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Our Soviet Blue-Check Media

There can be no amnesty for the unthinking enforcers of the narrative of the regime.

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(Bill Lane/Shutterstock)

I don’t know how to put this gently to my fellow members of the blue-check media class, so I will say it bluntly. You guys resemble nothing so much as the info apparatus of some failing ideological state—late-Soviet apparatchiks, only without the erudition that was demanded of regime intellectuals in Moscow back in the day. Your conduct seems designed to stoke the very conspiracism you claim to despise in the public. It’s like you want to turn sensible Americans into muttering paranoiacs.

And no, apologizing roughly every two years that “mistakes were made” earlier doesn’t make it any better.

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That last reference is to the latest media whoopsie-daisy over Covid’s origins. To wit, a just-published U.S. Senate report confirms what a few public figures suspected in the early days of the pandemic: that the novel coronavirus likely escaped from a laboratory. Most of the blue-check media vilified those few figures. They were called dangerous conspiracy theorists and barred from the digital public square by Big Media’s Big Tech allies.

These included Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas as well as the writer Steven Mosher, who published an op-ed in the New York Post in February 2020 speculating that the novel coronavirus might have originated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Mosher didn’t definitively declare that Covid came from a lab, mind you. He merely said there are good reasons to doubt Beijing’s claims of zoonotic origins, which the World Health Organization backed strenuously at the time.

Facebook banned Mosher’s piece. In doing so, the tech giant relied on “fact-checkers” who included Danielle Anderson, a virologist with a clear conflict of interest. As my then-Post opinion colleagues noted in April 2020, “she has regularly worked with Wuhan’s researchers, and even done her own experiments there.” More than that, she had conducted “the risky gain-of-function research that many analysts now believe may have led to the initial COVID outbreak.”

Did blue-check media push back against this appalling nexus of Chinese governmental misdeeds, “expert” self-interest, and Big Tech censorship? Did they show any genuine curiosity about Covid’s origins? The answer, for most outlets and reporters, is no.

In February 2020, the Washington Post published a news story with the headline: “Tom Cotton Keeps Repeating a Coronavirus Conspiracy Theory That Scientists Have Debunked.” More than a year later, as a WaPo story by reported Paul Farhi and Jeremy Barr noted, the paper “rewrote the article’s headline, softening ‘conspiracy theory’ to ‘fringe theory’ and noting that scientists have ‘disputed’ it rather than ‘debunked’ it.” How generous. How scrupulous.

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At Vox, writer Eliza Barclay published a story in March 2020 characterizing the lab-leak hypothesis as a “dangerous conspiracy theory” and attempted to debunk it, Vox-style (“Simply put, if you wanted to release a bioweapon to kill a lot of people, there are much deadlier pathogens you could use”—thanks, young-adult reporter Barclay!). Afterward, Vox editors began stealth-editing the story, without acknowledging the softening of Barclay’s language, before finally appending not one but two correction notes.

Then there was NPR, which as recently as December 2020 published a story ridiculing the “40 percent of respondents” in a poll who said they believe “in a baseless conspiracy theory that the coronavirus was created in a lab in China. There is zero evidence for this. Scientists say the virus was transmitted to humans from another species.” At least the Washington Post and Vox ran (fatuous) corrections blaming the “evolving” scientific consensus for their lousy journalism. The taxpayer-funded NPR story still appears in its original, uncorrected form—in October 2022.

If the lab-leak theory were a rare instance in which blue-check media abdicated basic journalistic responsibility in favor of elite narrative enforcement, one could forgive and forget, as the Atlantic now demands. But such lapses are utterly commonplace—systemic, you might say. Remember when Big Tech and Big Media and Big Intelligence teamed up to frame the New York Post’s Hunter Biden reporting in October 2020 as “misinformation”—only to concede, once the election was safely over, that it was, in fact, entirely accurate? Remember the absolute unanimity with which blue-check media defended the efficacy of Covid vaccines in stopping transmission—before begrudgingly admitting that, erm, actually, they really don’t work as advertised? Remember when blue-check media were dead-certain that Jussie Smollett was the victim of a racist attack? And on and on and on.

Once the falsity of the old narrative is definitively established, most blue-checks shamelessly move on to the next elite narrative in need of media reinforcement—no apology, no introspection. The few willing to acknowledge their errors, meanwhile, insist they were merely following the “expert” consensus at the time.

This is risible. The job of the reporter isn’t to parrot what the experts say at any given moment: it is to question what anyone in power claims. “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out,” used to be the journalistic motto. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Pfizer, WHO, and 50 former intelligence officials deserve far more exacting scrutiny than Mom.

Plus, it is one thing to report what those in power say, and quite another to uncritically deploy the talking points of the powerful to silence the weak. Politico’s Natasha Bertrand could have thoughtfully and meticulously reported the story of the 50 former intel officials who falsely characterized the Post’s Hunter Files reporting as Russian disinfo. But that isn’t what she did. She echoed the falsehood-peddling ex-officials as though “protect the Bidens” topped the list of her job responsibilities. 

Likewise, the Washington PostVox, NPR, and others could have reported on the “expert” consensus against the lab-leak theory while probing both sets of claims and sounding contrapuntal notes all around. But that isn’t what they did. During the pandemic they acted as stenographers and amanuenses for some of the most powerful people on earth.

Regime media is exactly how such outlets deserve to be described.

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