Wall Street Journal editor at large Gerard Baker wrote the media about-face on the COVID-19 lab leak theory has shone a spotlight on the "layers of rottenness" in U.S. institutions that may be just as "damning" as China's corruption in the pandemic.
"China’s officials may well be culpable of a combination of incompetence, recklessness and deceit," Baker wrote Monday in his piece, "America's Covid Groupthink Functioned Like China's Repression." "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."
"Marching in ideological lockstep is less forgivable in a society where one has a choice in the matter," Baker argues.
Baker ripped Big Tech for "deliberately" extinguishing debate on the topic. Facebook, for instance, had banned talk of the lab leak theory on their platform up until last month.
"In light of ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19 and in consultation with public health experts, we will no longer remove the claim that COVID-19 is man-made from our apps," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement.
Baker places the majority of the blame, however, on the media.
"Yet the largest responsibility for the failure to consider in a timely fashion the lab-leak theory lies with the media," he said. "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."
For months, mainstream media dismissed the idea that COVID-19 escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology as a "conspiracy theory," slapping down conservatives who promoted the theory like Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., in the process. But more prominent experts and journalists have begun to recognize its credibility, particularly after a report last month that three lab researchers were sickened with COVID-like symptoms in November 2019.
The 180 was not lost on observers, some of whom accused the media of suffering "amnesia" on the topic. New York Times writer David Leonhardt was among the analysts who suggested the media made a "mistake" by so quickly dismissing Cotton, former President Donald Trump, and others who considered the lab leak a possibility. The Washington Post's Josh Rogin was just as critical, ripping outlets for failing to "own up" to their errors.
"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 wrote.
Baker acknowledged there were "independent-minded people" in each industry who sought the truth. But those rebels, he said, "were no match for the groupthink and coverup."