Blinded by Trump, Slashed by Occam’s Razor
The Mediaverse by Dennis Kneale, TruthDAO opinion columnist
In covering the Covid-19 pandemic, the media spent three years in denial of Occam’s razor: the axiom that the simplest explanation of something is most likely the right one. So did our government and the medical establishment.
This week, the U.S. Department of Energy and the FBI, in a well-orchestrated leak, took steps to admit a glimpse of the blindingly obvious: the Covid-19 virus likely emerged from a Chinese government lab in the city of Wuhan, ground zero for the first pandemic in a century.
This was a plausible possibility from the start. Wuhan is home to three government virus research labs, and one of them, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, worked with bat viruses similar to Covid-19.
But the media and the medical industrial complex repeatedly rejected this prospect as a conspiracy theory. Instead, they endorsed the Chinese government’s version: the virus had emerged from nature at a “wet market” of live, exotic animals sold for food.
They did so for one primary reason, with an alacrity and conviction that now are embarrassing: to oppose President Trump and ensure he got the blame for Covid-19.
Early on, Trump and other Republicans said the virus may have come from a lab leak in Wuhan. This turned the urgent search for Covid-19’s origins into a political fight—and the media viewed it solely through the lens of Trump’s re-election campaign.
The media’s ensuing carnage of coverage was replete with suspicion, condescension, jeering opinions, and preachy medical experts. Their predictions were dire and overdone. They had a predilection for believing claims from the Chinese government—and for second-guessing, fact-checking, and investigating every claim made by the Trump administration.
When President Trump exhorted U.S. intelligence agencies, which report to the president, to press harder to investigate the lab-leak alternative, the New York Times played it as if Trump’s sole aim were to pressure the intel community to aid his re-election campaign.
For a ticktock detailing the media coverage that ensued, see Part Two (INSERT LINK) of this column, and for more see Episode 13 of my Ricochet podcast, "What's Bugging Me."
The story on the Energy Dept.’s new view of Covid’s origins broke first at 7 a.m. eastern on Sunday morning, Feb. 26, on the website of The Wall Street Journal. It ran at the top of Page One on Monday morning. The New York Times picked it up, matched it at 1:12 p.m. on Sunday, and gave it front-page play the next day. (Kindly crediting the Journal in the sixth paragraph.)
On Tuesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray went on Fox News, like the Journal a holding of Rupert Murdoch. Wray told anchor Bret Baier: “The FBI has, for quite some time now, assessed that the origins of the pandemic are most likely a potential lab incident in Wuhan.”
As if this were old news. Now he tells us?
The FBI said it holds “moderate confidence” in its assessment. The Energy Dept., which oversees national laboratories, has “low confidence” in its newly adopted view, which it updated from a previous stance of “undecided.”
It is hard to be certain, because the government of China has stonewalled on Covid. It withheld early notice of the virus, and downplayed the threat to humans, and then it blocked outside investigators from inspecting the lab. China authorities also arrested the first doctor to report the strange new illness.
Yet the media, Democrats, the NIH and CDC, and the World Health Organization all chose to believe the China government’s alibi, while deriding any doubters.
Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas fired the first salvo on Feb. 3, 2020, suggesting at a hearing that “Chinese officials misled the public on the origins of the novel coronavirus,” and “saying it may have originated in a 'superlaboratory,'” as Insider.com reported.
Soon, the media backlash was underway. Washington Post headline on Feb. 17, 2020: “Tom Cotton keeps repeating a coronavirus fringe theory that scientists have disputed.”
Two days later, on February 19, the Lancet medical journal published a "statement of support," signed by 27 medical experts from six nations, the UN, and WHO. They praised China’s medical professionals for working “diligently and effectively to rapidly identify the pathogen behind this outbreak.”
They also warned that data sharing on the virus was “now being threatened by rumours and misinformation around its origins. We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.”
The media bought it. CNN.com on the same day quoted the statement in its headline: “Conspiracy theories do nothing but create fear.” The Guardian a day later: “Experts fear false rumours could harm Chinese cooperation on coronavirus.” The deck cites “‘crackpot’ theories that virus was manufactured in lab.”
Later, it was learned one of the signers, Peter Daszak, heads the Eco Health Alliance, which does work at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, “which some saw as a conflict of interest,” as Forbes reported with a straight face. Just some.
The official Chinese state media covered the Lancet statement with relish. Xinhua: “Rumor Buster: Scientists refute theories suggesting COVID-19 has no natural origin.” China Today addressed front-line medical staff: "You Are Not Alone." It said “Scientists worldwide root for Chinese medical professionals and debunk conspiracy theories.”
All of this occurred in just the first month after Covid-19 erupted. This triangulation of media, medical dogma, and Chinese government misinformation was just beginning.
So far, no apologies are pouring in from the media for their clear anti-Trump bias. No mea culpas for their blind acceptance of the claims of an untrustworthy and stonewalling foreign government. Nor for demonizing any medical expert or politician who dared to raise doubts.
Nature of the beast.
Up next in Part Two: How the Media Muzzled the Lab Leak Theory.
Dennis Kneale, @denniskneale on Twitter, is a media strategist and writer in New York. He spent more than 30 years at The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, CNBC, and Fox Business. His podcast is called "What's Bugging Me."