TO be quite honest, I find this episode very depressing because it is such a sad commentary on the state of the profession I’m in — it is going to the dogs, and it is not even the younger generation who are leading it to ruin but the veterans of the industry.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer the other day ran a prominently positioned article titled, “Paper by Chinese scientists shows Covid-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) came from Wuhan biolab.” It even very dishonestly portrayed the article as the product of hard-work journalism, as it was part of some series dubbed “Investigative Publishing.” To make even people in a hurry read it, it was subtitled: “American China expert and ‘Bully of Asia’ author claims it’s been censored by communist authorities and removed online.”
It is fake news, originally spread back in February by Lifesitenews.com, website of the religious Right that is notorious for posting misleading or totally false news, and in a blog written by a fire-breathing anti-China writer
The Inquirer writer, senior editor Lito Zulueta, did not even read the actual “paper by Chinese scientists.” The piece was entirely based on a blog in LifeSiteNews by one Steven Mosher, whom the author extensively quoted — and not the Chinese research paper itself.
For starters, what is LifeSiteNews that was the basis of the Inquirer piece? The pioneer fact-checker, Snopes.com (established 1994) identified LifeSiteNews as “a known purveyor of misleading information.”
LifeSiteNews in fact has been a “favorite” of Snopes in the sense that it has debunked over two dozen of its pieces as fake or misleading news. Some examples of that site’s articles which Snopes debunked: “Abortionist strangled baby born alive;” “Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg bragged about banning pro-life ads;” and “Court testimony prove biotech company harvests organs from live fetuses.”
LifeSiteNews is run by an ultra-right Catholic organization in Ontario, founded initially to promote anti-abortion views. It is in the lunatic fringe of the Catholic Right. A Reuters article alleged that it is a platform for attacks against Pope Francis; a magazine described it as an outlet against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community; and Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong called it a “radical Catholic reactionary.”
How can Zulueta — a senior Inquirer editor who’s been a journalist for nearly 40 years now — not have checked on the background of a website he based his article on, which is known to be a disseminator of fake and misleading news?
Didn’t Zulueta even notice that the piece he quoted so extensively wasn’t even really an article by a staff member of LifeSiteNews, but merely a blog, which means that the internet site that posted it would have that qualification that it’s not really backing up the blog’s claims.
And who is Stephen Mosher whom Zulueta quoted at length?
Mosher is an admitted fire-breathing anti-China writer who believes China is the anti-Christ out to conquer the world to yoke it to its empire.
Mosher’s anti-China bias appears to have become his lifetime crusade when his academic career path was stopped in its tracks when Stanford University expelled him in 1985 from its anthropology department for engaging in “illegal and seriously unethical conduct” while doing research as a graduate student in China. Mosher claimed China put pressure on the university to expel him.
Zulueta seems to share Mosher’s bias against China since half of his article was on the American’s odium for China. He writes: “In his latest book, Bully of Asia: Why China’s Dream is the New Threat to World Order, Mosher warns against China’s history of bloody tyranny over its own people. China long ago invented totalitarianism — the real subjugation of the individual to the state, and believes it has the right to impose its hegemony on the rest of the world…”
It is astonishing that for all his 40 years working in newspapers, that journalistic standard operating procedure hasn’t been etched in Zulueta’s mind: “If a source is so clearly biased against somebody, be sure to get the side of whoever he’s attacking.”
Steven Mosher claimed — and Lito Zulueta unquestioningly reported — that the paper “by Chinese scientists” is not available in the internet anymore, because it was censored by “communist authorities.”
That is false. A Wall Street Journal article in February reported that one of the authors of the paper said it was withdrawn because it “was not supported by direct proofs.”
That comment was an understatement. I managed to get hold of, and read the paper, which is a very short one of 681 words, shorter than this column.
It reads like hurriedly rushed paper, not at all a scientific paper. All it said was that the kind of bats (horseshoe bats) that is suspected to be the source of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV 2), which causes Covid-19, were also in two laboratories for research purposes, which were near the Wuhan market. The researchers though simply relied on reports of the two laboratories, that they routinely had horseshoe bats for their studies. They didn’t undertake such scientific studies as actually extracting the coronavirus from the bats in the laboratories.
The authors themselves emphasized their speculation: “A direct speculation (sic) is that SARS-CoV or its derivative might leak from the laboratory.” It recommended: “Safety level may need to be reinforced in high-risk biohazardous laboratories. Regulations may be taken to relocate these laboratories far away from city center and other densely populated places.”
The episode is a classic instance of spinning a report (or an event) to be a propaganda weapon.
The Chinese article was titled “The possible origins of 2019-nCoV coronavirus,” which speculated that there may have been an accidental dispersal of the virus from bats being studied in labs near the Wuhan market.
The China basher Mosher however titled his piece “Disappeared Chinese research paper traced Covid-19 to China biolab in Wuhan.” The implicit message: The Chinese with its biolab created the virus as a weapon, and that it censored a scientific study that reported this.
Then another anti-China paper, the Inquirer, titles its piece based on Mosher’s blog, echoing its message: “Paper by Chinese scientists shows Covid-19 came from Wuhan biolab.”
Most Western newspapers ignored Mosher’s blog, as objective journalists would. What is worrying is that a veteran journalist like Zulueta wants the world to believe Mosher’s trash.
Zulueta’s responsibility in the Inquirer doesn’t even cover such hard news as the Covid-19 epidemic as he mostly edits articles in the newspaper’s soft news lifestyle section. His job description doesn’t even include writing articles, but merely editing them. That he took pains to write and publish Mosher’s garbage in the newspaper, even if only in its Lifestyle section, indicates that Zulueta has a deep anti-China worldview he wants to advance.
If such veteran and otherwise upright journalists as Zulueta are deep in their biases, using media for their own agendas, journalism in this country is going to the dogs. That’s very bad for democracy, and for our sanity.