If You Don’t Want to Get Into the Details, You’re Part of the Problem

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Welcome back to “Forgotten Fact-Checks,” a weekly column produced by National Review’s News Desk. This week, we take aim at Jake Tapper’s openly unsubstantive defense of Anthony Fauci, the anti-Cuba Libre Right, and more media misses.

Anthony Fauci Deserves Scrutiny from More than Just the ‘MAGA Media’

Dr. Anthony Fauci is the longtime head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the highest paid employee in the United States federal government. He’s also been at the forefront of the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, acting as both a top adviser to the Trump and Biden administrations behind the scenes, as well as as an ever present evangelist for top-down restrictions on the television.

That means that when he plays word games and obfuscates the truth from the American people, journalists have not only a right, but an obligation to point it out. It’s odd, then, that CNN’s Jake Tapper not only ignored the substantive criticisms of Fauci levied by Senator Rand Paul last week regarding gain of function research conducted in China with American taxpayer dollars, but proudly announced his intention to do so.

The National Institutes of Health, the department in which the NIAID is housed, has funded research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology that by any reasonable definition should be categorized as gain of function research. As Dr. Richard Ebright, an expert on laboratory safety put it:

The Wuhan lab used NIH funding to construct novel chimeric SARS-related coronaviruses able to infect human cells and laboratory animals. This is high-risk research that creates new potential pandemic pathogens (i.e., potential pandemic pathogens that exist only in a lab, not in nature). This research matches — indeed epitomizes — the definition of ‘gain of function research of concern’ for which federal funding was ‘paused’ in 2014-2017.

For some reason though, Fauci continues to deny that any NIH funding was used to perform gain of function research in China in committee hearings, relying only upon tenuous word games and appeals to authority rather than scientific arguments to back up his claim. Tapper used a similar strategy to defend the bureaucrat, bringing on a guest to discuss “another kind of misinformation, the constant MAGA media and Republican lawmaker attacks on health experts and especially Dr. Anthony Fauci.”

“I don’t want to get into the details of what Senator Paul was attacking there and all that,” Tapper explained before going on to decry the effort “to make Fauci a COVID bogeyman.” In other words, Tapper believes that the big story here is not that the federal government may be making irresponsible investments overseas, but the criticism of those investments. Contesting Fauci — regardless of the merits of his or his opponents’ arguments — is prima facie evidence of bad-faith and wrongheadedness, “details” be damned.

Tapper did manage to ask on his Sunday show whether Fauci believed future funding of similar projects in China to be prudent, but declined to press him on the research that Paul had.

When journalists understand themselves as narrative builders rather than fact-finders, they end up only further corrupting the very institutions they seem to think they’re protecting.

Is Support for Cuba a Smokescreen?

While most conservatives have proven eager to back the courageous Cuban protesters rising up against the repressive regime that has for so long held them back, a few voices have dissented. One such dissenter, Pedro Gonzalez of Chronicles Magazine, has an interesting theory.

It seems far more likely that “GOP hacks” simply see an opportunity to turn a Communist adversary 90 miles off of the American coast into an political and economic ally while championing the causes of human dignity, freedom, and flourishing. However, for a certain kind of right-winger hoping to capitalize on the prevailing political winds of the moment, every intramural disagreement over policy must be construed as a conspiracy against The People in order to sow resentment and further establish yourself as one of the only people willing to tell the “truth.”

All in all, it’s not a bad branding strategy so long as you’re willing to humiliate yourself the way Gonzalez is.

Headline Fail of the Week

This week’s award goes to a genre of headlines rather than a singular example. As the coronavirus caseload rises and the rate at which Americans are getting vaccinated tapers off, a number of outlets from the BBC, to Newsweek, to NBC News, are running the same story: “Man/Woman Who Mocked Vaccine Dies.”

The vast, vast majority of Americans should get vaccinated. It’s the right thing to do — the smart thing to do. Allowing this worthy goal to so consume us that we end up taking advantage of our countrymen’s death for clicks is ghoulish, not civically minded or righteous, though. Those doing so should be ashamed.

Media Misses

Tom Nichols remarked that “that memo to the GOP about cutting the anti-vaccine s*** must have been a doozy,” because Senator Tommy Tuberville continues to champion the coronavirus vaccines. There is no record of Tuberville ever doing the opposite.

-Kyle Griffin of MSNBC and a number of other media sources erroneously reported on a GOP education bill in Texas.

These remain a part of the State Board of Education’s curriculum requirements, they’re just not being duplicated and restated in the bill.

-This week a Politico article, which was fed to readers as a straight-news piece, opined that southerners are “turning down COVID-19 vaccines because they are angry that President Donald Trump lost the election and sick of Democrats in Washington thinking they know what’s best.” The story never offers any evidence to back up the statement, which is purely the opinion of the author and is not attributed to any experts or officials.

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