It’s depressingly uncommon these days, but every now and again The New York Times pulls its head out of its own rear to do some excellent reporting. They were undoubtedly helped tremendously this time around by their partners at Pro Publica, but we’ll give credit where it’s due. Their new report about how China “stage-managed” news of the Wuhan Flu in the early days of the outbreak is a stunning window into just how badly the communists wanted to keep this disease a secret from the world.
According to the report, Chinese authorities used an “army of paid internet trolls” to control online news about the emerging pandemic. Worried that the death of a doctor who tried to alert the public to the contagious nature of the disease would wake people up to what was really happening, the Chinese government sent out an edict ordering “news websites not to issue push notifications alerting readers to his death.”
“They told social platforms to gradually remove his name from trending topics pages. And they activated legions of fake online commenters to flood social sites with distracting chatter, stressing the need for discretion,” the report continued.
“Though China makes no secret of its belief in rigid internet controls, the documents convey just how much behind-the-scenes effort is involved in maintaining a tight grip,” Pro Publica wrote. “It takes an enormous bureaucracy, armies of people, specialized technology made by private contractors, the constant monitoring of digital news outlets and social media platforms — and, presumably, lots of money.”
In remarks to the reporters, a research scientist said that China pulled out all the stops to confuse world leaders – including the World Health Organization – about the true nature of the virus.
“China has a politically weaponized system of censorship; it is refined, organized, coordinated, and supported by the state’s resources,” the scientist said. “It’s not just for deleting something. They also have a powerful apparatus to construct a narrative and aim it at any target with huge scale.”
It’s impossible to turn back the clock and run the tape a second time – such is the way of human affairs. There aren’t any do-overs. Therefore, we’ll never know for sure how the world might have been able to respond differently to this pandemic if China had been up front and honest from the beginning. For all we know, it may never have even become a pandemic.
One thing is for sure, though; we can never trust Xi Jinping or his Chinese Communist Party ever again. We’d like to think that our incoming president understands this, but we can already see that he does not. That’s unfortunate, because this is not a lesson we can afford to learn twice.