The Conservative Media Double-Standard

The same people who advocated for HCQ and complain about election fraud are outraged over the lab-leak miss.

1. Humanitarian Disaster

I want to be very clear about this: America is doing great against COVID right now. Not as well we could be doing—because our country contains a great many people who are stupid, malicious, or both.

Our vaccination curve started flattening at 42 percent of the population. Israel’s curve didn’t start flattening until the 52 percent mark. The U.K. is already at 60 percent of the population with at least one dose. In America, 60 percent looks like a stretch goal.

But leave the comparisons aside for a moment: Things are generally pretty good in America. New case counts are the lowest they’ve been since March of 2020.

How does that make you feel?

Me too.

So let’s bring that happy mood down a notch.

Zeynep Tufekci had a piece in the NYT last week laying out a pretty bleak scenario for the final phase of COVID, but she didn’t get to the really depressing stuff until she wrote a followup for her Substack, asking what if the global endgame for COVID resembles the endgame for HIV?

If you look at a chart of deaths from AIDS, one of the greatest moral stains from our history jumps out. More people died of AIDS after we got the triple combination drug in 1995 that turned HIV into a chronic condition for those who had access to it—but almost all the deaths happened outside the few wealthy countries that could afford it. Not until the mid-2000s, following much loss and activism, campaigns and pressure, did things finally change and drug access expand.

It should be unthinkable to repeat such a scenario, but here we are. 

The latest news from the United Kingdom, which has better genomic surveillance than almost any other country and thus can allow us to disentangle causes of outbreaks better, is not good. The B.1.617.2 variant, first identified in India, looks to be substantially more transmissible compared with even B.1.1.7, which was bad enough. The data is preliminary, and I really hope that the final estimate ends up as low as possible. But coupled with what we are observing in India and in Nepal, where it is rampant, I fear that the variant is a genuine threat.

In practical terms, to put it bluntly, it means that the odds that the pandemic will end because enough people have immunity via getting infected rather than being vaccinated just went way up.

No one in Conservative Inc. cares about what happens in the rest of the world anymore—America First! But you might imagine that at least the people who make up Pro-Life Inc. would be waving red flags about the prospect of hundreds of thousands of easily preventable deaths.

lol jk

2. The Lab Leak Theory and the Media

I’ve been saying for a long time that we are unlikely to ever know, to a total certainty, the origins of SARS-CoV-2. It would be hard enough to get a smoking-gun, definitive answer if the virus had first appeared in America, where we have elections and a legal system and FOIA.

Getting proof in a totalitarian country? Good luck with that.

All of which is to say that the people in early 2020 insisting that that COVID was absolutely zoonotic were overstating their case. As were the people insisting that COVID was, in fact, a Chinese bioweapon. Both sides were pretending to have epistemological certainty they did not possess.

Yet over the past few weeks we’ve had an endless series of pieces castigating “the media” for prematurely dismissing the lab-leak theory. And fine. I agree with that. I’ve written as much.

But this criticism is missing something important.

Some (though not all) members of “the media”—by which people mean the normal, responsible organs of journalism—were wrong to claim that an alternative theory for the origins of COVID was impossible.

But over time most precincts of “the media” have self-corrected. At this point, we’ve probably had more media self-criticism than actual pieces making the faulty declaration against the lab-leak theory.

So seen properly, this is a proof-of-concept for traditional media. It would be great if no media outlet, anywhere, ever made mistakes or had errors in judgment.

But we don’t live in that world. So the next best thing is a responsible media that does its best and self-corrects when it makes honest mistakes or commits errors in judgment.

But compare how some precincts of “the media” handled coverage of the lab-leak theory with how most of “conservative media” handled:

  • The COVID outbreak

  • The efficacy of hydroxychloroquine

  • The results of the 2020 election

  • The events of January 6, 2020

And not just “conservative media,” but huge swaths of the conservative movement itself.

The same people who are screaming and pounding the table about “the media” being too dismissive of the lab-leak theory—and then correcting their mistake with self-criticism—insisted that it was impossible that half a million Americans could die from COVID. They just asked questions about hydroxychloroquine. They maintain, even today, that the 2020 election was a hotbed of fraud. And they equivocate every which way on who did what, and why, when it comes to 1/6.

There is no self-criticism in “conservative media.” I have seen no pieces from the conservative press asking why they got hydroxychloroquine wrong. Or diving deep into the errors in their coverage of election “fraud.”

Sorry—check that. I have seen those pieces. Both Fox and Newsmax did lengthy pieces of self-criticism for their mistakes concerning Dominion Voting Systems.

Of course, they did so only under duress and the threat of lawsuits from Dominion.

If anything, the real takeaway from the lab-leak theory is an object lesson in the different standards and practices of responsible media and conservative media.

Responsible media will sometimes get things wrong. Mostly, they self-correct. And people expect them to be right.

Conservative media will often get things wrong. They rarely self-correct. And no one expects any different from them.

Yet “conservative media” still has a place at the table in American discourse—a place reserved for it precisely by responsible media outlets, who are intent on always presenting “both sides” as if they were merely differing opinions on which flavor of ice cream is best.

What a country.

If you want better media, support better media.

Stand with The Bulwark

3. Pudge

My Instagram baseball card buddy Rookie Central has another great story, this one about connecting with Pudge Fisk:

My recent post of the Carlton Fisk rookie stirred up a couple more memories, ones that prompted me to send him a short note and card, and (with lightning speed!) he returned my card signed in exchange for a small donation to charity.

Having collected Fisk cards on and off for 36 years, I thought of the one time I sent him a TTM request when he was still playing, which never did come back to me. As I became a young adult and wasn’t an active collector, I still tried to perform occasional maintenance on my Fisk collection, which included the relatively new phenomenon of obtaining autographed cards and relics. I snapped up some of the initial offerings with Pudge’s signature, and I was thrilled to finally have his autograph. Over the years, I complemented these with other signed cards and memorabilia, to the point where I was satisfied having about 20 unique Fisk autographs. But sometimes there was a whisper in my ear about not having every signature I needed, and it became a shout last week.

I still never got that one autograph that Carlton Fisk signed just for me. It’s true I had many autographs, but not a one that was signed with just me in mind. But having written about why Fisk was my favorite player last week somehow made something click about how important this was. And the next day I sent off this 1973 Topps card I had with the brief note I mentioned earlier.

I touched on it briefly in that last post, but my first trip to Cooperstown was with my dad to see Pudge get inducted. My mom tagged along too, disinterested in the baseball part but always up for an adventure. We couldn’t get a hotel anywhere near the Hall of Fame, so we overnighted in Cobleskill, NY. We ate probably the worst meal of our lives there and I got little sleep that night anticipating what the next day promised. Nothing about the day disappointed – a trip to baseball nirvana with my parents, seeing dozens of legends sitting on the dais, and my idol standing up there taking his place among the game’s immortals. It was about as perfect a day as I’ve ever had.

I asked Pudge to sign the card with that special date – 7/23/00 – I couldn’t be more touched or happier with how it came back!

Such great stuff.