China bears unique responsibility for the spread of COVID-19.
When the virus hit in December, China went as far as to destroy evidence of its existence, the U.K. Times reported. When that didn’t work, the Beijing government engaged in a campaign of dissembling and denial.
As Jim Geraghty noted at National Review, doctors who talked about it were silenced. Authorities said it couldn’t spread between humans when they knew otherwise. Chinese President Xi Jinping knew about the disease for two weeks before he said anything about it.
Now, at least one top Chinese official has spread a popular conspiracy theory that the U.S. military brought the virus to Wuhan.
But please, as people die, let’s talk about whether or not it’s “xenophobic” to ascribe any sort of geographic location to the disease — in particular, when President Donald Trump or others call it the “China virus.” And let’s talk about it at a network that once called it the “Chinese coronavirus” and “Wuhan coronavirus.”
This was the headline on a CNN commentary Wednesday: “Trump’s malicious use of ‘Chinese virus.'”
“When Donald Trump wants to rally his base and distract from his many screw-ups, he falls back on one thing: xenophobic racism,” author Jill Filipovic wrote.
She went on to quote a colleague who said a member of the Trump administration called it the “Kung Flu.” But she pointed the biggest finger at the president.
“Trump himself sent out a tweet Monday calling Covid-19 ‘the Chinese virus,’ and then repeated it Wednesday as he began a televised news conference in which he invoked the Defense Production Act. It’s an intentional bit of provocation and racism that evokes the turn-of-the-century ‘yellow peril,’ when Americans and Europeans fear-mongered about allegedly dangerous East Asians.”
“When there’s a lack of information, you understand why everyday people grasp at the nearest possible explanation. But the President of the United States? There’s no excuse,” she continued. “The President’s indirection and obfuscation in the face of scientific evidence has put citizens at risk, as he invites them to think of the disease as ‘Chinese’ and not a wholly American crisis sweeping our nation.”
That’s pretty damning stuff. Filipovic wasn’t alone, but this was certainly one of the most virulent pieces of invective.
At a Wednesday news conference, Trump said he called the coronavirus the “Chinese virus” because “it comes from China. It’s not racist at all, no, not at all. It comes from China, that’s why. I want to be accurate,” he said.
Then Trump mentioned what’s likely the real angle, the fact some in China are suggesting America was responsible for introducing it: “I have great love for all of the people from our country, but as you know, China tried to say at one point… that it was caused by American soldiers. That can’t happen, it’s not gonna happen, not as long as I’m president. It comes from China.”
An individual at the briefing pressed Trump about the appellation, noting bias incidents that have been reported against Asian-Americans.
But if the name incites bias, then CNN ought to consider itself extraordinarily guilty.
On Jan. 20, as COVID-19 was first coming into public consciousness, CNN published a primer on it that was updated just last month. It didn’t take the article four words to get into xenophobia — at least as Filipovic would apparently consider it.
“A new Chinese coronavirus, a cousin of the SARS virus, has infected hundreds since the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December,” the article read. “Scientist Leo Poon, who first decoded the virus, thinks it likely started in an animal and spread to humans.”
Third paragraph: “It’s not clear how deadly the Wuhan coronavirus will be, but fatality rates are currently lower than both MERS and SARS. Experts stress that it will change as the outbreak develops.”
It was called the “Wuhan coronavirus” no less than eight times in the article. The article’s been revised. Shockingly, the phrasing is still in there.
Oh, and here’s conservative commentator Larry Elder calling out CNN’s racism hypocrisy on Twitter:
— Larry Elder (@larryelder) March 19, 2020
So when is attaching a location or nationality to a virus racist? When the president does it, of course. While CNN published this article in January, it’s almost impossible for terms to become explicitly racist in two months. It meant then what it means now.
Should someone be calling it “Kung Flu,” if indeed reports are accurate?
That’s probably not a racially loaded joke you want to crack, given the sensitivity of the situation. But still, it’s a long jump from a bad attempt at humor someone probably shouldn’t have made to accusing the president of inviting citizens “to think of the disease as ‘Chinese’ and not a wholly American crisis sweeping our nation” and implying that the president (and by association, anyone who makes common cause with him) are involved in “xenophobic racism.”
Granted, that’s an opinion piece, but the tone of CNN’s coverage has been one of disapproval whenever the president says “Chinese virus.” They know the reason he’s saying it — even The New York Times is reporting that certain voices of Chinese officialdom, arguably the more unhinged ones, are trying to push the narrative that the United States infected China first — and yet that gets downplayed by Jeff Zucker’s network.
The message is also clear: This has nothing to do with Chinese individuals, in China or the United States. This is about the Beijing government, something that ought to be clear in context to everyone paying attention. The kind of backward human detritus that would commit bias incidents against Asian-Americans because of a virus is the kind of carbon-waster that needs no encouragement from anyone.
“China virus,” “China coronavirus,” “Wuhan coronavirus,” etc. — none of these were racist before a very certain someone in the Oval Office whom CNN dislikes uttered the two-word construction.
If that’s the case, CNN has the obligation to scrub its website of the blight that is coronavirus bigotry, then to apologize just as vigorously. Their concern in this matter, alas, seems more centered on a certain individual than on an offensive term.
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