Indulge yourself in a little alternative history.
Imagine that Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration-led effort to develop a Covid-19 vaccine, had been a bit speedier in its execution, so that instead of the final
trial results becoming known a week after the election, they had come a week before it.
Imagine that President Trump, hailing the most extraordinary scientific success by a government-led effort since the Manhattan Project, had won rather than lost a close election.
Neither idea is fanciful. So ask yourself: How would the media have covered the vaccination rollout over the ensuing months?
Given that a vaccine had been rushed out in record time, beating all previous vaccine developments by years, and by a Trump administration that was routinely accused by the media of political malpractice, my guess is that vaccine skepticism would have been commonplace among those editors and commentators who solemnly insist today they are guided entirely by the science.
The same people who are now telling us that only Republican-voting obscurantists, ignorant deplorables and knavish right-wing media pundits are raising doubts about the vaccine would have been oozing skepticism. Vast investigative teams would have been established by leading news organizations to track down every blood clot, fainting fit and sore arm in the nation in an attempt to demonstrate that this unapproved experimental vaccine, promoted by Mr. Trump and developed by profiteering Big Pharma, was ineffective and perhaps responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans.
You don’t even need a leap of the imagination to conjure such a scenario. Speaking last September, Democratic vice presidential nominee
told CNN she wouldn’t trust a vaccine made available in those circumstance:
“He’s looking at an election coming up in less than 60 days, and he’s grasping to get whatever he can to pretend he has been a leader on this issue when he is not.”
So let’s hear less condemnation of the vaccine skeptics from a media that, far from faithfully following the science, in fact picks and chooses the science that suits its partisan and ideological bent.
After four years of being spun fictions by the media about Russian collusion, peaceful riots, systemic racism, and Republican states that were mass-slaughtering their residents by resisting lockdowns, it’s small wonder that tens of millions of Americans now resist being told that this time they really must believe them.
And when the government itself has belatedly acknowledged that it misled the public over critical issues such as the efficacy of mask-wearing and the level at which we might have community-wide immunity to the pandemic, it’s unsurprising that many people simply conclude the government is telling them only what it finds convenient to tell.
But—and it’s a mighty but—while it is increasingly evident that science has been manipulated and presented in ways that either side thinks convenient, that doesn’t indict the science itself.
The vaccine that the Trump administration worked feverishly to help develop is the same vaccine that is now regarded by many conservatives and Trump supporters as some evil plot by the Biden administration to compel subservience. A medication doesn’t change its function when the occupant of the White House changes. The overwhelming evidence is that the various vaccines authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration are safe and effective.
You don’t have to take my word for it. If thousands of people were dying from the vaccine, the evidence would be piling up in hospitals and morgues. In April the FDA suspended distribution of the
Johnson & Johnson
vaccine after six people out of almost seven million who had received the shot developed blood clots. Yet we are asked to believe that governments around the world are somehow colluding to cover up tens of thousands of deaths.
The case for getting as many people vaccinated as possible is unanswerable and shouldn’t be demonized by politics or personality. The Biden administration’s plan to have officials go door to door to encourage vaccine take-up is a prime example. It’s a not-especially-clever proposal to try to identify those who have not been vaccinated and encourage them to do so. But it’s absurd to portray it, as some have, as an image of jackbooted officials, armed with syringes, knocking down doors at 4 a.m. to stick their doses of the “Fauci ouchie” into the arms of helpless Americans.
The corporate media have manipulated science and data for their own purpose, and millions of Americans understandably no longer trust them. The way for conservatives to respond is not to twist science and data for their own purposes, but to restore them to their proper place.
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