Media Should Think Twice Before Parroting Beijing’s Line

Lauding Beijing’s pandemic response reveals journalistic naivety and stunning lack of due diligence
April 1, 2020 Updated: April 1, 2020

Commentary

Within the last week or so, news outlets such as the New York Times and CBC have declared that the United States has now taken China’s place as the “epicentre” of the pandemic. “The U.S. Now Leads the World in Confirmed Coronavirus Cases,” blared the headline of one NYT article published on March 26, which outlined the missteps that supposedly hastened the spread of the virus throughout America. It also describes China’s response as a belated start that quickly turned into a “ferocious intensity” to fight the virus that has now been “contained” through “draconian measures.”

A CBC headline reads, “Canada’s next-door neighbour is now the epicentre of global pandemic. Here’s what that U.S. surge means,” for an article that lists the possible implications of Canada’s contiguous cousin having by far the “most reported cases” of any country. Other CBC coverage regurgitates Beijing’s highly dubious claim that there haven’t been any new cases confirmed in Wuhan for the past week and that the majority of new cases have been “imported” by travellers.

These specimens of contemporary journalism reveal a troubling lack of critical thinking by reiterating easily questionable claims made by Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propagandists.

The New York Times article attributed China’s “belated start” to the suppression of information, but fails to delve into the details of such suppression and instead compliments the regime’s containment efforts.

Epoch Times Photo
The lead story on the CBC News homepage, cbc.ca/news, on March 31, 2020. (Screenshot)

One might expect the reporter to seek out sources to interrogate these claims, given the nature of the CCP and its initial response to the outbreak—covering it up—that enabled the virus to spread across the world. It is not an arduous task to find information suggesting something different is happening in China than the return to stability that some Western journalists are describing.

According to the British press, scientists have told Prime Minister Boris Johnson that China’s confirmed number of cases (around 81,000) may have been downplayed by a whopping factor of 15 to 40 times. Buttressing this is the estimation by Radio Free Asia that seven large funeral homes in Wuhan have been handing out a total of around 3,500 urns per day to families, which implies that the Chinese regime lied when it set the number of deaths in the city at 2,500-3,000.

In addition to the stifled, now-deceased whistleblower Li Wenliang, there is also Wuhan’s Ai Fen, who gave an interview to a Chinese magazine in which she provided further insight into the regime’s laborious attempts to cover up the outbreak and discipline those who tried to inform others about it. The interview was soon removed by the magazine and from social media sites, but not before netizens copied it and posted screenshots of it.

This easy-to-find collection of damning details notwithstanding, some Western journalists have heaped praised on “China’s model” as something to learn from, uncritically accepting claims by the regime and a compromised World Health Organization. All the while conveniently neglecting actual success stories such as that taking place in isolated Taiwan, which is an example for what an open society anchored by a robust civic culture can accomplish.

The coverage of the outbreak in many cases shows a curiosity deficit permeating the media, and the tendency to focus myopically on the American president and the mania surrounding him has contributed to this.

Long before the pandemic caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus, took hold of our lives, there was already a sense in the West that the vital institutions of society were becoming enfeebled.

The media is one such institution that has been a central object of the peoples’ ire, mainly because of its perceived incompetence. Data paints a miserable picture. According to a Gallup poll from last year, “Americans remain largely mistrustful of the mass media,” with only 41 percent claiming they trust outlets to report the news in a fair and accurate way. In Canada, just as COVID-19 was beginning to engulf China, this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer found that trust in institutions had declined by 3 percent, with around 57 percent claiming that the media they used contained untrustworthy information.

Much of the harm done to public trust in mass media has been self-inflicted, and coverage of the CCP virus demonstrates, yet again, a chattering class comprised of some the most credulous and incurious among us.

Shane Miller is a political writer based in London, Ontario. Follow him at @Miller_Shane94.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.