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Op-ed

Commentary: It's past time to start asking which media outlets are on the take from the Chinese government

Surely no one is actually this stupid?

Xinhua/Ju Peng via Getty Images

On Sunday, Reuters credulously reported claims from the Chinese government that mainland China had only 23 new cases of the novel coronavirus that day and that the Chinese mainland had only 23 new cases the previous day as well. In the same article, Reuters published the laughable claim that "mainland China has now reported an accumulated total of 86,852 coronavirus cases, with 4,634 deaths."

I don't know what the actual number of new COVID-19 cases was over the past two days in China, but anyone who is not a complete idiot knows that 23 is a laughably low number. So is the number of 86,852 total reported cases.

It just is not plausible that the country at the epicenter of the global pandemic, with many high-density population areas where the virus thrives, has had less than one-third the number of the coronavirus cases than the relatively sparsely populated state of Iowa. Even if the Chinese government had a long history of being the most credible government in the entire world, it would be irresponsible to pass on such facially obvious bovine fecal material as fact.

Of course, China is the opposite of the most credible government in the entire world. Like every other communist government in history, the current Chinese regime has a lengthy and storied history of publishing obviously false propaganda to its own citizens and the world at large. Obviously false propaganda is not a bug for communist governments; it is a feature. In China, in particular, the Chinese government has a long and colorful history of propaganda that predates even the adoption of communism as a governing philosophy. The Chinese government's philosophy is and always has been that if they aren't lying, they aren't trying.

Not only has the Chinese government been one of the greatest purveyors of bull crap in history generally speaking, it has also been repeatedly busted for lying about this pandemic. Officials lied about the size of the initial outbreak. They lied about how transmissible the disease was. And yes, they have repeatedly lied and underreported their number of cases, as even CNN finally conceded (after, of course, the presidential election was over).

Moreover, they have a specific, agenda-driven reason to lie about their success in this pandemic: They want to demonstrate that their authoritarian method of government is superior to freedom-oriented methods of government, which is why they have attempted to prevent Taiwan from presenting information to the World Health Organization about how it has successfully combatted spread of the disease.

Sometimes, in the media, your job is not to report that the claim being made by a particular government is accurate, but merely that the government made the claim. Generally speaking, if the government (particularly the United States government) publishes a statistical claim, that's fairly reportable even if a media organization does not fully verify all the underlying statistics. No media organization has the resources to verify all of the thousands of statistics the government produces every year.

But if a claim walks, talks, and smells like obvious bull crap, and it comes from a source with a lengthy history of peddling obvious bull crap, the media assert that a sense of social responsibility prevents them from repeating that claim without at least a warning that the information in question is suspect.

The last six weeks have demonstrated that the media know how to get this job done. Just look at the way they have reported about virtually every word that has come out of President Trump's mouth. "No evidence," they have declared. "False," they have screamed. Trump can't even tweet about virtually anything without having a warning label — DISPUTED — slapped on it by Twitter and Facebook. Fine.

Well, if it's dangerous and irresponsible to report on unverified claims about election fraud, why isn't it dangerous and irresponsible to report on obviously false claims about the extent of the spread of COVID-19 in its home country without any kind of warning that those claims are almost certainly false? For that matter, why should Reuters' water-carrying for the ChiComs be treated any differently by the Big Tech giants than videos claiming that the virus is fake or that masks don't work? How is it any less dangerous to the public at large to allow them to believe that the oppressive Chinese government has discovered a miracle way to prevent the spread of the virus that has been foisted upon the world because it couldn't contain the original outbreak?

At a certain point, you have to ask why the media — and the big tech companies who are turning a blind eye — are carrying water for the Chinese government. Hanlon's Razor would suggest that stupidity, not malice, is the most likely culprit. The lesser-known Heinlein's Razor, however, reminds us that we shouldn't rule out malice, either.

We know that the Chinese government has made it a point to attempt to infiltrate both the American government and American media institutions, as Eric Swalwell and a whole host of media companies can attest. As long as the media continue abandoning their basic common sense at the door in order to report obviously fake statistics, it's fair to wonder how often the Chinese have succeeded.

One last thing…
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