bajpai, to resign, and as soon as he left, the transmission interruptions stopped, the former employees said.
And after another ABP anchor, Abhisar Sharma, criticized Mr. Modi on live television about public safety, he was pulled off the air the same day. He, too, said he was pressured to quit.
Mr. Sharma then took to YouTube to broadcast his commentary, but pro-Modi trolls followed him into cyberspace. Every time he uploaded a video — and some drew millions of views — YouTube would receive thousands of complaints that he had made inappropriate remarks, Mr. Sharma said. The site’s algorithm then blocked any advertising revenue he would have made.
“You can’t escape them,” he said.
Attacking the messenger
Small-town journalists have come under government attack, as well.
Last August, Pawan Kumar Jaiswal, a part-time journalist who also ran a tiny mobile phone accessories shop, broke a story revealing how poor children in a school near Varanasi, Mr. Modi’s parliamentary constituency, were being fed only flatbread and salt for lunch — a clear violation of government nutrition rules.
After his short video went viral, a state education officer filed a criminal complaint against Mr. Jaiswal, accusing him of conspiracy, false evidence and cheating, a crime that can draw up to seven years in jail.
His source at the school was promptly arrested. Fearing he was next, Mr. Jaiswal fled to New Delhi, where he hid for several weeks.
“Sometimes I felt like committing suicide,’’ he said.
Even though an investigation eventually vindicated his reporting and the police dropped the charges against him, Mr. Jaiswal continues to be stalked by people connected to the school, he said.
He has reason to be afraid. Several Indian journalists have been killed in recent years, from a Kashmiri newspaper editor shot outside his office to a young journalist in Chhattisgarh found tied up in a forest.
“This is the life of a local reporter,” Mr. Jaiswal said.
The shutdown of Media One and another Kerala television station, Asianet News, in March was a new twist. Both stations broadcast in Malayalam, a local language spoken by less than 3 percent of Indians. And both channels had aired witness accounts that echoed what many other outlets aired during the violence in Delhi: that the police had done little to stop Hindu mobs as they rampaged against Muslims.
But the broadcast ministry claimed that what these two stations reported “could enhance the communal disharmony across the country.” After many complaints about the shutdown, the broadcasting minister, Mr. Javadekar, reversed the orders the next morning.
“Press freedom is absolutely essential in a democratic setup and that is the commitment of the Modi government,” Mr. Javadekar said at a news conference, implying that the orders had been issued without his consent.
“But let me also say,” he concluded, “that everybody accepts that it has to be a responsible freedom.”
Sameer Yasir, Shalini Venugopal and Hari Kumar contributed reporting.
When China wanted to broadcast that it was ready to open to the world, Deng Xiaoping, then its paramount leader, told the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci that Mao Zedong’s portrait would hang over Tiananmen Square forever — and that Beijing would welcome some elements of capitalism.
When Beijing wanted to send a message in 2001 about official accountability over the deaths of three dozen schoolchildren who had been illegally working in a fireworks factory, Zhu Rongji, the country’s economic czar, answered a question about the episode at a nationally televised news conference with the foreign media.
China has long had a fraught relationship with foreign reporters. The government censors international media outlets and frequently harasses journalists. Yet it has long recognized that the Western media fulfills an essential need. It can convey messages to the world, and sometimes to the Chinese public, more clearly and bluntly than local media. It also offers an unflinching window into what is happening in China, a country where even the leadership doesn’t always trust the information it gets.
On Tuesday, that understanding broke down in dramatic fashion.
The Chinese government said it would oust mainland-based American reporters working for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. The order, which a journalists’ association said would affect more than a dozen reporters, was the Chinese Communist Party’s harshest attack on the foreign media in the modern era.
Credit…Liu Jianguo/Xinhua, via Associated Press
A diplomatic spat with the United States, which had slashed the number of visas it would grant to employees of Chinese state media outlets, was the principal reason. Still, the expulsions also serve as a sharp signal that Beijing feels it no longer needs the foreign media to reach the world.
The Communist Party has honed its domestic propaganda machine into an effective tool for the digital age. Its state-run media organs have built broadcast operations in the United States and around the world. On Twitter and other international platforms, its diplomats and state media relentlessly attack critics.
Like President Trump in the United States, populist leaders around world, including Beijing, have learned to use Twitter and other social media to bypass the traditional mainstream media and serve up their own messages on their own terms.
“Suspect that they had long waited for such an excuse to drive out these unwelcome elements of ‘peaceful evolution,’” Yinan He, a professor at Lehigh University, posted on Twitter, citing a term used in China that refers to a Western conspiracy to transform the country into a democracy — a shift that the government says would inevitably lead to chaos.
But China puts itself at risk by silencing outside voices. The expulsions signal that Beijing has accelerated its steps to further decouple from the United States politically, to silence dissent and to close itself off to the outside world — in other words, walking back the steps the country has taken over the decades to make itself a more open and prosperous society.
China needs voices inside and outside the country to point out problems. State media now argues that China has, within its own borders, tamed the coronavirus outbreak that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan and now threatens the world economy. But Chinese officials silenced those who tried to warn the country and the world about the outbreak, to disastrous results.
The Communist Party has a long history of opening up to the Western media when it needs to win over the outside world, and of becoming more hostile when it wants to close off the country.
Mao famously courted Edgar Snow and other Western journalists when the Communists fought a civil war for control of the country. Coverage from mainstream Western media outlets in the World War II era helped shift public opinion about the party both inside and outside the country.
After the Communist Party took power in 1949, it cut ties with the West, expelled foreign journalists and jailed Chinese people who had worked for foreign media outlets. When it decided to open up to the world again in the 1980s, it welcomed back The Times and others.
There have been many ups and downs in Beijing’s relationship with the Western media since. Under Mr. Jiang and Mr. Zhu, China charmed the global media to portray the country as an open economy worthy of joining the W.T.O., the global club of major trading countries.
Two months before the W.T.O. decided on China’s membership, Mr. Jiang told The Times’s publisher and editors in Beijing that he hoped the Western world could understand China better. When asked why the Times website was blocked in China, he answered: “If you ask my view of The New York Times, my answer is it is a very good paper.”
In the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the event China considered its coming-out party as a global power, the government eased restrictions on foreign journalists covering the country.
But China was never an easy place to cover. After the 1989 crackdown on Tiananmen Square protesters, Beijing expelled some foreign journalists.
China correspondents faced constant intimidation. Matthew Pottinger, a former Wall Street Journal correspondent in China and now the hawkish deputy national security adviser to Mr. Trump, wrote about being arrested and forced to flush his notes down a toilet. He wrote about being punched in the face in a Beijing Starbucks “by a government goon who was trying to keep me from investigating a Chinese company’s sale of nuclear fuel to other countries.”
The situation deteriorated after Xi Jinping came to power in late 2012. Mr. Xi demanded unstinting loyalty to the Communist Party from the Chinese news media and instructed them to enhance China’s ability to shape its own narrative in the world.
Always viewing the foreign media with suspicion, the Chinese government has intensified its hostile tactics against Western journalists. My colleague Paul Mozur wrote about how he was followed, tracked and stopped from covering what was happening to the Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang, a prevalent reporting experience in the region.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said that before the decision on Tuesday, Beijing had expelled nine foreign journalists since 2013. Since the beginning of 2019, at least 13 correspondents have been given truncated-term visas valid for six months or less. Since the beginning of 2020, three of those correspondents have been given one-month visas.
“By expelling journalists and keeping others in a state of visa uncertainty, China is overtly using its power in an attempt to influence overseas news coverage, by punishing those who publish information authorities see as unfavorable and wish to keep quiet,” the correspondents’ club said.
The party now feels it has other ways to reach a global audience.
The state-run Xinhua News Agency’s English Twitter account has 12.6 million followers. The Communist Party’s official newspaper, People’s Daily, has seven million followers. The state broadcaster CGTN, an arm of the official broadcaster China Central Television, has 14 million followers.
In the past year, as the U.S.-China trade war intensified, China’s diplomats “discovered” Twitter as well. Instead of playing the role of professional diplomats, a growing number of them post undiplomatic comments there. In recent days, Trump administration officials have expressed displeasure at unfounded suggestions from state media and diplomats that the coronavirus originated in the United States.
It’s not clear how persuasive their tweets might be to the English-speaking world. But they are sure to please their bosses. They also please the many nationalistic Chinese people who read English and are eager to report about the assertive tweets by these diplomats back home.
Chinese officials have even adopted one of Mr. Trump’s favorite phrases — “fake news” — to dismiss any outside media criticism. Gauging Chinese opinion is difficult, but signs indicate that that argument has found a receptive audience in China, just as it has among Mr. Trump’s supporters in the United States.
“We reject ideological bias against China, reject fake news made in the name of press freedom, reject breaches of ethics in journalism,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, posted on her Twitter account.
It was liked more than 3,700 times by Wednesday evening.
HONG KONG — An increasingly rancorous rivalry between the United States and China entered a new phase on Wednesday as Beijing accused the Trump administration of starting a diplomatic clash that led it to expel almost all American journalists from three newspapers.
The Chinese government cast its expulsion of the journalists from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post as necessary to defend Beijing against what it perceived as an ideological campaign by the United States to impose its values on China. Around a dozen reporters could be required to leave, in a move that Beijing said was reciprocation for the United States’ forcing out of about 60 Chinese reporters this month.
“The United States cannot proceed from ideological prejudice, use its own standards and likes and dislikes to judge the media of other countries, let alone suppress the Chinese media unreasonably,” Geng Shuang, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said at a news conference in Beijing on Wednesday.
The expulsions, not seen to such an extent in recent history, point to the governing Communist Party’s growing resolve to strike back in all aspects of what is quickly becoming a bare-knuckled competition with the United States. Over the past year, tensions have escalated over issues ranging from trade deficits to technological capacity and military dominance, with bruising effect on American and Chinese companies, business executives, and even university students and academics.
The dispute over media access underlines how this new era of great power rivalry has extended into the marketplace of ideas. It not only signals a more muscular approach to foreign policy in China but also accords with the party’s tightening grip over information under Xi Jinping, the country’s authoritarian leader.
The expulsions “will definitely have a big influence” on relations between the two countries, said Zhan Jiang, a retired journalism professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University. “We’ve never really seen anything like this in the past 40 years. This shows the relations between the two sides have fallen into a deadlock, with neither side retreating.”
Under Mr. Xi, the news media has come under an increasingly tight grip and foreign reporters who displease the authorities have been punished with visa denials. In recent weeks, as the coronavirus spread through China, the government has cracked down on domestic and foreign reporting, muzzling medical professionals and censoring and removing reports and commentaries online that have challenged the official narrative.
On Tuesday, China went even further, requiring all American journalists for the three newspapers whose credentials expire by the end of the year to turn in their press cards within 10 days. It said they would not be allowed to continue working as journalists in China.
In an unusual move, it said the Americans were also forbidden from working as journalists in Macau or Hong Kong, two semiautonomous Chinese territories that have traditionally had greater protections for press freedom than the mainland.
Beijing has said that the expulsions were a response to the Trump administration’s decision to limit the number of Chinese citizens from five state-controlled media outlets who could work in the United States to 100, which forced the expulsion of about 60.
On Wednesday, the Chinese government indicated it was prepared to take more measures if needed.
“We urge the United States to immediately change its course, correct mistakes, and stop political suppression and unreasonable restrictions on Chinese media,” said Mr. Geng, the Foreign Ministry spokesman.
“If the United States insists on taking its own course, compounding mistakes, China will be forced to take further countermeasures,” he added.
The American news outlets criticized the Chinese government’s decision. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the expulsions “unfortunate” and said he hoped China would reconsider.
Mr. Pompeo maintained there was a fundamental difference between the expelled American reporters, who are employed by independent media outlets, and the expelled Chinese journalists, who work for a state propaganda machine.
In its official rhetoric, the government has cast its decision as a matter of diplomacy. But its own comments and reports in state-run news outlets indicated that Beijing, which often accuses the Western media of bias, also takes issue with the three American news outlets’ reporting on China.
“We reject ideological bias against China, reject fake news made in the name of press freedom, reject breaches of ethics in journalism,” tweeted Hua Chunying, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman.
China also said it was requiring the three outlets as well as Time magazine and Voice of America to disclose details of their staff, assets and operations in China.
The action would affect at least 13 American journalists but the number could be higher, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said in a statement on Wednesday.
The organization said the expulsion “diminishes us in number and in spirit, though not in our commitment to vigorously cover China. There are no winners in the use of journalists as diplomatic pawns by the world’s two pre-eminent economic powers.”
The Global Times echoed this in an editorial on Wednesday that accused Washington of starting the tit-for-tat. “As a Chinese media, we regret that the conflict between China and the United States has escalated due to political differences,” it said. Both Chinese and American journalists, it added, were “implicated by political frictions between China and the United States.”
The latest developments follow the expulsion of three Journal reporters over a headline last month, “China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia,” on an op-ed column about the country’s coronavirus response efforts.
In recent days, The People’s Daily, a Communist Party mouthpiece, and China Daily, a state-run newspaper, posted messages that circulated widely on China’s Twitter-like forum Weibo targeting The Times for what they called “double standards” in its tweets about the lockdown imposed in China and in Italy to curb the spread of the virus.
Some questions remained unanswered, including how and whether the Hong Kong government would take further steps to enforce Beijing’s expulsion. Hong Kong operates under a political formula known as “one country, two systems,” which promises the Chinese territory a high degree of autonomy, including independent courts, a free news media and extensive protections of civil liberties.
Many global news organizations use Hong Kong as headquarters for the Asia region. Under the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the region has jurisdiction over immigration matters. If Hong Kong refused to allow the journalists to work in the city, it would be seen by some critics as the latest sign of eroding freedoms in the territory.
On Wednesday, Mr. Geng said the action taken by Beijing was diplomatic in nature, and thus fell under the central government’s authority, not that of Hong Kong.
But some of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy lawmakers rejected the argument and threatened to request a judicial review if any of the American reporters were turned away at Hong Kong’s border.
“Carrie Lam doesn’t have to follow exactly what Beijing says,” said Dennis Kwok, a pro-democracy lawmaker who represents Hong Kong’s legal sector, referring to Hong Kong’s leader. “If she has any integrity left, she can say this is Hong Kong and we have freedom of the press.”
Claudia Mo, another lawmaker, said Beijing was using the situation as an opportunity to “shut down the free flow of information.”
“Rule of law is quite dead in Hong Kong, we knew,” Ms. Mo said in a news conference in Hong Kong.
“Free flow of information, they’re telling us, forget about it.”
Tiffany May contributed reporting, and Claire Fu contributed research
“The war has literally exploded and battles are uninterrupted day and night,” Dr. Daniele Macchini wrote. “We need to spread the word to prevent what is happening here from happening all over Italy.”
All through February and early March, the voices of doctors and nurses on social media provided a vital antidote to those of confused and complacent political leaders embodied by President Trump. Their voices carried credibility and urgency in a way the always-on crisis of cable news can’t. They fed and were fed by credible journalism. And they helped force the United States to reckon with the crisis.
After four years in which social media has been viewed as an antisocial force, the crisis is revealing something surprising, and a bit retro: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and others can actually deliver on their old promise to democratize information and organize communities, and on their newer promise to drain the toxic information swamp.
The question, which I put to Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook, in an interview Thursday, is why it took a global health crisis for them to do so.
Mr. Zuckerberg said the difference between good and bad information is clearer in a medical crisis than in the world of, say, politics.
“When you’re dealing with a pandemic, a lot of the stuff we’re seeing just crossed the threshold,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “So it’s easier to set policies that are a little more black and white and take a much harder line.”
Social media still contains worrying falsehoods, including the dangerous myth that black people are immune to the coronavirus. You can find terrible ideas on TikTok, along with good advice from a dancing doctor. The jury is out on Instagram’s bra masks. And the spread of misinformation in languages other than English is also reportedly worse.
But the coronavirus outbreak has been the best moment for the platforms since it became clear in 2016 that frauds and trolls were running rampant. After a wave of public pressure, tech companies began taking those problems seriously, setting policies and algorithmic tools to mute toxic speech. Facebook and YouTube hired thousands of moderators. Journalists sought to hold them to their own standards.
Directives from the World Health Organization have provided the companies with the kind of clarity engineers appreciate. The services are promoting the good and deleting the bad, sending users straight to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the W.H.O. Even frequent critics of the big social platforms are pretty impressed.
”In English, it’s been really successful,” Data and Society’s Danah Boyd said of the anti-misinformation efforts. “Everyone’s ignoring the tweeter-in-chief and just going.’’
The analytics company NewsWhip produces regular lists of most-shared articles that often reflect the low quality of widely shared material. But the crisis’s list of most-shared stories has been dominated by hard news, solid medical advice and stirring moments of quarantined Italians singing together, along with the pandemic’s special brand of humor: A top article in the United States last week was “Spock’s Vulcan salute should replace handshakes in coronavirus era.”
“There are fewer outright falsehoods these days and more missing context or slightly misleading statements,” said NewsWhip’s head of research, Benedict Nicholson.
Many of the most alarmist claims about misinformation are themselves misleading. A study by NewsGuard, which sorts websites by credibility, claimed that sites publishing coronavirus misinformation had received “more than 142 times the engagement” of the W.H.O. and C.D.C. sites. The problem: Most of those engagements were for posts that had nothing to do with coronavirus. That didn’t stop the BBC from inflating the report. Another study, from the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a Philadelphia think tank, asked, absurdly, “What should we worry more about? Coronavirus or coronavirus disinformation?” (Its author, Clint Watts, told me in an interview that he actually thinks the platforms have been moving unusually fast to delete misinformation.)
The pandemic has revealed the battle lines in the new information wars. When the disease emerged, the Chinese government suppressed information and then turned the social media platforms into tools for both reliable information and propaganda.
In the United States, the battle began on Twitter, where President Trump controls only his own account. And instead of seeing Chinese-style propaganda, many users suddenly found themselves reading urgent, sophisticated observations from public health experts.
“The people who are part of professional communities across epidemiology and other kinds of public health — normally they’re talking to each other, but right now they’re talking to us all,” said Joanna Geary, the senior director of curation at Twitter. Her team aims to gather compelling and informative tweets about the virus and display them at the top of every user’s feed. Those posts then get more engagement, which signals to Twitter’s algorithm that more people should see them.
“Public conversation can help the world learn faster, solve problems better and realize we’re all in this together,” said Jack Dorsey, the company’s chief executive, in a direct message last week. “Facing a devastating global pandemic really brings that, and Twitter’s role, to light.”
Pinterest has also taken a clear stance in shaping searches about coronavirus. Snapchat, which largely avoided the misinformation trap, is driving users toward good health advice.
Executives at Facebook and YouTube, which house vaster seas of content, said the companies’ investments since the scandals of the 2016 presidential campaign have been paying off. YouTube’s reaction is the “culmination of many years of hard work around problems that we wanted to make sure are addressed,” said Neal Mohan, chief product officer at YouTube. C.D.C. links are displayed below any video on coronavirus and have been seen 800 million times during the epidemic, Mr. Mohan said. And users who search for coronavirus or who watch videos on the topic are directed to trusted sources — which include news media as well as YouTube figures who were made for this moment.
Credit…Michael George for The New York Times
I met one of those YouTubers recently after I suggested at the dinner table that my family buy N95 masks. My 10-year-old son responded righteously that nurses and doctors actually need them more than we do. Dr. Mike, he told us, says we should be “alert, not anxious.”
Dr. Mike, whose real name is Mikhail Varshavski, is a family practitioner in New Jersey who became popular five years ago as a hot Instagram doctor with a cute dog. Then, he was 25 and living with his father on Staten Island. Now, he inhabits a $9,000-a-month penthouse on Manhattan’s Far West Side.
“Pandemic does not mean panic-demic,” he said Friday afternoon. He was seated cross-legged on a black leather sofa, trying out lines. “Do you like that? Or is that corny?” He decided it was good and corny.
Dr. Varshavski delivers solid health information to young people, much of it through videos of him reacting to memes and TV shows. When the coronavirus crisis began, he responded. And because YouTube’s system now favors authoritative voices, videos like his “The Truth About the Coronavirus” rank high in recommendations. It has drawn more than five million views.
Mr. Varshavski also debunks misinformation from many directions. One of his targets Friday was an influencer who talks to deer. Another is the TV star Dr. Mehmet Oz, who has been recommending zinc tablets and elderberry syrup. (A spokesman for Dr. Oz said the products have been shown to be helpful with the common cold.) Then, of course, there’s President Trump.
Responsible voices like Dr. Varshavski’s and a whole generation of researchers, reporters, and even tech company employees seem, at least right now, to be breaking through. Mr. Zuckerberg, the industry’s most committed optimist, says the power of social media will be viewed “as a bigger part of the story if we do our job well over the coming weeks.”
When I talked to Mr. Zuckerberg and other social media executives last week, I kept returning to the same point: Will the flow of responsible information last beyond this crisis? Could it extend into our upcoming presidential campaign?
“I hope so,’’ Twitter’s Mr. Dorsey wrote. “Up to all of us.”
Mr. Zuckerberg was less sanguine. Right now, Facebook is tackling “misinformation that has imminent risk of danger, telling people if they have certain symptoms, don’t bother going getting treated … things like ‘you can cure this by drinking bleach.’ I mean, that’s just in a different class.”
That black and white clarity cannot easily be extended back into the grays of political battles, he said. While social media may be mirroring the solidarity of the moment, it’s hard to see how it would prolong it.
“It’s perhaps a positive sign that, despite how polarized people are worried that society is, people can pull together and try to get things done and support each other and recognize people who are heroes on the front lines fighting this stuff,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. Given that the pandemic is likely to go on for a while, he said: “It’s hard to predict exactly how it plays out beyond that. And that’s not really my job, anyway.”
When Jacob Wang saw reports circulating online recently suggesting that life was getting better in Wuhan, the center of the coronavirus outbreak, he was irate.
Mr. Wang, a journalist for a state-run newspaper in China, knew that Wuhan was still in crisis — he had traveled there to chronicle the failures of the government firsthand. He took to social media to set the record straight, writing a damning post last month about sick patients struggling to get medical care amid a dysfunctional bureaucracy.
“People were left to die, and I am very angry about that,” Mr. Wang said in an interview. “I’m a journalist, but I’m also an ordinary human being.”
The Chinese government, eager to claim victory in what China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has described as a “people’s war” against the virus, is leading a sweeping campaign to purge the public sphere of dissent, censoring news reports, harassing citizen journalists and shutting down news sites.
Chinese journalists, buoyed by an outpouring of support from the public and widespread calls for free speech, are fighting back in a rare challenge to the ruling Communist Party.
They are publishing hard-hitting exposés describing government cover-ups and failures in the health care system. They are circulating passionate calls for press freedom. They are using social media to draw attention to injustice and abuse, circumventing an onslaught of propaganda orders.
Many flocked to Wuhan before the city imposed a lockdown in late January, setting up makeshift news bureaus in hotels. Wearing hazmat suits and goggles, they ventured into hospital wards to interview patients and doctors, submitting nervously to tests for the coronavirus after their visits.
Some were overwhelmed by the pressures of censorship as well as the atmosphere of death and despair.
“You really couldn’t sleep at night seeing all these horrible stories,” said Mr. Wang, who reported from Wuhan during the lockdown. “It was really upsetting.”
The journalists’ stories have stoked widespread anger in China, painting a portrait of a government that was slow to confront the virus and worked steadfastly to silence anyone who tried to warn about its spread.
Profile, a general interest magazine in China, uncovered a severe shortage of testing kits in Wuhan, provoking fury from residents who demanded to know how the government could be so ill-prepared.
Caijing, a business magazine, published an explosive interview with an anonymous health expert who acknowledged that officials in Wuhan delayed warning the public that the virus could spread from person to person. “Why was no human-to-human transmission found?” the headline asked.
Caixin, an influential newsmagazine, detailed how health officials concealed early evidence that the virus showed striking similarities to severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, which caused a deadly global outbreak in 2002 and 2003. “When was the alarm sounded?” it asked.
Many people hailed the Caixin report as a breakthrough.
“Voices like this are our only hope to shine light in the darkness,” one user wrote on Weibo, a popular social media site.
Mr. Xi, who rose to power in 2012, has worked to more tightly control the news media than his predecessors, demanding that it first and foremost serve as a party mouthpiece.
Under Mr. Xi, the government has moved swiftly to shut down critical reporting during major disasters, including the chemical explosion in the port city of Tianjin in 2015 that killed 173 people.
But the authorities have struggled to rein in coverage of the coronavirus outbreak that has affected the lives of 1.4 billion people nationwide, in part because the Chinese public has resorted to innovative methods to preserve a record of what has transpired.
“This time the government’s control of free speech has directly damaged the interests and lives of ordinary people,” said Li Datong, a retired newspaper editor in Beijing. “Everyone knows this kind of big disaster happens when you don’t tell the truth.”
Mr. Xi’s efforts to limit independent news reporting could undermine trust in the government, experts say. Many people are furious that the party, facing one of the most severe crises in its seven-decade rule, is tightening its grip on power rather than exposing itself to scrutiny.
“It is one thing to censor critical or even neutral online discussions,” said Lotus Ruan, an expert on Chinese censorship at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab. “It is another to entirely change the narrative of the crisis and attempt to turn it into a paean.”
In January, as the government struggled to calibrate its response to the outbreak, reporters were granted unusual leeway to investigate failures by local officials to contain the virus.
Caixin published one of the first in-depth stories about the virus on Jan. 9, reporting that the mysterious outbreak was being traced to a neighborhood near a seafood market in Wuhan.
Within weeks, the authorities began tightening their grip, instructing both the state-run news media and more commercially minded outlets to limit negative stories, even on topics that once seemed straightforward, such as the economic impact of the virus.
The crackdown worsened after the death on Feb. 7 of Li Wenliang, a doctor who was silenced by the police after he tried to warn about the mysterious virus. Millions of people took part in an online revolt and demanded free speech, hailing Dr. Li, who had contracted the virus, as a hero for speaking out.
Many journalists were distressed after Dr. Li’s death, feeling they should have done more to stand up to propaganda orders. “I felt like I had become part of the evil,” said Jier Zhou, a reporter for a Chinese newspaper.
As the censorship has intensified, Chinese journalists have been forced to get creative.
Some have focused their stories on mistakes by local officials, instead of national leaders, to avoid censorship. Others have shared news tips and sources with colleagues at rival organizations, in case their own stories are suppressed.
The news media has been helped by the Chinese public, which has shown determination and inventiveness in squaring off with internet censors.
Profile, the magazine, this week published a damning interview with a doctor who was warned not to share information about the coronavirus as it first spread in Wuhan. The article almost immediately disappeared.
But Chinese internet users quickly brought the story back to life, using emojis, morse code and obscure languages to render the interview in ways that would evade censors.
The government has galvanized its enormous propaganda machine and harsh controls as it tries to drown out the dissonant messages. It has deployed 300 reporters to Wuhan to tell uplifting stories about the party’s fight against the virus. And it has tried to silence citizen journalists who live-streamed scenes of anger and despair from Wuhan; several have recently disappeared.
A well-known opinion blog, Dajia, was abruptly removed from the internet last month after it published a commentary by a renowned journalist calling for greater press freedom in China. “Chinese people across the country are paying the price for the death of media,” said the headline.
Jia Jia, a Chinese journalist who was a founding editor of Dajia, said the space for debate in China was rapidly shrinking.
“The Chinese media in the past probably had a room of 1,000 square meters in which to operate,” he said. “Now it is left with 60 square meters.”
Despite the restrictions, many Chinese journalists say they are emboldened and eager to demonstrate that a robust press can hold the government accountable for its mistakes and help China heal.
“Everyone is in a state of feeling held back and wronged,” said Tenney Huang, a reporter for a state-owned publication who spent several weeks in Wuhan. “Free expression is a way for us to fight back.”
Mr. Huang said that as censorship grew more rampant, journalists would resort to social media and other tools to continue to share their work.
“Facts are like firewood,” he said. “The more you pile on, the greater the force when a spark finally lights it.”
Albee Zhang contributed research.
The Fox Business anchor Trish Regan, whose on-air dismissal of the coronavirus as “another attempt to impeach the president” left her cable network facing a firestorm of criticism this week, has been removed from her prime-time slot for the foreseeable future, the network said on Friday.
Ms. Regan’s 8 p.m. program, “Trish Regan Primetime,” is “on hiatus until further notice,” Fox Business said in a statement. The network declined to say if Ms. Regan would continue to appear on its other programs, saying that its coverage plans for the coronavirus crisis remained in flux.
Fox Business attributed the move to “the demands of the evolving pandemic crisis coverage,” saying it was shifting resources toward daytime coverage of the pandemic and global markets. Both “Trish Regan Primetime” and its follow-up at 9, “Kennedy,” will be replaced by general-interest programs.
Still, the abrupt removal of Ms. Regan — a reliably pro-Trump personality who has twice interviewed the president — came as right-wing media stars have faced growing scrutiny for commentary that played down fears about the coronavirus and suggested that the illness had been overhyped by President Trump’s critics.
Ms. Regan’s remarks, delivered on her Monday show, caused many colleagues at Fox Business and its corporate cousin Fox News to cringe. In front of a graphic reading, “Coronavirus Impeachment Hoax,” she accused Democrats of creating “mass hysteria to encourage a market sell-off” and sowing fear about the virus “to demonize and destroy the president.”
Her monologue ran at the same time that the anchor Tucker Carlson, on his Fox News program, was exhorting elected officials to respond more aggressively to the virus. “People you know will get sick; some may die,” Mr. Carlson told his audience, which is significantly larger than Ms. Regan’s.
Off the air, Mr. Carlson has been urging Mr. Trump to take the threat of coronavirus more seriously. Last Saturday, Mr. Carlson drove from his residence in Florida to Mar-a-Lago, the president’s Florida resort, and spoke directly with Mr. Trump about the virus, according to a person with knowledge of their conversation.
In a memo this week, the Fox News chief executive, Suzanne Scott, and the network’s president, Jay Wallace, said that employees would predominantly work from home and that they expected programming changes “in the coming days” to accommodate a spike in audience interest in the coronavirus.
Among other changes, Fox News is planning to add four additional hours of live overnight programming to its lineup to keep up with developments.
“Please keep in mind that viewers rely on us to stay informed during a crisis of this magnitude,” Ms. Scott and Mr. Wallace wrote. “We are providing an important public service to our audience by functioning as a resource for all Americans.”
On Friday night, Ms. Regan did not address her impending hiatus in the opening moments of her show. And her on-air remarks were strikingly more placid than her fiery monologue from Monday.
“Our path forward right now is together, the left and the right united to fight this crisis,” Ms. Regan told viewers. “We’re all in this together, and we need to stay safe.”
Ben Smith and Jeremy W. Peters contributed reporting.
Days after returning from a long trip in Asia this month, I started feeling feverish. It was probably nothing, a post-trip flu — but was it?
Was every cough now full of coronavirus-laden droplets? Had it been a mistake to see my parents for dinner? Should I not have taken that Uber?
I went to a pop-up coronavirus clinic to get tested. “Everything is fine,” someone had written on a whiteboard in the waiting room. Someone else had made an edit: “Everything is swine.”
As I hung around my apartment for the two days it took to get the results, it wasn’t the monotony that struck me but the infectious nature of fear. Friends with pregnant, elderly or otherwise sick relatives texted me constantly asking how I was feeling.
We were waiting for the green light of a negative test result. But, given the nature of the epidemic, we were also waiting, it seemed, for a higher authority to comfort us and make us all believe that everything really will be fine, and soon.
Those in Hong Kong, where I worked in The New York Times office for a few weeks, were no stranger to life under the coronavirus — face masks are everywhere and a run on toilet paper had already come to shops.
But the panic is rising in Australia, the United States and in several other countries. With the World Health Organization officially declaring a pandemic this week, news updates felt more like the plot of a film than reality itself. “Contagion,” it seems, was well worth the rewatch: Travel between the United States and Europe has been suspended; the NBA canceled its season and Disneyland is closing its doors.
I feel grateful to live in a country with a public health system where testing is both free and relatively straightforward. Australia has not (yet) experienced the degree of challenge countries like China and Italy have faced, as Tom Hanks — who announced this week that he had tested positive while shooting a film in Queensland — now knows.
But as public health systems around the world grapple with the pandemic, the rest of us are left waiting and wondering when the worst will come.
In my case, two days after the test, I called for my results. All clear, I was told. I did not have the coronavirus. I flung open the windows in relief and let everyone know we could go back to breathing the same air. It’s all fine, I’m fine, we’re fine!
But are we?
How nervous are you about the pandemic? And what if anything are you doing about it? Write to me at email@example.com and let me know how you are coping.
The Times is also providing free access to the most important updates of the coronavirus. You can access it here.
Now onto stories of the week.
Around the Times
And Over to You …
Last week we wrote about the impending closure of the Australian Associated Press and asked whether you were worried about the direction of the Australian media.
I am horrified at the expected closure of this independent service, the A.A.P. We already have such a biased slew of newspaper ownership now, that this service being destroyed makes a mockery of freedom of the press and the arm’s length required between the news makers and the news reports. Added to the constant degradation of the ABC and its superior reporting, it hammers another nail in the coffin of impartial journalism in Australia.
It will soon be at the stage that Australians will only be able to find impartial journalism about Australia by going to OVERSEAS sources! And how crass does that sound?
I wonder if enough of us that care about the need for impartiality can buy the business and keep it intact and doing the great job it historically has done?
Enjoying the Australia Letter? Sign up here or forward to a friend.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The authorities on Thursday arrested the owner of the country’s largest media group on three-decade-old allegations involving a land deal, a case widely criticized by journalist groups as an attempt to muzzle independent news reporting.
The owner, Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman, is one of Pakistan’s most influential media figures, and his company, the Jang Media Group, has run afoul of successive governments. But the current prime minister, Imran Khan, has shown particular impatience with its coverage.
“This arrest over a 34-year-old land deal makes a mockery of Pakistan’s claim to be a democracy that upholds freedom of the press,” said Steven Butler, Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, one of several groups to denounce the arrest.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent group, called the case “another attempt to gag a beleaguered independent press.”
Officials with the National Accountability Bureau, an anti-corruption watchdog, allege that Mr. Rehman illegally leased land from the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1986 and then had ownership transferred to him in 2016, when Mr. Sharif again headed the government.
Mr. Rehman, who is expected to appear in court Friday, has denied the allegations and said the property was obtained from a private party.
Opposition politicians have accused the anti-corruption bureau of working at the behest of Mr. Khan’s government, bringing several politicized cases against rivals even as inquiries against federal ministers and allies have been put on the back burner. The bureau, which is intended to be an independent body, has denied charges of politicization.
Pakistan has long been considered one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists. Journalists for years have described an atmosphere of pressure and intimidation by the country’s powerful military and successive governments.
But Mr. Rehman’s media group said that the authorities had recently stepped up pressure on its reporters, producers and editors, and had threatened to use the country’s media regulator to shut down its television channels.
They note that the Khan government has halted official advertisements in Jang media and in Dawn, the country’s leading English daily, choking off a lucrative flow of revenue and straining the companies’ finances. Other media groups in the country have also been affected by the pulling of government advertisements, leading to layoffs.
Mr. Khan has been particularly rankled by Jang’s coverage of the 2018 election, which elevated him to power, and has accused the media company of being an ally of Mr. Sharif, who was removed from power by the Supreme Court after corruption-related investigations.
Sean Hannity used his syndicated talk-radio program on Wednesday to share a prediction he had found on Twitter about what is really happening with the coronavirus: It’s a “fraud” by the deep state to spread panic in the populace, manipulate the economy and suppress dissent.
“May be true,” Mr. Hannity declared to millions of listeners around the country.
As the coronavirus spreads around the globe, denial and disinformation about the risks are proliferating on media outlets popular with conservatives.
“This coronavirus?” Rush Limbaugh asked skeptically during his Wednesday program, suggesting it was all a plot hatched by the Chinese. “Nothing like wiping out the entire U.S. economy with a biothreat from China, is there?” he said.
The Fox Business anchor Trish Regan told viewers on Monday that the worry over coronavirus “is yet another attempt to impeach the president.”
Where doctors and scientists see a public health crisis, President Trump and his media allies have seen a political coup afoot.
Even on Wednesday night, after Mr. Trump gave an unusually somber address to the nation in which he announced he was suspending most travel from Europe for 30 days, Mr. Hannity criticized Democrats and vigorously defended the president’s response to the crisis, saying that when he instituted travel restrictions on China over a month ago, “no president had ever acted that fast.”
Distorted realities and discarded facts are now such a part of everyday life that the way they shape events like impeachment, a mass shooting or a presidential address often goes unmentioned.
But when partisan news meets a pandemic, the information silos where people shelter themselves can become not just deluded but also dangerous, according to those who criticize conservative commentators for shedding any semblance of objectivity when it comes to covering the president.
“This sort of media spin poses a clear and present danger to public health,” said Charlie Sykes, a longtime conservative host and author who published a book, “How the Right Lost Its Mind,” in 2018. “If you have people out there who feel all of this is overblown, and feel the need to act out their lack of concern by not taking precautions, it could be exceptionally dangerous.
“That’s not just a problem for the right wing, that becomes a real threat to the general population,” added Mr. Sykes, who is also a contributor to MSNBC. “When people start dying, the entertainment value wears off.”
In the case of Fox News viewers and talk radio listeners, who tend to be older than the general population, the danger of playing down the threat is potentially far worse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has specifically identified older people as being at higher risk from serious complications if they contract the virus. The typical Fox News viewer is in his or her mid-60s, similar to CNN and MSNBC.
Despite Mr. Hannity’s own skeptical commentary, his Tuesday show featured Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as a guest. He told Mr. Hannity that he wanted to “make sure” viewers knew that the coronavirus “is 10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu — you got to make sure that people understand that.”
It was not difficult to see why Dr. Fauci would think Mr. Hannity’s roughly four million viewers — the biggest audience in cable news — might not understand. On Tuesday, the star anchor told his viewers, effectively, to relax.
“Sadly, these viruses pop up time to time,” Mr. Hannity said, with the certitude of a medical professional. “Pandemics happen, time to time.”
Mr. Limbaugh has offered clinical advice. Recently he defended his widely criticized comparison of the coronavirus to the common cold and suggested the timing of the coverage of the outbreak raised “a gigantic series of question marks and red flags.”
And not all the prominent players in conservative opinion are denying the seriousness of the threat. Disagreement on the right has spilled into public view in a way that is unusual, given how swiftly dissent is often punished by Mr. Trump and his media loyalists.
“It’s a matter of public health. How can these shills face their followers after all the lies and deceit?” asked Michael Savage, the radio host and author who was one of Mr. Trump’s earliest supporters in conservative media and urged him to run for president in 2011.
“Are these mouthpieces without any social conscience?” added Mr. Savage, who called the words of Mr. Limbaugh and others “criminal negligence.”
Speaking on his Monday Fox News show, Tucker Carlson seemed to speak directly to skeptics like the president and Mr. Hannity, whose prime-time program follows his. “People you trust, people you probably voted for, have spent weeks minimizing what is clearly a very serious problem,” Mr. Carlson said, adding: “People you know will get sick, some may die. This is real.”
Mr. Trump pays close attention to Mr. Carlson’s show, and the two are in regular contact by phone. Earlier this year, the anchor was credited with helping persuade the president to dial back his hawkish approach on Iran — and Mr. Carlson’s words on the virus this week were interpreted as a message aimed at the White House.
There are also signs that political views affect how seriously someone takes the public health risk posed by the virus.
A Reuters poll last week found that roughly four in 10 Democrats believed the coronavirus was an imminent threat — but only two in 10 Republicans felt the same way. And Americans who approve of the way the president is handling his job are far more likely to believe that the government can stop a nationwide epidemic from occurring than those who disapprove, the poll said.
Seventy-nine percent of those who gave Mr. Trump high job approval ratings said they were very or somewhat confident in the government’s ability to prevent the outbreak from becoming much worse, compared with only 39 percent of those who disapprove of him, according to a CNN poll conducted last week.
At times, there has been a jarring split screen between the president’s nonchalance and the sober warnings of the nation’s top health officials, who have been more aggressive about warning certain vulnerable populations not to travel.
Asked on Wednesday at the White House what he had to say to those concerned he is not taking the situation seriously enough, Mr. Trump offered a tart, terse reply: “Fake news,” the president snapped, before dismissing reporters from the room.
The fallout from the president’s handling of the crisis might have been more easily dismissed as liberal, anti-Trump paranoia if not for an improbable twist of events. A person infected with the coronavirus attended one of the conservative world’s biggest annual gatherings last week, the Conservative Political Action Conference, leading some politicians like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas to voluntarily quarantine themselves.
Before this person’s status was made public — he was a V.I.P. attendee who purchased a $5,750 “gold” package that granted him access to backstage reception rooms where members of Congress and other high-profile figures mingled — conservatives at the conference were accusing the president’s enemies of inflating the seriousness of the outbreak.
The former White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, speaking from the conference stage last Friday, insisted falsely that the media had only just started paying attention to the coronavirus after the impeachment trial ended. And the reason, he added, was “they think this is going to be what brings down the president.”
But over the next few days, CPAC’s organizers were pelted with questions from fellow conservatives, some of whom said they shook the infected guest’s hand, about why they had been left in the dark.
Suddenly the “hoax,” as Mr. Hannity and others have called the response to the virus, hit home.
Raheem Kassam, a former Breitbart News editor, was one of several conservative activists who attended CPAC and expressed frustration about how the group handled the incident. Mr. Kassam, who said he felt sick over the weekend and on social media chronicled his frustrated attempts to obtain a coronavirus test, knew that he might have been exposed only after someone who works in the office of a member of Congress who was also exposed contacted him.
“I think there’s a grown-up conversation to be had about what happened,” Mr. Kassam said in an interview, adding that he did not believe that some conservatives wanted to have that conversation now. “Imagine being that sick, and then finding out why I might be that sick in a thirdhand way. I was angry. I was frustrated. I was scared,” he added.
But the president’s allies have attacked Mr. Kassam, accusing him of sowing panic when there are no other known cases to come out of the conference.
Matt Schlapp, president of CPAC, who has sequestered himself at home because he also shook the infected attendee’s hand, appeared on Fox News in recent days to malign the media for exaggerating the threat.
And though he acknowledged in a subsequent interview that he had no medical training, he has made claims about the coronavirus and its apparent lack of contagiousness.
“It’s actually hard to get,” he said on Fox News on Wednesday, speaking via Skype from his home, where he still has a few days left in his self-imposed quarantine.
A half-century before President Barack Obama ordered a restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2014, Jean Daniel, a French journalist on a secret mission to Havana in the autumn of 1963, delivered a proposal by President John F. Kennedy to Fidel Castro.
It was an offer to explore a rapprochement.
Despite the distrust and raw feelings of the Cuban missile crisis, which had nearly plunged the world into nuclear war a year earlier, Mr. Daniel, a confidant of political leaders in many capitals during the Cold War, found Castro surprisingly, if cautiously, receptive to Kennedy’s overture.
Three days later — it was Nov. 22, 1963 — over lunch at Castro’s seafront retreat on Varadero Beach, they were still discussing the offer when the phone rang with urgent news. Castro, the Cuban leader since 1959, picked up the receiver.
“Herido?” he said. “Muy gravemente?” (“Wounded? Very seriously?”)
Mr. Daniel — who died on Wednesday at 99 at his home in Paris, according to L’Obs, the left-leaning weekly newsmagazine he co-founded — recalled the dramatic scene with Castro in an article in The New Republic days after it happened.
“He came back, sat down and repeated three times the words: ‘Es una mala noticia.’ (‘This is bad news.’)” They tuned into a Miami radio station as the reports trickled out of Dallas. Mr. Daniel paraphrased them: “Kennedy wounded in the head; pursuit of the assassin; murder of a policeman; finally the fatal announcement: President Kennedy is dead.”
Both knew instantly that rapprochement had died with the president. “Then Fidel stood up,” Mr. Daniel related, “and said to me: ‘Everything is changed. Everything is going to change.’”
In the swirl of investigations and conspiracy theories that followed the assassination — many of them linking the assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, to Castro — Kennedy’s offer became a footnote to history, and Mr. Daniel moved on to other crises in a career that touched major conflicts of an era: the French-Algerian war, Israeli-Palestinian clashes, Indochina, the Cold War and, more recently, terrorism.
Mr. Daniel, a self-described Jewish humanist and non-Communist leftist, was one of France’s leading intellectual journalists, a friend and colleague of the philosopher-writers Jean-Paul Sartre, who rejected his 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature, and Albert Camus, who accepted his 1957 Nobel Prize in Literature. Like Camus, Mr. Daniel was born in Algeria.
In France, where news and opinion are blurred and journals typically report and interpret events with a political or cultural bias, Mr. Daniel used journalism as a means of advocacy. He also had influence in high government circles. He was a friend of David Ben-Gurion, the Zionist who became Israel’s founding prime minister in 1948, and for 60 years he supported Israeli interests.
But Mr. Daniel also defended Palestinian and Arab rights. He condemned the Arab-Israeli War in 1967 as an unwarranted expansion by Israel. In lightning airstrikes and ground assaults, Israel inflicted heavy losses on the Arabs and seized the Sinai Peninsula, East Jerusalem and cities and territory on the West Bank.
From 1954 to 1964, he was a correspondent and editor of the leftist weekly newsmagazine L’Express, which opposed French colonialism in Indochina and Algeria. He was also a confidant of Pierre Mendès-France, the French premier who withdrew French forces from Indochina after their defeat by Vietnamese Communists at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
As a correspondent in Algiers, Mr. Daniel supported Algeria’s war of independence from French colonialism. But he also deplored torture and atrocities on both sides, which continued for decades after the brutal six-year war formally ended in independence for Algeria in 1962. Mr. Daniel was close to Ahmed Ben Bella, the revolutionary who became Algeria’s first president, in 1963.
In 1964, Mr. Daniel quit L’Express and co-founded Le Nouvel Observateur, a reincarnation of the left-wing newsmagazine France Observateur. Le Nouvel Observateur was later sold and renamed L’Obs. Under his direction for 50 years, Le Nouvel Observateur became France’s leading weekly journal of political, economic and cultural news and commentary. His editorials opposed colonialism and dictatorships, and ranged over politics, literature, theology and philosophy.
Mr. Daniel, who was also a correspondent for The New Republic in the late 1950s and early ’60s, wrote for The New York Times and other publications for decades. He was the author of many books on nationalism, communism, religion, the press and other subjects, as well as novels and a well-received 1973 memoir, “Le Temps Qui Reste” (“The Time That Remains”).
His book “The Jewish Prison: A Rebellious Meditation on the State of Judaism” (2005, translated by Charlotte Mandell) suggested that prosperous, assimilated Western Jews had been enclosed by three self-imposed ideological walls — the concept of the Chosen People, Holocaust remembrance and support for Israel.
“Having trapped themselves inside these walls,” Adam Shatz wrote in The London Review of Books, “they were less able to see themselves clearly, or to appreciate the suffering of others — particularly the Palestinians living behind the ‘separation fence.’”
Jean Daniel Bensaïd was born in Blida, Algeria, on July 21, 1920. His father, Jules, was a flour miller. As a young man, Jean moved to France, studied philosophy at the Sorbonne and enlisted in the Free French Forces during World War II. He fought at Normandy, in Paris and in Alsace.
In 1947, he founded the literary review Caliban, adopted the pen name Jean Daniel and was the editor until 1951. In 1948, with permission, he republished essays by Sartre, Camus and other intellectuals that had first appeared in the polemical journal Esprit. Camus wrote an introduction to Mr. Daniel’s first novel, “L’Erreur” (1953).
Mr. Daniel married Michèle Bancilhon in 1966. She survives him, as does a daughter, Sara Daniel, a reporter at L’Obs.
In the late 1950s, Benjamin C. Bradlee, a future executive editor of The Washington Post who was then a correspondent in France for Newsweek, became acquainted with Mr. Daniel through mutual contacts in the Algerian guerrilla group FLN. It was Mr. Bradlee, a longtime friend of Kennedy’s, who suggested Mr. Daniel when the president needed a private go-between to carry his proposal to Castro in 1963.
In a meeting at the White House, Kennedy asked Mr. Daniel to convey his view that improved relations were possible, and that the president was willing to authorize exploratory talks. Mr. Daniel met Castro in Havana on Nov. 19. He said that Castro had listened with “devouring and passionate interest” and expressed cautious approval of such talks.
Three days later, after learning that the president had been slain, Castro told Mr. Daniel, “They will have to find the assassin quickly, but very quickly; otherwise, you watch and see, I know them, they will try to put the blame on us for this thing.”
After the announcement of Oswald’s arrest, Mr. Daniel recalled, “The word came through, in effect, that the assassin was a young man who was a member of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, that he was an admirer of Fidel Castro.”
The Warren Commission’s investigation of the assassination concluded in 1964 that Oswald had acted alone in killing Kennedy and that Jack Ruby had acted alone in killing Oswald two days later. Its report has been challenged and defended over the years.
The stalemate between Cuba and the United States, meanwhile, was continued by eight American presidents until Mr. Obama and President Raúl Castro, Fidel’s brother and successor, agreed on Dec. 17, 2014, to establish diplomatic relations, sweeping aside one of the last vestiges of the Cold War.
It lasted until President Trump announced in 2017 that he would keep a campaign promise and roll back the policy of engagement begun by Mr. Obama. He later reversed key portions of what he called a “terrible and misguided deal.”
Constant Mehéut contributed reporting from Paris.
HONG KONG — The beige van squatted outside of a Wuhan hospital, its side and back doors ajar. Fang Bin, a local clothing salesman, peered inside as he walked past. He groaned: “So many dead.” He counted five, six, seven, eight body bags. “This is too many.”
That moment, in a 40-minute video about the coronavirus outbreak that has devastated China, propelled Mr. Fang to internet fame. Then, less than two weeks later, he disappeared.
Days earlier, another prominent video blogger in Wuhan, Chen Qiushi, had also gone missing. Mr. Chen’s friends and family said they believed he had been forcibly quarantined.
Before their disappearances, Mr. Fang and Mr. Chen had recorded dozens of videos from Wuhan, streaming unfiltered and often heartbreaking images from the center of the outbreak. Long lines outside hospitals. Feeble patients. Agonized relatives.
The footage would have been striking anywhere. But it was especially so coming from inside China, where even mild criticism of the authorities is quickly scrubbed from the online record, and those responsible for it often punished.
The appetite for the videos reflects, in part, the shortage of independent news sources in China, where professional newspapers are tightly controlled by the authorities. Earlier this month, the state propaganda department deployed hundreds of journalists to reshape the narrative of the outbreak.
But the videos also reflected the growing call for free speech in China in recent weeks, as the coronavirus crisis has prompted criticism and introspection from unexpected corners across the country.
Several professional news organizations have produced incisive reports on the outbreak. A revolt against government censorship broke out on Chinese social media last week after the death of Li Wenliang, the Wuhan doctor who had tried to warn of the virus before officials had acknowledged an outbreak.
Mr. Fang’s and Mr. Chen’s videos were another manifestation of the dissatisfaction that the government’s handling of the outbreak has unleashed among ordinary Chinese citizens.
“When suddenly there’s a crisis, they want to have access to a wider array of content and reporting,” said Sarah Cook, who studies Chinese media at Freedom House, a pro-democracy research group based in the United States.
The disappearance of the two men also underscores that the ruling Communist Party has no intention of loosening its grip on free speech.
China’s leader, Xi Jinping, said last month that officials needed to “strengthen the guidance of public opinion.” While Chinese social media has overflowed with fear and grief, state propaganda outlets have emphasized Mr. Xi’s steady hand, framed the fight against the outbreak as a form of patriotism and shared upbeat videos of medical workers dancing.
More than 350 people across China have been punished for “spreading rumors” about the outbreak, according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an advocacy group.
Mr. Chen, a fast-talking, fresh-faced lawyer from eastern China, was already well-known online before the outbreak. He traveled to Hong Kong during the pro-democracy protests last year and disputed the Chinese authorities’ depiction of the demonstrators as a riotous mob.
The Beijing authorities summoned him back to the mainland and deleted his social media accounts, Mr. Chen told his followers later.
But when the coronavirus led officials to seal off Wuhan last month, he raced to the city of 11 million, citing his duty as a self-declared citizen journalist. “What sort of a journalist are you if you don’t dare rush to the front line?” he said.
In his videos, which drew millions of views on YouTube, Mr. Chen interviewed locals who had lost loved ones, filmed a woman breaking down as she waited for care and visited an exhibition center that had been converted into a quarantine center.
He was blocked from WeChat, a major Chinese social media app, for spreading rumors. But he was adamant that he shared only what he himself had seen or heard.
As time went on, Mr. Chen, usually energetic, began to show strain. “I am scared,” he said on Jan. 30. “In front of me is the virus. Behind me is China’s legal and administrative power.”
The authorities had contacted his parents to ask for his whereabouts, he said. He teared up suddenly. Then, his finger pointing at the camera, he blurted: “I’m not even scared of death. You think I’m scared of you, Communist Party?”
On Feb. 6, Mr. Chen’s friends lost contact with him. Xu Xiaodong, a prominent mixed martial arts practitioner and a friend of Mr. Chen, posted a video on Feb. 7 saying that Mr. Chen’s parents had been told that their son had been quarantined, though he had not shown symptoms of illness.
Unlike Mr. Chen, Mr. Fang, the clothing salesman, was fairly anonymous before the coronavirus outbreak. Much of his YouTube activity had involved producing enthusiastic videos about traditional Chinese clothing.
But as the outbreak escalated, he began sharing videos of Wuhan’s empty streets and crowded hospitals. They lacked the slickness of Mr. Chen’s dispatches, which were often subtitled and tightly edited. But, as with Mr. Chen’s videos, they showed a man growing increasingly desperate — and defiant.
On Feb. 2, Mr. Fang described how officials had confiscated his laptop and interrogated him about his footage of the body bags. On Feb. 4, he filmed a group of people outside his home, who said they were there to ask him questions. He turned them away, daring them to break down his door.
In his final videos, Mr. Fang turned explicitly political in a way rarely heard inside China, at least in public. Filming from inside his home — he said he was surrounded by plainclothes policemen — he railed against “greed for power” and “tyranny.”
His last video, on Feb. 9, was just 12 seconds long. It featured a scroll of paper with the words, “All citizens resist, hand power back to the people.”
Despite the worldwide audience for Mr. Fang’s and Mr. Chen’s videos, it is hard to know how much reach they had domestically, said Fang Kecheng, an assistant professor of journalism at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Both men relied heavily on YouTube and Twitter, which are blocked in China.
But unlike the torrent of grief and anger online in response to the death of Dr. Li, news of Mr. Chen’s and Mr. Fang’s disappearances has been swiftly stamped out on Chinese social media. Their names returned almost no results on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, on Friday.
Still, Ms. Cook said the power of Mr. Chen’s and Mr. Fang’s videos, as well as the reporting done by professional journalists in Wuhan, should not be underestimated.
She pointed to the Chinese authorities’ decision this week to loosen diagnostic requirements for coronavirus cases, leading to a significant jump in reported infections, as evidence of their impact.
That decision might not have come “if you didn’t have all these people in Wuhan sending out reports that what you’re hearing is an underestimate,” Ms. Cook said. “These very courageous individuals can, in unusual circumstances, push back and force the state’s hand.”
Mr. Fang, in one of his last videos, seemed struck by a similar sentiment. He thanked his viewers, who he said had been calling him nonstop to send support.
“A person, just an ordinary person, a silly person,” he said of himself, “who lifted the lid for a second.”
Elaine Yu contributed reporting.
Carlos Maza believes that YouTube is a destructive, unethical, reckless company that amplifies bigots and profits off fascism.
Now it’s also his meal ticket.
Mr. Maza, 31, announced several weeks ago that he was leaving Vox, where he had worked as a video journalist since 2017, to become a full-time YouTube creator.
The move shocked some of Mr. Maza’s fans, who have watched him become one of YouTube’s most vocal critics for failing to stop a right-wing pile-on against him last year. The controversy that followed that campaign, which was led by a prominent conservative YouTuber, turned Mr. Maza into a YouTube mini-celebrity and made him a sworn enemy of the site’s free-speech absolutists. He received death threats — and was temporarily forced to move out of his apartment.
Rather than swearing off YouTube, Mr. Maza, who is a New York-based socialist, decided to seize the means of his own video production.
“I’m going to use the master’s tools to destroy the master’s house,” he said in an interview. “I want to build up an audience and use every chance I get to explain how destructive YouTube is.”
It’s not rare for YouTubers to criticize YouTube. (In fact, among top creators, it’s practically a sport.) But Mr. Maza’s critique extends to the traditional media as well. He believes that media outlets have largely failed to tell compelling stories to a generation raised on YouTube and other social platforms, and that, as a result, they have created a power vacuum that bigots and extremists have been skilled at filling.
“On YouTube, you’re competing against people who have put a lot of time and effort into crafting narrative arcs, characters, settings or just feelings they’re trying to evoke,” he said. “In that environment, what would have been considered typical video content for a newsroom — news clips, or random anchors generically repeating the news with no emotions into a camera — feels really inadequate and anemic.”
Clips from a video Mr. Maza released on his new YouTube channel.Credit
The YouTube series that Mr. Maza hosted at Vox, “Strikethrough,” drew millions of views with acidic takedowns of Fox News, CNN and other mainstream media organizations. But he took aim at YouTube itself last year after Steven Crowder, a bargain-bin conservative comedian with more than four million YouTube subscribers, began taunting Mr. Maza, mocking him as a “lispy queer” and repeatedly making off-color jokes about his sexual orientation (gay) and ethnicity (Cuban American).
In response, Mr. Maza compiled a video of Mr. Crowder’s insults and tweeted them out, blaming YouTube for its inconsistent enforcement of its hate-speech policies. (One tweet read: “YouTube is dominated by alt-right monsters who use the platform to target their critics and make their lives miserable.”)
After an investigation, YouTube found that Mr. Crowder’s videos did not violate its rules. That set off an avalanche of criticism, and provoked backlash from L.G.B.T. groups and YouTube employees, who urged the company to do more to protect Mr. Maza and other creators from harassment. The controversy even ensnared Susan Wojcicki, YouTube’s chief executive, who was forced to apologize. Late last year, the site revised its harassment policy to address some of the concerns.
A YouTube spokeswoman declined to comment.
Inside the world of YouTube partisans, Mr. Maza’s feud with Mr. Crowder made him a scapegoat. Some creators blamed him for setting off an “adpocalypse” — a YouTube policy change that resulted in some videos being stripped of their ads. Others wove elaborate conspiracy theories that NBCUniversal, an investor in Vox, was using Mr. Maza to drive viewers and advertisers away from YouTube and toward its own TV platform.
In July, Vox ended Mr. Maza’s show, and after a few months in limbo, he decided to hang his own shingle. He set up a YouTube channel and a Patreon crowdfunding account, bought a camera and hit record. For all its flaws, he said, YouTube is essential for people who want to get a message out.
“The one thing that YouTube offers that’s really good is that it does give a space for independent journalists to do important work and build an audience without requiring a huge investment of capital,” Mr. Maza said.
YouTube can be harsh terrain for a professional leftist. The site is nominally open to all views, but in practice is dominated by a strain of reactionary politics that is marked by extreme skepticism of mainstream media, disdain for left-wing “social justice warriors” and a tunnel-vision fixation on political correctness.
In recent years, some progressive YouTubers have tried to counter this trend by making punchy, opinionated videos aimed at left-wing viewers. BreadTube, a loose crew of socialist creators who named themselves after a 19th-century anarchist book, “The Conquest of Bread,” has made modest stars out of leftists like Natalie Wynn, a YouTube personality known as ContraPoints, and Oliver Thorn, a British commentator known as PhilosophyTube.
Credit…Ricky Rhodes for The New York Times
But these creators are still much less powerful than their reactionary counterparts. Mr. Maza attributes that gap to the fact that while a vast network of well-funded YouTube channels exists to push right-wing views, liberal commentary is still mainly underwritten by major news organizations, which have been slower to embrace the highly opinionated, emotionally charged style of content that works well on YouTube.
“People understand the world through stories and personalities,” he said. “People don’t actually want emotionless, thoughtless, viewpoint-less journalism, which is why no one is a Wolf Blitzer stan.”
In order to reach people on YouTube, Mr. Maza said, the left needs to embrace YouTube’s algorithmically driven ecosystem, which rewards “authentic” and “relatable” creators who can connect emotionally with an audience.
“There is a need for compelling progressive content that gives a young kid on YouTube some sense that there is a worldview and an aesthetic and a vibe that is attractive on the left,” he said.
Mr. Maza’s first video, a five-minute introduction to his channel, hints at how he intends to do that. The video is half political manifesto, half self-deprecating monologue. Playing all three parts himself, he has an imagined conversation with his “left flank,” a hammer-and-sickle socialist, and his “right flank,” a tie-clad centrist, along with his therapist, who warns him that YouTube can transform decent people into “cruel, ego-driven” attention-seekers.
It’s a funny, knowing skit, and it shows how familiar Mr. Maza is with the customs and culture of YouTube. He doesn’t wear a suit or plaster himself with stage makeup. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, or adopt a Walter Cronkite-like pose of objectivity.
He gets that YouTube, while a serious forum for political discussion, also requires a kind of pageantry that can be hard for people steeped in the ways of traditional media.
With just 14,000 subscribers, Mr. Maza has a long road ahead to building a platform as large as the one he left at Vox. But he sees no better route to relevance than going all in on YouTube, even if that means embracing a platform whose politics he detests.
“There needs to be some swagger to leftist politics,” Mr. Maza said. “And YouTube gives you a space to have that swagger.”
A city council member in California took the dais and quoted from QAnon, a pro-Trump conspiracy theory about “deep state” traitors plotting against the president, concluding her remarks, “God bless Q.”
A man spouting QAnon beliefs about child sex trafficking swung a crowbar inside a historic Catholic chapel in Arizona, damaging the altar and then fleeing before being arrested.
And outside a Trump campaign rally in Florida, people in “Q” T-shirts stopped by a tent to hear outlandish tales of Democrats’ secretly torturing and killing children to extract a life-extending chemical from their blood.
What began online more than two years ago as an intricate, if baseless, conspiracy theory that quickly attracted thousands of followers has since found footholds in the offline world. QAnon has surfaced in political campaigns, criminal cases, merchandising and at least one college class. Last month, hundreds of QAnon enthusiasts gathered in a Tampa, Fla., park to listen to speakers and pick up literature, and in England, a supporter of President Trump and the Brexit leader Nigel Farage raised a “Q” flag over a Cornish castle.
Most recently, the botched Iowa Democratic caucuses and the coronavirus outbreak have provided fodder for conspiracy mongering: QAnon fans shared groundless theories online linking the liberal billionaire George Soros to technological problems that hobbled the caucuses, and passed around bogus and potentially dangerous “treatments” for the virus.
About a dozen candidates for public office in the United States have promoted or dabbled in QAnon, and its adherents have been arrested in at least seven episodes, including a murder in New York and an armed standoff with the police near the Hoover Dam. The F.B.I. cited QAnon in an intelligence bulletin last May about the potential for violence motivated by “fringe political conspiracy theories.”
Matthew Lusk, who is running unopposed in the Republican primary for a Florida congressional seat and openly embraces QAnon, said in an email that its anonymous creator was a patriot who “brings what the fake news will not touch without slanting.” As for the theory’s more extreme elements, Mr. Lusk said he was uncertain whether there really was a pedophile ring associated with the deep state.
“That being said,” he added, “I do believe there is a group in Brussels, Belgium, that do eat aborted babies.”
The seepage of conspiracy theorizing from the digital fever swamps into life offline is one of the more unsettling developments of the Trump era, in which the president has relentlessly pushed groundless conspiracies to reshape political narratives to his liking. In promoting fringe ideas about deep state schemes, Mr. Trump has at times elevated and encouraged QAnon followers — recirculating their posts on Twitter, posing with one for a photograph in the Oval Office, inviting some to a White House “social media summit.” Recently, during a daylong Twitter binge, Mr. Trump retweeted more than 20 posts from accounts that had trafficked in QAnon material.
QAnon began in October 2017, when a pseudonymous user of the online message board 4chan started writing cryptic posts under the name Q Clearance Patriot. The person claimed to be a high-ranking official privy to top-secret information from Mr. Trump’s inner circle. Over two years and more than 3,500 posts, Q — whose identity has never been determined — has unspooled a sprawling conspiracy narrative that claims, among other things, that Mr. Trump was recruited by the military to run for office in order to break up a global cabal of pedophiles, and that Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation would end with prominent Democrats being imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay.
The anonymous posts subsequently moved to 8chan, where they remained until August, when that site was taken offline after the El Paso mass shooting. They now live on 8kun, a new website built by 8chan’s owner.
Some QAnon fans are hardened conspiracy buffs who previously believed other fringe theories, such as the bogus claim that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were an “inside job.” But many QAnon adherents are everyday Americans who have found in Q’s messages a source of partisan energy, affirmation of their suspicions about powerful institutions or a feeling of having special knowledge. Some are older adults who discovered the theory through partisan Facebook groups or Twitter threads, and were drawn in by the movement’s promises of inside information from the White House (some QAnon devotees even believe that Mr. Trump posts himself, under the code name “Q+”). Others are seduced by the movement’s wild, often violent fantasies, including claims that Hollywood celebrities are part of a satanic child-trafficking ring.
In online chat rooms, Facebook groups and Twitter threads, QAnon followers discuss the hidden messages and symbols they believe to be exposed in Q’s posts, or “drops” — for example, because Q is the 17th letter of the alphabet, a reference by Mr. Trump to the number 17 is seen as a possible signal of his support for them.
They watch “Patriots’ Soapbox,” a YouTube call-in show devoted to coverage of QAnon, and other niche media projects that have popped up to fill the demand for Q-related content. Reddit barred a cluster of QAnon groups from its platform in 2018, after a spate of violent threats from members, and Apple pulled a popular QAnon app from its app store. But other social platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, still host large amounts of QAnon content. In general, these platforms do not prohibit conspiracy theories unless their adherents break other rules, such as policies against hate speech or targeted harassment.
The frequent introduction of new symbols and arcane plot points to dissect and decipher has given QAnon the feel of a theological study group, or a massive multiplayer online game. In interviews, several adherents described QAnon as a “lifestyle” or a “religion,” and said it had become their primary source of political news and analysis.
“It’s more of a cult than other conspiracy theories,” said Joseph Uscinski, a political-science professor at the University of Miami who studies fringe beliefs. “QAnon is not just an idea; it’s an ongoing thing that people can sort of get into and follow along with that keeps them entertained.”
With its core belief that the president is heroically battling entrenched evildoers, QAnon may be the ultimate manifestation of Trump-inspired conspiracy mongering. From the start, it was inexorably bound up with “Make America Great Again” communities online: The New York Times found last year that some 23,000 of Mr. Trump’s Twitter followers had QAnon references in their profiles.
But QAnon has steadily migrated offline to Trump campaign rallies, where dozens of supporters can be found with Q paraphernalia, carrying signs and commiserating about the theory. In recent months, QAnon adherents have complained that security officials keep people from bringing their gear into the rallies; the campaign said it permitted only approved signs and licensed merchandise at its events.
Harry Formanek, a 65-year-old retiree who attended Mr. Trump’s Florida rally in November wearing a QAnon T-shirt, said he learned about the theory after hearing allegations that top Democrats were running a child-sex ring out of a Washington pizza parlor — the hoax known as “Pizzagate,” which was something of a precursor to QAnon. Now, he said, he spends roughly an hour a day on QAnon-related websites and believes, among other things, that Mr. Trump signals his support with Q-shaped hand gestures during public appearances.
“My friends think I’m crazy,” Mr. Formanek said. “I mean, the proofs are just undeniable.”
With its growth in popularity, QAnon’s tangible presence is not limited to clothes, bumper stickers and campaign signs, all of which can be found for sale on Amazon and at other retailers. The theory also showed up at Mesa Community College in Arizona, where an adjunct professor of English, Douglas Belmore, began working it into classroom lectures. He was fired last summer after students complained.
Mr. Belmore announced his dismissal on Twitter, saying, “Why aren’t more professors, teachers, cops, pastors, and woke Americans everywhere NOT talking about this?” Later, he tweeted, “I pray that you see The Truth about POTUS and Q and their War against the trafficking of children,” and posted a video clip of Mr. Trump at a rally pointing to a baby wearing a Q onesie.
On the campaign trail during the past two years, at least six Republican congressional candidates, as well as several state and local politicians, have signaled some level of interest in QAnon. Danielle Stella, a Republican congressional candidate in Minnesota whose campaign’s Twitter account has “favorited” QAnon material and used a QAnon-related hashtag, was suspended from the platform in November after suggesting that the Democratic incumbent, Ilhan Omar, be hanged for treason.
In an email responding to questions about her position on QAnon, Ms. Stella said through a campaign aide: “The decision to side with Twitter regarding my suspension for advocating for the enforcement of federal code proves that The New York Times and Twitter will always side with and fight to protect terrorists, traitors, pedophiles and rapists.”
In San Juan Capistrano, Calif., Pam Patterson, a city council member, invoked QAnon in her farewell speech to the body in December 2018, reciting a Q posting as if it were Scripture.
“To quote Q No. 2436,” she said, “for far too long, we have been silent and allowed our bands of strength that we once formed to defend freedom and liberty to deteriorate. We became divided. We became weak. We elected traitors to govern us.”
Lin Bennett, a state legislator in South Carolina, spoke approvingly of QAnon on social media but later backed away from it, telling Charleston’s Post and Courier newspaper in May, “I got tired of looking at that stuff.”
And in Montana, an elected justice of the peace, Michael Swingley, was reprimanded in November by a state judicial board for using his official email account to send an angry message to a journalist who had written an article skeptical of QAnon. Mr. Swingley wrote that, regardless of “whether Q is real,” patriots were uniting because of it and “your world of fake news and liberal agendas that give away our country to foreigners and protect the Clintons and Obamas is coming to an end.”
Beyond the mainstreaming of QAnon in certain Republican circles, a bigger concern for researchers who track conspiracy theories is the potential for violence by unstable individuals who fall under its sway, particularly in the fraught political climate of the 2020 election. In its intelligence bulletin identifying QAnon as a potential domestic terror threat, the F.B.I. warned that partisan conspiracy mongering in the United States was being exacerbated by “the uncovering of real conspiracies or cover-ups” by political leaders. Social media was serving as an incubator for groundless theories and inspiring followers to take action, it said.
“Although conspiracy-driven crime and violence is not a new phenomenon,” the bulletin said, “today’s information environment has changed the way conspiracy theories develop, spread and evolve.”
Mr. Uscinski said that because some people with a conspiracy mind-set are willing to entertain political violence, it was perhaps inevitable that as QAnon attracted a bigger following, it would eventually come to include a dangerous, if tiny, subset of adherents.
“Once you reach a threshold of people,” he said, “that particular apple is going to show up in the barrel.”
The F.B.I. bulletin cited two episodes it said involved QAnon followers. In one, a 30-year-old Nevada man, Matthew Wright, armed himself with an AR-15-style rifle, a handgun and extra ammunition, and drove an armored truck onto a bridge near the Hoover Dam in June 2018. There, he engaged in a 90-minute standoff with police officers while demanding the release of an inspector general’s report on the government investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email practices.
After his arrest, Mr. Wright wrote letters to Mr. Trump and other officials, calling himself a “humble patriot” and making references to the QAnon slogans “Great Awakening” and “Where we go one, we go all.”
“I simply wanted the truth on behalf of all Americans,” Mr. Wright wrote, adding that he hoped those “responsible for purposely damaging our beloved country be held accountable and be brought to justice.”
In Arizona, the leader of a local veterans-aid group in Tucson, Michael Lewis Arthur Meyer, 39, was arrested in July 2018 after occupying a tower at a cement plant that he insisted was sheltering a child-sex-trafficking ring. Mr. Meyer “alleged a law enforcement cover-up and referenced the QAnon conspiracy theory as he and armed group members searched” for the nonexistent ring, according to the F.B.I. bulletin.
After the bulletin was prepared, there were additional incidents in Arizona and Colorado. Timothy Larson, 41, was accused in September of taking a crowbar to the altar inside the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona, while yelling about the Catholic Church and sex trafficking. Mr. Larson’s social media posts are filled with QAnon references and pro-Trump memes.
And in December the police in Parker, Colo., charged Cynthia Abcug, 50, with conspiring with fellow QAnon believers to kidnap one of her children, who had been removed from her custody. Ms. Abcug believed her child was being held by Satan worshipers and pedophiles, according to her arrest warrant.
Also recently, Anthony Comello, 25, said in a New York City court in December that his belief in QAnon had led him to murder a mob boss, Francesco Cali, who he asserted was part of the deep state cabal working against Mr. Trump. Mr. Comello’s defense lawyer, Robert C. Gottlieb, said in a court filing that after the 2016 election, his client’s family “began to notice changes to his personality” that worsened over time.
“Mr. Comello’s support for QAnon went beyond mere participation in a radical political organization,” Mr. Gottlieb wrote. “It evolved into a delusional obsession.”
SAN FRANCISCO — Jessica Lessin thinks the biggest story of the moment — how tech is swallowing the universe — is hopelessly under-covered by the news media. The issue is “massive,” she said not long ago in her spare, cube-like office here, and “no one is paying attention.”
Of course, it can be hard to see the forest for the tweets. From analysis of Trump’s utterances to conspiracy-peddling publishers amplifying themselves on Facebook and YouTube, tech stories increase exponentially every day. But Ms. Lessin, founder of The Information, an influential Silicon Valley publication, thinks most reporters are still focusing on the wrong topics: glamorous cryptocurrency, for example, rather than the blockchain looming over bank loans and stock trades; or the number of cars sold, rather than the artificial intelligence and driver networks that threaten to make that number obsolete.
She has focused her site on the larger picture, pursuing industry scoops and keeping the publication ad-free, instead charging $399 a year for complete access. The Information achieved profitability in 2016, Ms. Lessin said, three years after she left The Wall Street Journal to start it. She added that she expected $20 million in sales by the end of 2020, and for her staff of two dozen reporters and editors in the Bay Area, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, Washington and Hong Kong to grow. “The fact that we have a business that’s scaling makes me excited,” she said.
This sense of hope is discordant with the rest of online media, which seems in grim shape — last year, more than 1,000 people were laid off at BuzzFeed, AOL, Yahoo, HuffPost and Vice Media. (BuzzFeed is now back on more solid footing and could be headed for a sale.)
As other online organs have bloated and intermittently fasted, The Information’s reporters have become known in Silicon Valley for sniffing out the industry’s misdeeds and tweaking its powerful. A 2017 story revealed sexual harassment allegations against a venture capitalist that led to the shutdown of his firm. A recent article revealing hidden financial data at Quibi, a new streaming service, prompted its chief executive, Meg Whitman, to compare reporters to sexual predators. (She later apologized.)
The Information is sparely, almost clinically designed and frequently refreshed. Subscribers include Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, and the media investor James Murdoch (“Please write nice things about her,” he said of Ms. Lessin), corporate clients like Google and Goldman Sachs, and most of start-up royalty. Laurene Powell Jobs, the world’s seventh wealthiest woman and an influential philanthropist who also owns The Atlantic, finds the site useful. It covers “an ecosystem and an industry I care about,” she said, adding, “I’ve followed Jessica’s byline since The Journal.”
Ms. Lessin, 36, is the rare editor to have risen from ink-stained wretch to a player, much like Peter Bart when he ruled Variety, or Anna Wintour of Vogue. But her success, unlike the editors’ of an earlier time, owes as much to the data-driven discipline of her business as her editorial tastes. In an era when many pay walls, if they exist at all, are easily scaled, Ms. Lessin is fiercely guarding the fortress.
“I’ve said this from the beginning,” she said, “and I continue to say this, but you can’t give away what you expect the reader to find valuable.”
‘Who the hell is this girl?’
Ms. Lessin’s instinct for tradecraft showed up before the internet was ubiquitous, when she was editor of The Greenwich Academy Press, the half-size broadsheet of her private high school, and wanted to publish it in full color. To raise the money, she persuaded the school to allow her to auction off parking spots. “I just really wanted it to look as big and professional as possible,” she recalled.
While attending Harvard, she scored the coveted faculty beat at the Crimson newspaper. “It was like covering Congress,” Ms. Lessin said. “It’s fun because you get the bickering and the politics.” Lauren Schuker Blum, a friend who worked with her there and later at The Journal, remembered Ms. Lessin’s work habits. “We all had these reporter notebooks and most of us would use like half of it, or lose it, but she had like 30 of them, impeccably detailed,” Ms. Schuker Blum said. “She was like a libel lawyer’s dream.”
After graduating in 2005, Ms. Lessin completed an internship at The Journal, then kept coming back into the office to pitch stories. Eventually, she landed a full-time job covering personal tech, one of the least popular beats at the time. The year was 2005. BlackBerrys were the gold standard of smartphones and Facebook was just an online phone book for college students.
In 2008, Ms. Lessin moved to San Francisco to cover the tech industry — and regularly broke stories. “I was like, ‘Who the hell is this girl?’” said Paul Steiger, the Journal’s managing editor at the time. “I kind of followed her work and asked people, ‘Is she as good as this looks?’ And they said yes.”
But it was also around this time that some people began to whisper about Ms. Lessin’s possible conflicts of interest. Through Harvard, she had become friends with start-up founders or fast-rising executives at places like Google and Facebook, ostensibly her key subjects. She was also dating another graduate, Sam Lessin, who had started a company that would later be acquired by Facebook. (The two married in 2012.)
A holiday excursion in 2008 resulted in a scolding for Ms. Lessin. As the economy was plummeting, she and Mr. Lessin jetted off to the vacation home of his family on the island of Cyprus with friends of theirs from the start-up scene.
The group passed the time as many people do on vacation, drinking and lounging around the pool. And before filming such activities and sharing them with strangers would become commonplace on Instagram, they posted footage online, including the women wearing matching black-and-white checkered swimsuits, lip-syncing to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”
The Cyprus travelers were blasted for their stunning lack of self awareness as the nation’s economy teetered toward crisis and tech companies were laying off employees. Ms. Lessin was singled out by Valleywag, the now-defunct tech site, in a post headlined, “WSJ reporter parties in Cyprus with people she covers.”
“Oh, that never made sense to me,” she said. “These were not people I wrote about. These were friends.” (A scan of Journal articles from the period shows she interviewed at least one Cyprus attendee in an article — Mike Hudack, the head of Blip.tv, a video start-up that has since shut down. Ms. Lessin says they were not friends when she wrote the article.) Still, her vacation drew disapproving scrutiny from higher-ups at The Journal, though not an official reprimand.
Ms. Lessin, in turn, was beginning to chafe at how newsrooms were covering tech — from a cool remove, she thought, never going deep. In contrast were the many bloggers who could delve into the industry’s every incremental move, but who had become so close to subjects the stories read like ad copy. Ms. Lessin said she thought: Couldn’t you do both? In-the-know reporting that still held subjects to account?
“I knew if I didn’t do it, someone else would, and I’d be kicking myself,” she said.
Starting with ‘less than $1 million’
Valley underminers like to snipe that Ms. Lessin never had to persuade investors to back her plan. She had her own money. Her father is Jerome C. Vascellaro, a partner at the private equity giant TPG, which is a significant investor in tech and media businesses like Uber, Vice and Airbnb. Her husband, a son of the late tech investor Robert H. Lessin, made a fortune from the Facebook stock he received as part of the company’s acquisition of his start-up years ago.
Ms. Lessin said she tapped her own bank account, using “less than $1 million,” to start The Information, and continues to own and control it wholly. She pays competitive salaries (albeit without equity) — as much as $180,000 or more for some top reporters. She refuses to spend more than she grosses, she said.
So far, this strategy seems to be paying off. A 2016 article on Tony Fadell, then the head of Google’s Nest division, exposed how the executive’s last-minute decrees and slow decision making had crippled the company’s hardware efforts. The story was so in demand it converted over 600 new subscribers in the first day, recalled the reporter who wrote it, Reed Albergotti, who worked at The Information from 2015 to 2019. “It blew up,” he said. “That was proof of the model.”
But is The Information — whose title anticipates an interest in nothing short of everything — just a trade publication, like Advertising Age or Publishers Weekly? (One heavily trafficked section features richly detailed organizational charts that executive recruiters mine for leads.)
Ms. Lessin, seeming a little annoyed by the question, tilting her head and widening her eyes as she computed her reply. “I think that misses the point,” she finally said. “There’s so much hunger for what we produce.”
In December, she introduced a consumer-friendly version of the site, an app called The Tech Top 10, priced at $30 a year. Instead of a dense story on Netflix’s debt structure, the app might publish a short explainer on Netflix’s price increase. “You’re matching the reader with the level of expertise they want,” Ms. Lessin said. “That’s what subscriptions allow you to do.”
She won’t say how many subscribers The Information has, but some back-of-the-envelope math suggests she’ll have to hit 40,000 paying readers by this year to reach her sales objective, which could be a significant challenge. According to three people familiar with the business, the publication surpassed 20,000 subscribers only around the middle of last year. “I can confirm we have more than that,” she said, declining to be more specific.
Her publication’s success has attracted suitors. Some time last year, John Ridding, the chief executive of The Financial Times, Britain’s pre-eminent business publication, met with Ms. Lessin in San Francisco. The salmon-colored broadsheet was interested in a possible takeover, three people familiar with the matter said. Mr. Ridding declined to comment, and Ms. Lessin said The Information was not for sale.
Nervous next to Bezos
As at any start-up, the vibe at The Information’s open-plan offices is like a college dorm room that’s in the middle of being cleaned up ahead of Parents’ Weekend. A large part of the staff hails from The Journal, including Martin Peers, who used to be Ms. Lessin’s editor. Now, she’s his boss.
Mr. Peers, 59, is famous within journalism circles for his cantankerous nature and deep skepticism of Silicon Valley — and yet he came west. “I had been at the Journal for 15 years,” he said. “I was exhausted and what Jessica was proposing was the perfect antidote, and I thought, ‘Why not?’”
In June 2017, the site landed one of its biggest scoops: a feature that revealed sexual harassment allegations against one of Silicon Valley’s most well-connected venture capitalists. Six women had accused Justin Caldbeck, a partner at Binary Capital, of unwanted sexual advances, with three of them speaking to the reporter, Mr. Albergotti, on the record.
The story exposed a pervasive culture of misogyny and harassment within tech, immediately raised The Information’s profile and was a precursor of the broader #MeToo movement. But Mr. Albergotti, who now works at The Washington Post, remembered the staff’s anxiety as they got closer to publishing. They were keenly aware of what had happened to Gawker, which was sued for invasion of privacy by Hulk Hogan. The suit, which was financed by the venture capitalist Peter Thiel, drove Gawker into extinction and stoked a fear among publishers that anyone with enough money and willpower could vaporize a news outlet.
As the Caldbeck story was about to go to press, Ms. Lessin was in Italy attending a conference. She consulted the company’s liability insurance, which she had printed out, in her hotel room before heading to a dinner where she would be seated with Jeff Bezos. “I don’t remember if I vomited or not,” she said. “But I was very nervous.” She gave the green light.
Mr. Caldbeck didn’t sue. Instead, he resigned. A short while later, his venture firm collapsed. As a female entrepreneur, Ms. Lessin felt The Information’s work was “deeply personal,” especially as several men in the industry, who had heard the piece was in the works, contacted her to suggest the claims were overblown. These were “men I respect, who I was close to,” she said.
She wouldn’t name them. Ms. Schuker Blum, who worked with her at The Journal, said Ms. Lessin is not a gossip, like many reporters. “She’s not the journalist who’s always complaining,” Ms. Schuker Blum said. “She’s not a conspiracy theorist. She sees the best in people.”
Daniel Ek, the chief executive of Spotify, said he found the occasional, critical story on his company “not unfair.” But he added that Ms. Lessin “has to walk a tightrope given the level of access that she has. That’s got to be tough.”
Ms. Lessin’s connections continue to raise eyebrows, particularly those to Facebook. She and her husband are friends with their Harvard classmates Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s chief executive, and his wife, Priscilla Chan, who runs the couple’s philanthropy efforts. They attended each other’s weddings and both have young children. (Ms. Lessin’s two boys, Lion and Maverick, are both under the age of 3.) Mr. Zuckerberg was at The Information’s launch party, where she joked that for the super-high subscription rate of $10,000 a story could be killed (but just one). Recently, Ms. Chan was a speaker at an Information event.
The Information has published tough stories on Facebook, including a 2016 piece that revealed a weakness in its business. A more recent article exposed tensions between Chinese employees and Facebook’s leaders. But so far, it has only taken smaller swipes at the tech giant.
So how does The Information write about a company run by a friend of the site’s owner, one that is also perceived as having failed democracy, if not the universe?
Ms. Lessin was circumspect, her contralto voice echoing slightly off the glass walls of her office. “I’m very careful to draw lines around my personal life,” she said. “We have very clearly defined our culture around getting the best, most accurate story possible.”
SHANGHAI — As the number of coronavirus infections in China continues to surge without any sign of slowing down, the Communist government has clamped down on the news media and the internet, signaling an effort to control the narrative about a crisis that has become a once-in-a-generation challenge for leaders in Beijing.
Chinese health officials said Thursday that 563 people had died from the virus, up from 490 people the day before, and that there were 28,018 confirmed cases of infection. Thousands more cases are being reported every day, and many Chinese fear that the virus’s spread is not being adequately controlled.
With frustrations running high across the country, China’s leaders appear to be strengthening information controls after a brief spell in which news organizations were able to report thoroughly on the crisis, and many negative comments about the official response were left uncensored online.
In recent days, both state-run news media and more commercially minded outlets have been told to focus on positive stories about virus relief efforts, according to three people at Chinese news organizations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal directives.
Internet platforms have removed a range of articles that suggest shortcomings in the Chinese government’s response or are otherwise negative about the outbreak.
Local officials have also cracked down on what they call online “rumors” about the virus. China’s public security ministry this week lauded such efforts, which have continued even after one person who was reprimanded for spreading rumors turned out to be a doctor sounding the alarm about early cases of the illness.
The Chinese government has shifted its strategy for information control in response to the changing nature of the public’s discontent, said King-wa Fu, an associate professor at the Journalism and Media Studies Center at the University of Hong Kong.
In the early days of the crisis, online vitriol had largely been directed at the local authorities. Now, more of the anger is being aimed at higher-level leadership, and there seems to be more of it over all, he said.
Late last month, for instance, after The New England Journal of Medicine published a research paper about early cases of the virus, Chinese web users pounced on the fact that several of the authors worked for the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, saying they should have been informing the public, not furthering their research careers.
“Now I understand,” one person wrote on the social platform Weibo. “The C.D.C.’s purpose all along was to publish research papers.”
“I’m so mad that I’m speechless,” wrote another.
The researchers later said that all their information about the infections had already been made public before the paper was written.
At this point, Professor Fu said, more censorship “wouldn’t stop the public frustration.”
The rapidly rising number of infections and deaths from the new virus has put renewed pressure on the senior leadership in China. Hospitals near the center of the epidemic have been overwhelmed, and people with flulike symptoms have been turned away. Many cases have not been diagnosed because of a shortage of testing kits.
Still, the number of people in China who are recovering is rising, as well. And on Wednesday, a senior Chinese health expert attributed the large rise in the number of confirmed cases to the fact that hospitals had been able to diagnose the virus more quickly. The number of suspected cases has dropped for the same reason, the expert, Li Xingwang, said at an official news briefing.
The new curbs on information appeared to have been set in motion earlier this week, when China’s leader, Xi Jinping, and other senior officials said at a meeting that they would “strengthen control over online media” as one of several measures to maintain social stability.
The leaders said that the government’s propaganda efforts should focus on “vividly conveying the stirring achievements from the front lines of epidemic prevention” and “showing the Chinese people’s unity and spirit of pulling together in difficult times,” according to Xinhua, the official news agency.
After the meeting, a top official at China’s central propaganda department told the state broadcaster CCTV that his department had dispatched more than 300 journalists to the epidemic’s front lines in Wuhan and its surrounding province, Hubei.
The official, Zhang Xiaoguo, said the department would make publicizing the government’s prevention-and-control campaign its “highest priority.”
It was unclear whether the 300 journalists included those who were already reporting in Hubei, or whether they would be new arrivals. It was also unclear what news organizations they would represent. A spokeswoman for the propaganda department declined to comment.
The effort has been met with some sarcasm on social media.
“Positive energy is coming at last,” one user wrote on Weibo, using the Chinese government’s term for the kind of boosterish, uncritical tone it prefers to see in news coverage.
The post was liked more than 27,000 times. But all the comments below the post were eventually deleted, and new comments have been forbidden.
Employees at Chinese news organizations this week described a mandatory change of tone in their stories and fresh orders to hew to the official line.
Journalists at the Xinhua news agency, for example, have been told to keep their coverage of the virus positive, according to internal instructions seen by The New York Times. They were ordered not to continue mentioning the fact that the World Health Organization had declared a global health emergency and not to cover every infection discovered overseas.
“Only cover what needs to be covered,” the instructions said.
Across the rest of China’s news landscape, articles on a broad range of themes have been blocked or deleted online in recent days.
They include a report in the financial newsmagazine Caijing about deaths in Wuhan that might not have been counted in the official tally; a firsthand account of a funeral home in Wuhan; and even an interview with the head of a popular restaurant chain who said that he might be out of cash in a few months if the virus were not contained.
Beijing is moving to tighten up its management of the epidemic as governments worldwide continue cutting themselves off from China to stop coronavirus cases from being imported.
Hong Kong, a semiautonomous Chinese territory, said on Wednesday that it would begin requiring all people who arrive from mainland China to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine. Hong Kong has 21 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, including three that were transmitted locally.
Carrie Lam, the city’s top official, has resisted demands from some lawmakers and medical workers to close the border completely, calling it discriminatory and not in line with W.H.O. guidelines. But she has enacted a series of measures, including closing all but three border crossings, that have resulted in a sharp drop in entries from the mainland.
The United States and other countries have also imposed entry restrictions on visitors from China. Such measures have thrown the global travel industry into disarray.
Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio of Italy said in an interview with The Associated Press that Italy’s flight ban on commercial flights to and from China, put into place on Jan. 30, could ease soon now that thermal scanners are being installed at airports throughout Italy and taking the temperatures of arriving passengers from all foreign flights.
Cathay Pacific, the Hong Kong-based international airline, has asked its 27,000 employees to take three weeks of unpaid leave. The carrier has already cut nearly all flights to and from mainland China and has said it would pare back flights across its network as it faces its biggest emergency since the depths of the financial crisis in 2009.
Twenty people on a cruise ship carrying 2,666 passengers and 1,045 crew members and quarantined in Yokohama, Japan, have tested positive for the coronavirus, the cruise line, Princess Cruises, said on Wednesday. And another 170 people who may have been exposed have yet to be tested.
The ship arrived in Yokohama on Tuesday, but the authorities did not allow anyone off. An 80-year-old Hong Kong resident who had disembarked earlier in his home city was found to be infected.
On Wednesday, hundreds of Americans who had been in Wuhan as the outbreak worsened arrived in California on two evacuation flights arranged by the United States government. The 12th case of the coronavirus in the United States was confirmed on Wednesday.
Amid all the gloom, scientists in China provided a glimmer of hope this week. Chinese researchers reported preliminary success with a new approach for treating the coronavirus.
The researchers combined Arbidol, an antiviral drug used in Russia and China for treating influenza, with Darunavir, the anti-H.I.V. drug, for treating patients with the coronavirus, according to Changjiang News, a state-backed newspaper in Wuhan.
The researchers did not say how many patients had been treated with the combination therapy, and it could be too soon to assess its effectiveness. The findings have not been reviewed by outside experts.
Reporting was contributed by Austin Ramzy, Elaine Yu and Alexandra Stevenson from Hong Kong, and Sui-Lee Wee from Singapore. Wang Yiwei and Amber Wang contributed research.
LONDON — When Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivered a fireside chat last week to mark Britain’s departure from the European Union, he did not ask the BBC to tape it, preferring to use an in-house video crew. The BBC, in turn, refused to air his remarks on that history-making evening.
It was a telling bit of tit-for-tat in the feud between the prime minister and Britain’s public broadcaster — one that has run the gamut from petty snubs, like the boycott of a popular BBC radio show by Mr. Johnson’s ministers, to real economic threats, like a proposal to stop prosecuting people for failing to pay the compulsory license fee that funds the BBC’s operations.
And it comes against a backdrop of deepening hostility between Mr. Johnson, a one-time journalist, and the British press corps, including journalists from newspapers that backed his Brexit campaign.
The rancor has inevitably drawn comparisons to President Trump’s clashes with the White House news media. But Mr. Johnson has avoided Mr. Trump’s inflammatory language, and the primary target of his wrath, the BBC, is a revered institution that occupies a place in Britain unlike the president’s favorite targets, CNN or MSNBC.
On Monday, reporters from the BBC, the Financial Times, the Guardian and other news outlets walked out of a briefing at 10 Downing Street to protest a move by Mr. Johnson’s communications staff to bar several of their colleagues from attending the session, which was on trade talks with Brussels.
“This paper is an avid supporter of all he is trying to achieve,” said an editorial comment in the Daily Mail, whose reporter joined the walkout. “But we cannot be an uncritical friend. Freezing out journalists because they don’t agree with him makes a mockery of his message of openness.”
For now, the blowback has forced Mr. Johnson to take a more conciliatory tone. “I am a journalist,” Mr. Johnson, who once edited the weekly magazine, the Spectator, said on Wednesday. “I love journalism.”
Yet, a few hours earlier, his government announced it would introduce a proposal to stop prosecuting people for failing to pay the license fee for the BBC. Officials argue that nonpayment of other such fees is handled in civil, not criminal, proceedings.
They say it is a relic in an era of streaming and subscription TV services, like Netflix and YouTube, that consumers can take or leave as they wish. And the penalty falls disproportionately on older people, who are less able to afford the fee, which is currently £154 ($200) a year.
“Quite simply, the world in which the BBC was created, and the license fee was established, has changed beyond recognition,” said Nicky Morgan, Mr. Johnson’s secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport.
But critics accuse the government of using funding as a weapon to punish the BBC for news coverage it dislikes. The debate over the BBC’s license fee flares regularly, these people say, usually after a new Conservative government takes office and sets about settling scores from the campaign just ended.
The last time the government considered “decriminalizing” the license fee, in 2015 under Prime Minister David Cameron, an independent review estimated it would cost the BBC £200 million a year, around $260 million. Analysts now estimate the cost at between £350 million and £400 million a year, about $450 million to $520 million. That is roughly 10 percent of the BBC’s budget and would force draconian cuts in staff and programming. Any changes would not take effect until April 2022.
“The BBC is the equivalent of BP staring at the Gulf of Mexico before the blowout of its oil rig,” said Claire Enders, a London-based media analyst, referring to the environmental calamity that ultimately cost the British oil company more than $60 billion.
Last month, the BBC announced it would cut about 450 jobs in its news division to prepare for leaner times. That prompted the departure of Sarah Sands, the editor of the Today program on BBC radio, which has been boycotted by the government since last month’s election because of complaints about how its officials were treated on the air.
Mr. Johnson himself spurned an invitation to be interviewed by Andrew Neil, a BBC personality whose forensic questioning of prime ministerial candidates had become an election-year ritual in Britain. Ms. Sands described the prime minister’s strategy as “quite Trumpian: to delegitimize the BBC.”
If so, however, it is a hit-or-miss strategy. Mr. Johnson has sat for interviews with other BBC journalists, including Andrew Marr, host of a Sunday morning program. At a news conference on Monday, he did call on the BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, though, unusually, only after calling on half a dozen of her competitors.
Mr. Johnson’s relations with the non-broadcast media have soured quickly, too. Monday’s walkout came after the second time in two weeks that officials handpicked reporters for a briefing.
Tensions had already flared after the government abruptly changed the location of regular briefings for British political journalists — from Parliament to a building adjacent to 10 Downing Street. Some journalists said the new location would make it harder for smaller news organizations, with fewer staff members, to attend.
The bigger fear among journalists is that Mr. Johnson’s influential adviser, Dominic Cummings, wants to shelve a system of organized briefings that take place twice a day while Parliament is in session.
This, the critics contend, is part of a longer-term ambition to bypass the mainstream media, disseminate information directly through social media and cut journalists down to size by making them seem ill-informed and irrelevant.
On Tuesday, lawmakers held a lively debate on press relations, with Pete Wishart, a member of Parliament for the opposition Scottish National Party, calling it a “black day for press freedom.” Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi of the Labour Party argued that “that the Prime Minister and his advisers are merely trying to copy President Trump’s tactics and trying to stifle our free press.”
Last month, the editors of every national newspaper signed a letter protesting the changes. After the walkout, even some Conservative-leaning news outlets that are friendly to Mr. Johnson, like the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph, pushed back — their dedication to a free press evidently outweighing even their enthusiasm for Brexit.
That appeared to prompt the change in tone from Mr. Johnson and his ministers. After her remarks on the BBC, Ms. Morgan suggested that the prime minister’s top communications aide, Lee Cain, should meet with journalists to discuss access to briefings, something he has refused to do.
Some media analysts were skeptical that Mr. Johnson, emboldened by his election victory, will seek a reconciliation with the press.
“This is a wider issue about reframing the narrative and redrawing the lines of political debate in Britain,” said Meera Selva, director of the Reuters Journalism Fellowship Program at Oxford University. “The government wants to take control of the issues and what gets discussed.”
In the past, she said, government officials might have taken journalists out to lunch to explain their thinking. Now, Ms. Selva said, “They’ve decided either ‘we don’t have time for it,’ or ‘it doesn’t work anyway.’”