Great column today from Matt Yglesias:
Because there is obviously a big media fuckup angle to this story,
the two biggest deal accounts for a lot of media-skeptics are
Donald McNeil making the case for a lab
and Nicholas Wade making the case for a lab
because those are both veteran science reporters who got
“cancelled.” But I do think it’s important to try to understand
exactly who got what wrong here. My best assessment is to agree
with Josh Rogin that this is a case of a smallish group of
reporters and fact-checkers proclaiming a scientific consensus
where none ever really existed.
Josh Rogin (28 March
To anyone saying there is a “scientific consensus” about the
origin of the coronavirus — Robert Redfield is a scientist. There
is no consensus. Stop writing that falsehood into your stories,
There’s a question as to why that fake consensus emerged. But I
think the more troubling question is: How did people let the
original story of what Tom Cotton even said go so badly awry?
Essentially Cotton said something that was then transformed into a
fake claim of a Chinese bio-attack, then the fake claim was
debunked, and then the debunking was applied to the real claim
with little attention paid to ongoing disagreement among
At a meta level, it is fascinating to watch the top news publications unwind themselves from last year’s mistake of lumping “accidental leak from well-intentioned Wuhan research lab” with the actual baseless conspiracies about bioweapons or the SARS-CoV-2 virus being “engineered” from scratch to destabilize the world economy or whatever.
Here’s an unwinding from the Washington Post two days ago; here’s the New York Times’s unwinding and CNN’s today. The Post’s headline is instructively defensive: “Timeline: How the Wuhan Lab-Leak Theory Suddenly Became Credible” — the theory has been credible and compelling all along. What’s “sudden” is that journalists are now realizing — as Yglesias says — that they fucked up last year establishing a baseline conventional wisdom that it was pure crackpottery.
Yglesias’s piece is a terrific summary of the whole debacle.
★ Thursday, 27 May 2021