Nobody who has watched this year’s debate over the provenance of COVID-19 can possibly have emerged from the experience believing that all is well with the press. From the start, the media acted not as an impartial observer searching assiduously for an external truth, but as the enforcer of an orthodoxy whose veracity it could not possibly have known. Questions were quieted. Dissent was disdained. Skeptics were shushed. And what about reality, the understanding of which is ostensibly the aim of journalism? That was deemed to be disposable — subordinate, at all points, to politics. In concert with the largest social-media companies, America’s legacy outlets approached the origin story of the worst pandemic in a century as a medieval gatekeeper would have.
National Review did not.
It should serve as a considerable source of professional embarrassment to the likes of the New York Times and the Washington Post that they were outdone on this most important of questions by a self-described opinion journal that is clear about its biases — and, more specifically, outdone by our own Jim Geraghty, who nailed the story from Day One armed only with a dented old laptop and an admirably open mind. Jim didn’t care whom the story might benefit or might hurt. He wasn’t interested in attacking or defending any of the players. He wasn’t worried about where his writing might land him in the estimation of polite society. He was just curious, and he went where his curiosity led him. That’s journalism. Or, at least, it used to be.
There are many reasons that National Review remains crucial, but one of the most obvious is its steadfast refusal to be cajoled into the unanimity that is the hallmark of the establishment press. Before Twitter, skeptics watching the agglutination of the media’s major players used to joke that the “talking points had gone out.” Now, they can watch in real time as those soon-to-be uniform positions move from marginal claim to flirted-with possibility to inviolable maxim. A year ago, nobody in the world knew whether COVID-19 had come from animals or from a lab accident. Today, they still don’t. That a bunch of writers who couldn’t tell epidemiology from Anthropologie tried to shut down the conversation — and that they were successful — was a national disgrace. That National Review refused to play along was a triumph.
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