May 30, 2021, 15:56
(People's Daily Online) Anthony Fauci, America’s top immunologist, should have found it a great relief to serve under the Biden administration. After all, for almost the whole of 2020, he was standing next to a president who had repeatedly defied science, calling the coronavirus a hoax and suggesting injecting disinfectant as a treatment. It was only until recently that Dr. Fauci had tirelessly refuted Trump’s legacy of fake news, saying he was “not convinced” of a lab leak. But in just a matter of days, he backtracked.
The doctor dared to smile with contempt at Trump’s disastrous briefings, yet he has now surrendered to conspiracy theories—the thing he used to detest the most—under an administration that champions “science and truth.” His defection from science and truth has marked a new low, a manifestation of how America’s political correctness of blaming China for everything and anything can hijack scientific ethics and conscientiousness.
Mr. Fauci’s flip-flop was accompanied by the resurgence of several media outlets’ sensationalization of the coronavirus origins and the bombardment of falsehoods and fabrications from Trump loyalists, including Mike Pompeo and Rand Paul.
Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal released a series of “hypothetical” articles rehashing the hackneyed yarn that the SARS-CoV-2 was linked to a Wuhan lab, from which, it claimed, the virus could later “escape”. By means of citing a weak report held up by unsubstantiated claims and quoting from officials whose personal views pointed to the exact same conspiracy theories, those pieces have effectively blurred the lines between facts and opinion, between truth and misinformation, and between accusation and conviction.
Even though the WSJ muttered in its articles that “there isn’t yet enough evidence” for either the animal-to-human transmission or the “lab hypothesis” while also pointing out that “it [the “evidence”] was provided by an international partner… but still in need of further investigation and additional corroboration” to salvage its untenable media neutrality, it has potently encapsulated biased conspiracies and phony allegations into a wholesale, misleading myth that is destined to become a generator of distortion of reality and a weapon of racial animosity.
Similar conspiracy-centered stories have since resurfaced, as right-wing media outlets like FOX News have somehow become emboldened by its foresight in circulating such theories from early on. Fox News has criticized CNN and NYT for the previous dismissal of the “lab leak” idea while pressing for Anthony Fauci’s immediate “firing or resignation” due to his about-face on the conspiracy theories and lack of resolution on mask guidance.
Those who continue to say that a lab leak is unlikely may even find themselves censured by FOX News and its viewers. On May 26, the Fox News Channel published an article focusing on Apoorva Mandavilli, a New York Times journalist, who tweeted on the same day: “Someday we will stop talking about the lab leak theory and maybe even admit its racist roots. But alas, that day is not yet here.” She later deleted the tweet because it “unleashed some incredibly nasty tweets and DMs [direct messages].” But the news article successfully brought together a cluster of conspiracy theorists who turned the comment section into a dumpster of science fiction, Sinophobic rhetoric, and personal attacks.
US media outlets, and those like Fox News in particular, should know best what conspiracy theories have brought to America. The country is still haunted by the January capitol riot which was incited by Trump’s claim that the election was “stolen”; the former president’s reference to SARS-CoV-2 as the “China Virus” ignited spiraling and continuing hate crimes targeting the Asian American community…
But sadly, the lessons have never been learned. A close review of American media’s conspiracy-based stories will lead us to the unchanging pattern of “fake news masquerading as facts.” All the relevant pieces are based on one unconvincing report and multiple “well-selected” bigoted allegations, and worse still, they are quoting each other as sources.
When baseless allegations meet baseless allegations, when a flawed report is compounded by another flawed report, it sends a deceptive signal to readers that the theory could or must be plausible. Although the media doesn’t fire bullets, they have pointed their muzzles at the presupposed target and loaded their sugar-coated bullets, only waiting for readers to pull the trigger.
Distraction and scapegoat
After messing up the Iran nuclear deal, escalating the Palestine-Israel conflict, and leaving behind a chaotic foreign policy legacy, Mike Pompeo still has the courage to show his face on television, in a bid to prolong his short-lived career. Even though he has recently been plagued with scandals, he won’t abandon his public profile and has continued to attack China to preserve his fragile image.
On April 18, Pompeo showed up on the FOX News channel, claiming that all of the circumstantial evidence was “pointing to the lab” while declaring: “If I’m wrong, they could embarrass Mike Pompeo. Come on, bring it. Show the world this didn't come from Wuhan Institute of Virology”. He pretended that he hadn’t been embarrassed enough by the recent merciless episode in the Gaza Strip that killed at least 254 civilians including 66 children, in which he and his colleagues had ardently mediated in favor of Israel. But as a law school graduate, he must know fairly clearly that the burden of proof falls onto the one who makes the claim, not the one who has been the subject of a preposterous accusation.
In advertising their lab leak theories and Sinophobic rhetoric, conspiracy theorists and public figures like Mike Pompeo are distracting public attention from the American government’s calamitous mishandling of the pandemic.
They seem to have “forgotten” that under Trump’s watch, America, which boasts the world's most advanced medical system, lost more than 400,000 lives to COVID-19. They are all zealously seeking to probe another country and “hold it to account”, while continuing to make excuses for the catastrophic mistakes their government made at every step of the way. A comment on a Washington Post article selling the lab leak theory points out that accepting another party’s guilt does not “absolve the Trump administration’s colossal bungling of the response that cost hundreds of thousands of Americans their lives and upended the livelihoods of millions more.”
“Conspiracy theories usually thrive among people who feel powerless, those who feel that they are losing control, and also among people who are really bad at dealing with uncertainty,” said Michael Butter, a German Americanist and author of American conspiracy theories from the puritans to the present. Constantly selling conspiracy theories won’t help the U.S. feel powerful, gain control, or address uncertainty. Instead, it only serves to generate racial discrimination and provoke hatred. Unless the status quo is changed, it can be foretold that in the coming of the next crisis, the U.S. will probably still throw more energy into the conspiracy theories and blame game than come up with a rational and effective solution to the problem.