The Atlantic Exposes CNN Ban On Reporting Possible Wuhan Lab Accident, Because "Racism"
Leaked internal CNN survey finds their own biased COVID coverage caused viewer distrust.
7 minute read
Last week, The Atlantic dropped a bombshell story—by bombshell, I mean news that confirms the bigotries and tastes of the elite chattering class. Winding its way through 15,000 words—a length certain to exhaust all but reporters interested in industry gossip—the article’s only point was to ding CNN’s new CEO Chris Licht for directing the news outlet away from liberal programming and back to actual reporting that appeals to the majority of viewers.
You know, those average Americans who reporters now dismiss as “right wing.”
The Atlantic’s goring of Licht for redirecting CNN back to reporting triggered uncontrolled glee by other left-leaning journalists.
“Can Chris Licht Survive at CNN?” wrote Brian Stelter, a former CNN pundit who now lobs grenades at his former employer from a cushy job at Harvard.
“Could Jeff Zucker Fix CNN? He Seems to Think So,” ran a New York Times article that featured little more than griping by Zucker, the CEO Licht replaced for turning CNN into a partisan clickbait circus.
“CNN Boss Chris Licht Is a Dead Man Talking, Staffers Say,” reads The Daily Beast.
But a tiny piece in Semafor exposed what many critics have stated for years: most Americans view CNN as an advocacy news outlet whose pandemic coverage helped destroy public trust in their brand.
Last year, CNN commissioned a survey examining viewer trust and the places where CNN was succeeding and falling short with viewers across the ideological spectrum. According to a partial copy of the report, which hasn’t been revealed before, CNN’s coverage of Covid-19 was the third leading cause of distrust in the network behind liberal bias and “the Chris Cuomo situation.”
Survey respondents of all ideological stripes criticized the network’s "overly dramatic and sensational" and "dire" reporting, the report said.
The only people likely surprised that an internal CNN report found CNN’s pandemic coverage was awful are CNN reporters and their colleagues bitching on Twitter. To anyone outside a newsroom, CNN’s pandemic failures have been apparent for years.
A year ago, I reported that CNN’s science writer Maggie Fox did a copy/paste of Pfizer’s press release announcing the results of their COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial. Maggie Fox isn’t a name familiar to most readers, but while she was reporting at CNN her haphazard article on Pfizer’s clinical trial influenced CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. In March of last year, Walensky admitted that CNN’s faulty reporting misled her to believe that Pfizer’s vaccine was going to fix all the problems with the pandemic.
Below, you can view passages of Pfizer’s press release next to Maggie Fox’s copy/paste CNN article.
But it wasn’t just vaccine reporting where Maggie Fox and CNN reporters failed. Journalists promoting the Atlantic story on Twitter aren’t bothering to note that The Atlantic reported that former CNN CEO Zucker silenced reporting that discussed a possible lab accident in Wuhan, China.
Licht emphasize that although he would show employees grace for certain missteps, he had no tolerance for efforts to chill reporting on controversial topics. He noted that Zucker, fearing the COVID “lab leak theory” was a xenophobic gambit that endangered Asian Americans, had essentially banned discussion of the topic on the air.
How’s that for CNN journalism?
But even if The Atlantic hadn’t exposed CNN’s ban, the bias was obvious to anyone reading CNN news or following their science reporter Maggie Fox. Shortly after the pandemic began, CNN ran a misleading story denigrating the 30% of Americans who believed the virus could have come from a lab.
According to the fact checkers and virologists CNN contacted, average American’s view that a Wuhan accident could have started the pandemic was “misinformation.”
Months later, this narrative that fact checkers and virologists constructed out of thin air began falling apart.
In the fall of 2020, emails released under public information requests showed that scientists had orchestrated a public disinformation campaign to confuse Americans about dangerous virus research happening in Wuhan, China. These emails exposed Peter Daszak of EcoHealth Alliance orchestrating an influential February 2020 statement in The Lancet, calling the idea of a lab leak a “conspiracy.”
While getting people to sign on to The Lancet essay, Daszak emailed that the statement should “not be identifiable as coming from any one organization or person” but rather to be seen as “simply a letter from leading scientists.”
Despite virologists getting their pants pulled down, Maggie Fox doubled down at CNN.
Like most science writers, Fox ignored virologists own emails and constructed her articles around quotes from virologists with undisclosed conflicts of interest. For example, Fox used Tulane University virologist Robert Garry as a cudgel to attack former CDC Director Robert Redfield, who had made statements that he was concerned the pandemic started from a lab accident.
But this article was full of holes. Redfield is an infectious disease expert with a top secret security clearance, who was basing his assessment from a review of the science, intelligence documents, and consultations with intelligence experts. Meanwhile, Robert Garry was hiding what he really thought.
A year and a half later, Megyn Kelly confronted Robert Garry, in an interview about his own emails which showed he had been very concerned at the beginning of the pandemic that the virus might have come out of a lab. Kelly’s questions left Garry sputtering up responses, and should be required viewing for Maggie Fox and other science writers.
Nonetheless, Maggie Fox continued with a series of articles and tweets, repetitively pointing against a possible lab accident. Why? That’s what she and all the other science writers were doing. Science writers call up their sources and write, they don’t report.
Here’s a rather interesting exchange between journalism professor Alison Young and Maggie Fox, who was upset that her narrative pointing against a possible lab accident was unwinding.
Not dissuaded, Fox continued ignoring any evidence to the contrary, and continued promoting the viewpoints of conflicted scientists in her articles.
Fox has left CNN, but she’s still out there influencing coverage, along with other fellow science writers who also denigrated the possibility of a lab accident as a “conspiracy.”
Nsikan Akpan is a science writer at New York Public radio who spent several years attacking anyone who brought up a possible lab accident as the cause of the pandemic, even comparing them to climate change deniers.
Laura Helmuth is the top editor at Scientific American who, like CNN’s Maggie Fox, attacked CDC Director Robert Redfield when he spoke up about a possible lab accident in Wuhan. Helmuth tried to rally science writers against Redfield by tweeting that he shared a “conspiracy theory” on CNN. “For journalists covering this—get the science right,” Helmuth tweeted.
Helmuth then ran a hit piece in Scientfic American questioning Redfield’s credentials.
And here’s where it all gets really dumb and stupid. All three—Nsikan Akpan, Laura Helmuth, and Maggie Fox—are board members of SciLine, a group that claims to educate reporters on science. “SciLine has the singular mission of enhancing the amount and quality of scientific evidence in news stories.”
Licht might clean up CNN and get them back on the pathway to real journalism, or it might fail. Maybe what people want on TV is partisan entertainment. But science writers destroyed themselves with biased pandemic reporting, and they have shown zero interest in acknowledging their mistakes and figuring out how to stop this from happening in the future.
So is it any wonder nobody trusts these science writers anymore?
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