Monday, May 24, 2021


So I guess we're all talking about this Wall Street Journal story:
Three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough in November 2019 that they sought hospital care, according to a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report that could add weight to growing calls for a fuller probe of whether the Covid-19 virus may have escaped from the laboratory.

The details of the reporting go beyond a State Department fact sheet, issued during the final days of the Trump administration, which said that several researchers at the lab, a center for the study of coronaviruses and other pathogens, became sick in autumn 2019 “with symptoms consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illness.”

... Current and former officials familiar with the intelligence about the lab researchers expressed differing views about the strength of the supporting evidence for the assessment. One person said that it was provided by an international partner and was potentially significant but still in need of further investigation and additional corroboration.

Another person described the intelligence as stronger. “The information that we had coming from the various sources was of exquisite quality. It was very precise. What it didn’t tell you was exactly why they got sick,” he said, referring to the researchers.
Matt Yglesias asks a smart pundit question -- and Oliver Willis gives it a real-world answer:

Exactly. The Murdoch press isn't obsessed with this story because it wants to determine whether a sober reassessment of U.S. policy toward China is warranted. The Murdoch press is obsessed with this story because it feeds a narrative the Fox News audience desperately wants to believe: that the pandemic was a planned hit job on Trump.

Your right-wing relatives already believe this. Even if Murdoch journalists and prime-time blowhards never explicitly say that the virus was released in order to harm Trump, that narrative will be reinforced.

And it's preposterous, of course. If China wanted to attack the United States, why would it choose something that devastated the world, including countries China wants as economic partners (or at least clients)? How did a deadly outbreak in Italy a year ago help China? How do the current outbreaks in India and Brazil help China? And what about China's own outbreak? What was the advantage of that, from China's perspective? Assuming China really did seek to attack America, why not pick a method that was a bit more targeted?

And even if this were a deliberate attack, it's a president's job to deal with such things -- and dealing with such things is also usually to a president's political advantage. September 11 reelected George W. Bush. America rallied around FDR after Pearl Harbor. To be perfectly cynical about this, the pandemic handed Trump a golden ticket to reelection. All he had to do was seem competent and appear to care. Every governor who managed those two things saw skyrocketing approval ratings. If China wanted to hurt Trump, a deliberate bioattack was a terrible idea, because, by the normal rules of politics, it should have helped him. It didn't because Trump screwed up.

You can use these arguments on your right-wing relatives. I doubt they'll change any minds, but they're worth a try.

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