Every day the media reports the number of coronavirus cases across America and around the world. I keep an eye on Oregon, where I live, and Montana, where I grew up. Each day I am dismayed to see that my hometown of Bozeman has extended its large lead on every other city and town in the state. I guess it’s the price of prosperity, and having the busiest airport in the state.
The media also report more than daily on the number of cases around the world. It was reported over the weekend that the United States is now the world leader in number of virus cases. More than Italy. More than Spain. More even than China.
Although I’m confident that there are many more cases than are being reported and the death rate is far lower than known cases would suggest, I’m willing to assume the relative numbers by country are roughly accurate. Except for China. It baffles me that the American media routinely report numbers from China as if they are as reliable as numbers for the United States, Italy, Spain, you name it.
If you have to ask why I am baffled, you should read an article by Shadi Hamid in The Atlantic. China knew about the outbreak of coronavirus in Wuhan the first week of December. The Chinese government waited seven weeks before locking down Wuhan. By then more than 5 million people had left Wuhan. What the Chinese government did do was silence the few doctors who wanted to warn their fellow countrymen and the world.
Now that the world is engulfed in a pandemic and virtually every economy in the world is shut down with enormous costs that will linger for years, the World Health Organization and, of course, the media celebrate the Chinese government’s success in stemming the tide in China. Maybe the Chinese have gotten things under control, but as with the reported numbers of cases, we only know what the Chinese government reports. That’s because reporters for America’s leading newspapers have been tossed out of China.
I have no doubt that an authoritarian government has more tools at hand to deal with a pandemic than do democratic governments. So perhaps they have “flattened the curve,” as we have all learned to say. But I also have no doubt that an authoritarian government makes up its own facts, particularly one that saw a need to silence whistleblowers and evict the foreign press.
The American media have been more concerned with whether President Trump’s use of the term “China virus” is racist than with the accuracy of the Chinese government’s reports on the numbers in China. The press has shown plenty of skepticism about what Trump says in the daily White House briefings, and properly so. Why not just a smidgen of skepticism about the daily reports from China?
James Huffman is dean emeritus at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Ore. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
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