This Is Life Under State Media
Everyone understands the Soviet Union tried to cover up the Chernobyl disaster, but what’s less known is that they’d already pulled it off once before. In 1957, an accident at a plutonium production site near the remote city of Kyshtym in the Ural Mountains saw the spread of radioactive particles for tens of thousands of square miles across the USSR. Nearby population centers were evacuated (slowly) but it wasn’t until the late 1970s that a defector began to reveal the true scope of the incident.
The Soviets, as should be apparent, were not the first people you’d want watching over your nuclear reactor (or fixing your car or…). Still, you have to hand it to the commies: at least when they lied they were acting in the interests of their own glorious motherland. It never would have occurred to them to cover up the truth about a deadly emergency on behalf of a rival power. Yet somehow that’s the corner our elite media have backed themselves into. By scoffing for months at the possibility that the coronavirus originated in a Chinese facility, by continuing to paper over that possibility now, they’ve effectively relegated themselves to water carriers for Beijing.
Drip…drip…drip…go the revelations surrounding the so-called lab-leak theory, as fresh testimony and documents force us to reassess what we thought we knew about the pandemic. Scientists have now admitted that lab-leak is perfectly valid, while a handful even say it’s more plausible than zoonosis, the previously regnant idea that the virus was passed to a human by an animal. In the Wall Street Journal, two researchers declare that the coronavirus bears the genetic fingerprint of a gain-of-function experiment. In the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, writer Nicholas Wade points to the presence of a so-called “furin cleavage site” in the COVID-19’s spike protein, which is unlikely to have evolved naturally, which the Wuhan Institute of Virology has inserted into viruses before.
Into the sunlight has come news that three researchers at the Wuhan laboratory in question became mysteriously sick in the fall of 2019, exhibiting symptoms consistent with COVID-19. Emails from Dr. Anthony Fauci’s inbox released earlier this month show he was apprised that the coronavirus looked “engineered” in January 2020 only to reverse course shortly thereafter. And on their heels comes a classified scientific report from May 2020 that warned the pandemic could have escaped from a lab.
From within the scientific community come whispers that those who lent credence to a lab leak were suppressed and silenced. Katherine Eban at Vanity Fair notes that a science-free letter published in the prestigious Lancet journal effectively cast the theory as xenophobic and stigmatized dissent. Ian Birrell at UnHerd documents further corruption at the leading scientific periodicals, saying they slow-walked lab-leak research and that one reason may have been Chinese funding. Jamie Metzl, a World Health Organization advisor and a self-proclaimed “progressive Democrat,” accuses the Lancet of “thuggery” and calls for the publication’s editor-in-chief to resign.
Drip…drip…drip…and surely if there’s a leaky spigot then this can’t really be like the Soviet Union, right? It’s not like CNN, NBC, and the Washington Post have blacked out the lab-leak theory, and Vanity Fair is very much a mainstream publication. But outright censorship is rarely how media suppression works in 2021 America. Reporters today wouldn’t ignore a Kyshtym meltdown; they would bury it, relegate it to page A21, freight it with disclaimers about “right-wing conspiracy theorists.” That’s what’s happening here. Open to the front page of any legacy news publication, turn on any newscast, and you’ll learn all about the G7 summit, infrastructure negotiations, the Capitol riot, plateauing vaccine rates.
But nothing about the biggest story in the world right now, perhaps the biggest story of my lifetime. Consider: China may have manufactured a virus that killed close to four million people and then covered it up. That this is even a possibility is chilling; in the wrong hands it could constitute a casus belli. What happens to our diplomacy now that we know Beijing at a bare minimum lied early and often about COVID? What about a scientific establishment that appears corrupted by political correctness and groupthink? What does this mean for public trust?
You’d think the press would want to seriously pursue these questions with—pulling a name out of a hat here—Dr. Anthony Fauci. Yet during an interview last week with Chuck Todd, that ridiculous lawn gnome standing guard in the front yard of the Biden administration, a discussion of lab-leak quickly devolved into softballs about the irredeemable idiocy of Fauci’s right-wing detractors. And Fauci was only too peached to play along: “You’re really attacking not only Dr. Anthony Fauci,” Dr. Anthony Fauci chided his critics, “you’re attacking science!” The two are one and the same, you see. That Todd had just been faced with the epidemiological equivalent of a dirty cop screaming “I am the law!!” did not seem to faze him. Farcically, he’d used an earlier answer from Fauci as an opportunity to bring up Russia.
I’m not saying Todd had to karate-kick Fauci in the teeth and I agree that some of Fauci’s critics have been overheated. But given all the revelations swirling at present, imagine what an actual practicing journalist could have done with that interview. And what is state media if not media that protects agents of the state? There isn’t a government spokesman in existence who could have defended Fauci better than Todd did.
At least ABC News’s Jonathan Karl admitted last week that reporters had previously neglected lab-leak evidence. The question now is why so many of them are still doing it. It’s true that America has an “adversarial press,” but the adversary these days isn’t so much lies or corruption or the powerful; it’s a perceived choir of conservative whackjobs who somehow keep on being proven right. Those of us who wince at the yellow and scream-o nature of some right-wing media should be nonetheless grateful it exists. Otherwise we might have to wait another 20 years for the truth to come out.