The Pandemic’s Rightest Man?
Pandemia: How Coronavirus Hysteria Took Over Our Government, Rights, and Lives, by Alex Berenson, (Regnery: 2021), 464 pages.
If any journalist could be credited with “speaking truth to power” in the era of Covid-19, it would be Alex Berenson, perhaps the most prominent critic of lockdowns, social distancing, mask mandates, and now vaccines. Even more to his credit, he took this position early in 2020 when Covid hysteria swept the world and even the naturally skeptical refrained from speaking out. Two years later, this suppressed skepticism has finally come out not only because of facts on the ground, but because of the bravery and persistence of people like Berenson.
Thus, it may be somewhat counterintuitive that Berenson’s new book Pandemia: How Coronavirus Hysteria Took Over Our Government, Rights, and Lives is less a polemic debunking the myths of the Covid regime (for that they can read Berenson’s self-published books and subscribe to his Substack) and more a history of Covid-19 and the subsequent responses. True, he continues his criticism of Covid hysteria, backing up his claims with abundant citations (including almost 60 pages of endnotes), but he is more interested in capturing the whole story of Covid.
And he is well equipped to tell this story because it’s his story as well. While Berenson was already a well-known writer and journalist, having caused a stir with his controversial criticism of marijuana in his previous book Tell Your Children, it was his arguments on Covid that propelled him to stardom (and infamy). He admits right away that the Covid debate consumed him: “I was obsessed. I couldn’t stop fighting. Couldn’t and wouldn’t. Can’t and won’t.” But this obsession gives him a perspective from the inside and allows him to report Covid’s cultural and political effects as well as its physical impact.
Berenson starts his story from the beginning, when the first reports of Covid came out of China at the end of 2019. Within a few weeks the virus spread all over the world, first hitting Italy, Iran, and South Korea, and then spreading to the United States, with the first official death documented on February 29th. Worldwide hysteria was kicked off by the Italian doctor Daniele Macchini who essentially told the world to panic about Covid: “I want to fight this sense of security I see.… Let’s stop saying it’s a bad flu.”
What followed has become painfully familiar: World leaders instituted the hitherto untried strategy of community-wide lockdowns to “slow the spread” and thus “flatten the curve” of the expected rise in hospitalizations. Right around spring break of 2020, businesses, schools, and governments shut down, and all activity was only to be continued remotely.
As Berenson documents, all this was based on bad science and faulty modeling. The idea behind locking down a whole country originated in 2005 from a teenager named Laura Glass, the daughter of computer scientist Robert Glass, who “made a model of the way school and business closures might slow the flu” for her school science project. Her father expanded on this idea with more models, which Berenson notes “were essentially not based on real-world data” but nevertheless gained support among public health officials.
Bad models predicting mass deaths justified keeping most of the population locked down and masked for the next few months. Berenson traces much of this to the original projections of Neil Ferguson, which suggested that “over 2 million Americans and 500,000 Britons would die” and “destroy the hospital system” if these countries didn’t lock down. Even after most people understood that these models were wildly false, the Covid hysteria promoting social distancing, lockdowns, and masking “quickly became the most aggressive propaganda machine that democracies anywhere had conducted since World War I, if not ever.”
As the virus became increasingly politicized, it became increasingly difficult to accurately measure or understand. Unless one devoted his whole waking life to the task as Berenson did, it was nearly impossible to get a straight answer about how dangerous the virus really was and who was most at risk. The center of this chaos was New York City, which was the worst hit. According to Berenson, much of this was driven by bad modeling, dismissing effective early treatment for partisan reasons, and creating heroes out of incompetent Democrat politicians like Governor Andrew Cuomo.
In this dark cloud of media bias, bogus modeling, and scientific half-truths, devastating decisions were made: indoor and outdoor mask mandates, locking down schools and universities, and extending lockdowns. For anyone paying attention, it was evident that these measures were ineffective and destructive, but the media “couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth if it was ideologically inconvenient.”
Instead of learning more about Covid as time progressed, Americans and the rest of the developed world seemed to learn less. There were flaws in PCR testing, “Long Covid” (shorthand for any ailment that seemed to persist during the pandemic) became a concern, and herd immunity was a reviled concept for no good reason. People who pointed out these problems or criticized public health policy were censored. Berenson himself experienced this when Amazon, a company that profited enormously from lockdowns and Covid hysteria, first rejected his book Unreported Truths—until Elon Musk tweeted about the incident and Amazon reversed its decision.
Perhaps with new leadership some sanity could be restored, but instead it was the opposite. Right after a questionable election (largely enabled by Covid prevention policies) that made Joe Biden the new president, the rest of the world went into another lockdown and new untested Covid vaccines were announced. If “lockdown” was the word of 2020, “vaccine” would become the word of 2021.
Authorities everywhere embraced the Covid vaccines the same gusto and recklessness as they had with lockdowns, masks, social distancing, and all the rest. As such, Berenson devotes his last few chapters to just how foolish this was and continues to be. It turns out that the vaccine didn’t prevent catching it, or spreading it, or offering much protection to people who received it—and there were more than a few nasty side effects. And this makes, seeing how much pressure there was to approve a vaccine and cut through the necessary preclinical trials.
Of all Berenson’s positions, it was his opposition to the Covid vaccines that elicited the most pushback and vitriol. In the first few months of the vaccines, the Atlantic even devoted a whole piece to just how wrong he was, moronically titled, “The Pandemic’s Wrongest Man.” On the contrary, Berenson proved to be all too accurate in his predictions as vaccines started to fail in the summer, first in vax-happy Israel and then in the rest of the developed world.
Somehow, the infections and deaths from leaky vaccines were blamed on unvaccinated people, who were duly demonized. While it was true that the unvaccinated died in greater numbers than the vaccinated (though, as Berenson notes, this is mostly due to variables besides the vaccine and overblown by data manipulation), it is also true that the total number of Covid deaths in 2021, the year of the vaccine, greatly exceeded the number of Covid deaths in pre-vaccine 2020.
All the same, Biden and other world leaders are insisting on continual boosters and riding roughshod over people’s freedoms, including Berenson’s freedom of speech. Twitter promptly canceled him at the end of July after Berenson reviewed a clinical trial from Pfizer and reported that its Covid vaccine “does nothing to reduce the overall risk of death. ZERO.” As outrageous as this censorship was, one can imagine it gave him time to write Pandemia, so it wasn’t a total loss.
For the most part, Berenson seems to take all this well, seeing that it makes him popular among the Covid skeptics and “Team Reality.” And on one hand, one can applaud him for holding strong, fighting the good fight, and writing a book for a public eager to know the truth. His current success is justified, and he has remained steadfast.
On the other hand, Berenson’s notoriety clearly gives him something of an ego. It’s quite apparent that Berenson sees himself as some modern incarnation of St. George slaying the great dragon all by himself. Except the dragon is Covid hysteria and his weapon is not a sword, but charts and studies accompanied by sarcastic comments on Twitter.
Which is fine for what it is—most writers, including many conservative ones, would never dare take the same positions and suffer the blowback—but it’s unattractive all the same. Besides detracting from his argument, Berenson’s braggadocio also obscures the work of other Covid skeptics and critics of the Covid regime, many of whom are scientists who provide the necessary counter-evidence that Berenson himself uses to effectively dismantle the Covid narrative.
On a deeper level, it also shows little regard to those people who supported Berenson and lifted him to stardom in the first place. Like many other self-serious journalists, Berenson is quick to disassociate himself from conservatives and Republican voters—which seems to be the main reason he included a completely unnecessary chapter on the questionable presidential election.
But why? If the science is on his side (and it is), his politics shouldn’t matter. If it’s in his power to give credibility to one side or the other, why not give it the ones who followed him from the beginning and respected his work? Why try to appeal to progressives who were either too stupid or too corrupt to even tolerate him on Twitter? Does he really believe he’s winning them over?
Berenson himself demonstrates in his well-written, superlatively documented account that leftist institutions pushing Covid hysteria have lost all of their credibility. Their publishers would never publish a book like Pandemia; their news outlets would never host Berenson in a debate or interview; and their online platforms will inevitably silence him.
Meanwhile, the supposed Trump-obsessed ignoramuses in the red states will do the precise opposite and be gracious about it. In the end, they will be the ones to finally “crush” the pandemic and the darkness it created in American culture and politics.
If Berenson doesn’t see any point to giving thanks to his audience, he can at least be grateful that they don’t need his gratitude. They will read what he has written and use his arguments to fight their own battles where they are. They will make sure that the country can wake up from the dystopian nightmare that is Pandemia and Americans can finally take back their “government, rights, and lives” again.
Auguste Meyrat is an English teacher in the Dallas area. He holds an MA in Humanities and an MEd in Educational Leadership. He is the senior editor of The Everyman and has written essays for the Federalist, the American Thinker, Crisis magazine, The American Conservative, and the Imaginative Conservative, as well as the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture.