SocraticGadfly: Coronavirus week 60A: Fauci emails takes dissolve into tribalist twosiderism

June 03, 2021

Coronavirus week 60A: Fauci emails takes dissolve into tribalist twosiderism

I didn't include the word "duopoly," because there are Greens I know who go beyond COVID minimalism to be Plandemic types (one claming the US invented it at Fort Detrick), and L/libertarians like Greenwald rejecting public health measures even if not technically COVID minimalists or worse.

That said, the tribalist twosiderism over Anthony Fauci's emails somewhat follows duopoly lines.

Those not pulling a Rip Van Winkle know Fauci's been busted for telling his Platonic Noble Lies in private emails as well as in public. Busted along with him are BuzzFeed and Jason Leopold for fellating him and #BlueAnon for doing the same. Fortunately, the whole cache of emails is online, for people want to read on their own. (LOTS are totally mundane.)

But not all are totally mundane. Regarding the Platonic Noble Lie(s)?

The goods are there:

As I've noted before and elsewhere, by the start of March 2020, if not in late February, people like Zeynep Tufekci were calling out Fauci, or beyond or instead of calling him out by name, insisting that masks really did offer at least some degree of help both ways — protecting others from ourselves AND protecting ourselves from others.

In addition, his last line? In February, 2020, we had NO idea when vaccines might be available, and without them, all that meant was more stringent social distancing when diagnostics said so. AND, Fauci knew that.

Fauci also stands busted for lies, lies by omission and lies by redefinition about his agency and others helping the Wuhan Institute of Virology in "gain of function" research on coronaviruses. This busting also applies to the fellow travelers above.

Finally, as with his original Platonic Noble Lie, and his follow-up Noble Lie on population percentages for herd immunity, on his emails as well, St. Anthony of Fauci is unapologetic. He claims the outrage is all Republican and all anti-science. Tell that to the likes of me and Teynep Tufekci.

Or have your toady, Kristen Andersen, tell them that after his lying on your behalf on viral engineering. Per that piece, Andersen lamely claims that "new evidence" arose between his email to Fauci and one to the Lancet which squashed, for public consumption, the lab leak idea like a bug. Jaime Metzl, who used to work for President Clinton, so not a wingnut, asked, how much new info could arise in four days. (Jaime, also try THIS on size: Times Higher Ed reports that critics claim Lancet, and other journals with the same take, had potential conflicts of interest.)

At the same time wingnuts have ignored that, in some cases, lab-leak theories WERE combined with weaponization theories 14-15 months ago. Among them? Trump's own Mike Pompeo-led state department, which claimed, per that link, that WIV was working with the Chinese military.

That said, Jonathan Cook at Counterpunch himself stereotypes and has one foot in the line of being a fellow traveler with wingers on this issue. Not all media of the so-called "mainstream" type totally dismissed the possibility of a lab leak. I personally entertained it in the back of my mind, if but a small segment. I long have thought China lied about COVID fatalities.

Cook also ignores that some of the non-mainstream media who were making lab leak claims, or worse, did so for their own ends. Far-right media wanted to lash China; some even said WIV also had secret labs looking at weaponization; note the link above. "Greenie" sites opposing ANY genetic engineering work also jumped on the bandwagon. That includes some who have linked Nicholas Wade's piece. (Cook also ignores Wade's OWN problematic background — he's a Charles Murray fellow traveler on racialism issues — as part of why more "mainstream" media may not have listened to him.) Wade himself errs when he claims all early lab leak talk focused on accident, not conspiracy. He also semi-strawmans the likes of Kristian Anderson with her two issues with the virus that she said more likely reflected natural origin rather than engineering. I'm not a virologist or any Ph.D. scientist, but I don't think I'm Dunning-Kruger worlding when I claim more scientific expertise than 95 percent of laypersons. And, with that, I don't feel I'm off the mark in saying Wade is semi-strawmanning. I don't think it's quite full strawmanning, but I'm comfortable saying "semi-strawmanning."

Meanwhile, as I speak, other wingers, like James Freeman at the Wall Street Journal, use the emails to once again push COVID minimalism, as he does in talking about "questionable public-health benefits" from a so-called "shutdown" that no, we didn't actually have.

That said, is a leak plausible? Sure, says former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, by far the straightest shooter of any senior official within the Trump Administration at any time. He cites lab leaks in the US, even as Pro Publica talked last August about coronavirus leaks in North Carolina. And, to square a circle? Shi Zhengli of WIV has connections to that lab, via the controversial Peter Daszak.

THAT said, does Fauci come off as oleaginous (so much richer than plain old "oily" and not the same as "obsequious")? Yes. In spades.

As I told Freeman on Twitter after calling him out as a tribalist twosider, people from me to Zeynep Tufekci have long had problems with Fauci AND long realized the seriousness of COVID.

And, by apparently providing cover for Peter Daszak, to the point of taking a narrow definition of "gain of function," even more than his lies on masks, Fauci has undermined his scientific credibility. (I'm not a virologist, but with modern computer modeling tools, it's probably fairly easy to do gain of function work on how viruses affect other animals, then, working off what's known about how the original virus affects humans, do computer modeling to extrapolate the gain of function of the modified virus in bats or whatever to humans.)

Jason Leopold at ButtFeet played not only right into the twosiderism, but helped confirm for Cook ideas of a semi-conspiracy among the mainstream media, which Freemen then was only two willing to pick up on in the case of ButtFeet's hagiography of Fauci.

And, just as Snopes claimed Fauci's original Platonic lie was "outdated," not false, that is, a lie as it actually was, Leopold is playing right into the hands of wingnuts and wingnut fellow travelers like Glenn Greenwald on this issue, about how the "mainstream media" continues to be biased on this story. (Shit like this was part of why I yanked Snopes off my links list long ago.)

Leopold also contributes to letting the wingers, COVID minimalists of all stripes, etc., quote Fauci against Fauci, too. 

USA Today, as I said in a series of Tweets, has a piece that is somewhat better than ButtFeet, but that's a low bar.

In the last of those Tweets, I also tagged Jay Rosen, and said that much of this smacks of "he said she said" journalism he rightly laments, but with "he said" and "she said" in two different journalism orbits altogether.

Politico now notes wingnut politicians are money-raising off the emails, but also endorses Fauci's telling of his Platonic Noble Lie.

Orac, who I generally find insightful, but have called out before, like over James Randi, and, re this issue, for giving St. Anthony of Fauci a pass on his Platonic Noble Lie on masks, is getting another call-out for saying the lab leak is fast becoming a conspiracy theory. It may be, but when he overstates the degree of certainty of the "natural" side, he's contributing to the problem. I mentioned Gottlieb and Pro Publica in commenting. I also mentioned that he hadn't mentioned the Fauci-Andersen conversation. Orac partially redeems himself by quoting Michael Hiltzik, who notes we still don't know the animal origin of Ebola. On the other hand, we know that West African countries don't have anything like the WIV, either. And, we do have pretty solid ground for knowing China lied about COVID morbidity.

On the other side within the other side, Orac does offer up some goods on Nicholas Wade being less than fully accurate on some things, to say the least. He also wonders why it's in the Bulletin rather than a biotech or biology journal. He does NOT wonder if maybe that's because some "circle the wagons" is going on, per the Lancet 14-15 months ago. He also ignores that the Bulletin runs lots of material on the politicization of science, and has run a LOT of stuff being open to the lab leak theory.

On the third side within his other side, Orac notes Chinese obstructionism but says that "for an authoritarian regime, China appears to have actually cooperated more than you might imagine." That is itself a matter of opinion, and it's also handwaving about just how much obstructionism China actually did. Given internal cover-ups as well as obstructionism, it's risible on Orac's part, really.

On the fourth hand, he's right that the US would likely have done no better.

On the fifth hand of Orac, that still doesn't excuse Beijing. Nor Fauci. Nor does it answer just how much or how little gain of function research we should be doing in such instances.

On the sixth hand, Orac responded when I posted this link. He went down the road of credentialism, then focused on Gottlieb currently being fellow travelers with the likes of Daily Caller (arguably a logical fallacy, unless Gottlieb does it on other issues), then goes back to credentialism, all while ignoring the Pro Publica piece, the Fauci-Andersen conversation and the substance of what Gottlieb said.

On the seventh hand, he (and fellow travelers at NECSS) have evidenced tribalism and twosiderism before! I forgot about John Horgan calling him out, and them, five years ago, and that I blogged about that. What Orac in his insolence really hated was getting called out by someone at his pay and fame grade, as I see it. (I also wonder how much both Orac and Steve Novella, per that link, disliked Horgan's comments not on skepticism, but on fee-for-service medicine. Orac strikes me as a mainstream neolib Democrat type who at a minimum isn't highly favorable to single-payer national health care.)

On the seventh hand, part two: Per Horgan, and contra Orac, the asshole wasn't Horgan. Besides Orac and Novella, it was first Jamy Ian Swiss. That said, for not having a single word of praise, Orac and Novella are assholes themselves. I might wind up writing something just about Orac at some point!

On the seventh hand, part three: The likes of Orac, though not a lot himself personally (rather, Shermer, Randi, philosophy-hating Barbara Drescher and philosophy-minimalizing mild Daniel Loxton) are part of why I don't call myself a skeptic any more, and haven't for five years, like Massimo — at least not without the word "philosophy" or "philosophical" attached. (I suspect that Orac's probably not big on philosophy, either.)

Enough Orac, before I do write something just about him.

On the other side, and pretending to be on a third side, is Leighton Akira Woodhouse. He talks about "the new clerisy," but goes beyond challenging the St. Anthony of Fauci cult to touting COVID quackery, namely ivermectin, and doing so with a podcast by Intellectual Dark Web guy Bret Weinstein, hosting Pierre Kory, a known COVID quack on this issue. Woodhouse also follows Bari Weiss' Substack and has some ties to Glennwald, making him further suspect in my eyes.

On the BlueAnon side, Nautilus gives Tom Levenson room to gaslight at the end of his piece, by claiming that a "weaponization" story is the only version of the lab-leak hypothesis. That's in the context of a complete last paragraph that's tribalist and twosiderist. I may de-blogroll Nautilus; this is the most problematic of several problematic pieces of the last several months. (Levenson has responded on Twitter saying that any gaslighting isn't on his end.)

And, such it is. I told him back he was guilty of that, along with twosiderism and tribalism in his last paragraph, which deserves a quote.

Until and unless the coverage reaches that level of depth and rigor, then the current reanimation of this particular weaponized origin story is just a distraction from the scandal and tragedy we do know occurred: That through much of 2020, President Trump, his administration, and other Republican officials botched the U.S. response to the pandemic, leading directly to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans who would otherwise be alive.

The gaslighting part is the "weaponization," framing the discussion as if that's been the only version of the leak theory out there. It wasn't so 14 months ago, as Mr. Neoliberal Obamiac, Jon Chait, has noted. The tribalism and twosiderism should be obvious. On the other hand, over the past few years, Nautilus has had several good items that I've blogged about. Anyway, I said goodbye to Levenson in one of the two social media ways that Twitter offers. Hucksterman Central, Disqus, et al continue to fail on that, so I treat every problem as a nail to use their single-tool hammer on.

Or, will Orac and BlueAnon say that WHO's Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus, who said in March a lab leak was a possibility, is part of a conspiracy theory or a crank?

Supporting the natural angle? Chinese scientists claim to have found a new strain of coronavirus in bats similar to COVID-19 in humans. Sounds good; will you be letting WHO et al look at this?

So much of this reeks to high heaven. That includes most people who are decrying tribalism are themselves engaging in it.

As I've said before, if Fauci had any ethics, he'd resign. But, I more and more question just how much or how little ethics he has. I don't question how much of a bureaucrat he is. Nor how much, within being a bureaucrat, he exemplifies Lord Acton's famous dictum. I also don't think his resignation would satisfy conspiracy theorists, while I think it would make the BlueAnon second side even more tribalist itself.

Remember that in the early days of the pandemic, N.Y. Governor Andrew Cuomo as heroic, hardworking, etc. Eventually, he fell from his #BlueAnon perch after it was realized he'd screwed the pooch on cracking and packing nursing homes — not to mention his attempts to screw other pooches. Yet, somehow, folks like Levenson manage to overlook that. They "manage" to tout the likes of Rebekah Jones, despite her promoting both misinformation and conspiracy theory to frame that misinformation.

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