Media

The Media Owe Senator Tom Cotton an Apology

Sen. Tom Cotton talks to reporters following a classified national security briefing at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., January 8, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)
He never said China intentionally released the coronavirus, and his suggestion that the disease originated in a Wuhan laboratory looks increasingly plausible.

One of the biggest issues people have with the mainstream press these days is that some of its members are so insulated that they end up buying into and promoting false narratives without actually checking these narratives’ veracity. That seems to be exactly what happened in mid February, when major outlets overwhelmingly smeared Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) as a conspiracy theorist for asking legitimate questions about the origins of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Cotton was one of the first politicians to raise the alarm about the seriousness of COVID-19 and the dishonesty of the Chinese government, as NRO’s John McCormack has pointed out. Cotton emphasized at the time that China was not being transparent about the virus and its origins. Cotton further noted that Wuhan, which was the main location for the first outbreak, had a biosafety Level 4 laboratory that specializes in researching coronaviruses. Cotton specifically said that “we don’t have evidence that the disease originated there, but because of China’s duplicity and dishonesty from the beginning, we need to at least ask the question to see what the evidence says.”

It’s hard to see anything controversial about what Cotton said, but the press quickly twisted it into an unrecognizable and conspiratorial claim that they then proceeded to debunk.

Media outlets overwhelmingly declared Cotton was spreading dangerous conspiracy theories. The Washington Post insisted, “Tom Cotton keeps repeating a coronavirus conspiracy theory that was already debunked.” The New York Times, the Daily Beast, and other outlets repeated the same framing. Countless other members of the media and prominent commentators accused Cotton of being irresponsible and spreading dangerous claims. In perhaps the most embarrassing display, CBS’s Face the Nation had the Chinese ambassador on and set him up to label Cotton’s suggestion “absolutely crazy”.

How did the media end up declaring that Cotton was spreading a debunked conspiracy theory? By completely distorting what he said.

All those media outlets cited experts to declare that there was no evidence the virus was man-made or a bioweapon, which is a claim that Cotton never actually made. In almost every article, they cite Richard Ebright, a professor of chemical biology at Rutgers and one of the leading biosecurity experts in the world, to dismiss the possibility that the virus was a bioweapon. They do not address Cotton’s actual claim. That’s because Enright has repeatedly acknowledged, and recently reconfirmed, that it is a very real possibility that the COVID-19 spread began at the Wuhan lab. The very same expert they were using to “debunk” Cotton’s question and smear him as a conspiracy theorist actually agreed that it was legitimate. There are plenty of reasons to ask the question and demand transparency from China’s government given its dishonesty, the history of similar viruses escaping from Chinese labs, and the specific research focus of that particular lab.

Now the Washington Post has published another piece acknowledging that “scientists don’t rule out that an accident at a research laboratory in Wuhan might have spread a deadly bat virus that had been collected for scientific study.” In other words, they are now publishing the very claim that they insisted was a debunked conspiracy theory a month and a half ago. None of the previous articles attacking Cotton have been retracted.

How are people supposed to trust these outlets and media personalities when they are willing to create a false narrative about a U.S. senator and accuse him of being a conspiracy theorist for asking legitimate and necessary questions?

All the outlets and commentators that attempted to smear Senator Tom Cotton owe him a public apology.

Most Popular

World

Hong Kong, All Alone

China is currently transgressing the terms of its 1997 treaty over Hong Kong, which promised a “one country, two systems” settlement that preserved Hong Kong’s somewhat autonomous democratic institutions. These institutions guarantee rights to Hong Kongers and guard its common-law inheritance. China’s ... Read More
World

Hong Kong, All Alone

China is currently transgressing the terms of its 1997 treaty over Hong Kong, which promised a “one country, two systems” settlement that preserved Hong Kong’s somewhat autonomous democratic institutions. These institutions guarantee rights to Hong Kongers and guard its common-law inheritance. China’s ... Read More
Elections

Against Jo Rae Perkins

On Tuesday, Jo Rae Perkins won the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Oregon. The Oregon GOP says it will back her candidacy notwithstanding her associations with the “QAnon” movement. That’s a mistake. Perkins is an unreconstructed exponent of a batty and corrosive conspiracy theory running a ... Read More
Elections

Against Jo Rae Perkins

On Tuesday, Jo Rae Perkins won the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Oregon. The Oregon GOP says it will back her candidacy notwithstanding her associations with the “QAnon” movement. That’s a mistake. Perkins is an unreconstructed exponent of a batty and corrosive conspiracy theory running a ... Read More
Immigration

The Party’s Over — No More Guest(worker)s

Last month's Presidential Proclamation temporarily suspending a tiny sliver of permanent immigration in response to Great Depression 2.0 also called for a review of the alphabet soup of foreign-worker programs. The relevant cabinet departments were instructed to offer recommendations "to stimulate the United ... Read More
Immigration

The Party’s Over — No More Guest(worker)s

Last month's Presidential Proclamation temporarily suspending a tiny sliver of permanent immigration in response to Great Depression 2.0 also called for a review of the alphabet soup of foreign-worker programs. The relevant cabinet departments were instructed to offer recommendations "to stimulate the United ... Read More
U.S.

Unsustainable America

Americans are having fewer babies than ever, or at least than since the government began tracking the general fertility rate in 1909. The total fertility rate ticked down to 1.7 in 2019, meaning that the average number of babies an American woman would have over her lifetime is well below replacement ... Read More
U.S.

Unsustainable America

Americans are having fewer babies than ever, or at least than since the government began tracking the general fertility rate in 1909. The total fertility rate ticked down to 1.7 in 2019, meaning that the average number of babies an American woman would have over her lifetime is well below replacement ... Read More

How to Avoid a China-Led World Order

As the COVID-19 crisis has unfolded, it has opened our eyes to China’s rapidly expanding role in the international order and global economy. Beijing’s outsize role in the World Health Organization has come under attack, as has the muscular diplomacy used by China’s foreign ministry in responding to ... Read More

How to Avoid a China-Led World Order

As the COVID-19 crisis has unfolded, it has opened our eyes to China’s rapidly expanding role in the international order and global economy. Beijing’s outsize role in the World Health Organization has come under attack, as has the muscular diplomacy used by China’s foreign ministry in responding to ... Read More

The Makings of Modern Madness

The paradigm of mind–brain dualism, like the story of syphilis, is by no means virgin territory. However, Allan Ropper and Brian Burrell’s How The Brain Lost Its Mind: Sex, Hysteria, and the Riddle of Mental Illness puts both the legacy of dualism and the story of syphilis under the microscope, and offers a ... Read More

The Makings of Modern Madness

The paradigm of mind–brain dualism, like the story of syphilis, is by no means virgin territory. However, Allan Ropper and Brian Burrell’s How The Brain Lost Its Mind: Sex, Hysteria, and the Riddle of Mental Illness puts both the legacy of dualism and the story of syphilis under the microscope, and offers a ... Read More