Tag Archives: media transparency

“He Could Easily Destroy Us”

“Amazingly, as of tonight,” new host Tucker Carlson declared in hopes to build anticipation for a Twitter broadcast, “there aren’t many platforms left that allow free speech.” While Fox News took Carlson’s show off the airwaves, he promised to return quickly on the social media platform owned by Elon Musk. Having worked for networks across the political spectrum, from CNN to MSNBC to FOX, Tucker Carlson seems to know what he was talking about. But when he called his own de-platforming as a suppression of his right to speak his thoughts or what he called a constitutional liberty of free speech, he was raising the stakes in ways that were designed to appeal to his viewers to a boiling point. In startlingly globalizing terms, Carlson groused on Twitter that few platforms allowed free speech anymore, and that Twitter stood out as “the last big one remaining in the world.” Carlson acted aggreived, as if his own rights to free speech had been denied.

Flattery may get him nowhere, but the post imitated none other than Musk, who cast his social media network at the center of a “battle of civilization” in promoting Twitter-without-monitors as a vanguard of free speech, tweeting out, “if free speech is lost even in America, tyranny is all that lies ahead”! As Musk tried to represent or rebrand social media without constraints on hate speech or disinformation as American, issuing the latest iteration of his Messiah complex on his private social media platform, gaslighting the nation has long been Tucker Carlson’s principle trade. The branding of the social media platform as a venue for free speech might have been suggested by Musk in an invitation of Carlson–the most offensive of pundits–to the social media platform. When Carlson waxed elegaic on free speech as the rarest of commodities, affirming his dedication to protecting speech though he lost the platform of Tucker Carlson Tonight, recently the highest-rated show on Fox, as if his departure his new venue was his free choice, and a changing media landscape.

The global scale of Carlson’s claim about Twitter was absolutely self-serving, to be sure, both as a form of flattering Musk, his new platform’s host and sole prprietoar, and dig at Fox News. He claimed to have thrown his lot the last remaining safe space in media, and turning his back on television in disgust. Carlson was long habituated to rail against the media, and offer the alternative story of the disaffected and aggrieved. But this time, Although he had hosted a news show for six and a half years since Trump’s election, before a map of the fragmented nation polarized by partisan divides; free speech, he suggested, no longer existed on mainstream media. However, he was without the tell-tale map that was a longtime logo for his news show–a news graphic of 2016 that had become the permanent illustration of the status quo he sought to address, and to filter all “current” events, as if in a time warp from the 2016 Presidential election, that showed the country divided, or nation split, into two nations, red and blue, that formed the perspective to which his commentary was addressed. The visualization of the continental United States–the lower 48, and the continuous heartland at its center–offered an image of belonging that was talismanic for the TV audience, and a powerful image of belonging in an increasingly atomized United States, bowling alone and with few ties in its neighborhoods. Carlson was its prophet and its oracle, and effectively ventriloquized the divides with such success that he had become a channel for Donald Trump himself. Despite his affirmation of the stolen election, and the credence he gave to January 6 protestors, without that map Carlson was suddenly weaker, suddenly punctured by the actual news. Yet his relation to the White House and to the talisman of his news show was far less powerful, even after January 6.

Tucker Carlson strongly criticized for Jan. 6 comments after airing footage  from Capitol attack - CBS News

The map of the Lower 48 was a nice means to deny global warming, to ignore weather maps, or international politics, and even the real pressure migrants face. It was an image of the New Isolationism, America First for the twenty-first century, an image without rising temperatures, sea-level rise, or global economic forces beyond Americans’ or America’s control. Yet in a few weeks, Carlson was deemed a social liability by Rupert Murdoch, after winning unprecedented ratings as Lachlan Murdoch’s darling, as the Dominion lawsuit unwound and his own indefensible offensiveness was revealed. In a departing dig at Fox News, as well as an encomium to the social media platform he was about to join. Yet without the map of a permanently divided landscape of politics, promoting a polarized landscape split by partisan hues as a different reality, the values that Carlson was suddenly so desperate to fall back on–the Bill of Rights–as a language of the aggrieved was all too inappropriate and far less credible or effective. A trademark of he tried to remind his most loyal viewers that “Speech is the fundamental prerequisite for democracy”–as if speech were the same for the Founding Fathers as in an age of de-platforming, claiming a right of redress as an aggrieved media pundit, hailing Twitter as a unique preserve of republican liberty. (This much must have come as music to Elon Musk’s ears, who convinced Ron De Santis to declare his own candidacy on the medium–even if that didn’t go so well. But it didn’t break Twitter.)

Tucker Carlson may have had few grounds to claim free speech was violated, but there was of course a clear precedent for claiming such rights of free speech. For this formed the grounds by which Fox News lawyers had quite successfully defended him in a recent defamation case brought by Karen McDougal, who Calrson had treated as a punching bag while at Fox News with something like barely concealed glee. Fox News lawyers had successfully argued Carlson was in his rights to speak derivatively of McDougal, the 2020 verdict of a federal judge agreed, as no “reasonable viewer” could be expected take his show literally–he was, it ruled, “not ‘stating actual facts’ about the topics he discusses and instead only engaging in ‘exaggeration’ and ‘non-literal commentary.'” The successful dismissal of claims of slander was made on the grounds that “Mr. Carlson’s statements were not statements of fact,” and could not be interpreted as defamatory as such. The indefensible on-air statement that McDougal had “approached Donald Trump and threatened to ruin his career and humiliate his family if he doesn’t give them money,” as if she were an extortionist. (The court ruled Carlson’s words could not be interpreted as slander, or containing “malice” as but, as FOX lawyers argued, “delivering opinion using hyperbole for effect,” in an odd echo of how Donald Trump advocated “truthful hyperbole” to negotiate good deals in his 1987 Art of the Deal.)

Carlson seems to have accepted the verdict as a sort of license of his defensible rights to issue slanderous broadsides by converting political debates or even personal actions into the crisp colors of a partisan divide, a divide that was embodied as it had never before been by the very electoral map he used as a backdrop if not leitmotif for his show since its 2017 premier on Fox. He had staged a nightly news show to gloss the partisan divisions of a polarized landscape as the new status quo, harping on cultural resentments that divided the nation by district and county, as they existed as his show began, as an electoral landscape he would perpetuate and perhaps expand, and reinstate beyond the divisions of 2017 as a permanent map by which to understand the news–and the place of the nation in the world. Keeping open the sharp divides of a seemingly “continuous” red block and fractured blue in place was the grounds for his daily show, and the work of perpetuating the map had become glossed as a form of free speech.

cook report map 1

 Cook Political Report, 2017 

Having left the highest rated show on cable news for huffing it on his own, he invoked his rights to free speech again, as he attacked mainstream television itself. This time, his status as an outspoken commentator was infringed by his former employer, it appeared. He sought to invite his audience to follow him onto the new Twitter platform, as if it was a preserve of free speech. He had discussed the infringement of rights–from the rioters of January 6, whose peaceful invasion of the Capitol he culled from exclusive footage of the thousands of hours Kevin McCarthy granted of “secret” footage that day, to Donald Trump himself–in recent shows, using free speech as a sacred cow. The protection of freedom of speech that Carlson had conspicuously denied Black Lives Matters protesters–who he disparagingly cast as a mob whose violence that threatened the nation–clothed both January 6 protestors and his own show. Never mind that Representative Zoe Lofgren, D-CAL, who had served as a member of the January 6 Committee, felt that Carlson’s broadcasting of the footage “a road map to people who might want to attack the Capitol again.”

In presenting himself as a champion of Free Speech, Carlson claimed the higher ground, as if his constitutional rights had been infringed, in ways that were not only aggrieved. Of course, his rights to speech were quite from curtailed–he was an evangelist of the right whose outspoken claims made him a darling of liberty at the Turning Point USA’s AmericaFest,–

–and he had become an international figure of jet set global conferencing with national leaders outside the United States, at the first meeting of the Conservative Political Action Committee outside of the country. Carlson had delivered speeches at the invitation of right wing anti-immigration strongman Viktor Orbán, whose cry to “take back the institutions in Washington and Brussels” led him to summon Tucker Carlson to Hungary as he sought to remake it as a bastion of conservative Christian values long before 2021, quenching the opposition media and openly urging audiences to stand up against the “rule of the liberal media” as a form of “Conservative resistance to the woke revolution.” Of Orbán dressed outrageous ethnic nationalism as a form of libertarianism, he seemed to have ripped a page from Carlson’s rhetoric, taking him on a helicopter tour of his own “border fence” that led a perhaps mystified Carlson to return the favor by calling Hungary “a little country with a lot of lessons for the rest of us,” terrifyingly gestured to the media monopoly that Orbán created in his illiberal democracy that silenced all opposition in the nation.

Carlson suddenly found himself suddenly an international media star, basking in the attention he won overseas from a man who was an icon of conservative demagoguery. Orbán’s extreme hard-line policy of rejecting asylum- seekers was an outlier of liberal democracies indeed–which Carlson eagerly promoted as a model for American immigration system he calls far too lenient and argues was poised to weaken the power of native-born citizens in ways that aped White Supremacists. Was this a watershed in his defense of what he called free speech, or a new height of self-deception? Carlson’s 2021 visit to Budapest followed a range of anti-LGBTQI laws by the Hungarian parliament, issued to help Orbán cling to power in ways that rested on a profound rewriting of the mediascape of the nation: the refusal of legal recognition of transgender people in Hungary, and enshrining birth sex in Hungarian law, ws normalized transgender discrimination that culminated in bans on any application for change in gender recognition by 2023–legal barriers to gender recognition that became widespread in much of the United States (more alter). When Carlson was forced to participate remotely In the 2022 meeting of CPAC in Budapest, he vouched “I wish I was there in Budapest,” adding in terms that now seem irenic that “If I ever get fired and have some time and can leave, I will be there with you.” (Carlson had found virtues in Hungary’s limited free speech–Orbán has clamped down on media coverage of the Ukraine critical of Russia, as if Trump could end the conflict–“Come back, Mr. President, make America great again, and bring us peace!”–that he blamed on the United States as CPAC imitated Hungary in allowing only alt right journalists to cover the event, rather than the Associated Press.)

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson visits Prime Minister Orbán in 2021/Office of the Hungarian Prime Minister

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s policies in Hungary against trans people and gender reassignment has made him a hero on the alt right, a weird affirmation from afar of a charge against “global progressive elites” who promote immigration, transgender and LGBTQ+ rights, bundling them as a “virus” in need of being defeated by a “Christian conservative turn” that offered a model for how right-wing culture might defeated and dispatch “woke” agendas in its defense as a bulwark of Christian democracy, conjuring Hungary’s historical role as a buffer-state of the Austro-Hungarian Empire against Islam. The ban on public depictions of homosexuality in Hungary or any promotion of sex education became a way to for Orbán to emphasize his protection of Christian values: “No Country For Woke Men,” read banners at the CPAC conference he hosted in 2023, proclaiming his nation an “incubator” of “the future of conservative policies” world-wide to energetic applause. (His censorship of the media were elevated as a model for American CPAC leadership who vowed to “go Hungarian,” deciding “who is a journalist and who is not a journalist” for entry to their events, as universities were transferred to being run by Orbán cronies to silence free speech.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban addresses a keynote speech during an extraordinary session of the Conservative Polit...

To be sure, to cite a recent news maps of the change that has swept across America of Orbán-like doctrine, mental health was thrown to the winds by the broad imposition of restrictions on gender identification, as a slew of “red” states have introduced restrictions on gender-affirming care across the nation, per the Guttmacher Institute, crating a cleft across the nation of the Orbán-esque policy by enacting outright restrictive transgender laws or curtailing care for trans teens in states over the past two years–a new hot-button issues to motivate to intensify political polarization by invasive restrictions on competitive sports, restroom use, and other health care. The adoption by state legislatures of restrictions and protections a new front of divisive polarization of increasingly sharp lines, as a terrifyingly contiguous block of “red state” litmus tests of knee jerk variety now threaten to return critical swing states–Georgia; Florida; Arizona–into a hard conservative fold.

But the national political struggle is perhaps less the point than the harm inflicted upon some thirty thousand kids in Arizona, Florida, and Georgia who may be destined to suffer psychological harm. The laws against transgender identification in America, echoing Carlson’s false charge that transgender people are targeting Christianity–and “the natural enemy” of Christians, arguing that gender-affirming medical treatments are “chemical castration” by 2022 that was protected by the U.S. Constitution, after the White House criticized states’ criminalization of gender-affirming care. Carlson’s statements echoed Orbán, but also pushed the envelop on free speech as medical care for transgender was revealed as a macabre Grand Guignol theater: “Slicing off a child’s sex organs, preventing a 12-year-old from going through puberty, that’s not ghoulish and dangerous and horrifying. No, it’s not. It’s ‘gender affirming health care.’ Indeed, it’s all we’re now calling a best practice.” And after Arkansas banned puberty-blockers in 2021, a potentially life-saving intervention, as endangering children with long-term medical side-effects, encouraging local legislatures to oppose them, giving a platform to anti-trans authors without any medical qualifications or experience, to shape public opinion on gender-affirming medical treatments as reliant on “massive, massive doses” flooding the bodies of young children who become “cash cows” for the medical establishment, but are not seen by doctors–casting trans support as abusive parenting “irreversibly damaging their bodies.” (Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas obligingly took up the charge in a directive declaring gender affirming services provided youth could constitute child abuse as “abusive procedures” in early 2022, echoing bans on gender-affirming surgery in Alabama, Arkansas, and Arizona.)

The map of outright bans on gender-affirming care suggests an echoes of the red state map, to be sure, with the “heartland” of America from the Dakotas to Iowa down to Arkansas and Tennessee and the Deep South constituting a local legislative block against gender reassignment practices, as transgender healthcare coverage by Medicare in America has become a prominent partisan divide, as the call for “protecting” children by preventing transgender treatment have grown in America–

–in ways that stand to place many who identify as transgender at risk, following the bullhorn of Carlson’s openly wrong condemnation of transgender care as a violation of Constitutional Rights.

 Peter Champelli

Yet Tucker Carlson tried his darnedest to cast himself as aggrieved from his Maine studio, defending his ideological ground from an outpost of broadcasting on Twitter. To be sure, Carlson seems to have accepted a legal right to free speech to warn Americans of the dangers of immigration, terrorism, and feminism, in ways that mirrored the redefinition of “free speech” that had bloomed on the internet and among alt right media, and was recently articulated by Fox News lawyers who beat back an earlier charge of defamation brought by Karen McDougal against Tucker Carlson Tonight. The success of Fox News lawyers defending Carlson’s commentary not as truth but as “non-literal commentary,” boosted when federal judges dismissed the defamation suite, accepting the preposterous defense that the 3.2 million viewers his show nightly attracted did not understand them as “statements of fact” or “actual malice,” may have boosted Carlson’s sense of his own free speech. However implausibly, Fox lawyers had successfully argued his words “cannot be understood to have been stating facts, but . . . delivering an opinion using hyperbole for effect” that the District Judge Mary Kay Viscocil had affirmed.

The lawyers’ argument recalled Donald Trump’s defense of using “truthful hyperbole,” with a twist. In deeming Carlson’s speech to be “‘loose, figurative, or hyperbolic language’ that does not give rise to a defamation claim,” the judge agreed a reasonable viewer of Tucker Carlson Tonight “‘arrive[s] with an appropriate amount of skepticism’ about the statements he makes,” as if defamation were not the stock trade in the show. In agreeing to the new nature of hyperbolic speech, District Judge Viscocil effectively defended Carlson as a disseminator of defamation and rumor for the growing rumor mill of the Trump Era. But Carlson’s broadcasts had worked to shape dissensus on a scale that echoed how the Roman poet Virgil called Fama “the swiftest traveller of all the ills on earth, thriving on movement, gathering strength as it goes.” Over six and a half years, Carlson had nightly delivered invective that was perhaps “at the start a small and cowardly thing, it soon puffs itself up, and walking upon the ground, buries its head in the cloud base,” or the air-waves, the “swift-footed creature” of rumor escaped judicial sanction as pure hyperbole, as rooted in “exaggeration” as Donald Trump’s own claims, rather than “stating actual facts.” AlthoughTrump had famously counseled “truthful hyperbole” as a form of “innocent exaggeration” in The Art of the Deal (1987), Fox News seems to have expanded the effective business practice to news broadcasting, defending Carlson’s “hyperbolic language” to be protected as free expression, no matter how incendiary or vindictively dismissive it was.

The admission of hate speech and denigration as a form of “free speech” set a new standard in the weaponization of speech against the electoral map in which partisan battle was energetically waged no holds barred, going full Hungarian, to cite CPAC. If such hyperbole was but the stock-in-trade of Tucker Carlson’s on-air fare, Carlson’s partisan commentary had sped hotfoot through the country, intentionally, crying news not rooted in actuality, or anywhere but partisan reality, but in what we had come to expect on Tucker Carlson Tonight. For Carlson had already explained that immigrants made the United States “poorer and dirtier” (December, 2018), as the protests after George Floyd’s killing were “definitely not about black lives” or justice (2020) Yet FOX lawyers cast the dismissal of defamation charges both a “victory for FOX News Media and or all defenders of the First Amendment”–as if they fit the Free Speech protected by the U.S. Constitution. Such lowered standards of speech enabled Fox TV lawyers to suggest that viewers’ expectations for “truth” from Carlson’s brand of commentary had diminished, and one could not expect him to be prosecuted for going overboard–the argument was not, in fact, about free speech, but the lowering of standards on broadcast news that painted Carlson as not speaking the truth at all.

This quite broad interpretation or inflection in historical arguments about free speech was perhaps born online. It was first prominently set by the distortions by which Campus Reform, affiliated with Breitbart, appropriated Free Speech in 2020, litigating that “free speech” zones at university campuses to protect political proselytization–akin to the zones of political protest that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s for protest activities–but now against the restriction of conservative speech. The redrawn “protections” of campus speech mirrored “red” states or states with sizable “red” constituencies, North Carolina to Georgia to Michigan to Wisconsin to New Hampshire to Virginia–

Introduction of Legislation Protecting Free Speech at Campuses in Reaction to Universities’ Restriction of Political Proselytizaiton

–and had created a striking division by using state legislatures to “open” university campuses to conservative ideologues, a mission that escalated after Donald Trump’s election. The dispatching of talking heads from the alt right–Anne Coulter; Milo Yiannopoulos; Ben Goldberg; and other online trolls–raised the bar on ‘free speech’ and adopted it as a logo for conservative causes, in an attempt to staunch an electoral divide.

The citing of free speech as an outcome of Tucker Carlson’s defamation trial was nothing less than a feather in the cap of alt right media. Campus Reform had long sought to “expose the liberal bias on America’s campuses”–of which many universities seemed guilty as charged–to protect conservative speech and learning at college education after Trump’s election, following protests after Trump’s election on college campuses. The rallying cry that “The radical left will stop at nothing to intimidate conservative students on college campuses” animated the movements of protecting Second Amendment clubs in Utah, Free Speech Balls in Mississippi, and other conservative activists interested in sponsoring ideological speakers.

Tucker Carlson accused his past employer of ‘de-platforming’ the voice of conservative America, and limiting his broadcasts–even if the notion that he had crossed a line in the broadcasts was less compelling than the sexist private behavior and a bevy of texts that the new defamation suit uncovered red. Carlson invoked the term ‘free speech’ in the context of broadcasting, to make a point quite different from the definition of free speech in 1789–but far more akin to the earlier defamation suit that viewed his show as “loose, figurative or hyberbolic language.” But the When Carlson recast himself as aggrieved by the mainstream media, he hinted his dismissal reacted to the bravery of his vigorous election denialism. But his liability had grown. Carlson’s new texts reviled Donald Trump in a language not seen on air reveal a level of contempt for a man he characterized as a “good at destroying things” and as “a demonic force, a destroyer,” before whom he needed to stay alive: “But he’s not going to destroy us. I’ve been thinking about this every day for four years.”

Yet Carlson had himself destructively sewn discord to destroy the civil fabric of the nation, however, which became the main currency of his own show. Even as he claimed to be within his “rights,” Carlson pushed the envelope to create a racist, invective-filled shows on cable news, espousing replacement theory as a danger to the character of the United States that aped white supremacism. Before the split map of red and blue counties of the 2016 election, he perpetuated the gap between parties as destiny, reprising themes of the Trump campaign and promulgating new resentment. The map before which he delivered the news became a banner of election denialism. Delivering “news” before a blurred electoral map–a map so iconic among Republicans to not demand detail–the backdrop for rosy-faced invective on Tucker Carlson Tonight. This post unpacks the persistence of this map on Fox News as a backdrop for Carlson’s version of truth-telling in opening monologues broadcast nightly from November 14, 2016, to April 21, 2023–as if it were a static screen to which Carlson sought to orient viewers, freezing the 2016 electoral map in time.

Tucker Carlson, host of "Tucker Carlson Tonight," poses for photos in a Fox News Channel studio...

Fox News Channel March 2, 2017, in New York/Richard Drew, AP

While the red swath had grown far less monolithic in the early hours of the tally of the 2020 election, in ways that might have seemed to warrant a challenge to Carlson’s logo, the map of 2016 was an icon for the “news” hour, the logo was so iconic that it had not changed,–even as the recent election suggested an opening in the monolithic division of blue and red states, and a more closely divided vote indeed. But as election denialism continued, Carlson had clung to the 2016 map, which occupied a central place in the ideological bent of his viewing audience, who saw that victory as a new road map for partisan identity–even as the states seemed to break in a different manner. Indeed, the early results on the “magic walls” on interactive news screens quickly reconfigured the logo that Tucker Carlson had used as the back screen of his nightly partisan broadcasts.

Magic Wall on NBC News, Election Night 2020

1. Tucker Carlson seemed more florid and a bit unnerved on Twitter, a bit faded after all those broadcast, a bit less animated, before a framed Bill of Rights, with far harsher lighting. He claimed himself ready to confront what he cast as a moment of media crisis in which he was not involved. Bereft of the logo of the nation as it was fragmented by electoral politics in 2016, split in “blue” and “red” counties as if it contained separate nations, the aggrieved news commentator seemed trying to convey an air of normalcy, hunkered down in a house as if sheltering in place.

Safety, and indeed free speech, had been imperiled by the liberal state. Protection of an imperiled democracy offered a rationale for broadcasting that was indeed akin to January 6, as if an insurrection was being live cast direct from Maine, in what seemed Tucker Carlson’s summer house, a site of safety and white purity, far from the current partisan wars, but also command central for waging them. In granting the possibilities January 6 rioters who entered the Capitol were only exercising free speech and rights of assembly, Carlson reprised a tired charge “liberals” imperil our national security–a big reveal of American conservative news media for some time. The emergence of the constellation of “national security” was forged in the post-World War II period, first linking “security studies” to “international political economy” in ways later made explicit by 1947, when The National Security Act coordinated global risks and federal agencies by a National Security Council created “to advise the President with respect to the integration of domestic, foreign and military policies relating to the national security and internal security.” The postwar triangulation solidified the place of America in a global theater that would redefining American liberalism, framing “national security” by military policy as well as foreign policy liberals long found problematic more than purely pragmatic.

When Carlson blamed liberals for intentionally undermining national security on his show every night–by cutting the military budget, welcoming refugees from war-torn nations, or migrants on the southern border as creating a national security threat, it was as undercutting that global order, as much as undermining a national order. And, most recently, he had delivered an exposé of sorts about the Capitol Riots of January 6–

–even if this meant taking the QAnon Shaman who decorated his face with warpaint as a victim of an American media, as much as a victim of his belief in false freedoms.

In exposing global existential threats, Tucker Carlson had created a script of urgency January 6’ers had almost coopted–an d then reframed the trials of the rioters in the January 6 Insurrection as an issue of freedom. If Carlson’s rants on immigration crafted a uniquely survivalist tone taken up by January 6’ers as charges when they entered the Capitol, creating an alternative narrative and reality about the protests, as well as about the convictions of : “in free countries, governments to do not lie about protest as a pretext to gain more power,” white-washing the event as “mostly peaceful chaos” in ways that offered those being tried for besieging the U.S. Capitol some hope. Carlson cunningly suggested federal forces increased the violence by planting disruptive agents in the January 6 crowd, finding evidence of a “false flag” operation in 46,000 hours of “secret footage” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy provided as an exclusive, as one of his first public acts, because, as Carlson put it, “Americans have the right to know” and have not been told the full story.

Exclusive: Kevin McCarthy gives Tucker Carlson access to massive trove of  Jan. 6 riot tape

Tucker Carlson’s “return” was a form of phoenix-like relaunch, born out of the ashes of the the defamation lawsuit against Fox News, arising to strike against the legal verdicts not of the January 6 rioters, but verdicts finding Donald Trump guilty of battery, defamation, abuse, felony and falsifying business records. Quite soon afer he was released from or asked to leave Fox News, it was predictable Carlson would not allow himself to be pushed around. Promising to continue to speak the unvarnished, unrestrained manner that gave voice to the aggrieved, he found a defender in free speech absolutist Elon Musk. Musk had stated ambitions to make the center of news information in the 2024 election, claiming Twitter might create a major platform of the election, and Carlson almost wanted to lend a helping hand. Granted a newly prominent platform by the free speech absolutist to reinvigorate his own failing business, Carlson perpetuated a true deep fake, reclaiming free speech as the terrain of the alt right, appropriating the early modern liberty as an empowering rallying cry against entitled but entrenched media interests.

The most recent gambit of Carlson to sew board discontent not only recast the former president as an aggrieved victim, but showed himself a victim of powerful interests that seek to de-platform his show–at a close remove from the limiting of liberties that now stood in the rifle sites of the new priorities of the state. The historical decline from America’s Four Freedoms were at threat as the switch he made to Twitter only revealed the threats to freedom of expression that were historically enshrined by the passage of the Bill of Rights sought to protect in an early age of print culture. The streaming and broadcasting of defamatory lies on television provided a qualitative and mode of expression more akin to groupthink than expression, cleverly camouflaged in Carlson’s championing of a right to “free speech.” Presenting himself as the aggrieved party, he became a living symbol the violation of civil rights haunting the country from the January 6 rioters to Derek Chauvin to Donald Trump, all white men targeted by the liberal state, at a time when the union–and not only the Capitol building, but the country that the Capitol represented–was under attack.

Tucker Carlson news: Fox host defends QAnon Shaman, attacks trans people  and calls Zelensky 'despot' | The Independent

The new argument of “legal exceptionalism” deviously undercut justice, if not the trial system, in the false populism of common sense. The dismissal of Tucker Carlson from Fox News may have occurred in the fallout from settlement of the Dominion lawsuit out of court, that revealed him to have sent several quite disparaging texts about Donald Trump amidst the rampant sexist of his newsproom, in a revelation of his off-the-camera behavior. The demand for a greater level of honesty on Twitter might allow was cast as a greater level of purity. In pandering to grievance yet again, he continued the Tucker Carlson narrative of grievance that was hardly new to his show. To be sure, in the light of the remarks made public during the Dominion lawsuit for defamation of the electronic voting systems, he wanted a place to reach the 3.2 million viewers who had nightly tuned into his show. His bracing announcement “We’re back!” quickly topped 100 million views in less than twenty-four hours, winning 21 million watches of a video, even if the number probably magnified individual viewers. This approached the audience of 3.2 million of times past.

Tucker Carlson let his viewers know that after he left the FoxNews network, in the fallout from settlement of the Dominion lawsuit out of court, texts disparaging Donald Trump and revelations of improperly sexist newsroom behavior were less the reason than claiming moral high ground. But Carlson may have been protesting too much: his show had almost intently if not obsessively exploited a politics of grievance to fostered since 2017 the hyper-partisan division of the United States. The recurring topic of the show was stated in the electoral map logo of red expanse and blue readouts that hung in the background of his nightly rants–Carlson’s news commentary fit the slightly blurred map of the electoral division of the nation, now an existential fact and eternal lesson in ways that its content didn’t even demand to be interpreted, glossed or read.

The blurred out map before which he had broadcast since 2017 on Fox News displayed a cleaving of blue and red counties he cheerily perpetuated. His show id his best to preserve if not magnify this map, if not to make it an iconic as a map of the party’s future. The map was a leitmotif of sorts of a struggle that animated all Carlson’s on-air rants: as if patriotism perpetuated the partisan divides, he basked before the warm glow of an electoral divide among blue and red counties that cartographic semantics dictated displayed perhaps less two different nations than two world-views. He didn’t need to explicate this divide that lay at the center of most all nightly broadcasts, but electoral divides placed in question the fate of the nation before the duplicity of Democrats and the national security threats they had enabled–as he invoked narratives of “how nations collapse.” The all but blurred logo had a centrality that didn’t even need to prominently register.

Hardly a “news” map at all, but perhaps a mirror of the country more accurate than the provisional prediction of weather map, or the ephemera generated by the Weather Channel, the 2016 electoral map was more of a flag of secession. Although it is unclear if it was chosen by Carlson or FoxNews, it was a celebration of the America First doctrine of earlier eras, and an illustration of the United States as two different countries, a recognition of two different agendas and two different realities, that informed all of the Tucker Carlson’s clarifications of news stories, and shifted the scale of earlier maps on broadcast news–often global projections or globes–as the electoral division was foregrounded as a prism to read global news in an age of red and blue states.

Unlike other news maps that use global projections, or rotating spherical globes, the electoral map glowed talismically. It shrunk global affairs to a format of clear borders and hard lines, even if it was blurred. The electoral map, in something of a rebuttal to globalization, prompted Carlson to become an international voice, somewhat paradoxically, to the nationalist strongmen who broadcast ethnic intolerance and firm boundary lines, a nationalism of pseudo-liberties from gun ownership to blissful isolation, often behind physical walls to dissuade all immigrants from entering. Tucker gained international renown for praising Putin, winning kudos and lauds from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, being hosted by Hungary’s anti-gypsy and anti-migrant strongman Viktor Orbán, and leading Russian media to find it “essential” to feature clips of his nominally nationalist show. “Russia is only defending its interests and security,” more than acting as an aggressor, Carlson argued, using inverted logic to remap the patriotic American viewer’s relation to the world.

The focus on the electoral map of the 2016, transformed the iconic map former President Trump long celebrated as evidence of a “massive” landslide victory, was an icon of the false populism of the Trump Presidency. Not a measure of the actual turn-out or number of votes, the map was the revelation or “big reveal” that confirmed a tightly contested race to be a landslide, and froze as transformative a victory that never really occurred. What better to display as the icon of Tucker Carlson Tonight as a rallying cry for the FoxNews audience, an ecstatic moment of false populist communion by which the red states were united as one, linking the future of the party and the figure of Donald Trump, and presenting the United States as wracked by competing visions that Tucker Carlson would do his darnedest to explicate and clarify in order to orient his viewers to the complexities of the world.

Carlson’s quick turn from Fox News to a new broadcasting terrain occurred, may have noted, after the Dominion settlement, but also as Donald Trump rejected outright the verdicts of two federal juries on the basis of their compromised geographic location, especially after the “fraudulent” conviction of Donald Trump for having approached women at the elegant if not austere entrance to Bergdorf Goodman, just around the corner from Trump Tower, already open at the very site where Trump had fantasized building since his own childhood, at Fifth Avenue and 56th Street, where he was argued to have approached a newspaper columnist, flattered by his attention, with the odd request to try on potential gifts in the dressing room at the store’s lingerie section. Was Trump a sleazy stalker caught in his poaching ground, a stone’s throw from Trump Tower, cornering women at Bergdorf Goodman’s entrance capturing the reflection of its opulence?

Such an image would have indeed reduced Donald Trump to the dimension of New York, rather than cast him as a defender of national liberties, a dishonorable man trying who gave flattering attention to a popular columnist able to capture her attention outside the opulence of a former Gilded Age residence of a marble facade.

Carlson’s turn to protect free speech may have recuperated a far less stained sense of virtue on a platform free from monitoring disinformation, hate speech, or verbal abuse. Carlson had long clothed such hate speech in the guise of perpetuating the expanse of red states against the crowded redoubts of democrats on the 2016 electoral map. But now hate speech and free expression was being almost openly embraced. As Bergdorf Goodman’s lingerie department gained a place in America’s cultural memory, the video screen map of a blurred electoral map from Carlson’s show was destined for the dustheap of history, in favor of a terrifying platform of free speech absolutism.

The riff in the video was not an uncommon one for Tucker Carlson’s show, which was haunted almost preternaturally by the electoral map of Donald Trump’s victory. This flatscreen blurred image was familiarized to viewers as a new map of the nation–coinciding with the kick-off Donald Trump’s 2024 campaign and the verdicts of federal juries in New York and Washington, DC for criminal charges. Carlson had long championed a brand of defending constitutional rights, from the alleged right to possess a gun of second amendment free speech, to how a self-righteous “cancel culture” threatened to undermine free speech, COVID policies assault freedoms of assembly, or amending the constitution might orient the nation around states’ rights, protecting it from federal agencies and officials. Carlson had sustained that the January 6 rioters were only illustrating their rights to a freedom of assembly. He now argued free speech survived only on a new medium, off the television media where he began his show. Free speech existed only on Twitter, he argued, carving out a new niche by streaming from a wood-paneled room in his Maine home, as if evoking nothing less than a new frontier, demanding a new platform and a new road map for the nation.

Tucker Carlson’s New Twitter Video

And this in a nation that once recognized “Speech is the fundamental prerequisite for democracy.” “Free speech is the main right you have,” Carlson told his audience with a sense of deep grievance, “without it, you have no others.” He was convincing viewers that their fortunes still aligned with his own pivot from broadcast television, to the open marketplace of the twittersphere, whose new owner had predicted it would guarantee his free speech–and continue the “show” as his audience was accustomed. If he had grown in stature under the Presidency of Donald Trump, doing his best to divide the nation along the fissures of the 2016 electoral map that he sought to magnify, by chipping at its edges and growing red states through the activating political hot-button issues from immigration woes to the deceits of voter fraud to the hoaxes of global warming and climate change, growing the cleft of the country, did Carlson have cold feet late in the game? Or was he only saving his brand?

The pundit reappeared on Twitter far from the electric scrim of a 2016 electoral map that boasted the great continuous expanse of red states in the American heartland, a map that had finally reached its due-by date for many, three years into Joe Biden’s administration, but to rev up Trump 2024, in a wood-paneled room of crisp renovation, removed form the studio or video screen, before a replica of the U.S. Constitution, to promote his defense of Free Speech to the world from an improvised studio that seemed to be located in his country house up in Maine as his soundstage. Before a small map of blue and red counties, beneath an ornamental decorative globe perched two his left, Tucker was reborn as a new, warier talking head, ready to defend free speech, as he wanted it to be understood, with the blessing of that self-made free speech absolutist, Elon Musk. Musk, a declared Free Speech absolutist, in what is either a mixed metaphor or very misplaced modifier, retired from restructuring the social media site.

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Coronavirus Advances

While we are increasingly deadened by data visualizations that track the infectious spread of COVID-19 across the world and country, their logic has often been implicit. As much as tracking real-time data of deaths and “hot-spots” in the world and the nation, we trust the data viz to orient us to the infectious landscape to better gain understanding of viral spread. We seek to grasp nature of the virus’ transmission, and perhaps hope that we can better grasp its spread. We depend on these daily updates to retain a sense of agency in the chaos, but realize that they are provisional, contingent, and selective snapshots, based on testing, and exist at a time delay from the virus’ actual distribution–without much predictive value. We maddeningly realize they are dependent on testing rates and reporting, and only as good as the datasets which they re-present.

On the heels of a 5% statewide positivity rate on December 5, 2020, California was declared in a state of shut down in all its counties. It almost seems that such graphics have started to fail us, as the spread of the virus overflows the boundaries of the map and permeates its space. The choropoleth renders individual counties all but indistinct, the state drowned in widespread infections, with only a few of its less populated regions as refuges. With a flood of purple overflowing the coastal counties, the delta, the Central Valley, and the entire south of the state, was there even any point in mapping the danger of viral spread beyond a state of red alert?

Dec. 5, 2020

While mapping offers little comfort in the era of saturation of heightened risk, the color-codes alert inhabitants to the danger of increased stresses on the public health system–as much as visualization challenges to translate tools of data aggregation to visualize the pandemic., as December 6 rates grew by December 19. As we shift to map a decreasingly multi-colored state by the moderate, substantial and widespread virus, and widespread cases seem to flood the state, the map offers a security of some sort of monitoring of the pandemic’s spatial spread.

The sea of purple is like Spinal Tap going raising the volume “up to eleven,” and are a sign that we are in unexplored territory that won’t be accommodated by a simple color ramp–or, indeed, a familiar cartographic iconography among our current tools of styling space. While we are used to maps embodying meaning, what the colors of the map embody–beyond risk–is unknown. To be sure, at a time when fatalities from the coronavirus in the south of the state have skyrocketed from the middle of the month, hitting records in ways terrible to even contemplate, the field of purple is a deeply human story of loss, as a surge of hospitalizations have flooded the entire healthcare community, and stretched facilities of critical care beyond anything we have known, filling half of intensive care beds in LA County at Christmas. 2020 enough to make it hard to feel any relief in the close of a calendar year, as if that unit still held any meaning, and very grim about 2021: and while the CDC allowed that there may already be a new, more contagious strain, in the nation two days before Christmas, the arrival of the more contagious strain in California and Colorado increased alarm before New Year’s.

San Francisco Chronicle, December 6 2020
SF Chronicle, December 19, 2020

How to get a handle on the novel coronavirus that we have been pressing against COVID-19 dashboards since March to grasp better, and will we able to do so in 2021?

Whatever sense agency the maps impart, it is an agency that is only as good as the compromised sense of agency that we expect in an era of geolocation, on which most maps track reports of infection. Even as we face the rather grim warning that we are waiting for the arrival of a vaccine that, in the Bay Area, rates of immunization face steep obstacles of vaccine distribution due to pragmatics of freezer space required, training of extra health care workers, and monitoring and tracking the two-stage process of vaccination, we will depend for public sanity on maintaining clear communication in maps. The actual tracking of the novel coronavirus doesn’t translate that well to a state-wide model, or a choropleth, although it is the method for public health advisories that makes most sense: we do not have small-scale public health supervision in most of the nation, although they exist at some counties. The stressed Departments of Public Health in areas are without resources to manage COVID-19 outbreaks, public health compliance, or retaliations for public health violations: and the effort to create public health councils to manage compliance and violations of public health orders may be seen by some as an unneeded bureaucracy, but will give local governments resilience in dealing with an expanding epidemic, at the same time as governmental budgets are stressed, and no body of law about COVID violations exists.

Rather than map on a national or state-wide level, we can best gain a sense of how much virus is out there and how it moves through attempts of contact tracing–even if the increasing rates of infection may have gone beyond the effectiveness of contact tracing as a methodology that was not quickly adapted by a federal government the prioritized the rush to a vaccine. The basis for such a map in LA county can reveal the broad networks of contagion, often starting in small indoor gatherings across the region, and moving along networks of spatial mobility across the city and San Fernando Valley, and help embody the disease’s vectors of transmission as we watch mortality tallies on dashboards that give us little sense of agency before rising real-time tolls.


If such ESRI maps suggest a masterful data tracing and compilation project, the data is large, but the format a glorification of the hand-drawn maps of transmission that led to a better understanding of the progress of Ebola on the ground in 2014, used by rural clinics in western African countries like Liberia and Rwanda to stop the infectious disease’s transmission and monitor the progress of contagion to limit it–as well as to involve community members in the response to the virus’ deadly spread.

We may have lost an opportunity for the sort of learning experience that would be most critical to mitigate viral spread in the United States, as no similar public educational outreach was adopted–and schools, which might have provided an important network for diffusing health advisories to families, shifted predominantly to distance learning and providing meals, but we became painfully aware of the lack of a health infrastructure across America, as many openly resisted orders to mask or to remain indoors that they saw as unsubstantiated restrictions of liberty, not necessary measures.

Hand-Drawn Public Health Map of Ebola Transmission in Liberia (2014)

We are beyond contact tracing, however, and struggling with a level of contagion that has increased dramatically with far more indoor common spaces and geographic mobility. Yet the broad public health alerts that these “news maps” of viral spread offer readers omits, or perhaps ignores, the terrifying mechanics of its spread, and the indoor spaces in which we know the virus is predominantly acquired. The rise of newly infectious mutated strains of the novel coronavirus was in a sense inevitable, but the rising tension of what this means for the geographical distribution and danger of the coronavirus for our public health system is hard to map to assess its wide distribution, and we take refuge in mitigation strategies we can follow.

Why have we not been more vigilant earlier to adapt the many indoor spaces in which the virus circulates? It bears noting that the spread of virus in the state was undoubtedly intensified by over a hundred deaths and 10,000 cases of infection to spread in the density of a carceral network, which seems an archipelago incubating the spread of viral infections in the state. We only recently mapped the extent of viral spread across nineteen state prisons by late December 2020, tracked by the Los Angeles Times, but often omitted from public health alerts–

Coronavirus Cases Reported in Nineteen California Prisons, Dec. 21, 2020

–and the density of Long-Term Care centers of assisted living across the state, which were so tragically long centers of dangers of viral spread, as the New York Times and Mapbox alerted us as the extreme vulnerabilty of elder residents of nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, retirement homes, assisted-living facilities, residential care homes who cannot live alone was noted across the world. The data that was not provided in the grey-out states interrupted the spread of infections among those often with chronic medical conditions was not surprising, epidemiologically, but terrifying in its escalation of the medical vulnerability of already compromised and vulnerable populations–and steep challenges that the virus posed.

unlike those greyed out states that fail to release data on deaths linked to COVID-19 infections, congregate on the California coast: while the New York Times depicted point-based data of the over 100,000 COVID-related deaths in nursing homes are a small but significant share of COVID deaths, exposure for populations with extraordinarily high probability of possessing multiple possibilities for co-morbidities is probably only a fraction of infections.

Coronavirus Deaths linked to Nursing Homes in United States, December 4, 2020

We strain to find metrics to map the risk-multipliers that might be integrated into our models for infectious spread. It seems telling to try to pin the new wave of infections in a state like California to increased contact after Thanksgiving–a collective failure of letting up on social distancing in place since March–as the basis for a post-Thanksgiving boom in many regions of the state, using purely the spatial metrics of geolocation that are most easily aggregated from cell phone data in the pointillist tracking of individual infections in aggregate.

New York Times/CueBiq Mobility Data

Based on cell-phone data of geolocation, a proxy for mobility or social clustering that offered a metric to track Americans’ social proximity and geogarphical mobility–including at shopping centers, oceanside walks in open spaces, and even take-out food curbside pickups, as well as outdoor meals and highway travel, few counties curbed aggregation as one might hope–although the fifty foot metric accepts the many outdoor congregations that occurred, well within the Cuebiq metric, wearing or without masks. A magenta California registered pronounced proximity, grosso modo, discounting any mindful innovative strategies in the state.

Increased Spatial Closeness within Fifty Feet/CueBiq/Graphic NBC News, Nigel Chiwaya and Jiachan Wu

It is stunning to have a national metric for voluntary mobility, rough as it is, to measure internalization of social distancing protocols and potential danger of a post-holiday COVID-19 bump. To be sure, we are stunned by geolocation tools to aggregate but risk neglecting the deeper infrastructures that undergird transmission, from forced immobility. While geolocation tools offer opportunities for collective aggregating whose appeal has deep historical antecedents in measuring contagion and anticipating viral transmission by vectors of spatial proximity, geospatial tools create a geolocation loop in visualizations which, however “informative” perpetuate a spatiality that may not clearly overlap with the actual spatiality of viral transmission.

Even if we demanded to map what were the novel coronavirus had “hot-spots” in mid- to late March, as if processing the enormity of the scale we didn’t know how to map, aggregating data without a sense of scale.

March 26, 2020

Across the summer, it seems best to continue to map daily numbers of cases, relying on whatever CDC or hospital data from Hopkins we had, trying to aggregate the effects of the virus that was spreading across the country whose government seemed to provide little economic or medical plan, in maps that tallied the emergence of new cases, as new hotspots appeared across the land, meriting attention difficult to direct.

We are plowing infections and mortality with abandon in a steady diet of data visualizations that purport to grasp disease spread, that were once weighted predominantly to the New York area, even as they spread throughout the nation by the end of March, but remaining in the thousands, at that point, as even that low threshold was one by which we were impressed. The tracking of the local incidence of reported cases seemed to have meaning to grasp the meaning of transmission, with a pinpoint accuracy that was assuring, even if we had no way to understand the contagion or no effective strategy to contain it. But we boasted data visualizations to do so, focussing on the nation as if to contain its spread in antiquatedly national terms, for a global pandemic, not mapping networks of infection but almost struggling to process the data itself.

After all, the John Snow’s cholera maps of John Snow are the modern exemplars foregrounded in data visualization courses as game-changing images as convincingly precise pictures of infection progressing from a water pumps in London neighborhoods is often seen as a gold standard in the social efficacy of the data visualization and information display. The elevation of the pinpoint mapping of cholera mortality in relation to a water pump from which the deadly virus was transmitted in a nineteenth-century London neighborhood:

John Snow, “Cholera Deaths in Soho”

The Snow Map so successfully embodies a convincing image of contagion that it has taken on a life of its own in data vis courses, almost fetishized as a triumphant use of the plotting of data that precisely geolocated mortality statistics allow, and can indeed be transposed onto a map of the land to reveal the clustering of death rates around the infamous Broad St. pump, that created a legible vector of the transmission of diseases in the Soho neighborhood, so convincing to be touted as a monument of the data sciences.

Open-Air Water Pumps Tainted by Cholera measured in John Snow’s Map

Snow is lauded for having effectively showed that, in ways that changed scientific practices of collective observation and public health: rather than being communicated by miasmatic infections that spread to low-lying London from the Thames, mortality rates could gain a legibility in proximity to a pump that transmitted an infectious virus, often presented as a conceptual leap of Copernican proportions (which it was, when contrasted to miasma that emanated from the Thames to low-lying areas–if it anticipated a bacteriological understanding of viral transmission). The association of danger with the water procured on errands from neighborhood pumps however replaced the noxious vapors of a polluted river, as in earlier visualizations of the miasma that lifted the noxious fumes of the polluted Thames river to unfortunate low-lying urban neighborhoods, who were condemned by urban topography to be concentrations of a density of deaths of more striking proportions and scale than had been seen in the collective memory.

Snow made his argument by data visualizations to convince audiences, but he mapped with a theory of contagion. But if Snow’s maps works on how the virus is communicated in outdoor spaces–and how a single site of transmission can provide a single focus for the aggregation of mortality cases, COVID-19 is an infection that is most commonly contracted in indoor spaces, shared airspace, and the recycled unfiltered air of close quarters. And the indoor spaces where COVID-19 appears to be most often transmitted stands at odds with the contraction in outdoor common spaces of the street and service areas of water pumps, that create the clear spacial foci of Snow’s map, and the recent remapping by Leah Meisterlin that seeks to illuminate the urban spaces of the contraction of cholera in a digital visualization as a question of intersecting spatialities.

Current visualization tools compellingly cluster a clear majority of cholera deaths in proximity to a publicly accessible pump where residents drew water where viral pathogens that had colonized its handle. But we lack, at this point, a similarly convincing theory of the transmission of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

But the logics of COVID-19’s communication is nowhere so crisp, and difficult to translate to a register that primarily privileges spatial contiguity and proximity–it is not a locally born disease, but a virus that mutates locally across a global space: a pandemic. And although contact-tracing provides a crucial means of trying to track in aggregate who was exposed to infection, we lack any similarly clear theory to metaphorically grasp the contagion–and are increasingly becoming aware of the central role of its mutation to a virus both more infection and that spreads with greater rapidity in confronting the expansive waves of infection in the United States–as if an escalated virulence grew globally in the first months of this rapidly globalized pandemic.

Our dashboards adopted the new versions of web Mercator, perhaps unhelpfully, to offer some security in relation to the nature of viral spread, which, if they served as a way of affirming its truly global scope–


–also suggested that global traffic of the virus demands its own genomic map, as the virus migrates globally, outside strictly spatial indices of global coverage, and that perhaps spatial indices were not the best, in the end, for accounting for a virus that had began to develop clear variants, if not to mutate as scarily as many feared, into a more virulent form.

And it may be that a genomic map that allow the classification of viral strains of genomic variability demand their own map: for as we learn that genomic mutation and variation closely determines and affects etiology, communication of the viral strains offers yet a clearer illustration that globalization articulates any point in terrestrial space to a global network, placing it in increased proximity to arbitrary point not visible in a simple map, but trigger its own world-wide network of markedly different infectiousness or virulence.


From December 4 2019, indeed, we could track emergent variants of the virus best outside of a spatial scale, as much as it reminded us that the very mobility of individuals across space increased the speed and stakes of viral contagion, and the difficulty to contain viral spread, in the interconnected world where viral variation recalled a flight map, set of trade routes, or a map of the flow of financial traffic or even of arms. Mutations were understood to travel worldwide, with a globalism that a spatial map might be the background, but was indeed far removed, as we moved beyond questions of contact tracing to define different sizes of genomic mutation and modifications that we could trace by the scale of mutations, not only the actual places where the virus had arrived.

Was place and space in fact less important in communicating the nature of COVID-19’s increasing virulence?

The maps of genomic variation traced not only the globalization of the virus, but its shifting character, and perhaps etiology across some thirty variants by late April, that show both the global spread of the virus, and the distinct domination of select strains at certain locations, in way that researchers later theorized the ability to “track” mutations with increasing precision. If researchers in Bologna defined six different variants of coronavirus from almost 50,000 genomes that had been mapped globally in laboratory settings to map variants of the virus whose signatures showed little more variability than strains of the flu in June, variations of signatures seemed a manner to map the speed of coronavirus that had traveled globally from by February 202 to the lungs of the late Franco Orlandi, an eighty-three year old retired truck driver from Nembro, Italy, whose family could not place China on a map when, following diagnostic protocol, attendant physicians in Bergamo asked if Orlandi had, by chance, happen to have traveled to China recently.


Despite lack of serious mutation, thankfully, the data science of genomic sequencing of the COVID-19 cases triggered by genomic mutations of SARS-CoV-2 genome of just under 30,000 nucleotides, has experienced over time over 353,000 mutation events, creating a difficult standard for transmission into equivalent hot spots: some hot spots of some mutations are far more “hot” than others, if we have tried to plot infections and mortality onto race, sex, and age, it most strikingly correlates to co-morbidities, if all co-morbidities are themselves also indictors of mortality risk. While the mutations have suggested transmission networks, have the presence of different levels of mutations also constantly altered the landscape of viral transmission?

Global Distribution of Sars-CoV-2 Variants, March 15, 2020/Los Alamos National Laboratory

It makes sense that the viral variant was tracked in Great Britain, the vanguard of genomic sequencing of the novel coronavirus as a result not only of laboratory practices but the embedded nature of research in the National Health Services and the monitoring of public health and health care. Enabled by a robust program of testing, of the some 150,000 coronavirus genomes sequenced globally, England boasts half of all genomic data. Rather than being the site of mutations, Britain was as a result the site where the first viral variant was recognized and documented, allowing Eric Volz and Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London to examined nearly 2,000 genomes of the variant they judged to be roughly 50% more transmissible than other coronavirus variants, magnifying the danger of contagious spread in ways feared to unroll on our dashboards in the coming months. As teams at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine studied the variant in late 2020 in southeast England, they found it to be 56% more transmissible than other variants, and raised fears of further mutations in ways that rendered any map we had even more unstable.

The virus SARS-CoV-2 can be expected to mutate regularly and often. While England boasts about half of all global genomic data on the virus, of the 17 million cases of SARS-CoV-2 infections in the United States, only 51,000 cases of the virus were sequenced–and the failure to prioritize viral sequencing in America has exposed the nation to vulnerabilities. And although California has sequenced 5-10,000 genomes a day of the novel coronavirus samples by December, and Houston’s Methodist Hospital have mapped 15,000 sequences as it watches for new viral variants; an American Task Force on viral variants will be rolled out early in 2021, as the discovery of viral mutations haves spread across five states in the western, eastern, and northwestern United States. While it is not clear that the viral variant or mutations would be less susceptible to polyclonal vaccines, most believe variants would emerge that would evade vaccine-induced immunity.

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Filed under Coronavirus, data aggregation, data maps, data visualization, global pandemic