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VICTOR JOECKS: Media should be as skeptical of China as they are of Trump

Updated April 2, 2020 - 9:27 pm

If only the national mainstream media were as incredulous about China’s coronavirus claims as they are about President Donald Trump’s assertions.

For weeks, the national press has been berating Trump for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak. News headlines have turned into pseudo fact checks. “COVID-19 has been compared to the flu. Experts say that’s wrong,” an ABC headline reads.

After Trump spoke out about the potential benefits of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, the coverage was brutal. “Trump’s dangerous messaging about a possible coronavirus treatment,” a headline from The New Yorker editorialized. “With minimal evidence, Trump asks FDA to study malaria drugs for coronavirus,” a New York Times headline blared.

On Sunday, the FDA gave an emergency use authorization for doctors to prescribe the drugs to treat the coronavirus. The subhead of Politico’s news story read, “The drugs have been championed by President Donald Trump for treatment despite scant evidence.”

That is bogus framing. When the choice is dying or a potential miracle, Trump votes for the miracle. Imagine thinking that’s worthy of critiquing in a news story.

This isn’t to say Trump has handled the crisis perfectly. He hasn’t. His administration is responsible for the bungled testing. It was a mistake to downplay the virus. He compounds those errors by only rarely acknowledging past missteps. On Wednesday, he finally noted it’s not accurate to compare the coronavirus to the seaonal flu.

But Trump isn’t alone in this regard. Everyone outside of Sen. Tom Cotton underestimated this. In late February, Speaker Nancy Pelosi went to San Francisco’s Chinatown and said it was “safe” to patronize. Three weeks later, San Francisco’s mayor ordered residents to shelter in place. Turns out, it wasn’t safe for large crowds to gather anywhere in San Francisco.

Media organizations didn’t see this coming either. Outlets, including The Washington Post, The Associated Press and Time magazine, ran articles downplaying the virus’s severity.

Everyone got it wrong because China kept lying. On Wednesday, a news account revealed that U.S. intelligence produced a classified report contending that China’s coronavirus data is fake. China claims to have no new cases but also reversed course on reopening movie theaters. Anecdotal evidence suggests China’s death toll is many times higher than the 3,300 fatalities it officially reports.

Yet the same national press that is so eager to fact check Trump repeats Chinese talking points.

“The US now leads the world in confirmed coronavirus cases,” The New York Times reported last week. In early March, NPR had a story on “Why the death rate from coronavirus is plunging in China.” In mid-March, The Times also reported, “China hits a coronavirus milestone: no new local infections.” “As U.S. struggles to stem coronavirus, China asserts itself as global leader,” NBC News said.

Comparing these stories with how the national mainstream media cover Trump is striking. There’s no skepticism or in-headline fact checks. Just rote repetition of the propaganda put out by a communist dictatorship that kicks out foreign journalists.

What an embarrassment.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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