Media confuses 'disputed' with 'debunked'
Call it “debunker mentality” — the media tendency to treat as debunked that which has merely been disputed. This tends to show up in coverage of uncomfortable narratives, like, just spitballing here, the possibility that COVID-19 can be traced to a Wuhan lab.
But today — and maybe it’s the vaccines talking, or maybe the return to normalcy has kindled more committed curiosity about the outbreak’s origins — those summary dismissals are getting a second look. Jim Geraghty pointed out earlier this week how discussion of the COVID lab-leak theory has moved from guarded whispers to something one can now do in polite company. More specifically, how it’s being entertained at the highest levels of the cultural and scientific mainstream.
The highly paid intern behind this newsletter is old enough to remember when mere mention of this scenario — that not accompanied by a scoff and a sneer — was enough to earn you the moniker of conspiracy theorist. (Take it away, Vox.)
Turns out this was simply a theory . . . hold the “conspiracy.”
As Jim chronicled, institutions ranging from Science magazine to the Washington Post editorial board contend today that the lab-leak theory is viable, just as is the “zoonotic spillover” explanation that it could have jumped from animal to human, and are pressing for answers. Further, the CDC’s Rochelle Walensky had a blink-and-you-miss-it moment, testifying Wednesday that “a lab-based origin is one possibility.”
Here’s one telling example of how the tone in the press has shifted: This freshly stamped editor’s note on a since-archived fact-check from PolitiFact. The confident headline had been: “Tucker Carlson guest airs debunked conspiracy theory that COVID-19 was created in a lab.”...
Indeed, Politifact has withdrawn its debunking opinion. This is another example of the rush to judgment of "fact-checkers" especially if it is something that might support what Trump has alleged.