This week, two government agencies — the Department of Energy and the FBI — announced that they had concluded the most likely origin of the Covid virus, which has killed 6 million people worldwide, was that it leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The reaction to this news, which at this point was hardly an earth-shattering conclusion, is more interesting for the question it prompts about the state of American discourse: How do you have an argument with people who will never admit when they’re wrong?
Not coincidentally, if you’re interested in checking out the state of late-night “comedy” — I have to explain to my kids that this used to be a sector of popular entertainment that people actually watched and enjoyed — here’s “Daily Show” guest host Hasan Minhaj weighing in on the matter: “By the way, [the Department of Energy’s] conclusion with ‘low confidence’ is such a f-ckboy move,” he said, adding, “And now, every f-cking idiot I went to high school with is like, ‘Apologize to me right now, Hasan! I told you I was right, and if your hand is bigger than your face, you’re gay.’”
I haven’t laughed that hard since Minhaj hosted the White House correspondents’ dinner. Which is to say I will also tell my kids that the correspondents’ dinner was a decadent self-congratulatory exercise in speaking power to truth that no respectable person didn’t revile.
Anyway, to paraphrase a comedic maxim, what Minhaj is saying is not funny because it’s not true. Perhaps Minhaj gets a pass here because he’s a comedian, right? And to be fair, if you watch the whole clip Minhaj does say he doesn’t know what to think about the virus’ origins. However, his bit does reveal a deeper, if unintentional, truth — he’s channeling a concise distillation of the textbook two-step that was broadly and institutionally adopted to downplay the significance of the DOE and FBI coming out and admitting they think the lab leak is the most likely explanation for the origin of the virus.
The first move was to throw cold water on the certainty of the Energy Department and FBI’s conclusions. Yes, other government agencies have concluded that a “zoonotic” origin — that the virus jumped from animals to humans — is more likely. Are the agencies that came to the opposite conclusions as qualified in making their determinations as the DOE or FBI? Who knows? More importantly, who cares? Because the fact there’s disagreement here is entirely beside the point.
The second part of the process was to deliberately revise history to completely misrepresent the nature of the original debate over the virus’ origin, to dismiss the real reason people now feel vindicated. It’s not because the DOE or FBI has settled the debate. It’s because we were never allowed to have a debate over the virus’ origins in the first place.
The media consensus on the lab-leak theory congealed so rapidly that it completely distorted the debate in two more distinct ways. First, it viciously and dishonestly conflated anyone who espoused the possibility of the lab leak with the fringe Alex Jones crowd who was speculating that China had deliberately released an engineered bioweapon against the West. The Washington Post more or less libeled Sen. Tom Cotton for fanning “the embers of a coronavirus theory that has been repeatedly debunked by experts,” when the experts quoted by the Post later admitted they misunderstood his remarks.
Second, media “fact-checkers” all weighed in against the lab leak, and for some reason, these incompetent journalistic meter maids are deferred to by Big Tech companies to make rulings about complex political and scientific issues that ultimately determine what you can and can’t say online. The result is that for a year or so you were censored on Facebook for discussing even the possibility of the lab leak.