The claim was tailor-made for President Trump’s most steadfast backers: Federal guidelines are coaching doctors to mark Covid-19 as the cause of death even when it is not, inflating the pandemic’s death toll.
That the claim came from a doctor, Scott Jensen, who also happens to be a Republican state senator in Minnesota, made it all the more alluring to the president’s allies. Never mind the experts who said that, if anything, the death toll was being vastly undercounted.
“SHOCKING,” tweeted Chris Berg, a conservative television show host on KX4, a Fox affiliate in Fargo, N.D., after interviewing Dr. Jensen last month. Soon after, Laura Ingraham, the Fox News host, invited Dr. Jensen onto her show. His assertions were picked up by Infowars, the conspiracy-oriented website founded by Alex Jones. They were shared by followers of Qanon, who subscribe to a web of vague, baseless theories that a secret cabal in the government is trying to take down the president.
“What is the primary benefit to keep public in mass-hysteria re: Covid-19? Think voting. Are you awake yet?” a Qanon follower known as John the White wrote on Twitter, saying the pandemic was being used to manipulate the electorate.
The likes of John the White may view the world through the most conspiratorial of lenses, but they are hardly the only people weighing the political impact of the virus’s death toll. With implications for how quickly businesses and their employees return to something like normalcy, the fight to shape the official record is adding a grim new front to the presidential campaign.