LifeSiteNews calls itself the number-one pro-life news website, a place where journalistic accuracy is “given high priority.” It aims “to dispel confusion and ignorance, enable constructive dialogue and help informed decisions to be made and appropriate actions to be taken for the good of all,” according to the “LifeSiteNews Principles.”
But when it comes to reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, LifeSiteNews is a superspreader of confusion, not an antidote. In tightly written prose, it mimics journalism by reporting on scientific data and studies, but so selectively as to be highly misleading. The takeaways from this skewed coverage include: don’t wear face masks; don’t get a COVID-19 vaccine; view the pandemic as a tool of the elite to achieve global political domination.
This is standard fare in far-right and anti-vaccine circles, but LifeSiteNews (which publishes a “Catholic Edition”) and similarly minded Catholic media appeal to their followers with the powerful additive of a common religious faith. Looking through some popular Catholic websites, I found that Catholic Family News will tell you the pandemic ended months ago. Another benignly named site, Catholic Parents Online, showcases a priest preaching that COVID-19 “is a man-made virus” and falsely claiming that it didn’t cause a large majority of the deaths authorities attribute to it. (It’s been viewed nearly 600,000 times on YouTube.) Church Militant bluntly urged churchgoers to rebel against wearing masks during services. In segments I listened to, other popular outlets such as the Catholic Answers forum at Catholic.com and Relevant Radio presented lopsided views of the scientific evidence that would lead their listeners away from the small sacrifice of wearing a protective face mask.
The inclination is to look away, but that would ignore the damage done. These sites alone garnered more than 6 million visits in January, according to data compiled by SimilarWeb analytics. A lot of bad information is being passed out by organizations that claim to speak in the name of Catholic orthodoxy.
To Dr. Paul Carson, a professor of infectious diseases at North Dakota State University who is active in Catholic medical organizations and a regular guest on the EWTN radio show Doctor, Doctor (which gave sound advice in the segments I listened to), it makes no sense. “This has been one of the most troubling things to me,” he said in a telephone interview. “My Catholic brothers and sisters who are normally adamantly pro-life cannot see this sort of denial and lack of sense of solidarity with other parts of the population, like the elderly.”
Carson, an advisor to North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum on COVID-19, said he hears Catholic friends minimize the danger of the virus by saying of its victims, “Well, they’re old and sick.” In response, he quotes St. John Paul II’s call for a sense of solidarity that “demands a readiness to accept sacrifices necessary for the good of the whole world community.”
“That’s what Catholics are about, sacrificing for each other,” he told me. “This is in our wheelhouse. This is what Catholics do.”