In Brief: American Groupthink, Chinese Repression
Marching in ideological lockstep is less forgivable in a society where one has a choice in the matter.
Gerard Baker, former editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal and now editor-at-large, makes an important contrast in the way two citizenries and establishments have handled the COVID pandemic:
What we eventually learn about the origins of Covid-19 may implicate China’s government in failure and falsehood on a grand scale. But before we get too carried away with the endemic failures of the communist order, we should ponder that the episode has exposed layers of rottenness in critical institutions of American civil society that are similarly damning.
China’s officials may well be culpable of a combination of incompetence, recklessness and deceit. But in an authoritarian regime, they might not have had much individual agency in the matter. In this country, scientists, bureaucrats, journalists and executives of Big Tech companies suppressed the story not out of fear of imprisonment or death, but of their own volition, out of ideological or even venal motives. You may well ask: Whose culpability is greater?
Of course China’s government and media are lying. Anyone who doesn’t ends up in a gulag. Why, in a free America, are people behaving like repressed — or repressive — communists?
It’s not simply that the lab-leak theory was “debunked,” as news organizations repeatedly told us when anyone tried to raise it a year ago. It wasn’t even permitted to be considered. Discussion of the topic was deliberately extinguished on tech platforms, in the respectable scientific journals and in newsrooms.
Some highly influential figures in the “scientific community” were the first to block serious consideration of the thesis that the viral pathogens escaped from a Chinese government laboratory.
No wonder many Americans no longer trust the experts.
Scientists differ in their methods and conclusions — and do so in good faith. It’s possible some believed there was a genuine scientific basis for rejecting challenges to the official Chinese version of events. But this dismissal of the lab-leak idea is of a piece with the politicization of science that’s been a feature of the last few years. The obsession with debunking anything Donald Trump said and the fear of being accused of racism undoubtedly colored the judgment of many whose job is to consider only the empirical evidence.
Baker goes on to give other examples, especially regarding the released emails that expose Anthony Fauci as a fraud. Other government officials likewise undermined their own credibility, but he places the highest blame on the media.
Journalists were once marked by their curiosity. Now the only thing that’s curious about many of them is their lack of curiosity when a story doesn’t fit their priors.
Instead of pursuing the tantalizing suggestion that the official Chinese and World Health Organization account might not be true, they simply signed onto it and dismissed anyone who didn’t as a kook or a xenophobe. Their ideological cousins in Silicon Valley then firmly shut the door on the story by blocking access to articles that didn’t fit the approved version.
Baker concludes, “It seems increasingly likely that Chinese officials mishandled research and misrepresented and misinformed the public. But they did so under pain of punishment, even death, in a system designed to suppress that kind of information.” On the other hand he says, “In this country, constitutionally protected, free and independent scientists, bureaucrats, journalists and others did the same. What’s their excuse?”
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