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You're hearing an awful lot of statistics about disease recently. And a lot are interesting and somewhat revealing.
But maybe the most consistent headline in our news media recently has been this one: America has more infections and more deaths than China has.
"The U.S. now leads the world and confirmed coronavirus cases," The New York Times" proclaimed. "Following a series of missteps, the nation is now the epicenter of the pandemic."
The paper went on to contrast the inept leadership of American officials in the face of crisis, namely Donald Trump, with the swift and effective action of the Chinese Communist Party. In other words, the virus may have come from China, but they got it under control quickly. We have it. That was the message.
It wasn't simply the message of The New York Times. You saw pretty much the same story everywhere last week and always with the same theme: China has got this under control, we don't. So as a public relations matter, this was a major win for the Chinese government, and that's not a small thing right now.
When this pandemic finally recedes, the global order likely will be reset. Up for grabs will be control of the world -- international financial systems, trade agreements, military alliances, shipping lanes. China would like to run all of it.
But at this point, it's not a prize the Chinese can take by force. They've got to make the case to the rest of the world, and that's exactly what they're doing now. We are competent, they are saying. They are buffoons. The numbers prove it. Time to knock America from its perch. That's the message from the Chinese government. That's what they're saying.
What's striking is how many in the West are helping them say it. At 10:00 a.m., on January 23rd, Chinese authorities locked down the city of Wuhan, site, of course, of the first coronavirus outbreak. But by then it was too late. And then an estimated five million residents of Wuhan had already fled the city and dispersed around the world. In many cases, they brought the disease with them.
Within days, it was clear to anyone who was paying attention that the duplicity and the criminal incompetence of the Chinese government was likely going to kill a lot of people. Yet, the World Health Organization took the opposite view.
On February 3rd, the director-general of WHO announced that China was doing the best imaginable job fighting coronavirus.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO: During my visit to Beijing last week, I was so impressed in my meeting with President Xi and his detailed knowledge of the outbreak and for his personal leadership.
And if it weren't for China's efforts, the number of cases outside China would have been very much higher.
There is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade.
"China is doing a great job." The messaging continued like that for weeks.
As the pandemic was building and spreading across the world, the World Health Organization busied itself casting China as the hero of the story. If it weren't for the efforts of the Chinese government, many more would die.
The Chinese government sees this moment as a battle in the struggle for control of the world. They're not distracted by impeachment or debates over pronouns. They think in sweeping terms. That's their advantage. It could be our undoing
Just six weeks later, as if by magic, China declared victory over the epidemic. And not surprisingly, the director of the World Health Organization was there to celebrate and to amplify the message.
Adhanom Ghebreyesus: Of course, we have good, good news today. Yesterday, Wuhan reported no new cases for the first time since the outbreak started.
Wuhan provides hope for the rest of the world that even the most severe situation can be turned around.
Wuhan is the hope of the world, he said.
The American media seemed highly impressed by this. They repeated China's message without skepticism and without independent verification.
On March 18th, Bloomberg News announced that China's virus cases reached zero. The Global Times, the Chinese government's approved mouthpiece, contrasted the Chinese miracle with the American disaster. "U.S. cities such as New York are now the most risky places in the world," the paper tweeted on March 24th.
For mindless partisans in the American media, this was an irresistible story, especially seven months before a presidential election. So, they gleefully climbed aboard.
Unidentified TV narrator: As the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc around the world, the U.S. has now overtaken every other country to become the first country to report more than 100,000 confirmed cases, surpassing China and Italy in the most perverse possible version of Trump's signature slogan, "America First."
Got that? Trump is bad. Trump runs America. America's humiliation must be good. That's the review.
Has there ever been a media establishment easier to control than ours? They lost their ability to think clearly years ago. It's all reflex now. Whatever Donald Trump is for, they're against. They're like dogs -- cook a cheeseburger and they drool. They can't help themselves.
Lost in this very familiar cycle was any discussion of whether or not China's much-touted health numbers are real. And the short answer is no, they are not real. Like so much that comes out of China, from vinyl handbags to official Human Rights reports, they are fake.
The question is, how fake are they? And that's not clear. Since January, Chinese media have been under tighter than usual government controls, and that's saying something. Journalists have been arrested. Social media platforms have been scrubbed. We don't have a lot of reliable information about what is happening there.
We do know that totalitarian governments are far more efficient as controlling populations than unruly democracies like ours. Once quarantine began in Wuhan, for example, there were reports of police locking entire families in their apartments from the outside, only to be discovered dead -- all of them -- weeks later.
Tactics like that will definitely slow the spread of an epidemic but by how much? That's the question. So let's use commonsense for a moment.
Roughly five million people fled the city of Wuhan in January. China allowed them -- all of them -- to travel all over the world, where they turned an outbreak into a global pandemic. That happened. And yet somehow, China claims, almost none of these people traveled to the biggest cities in their country and spread the disease there. That's their position.
A story in Chinese state media last Thursday, for example, claimed there was only one new case of coronavirus in the capital city, Beijing. The infected patient, the press release said, came from the United States, not from China.
Overall, the report claimed only 416 people in Beijing had been infected domestically. Of those, 394 had already been released from medical care. In other words, in a city of 22 million people, there are only 22 hospital patients in Beijing who contracted the coronavirus in China, the country where it started.
So literally one out of every million people. Is that believable? Western media outlets believed it. They repeated that claim as fact.
The Chinese government clearly knew better than that. The very next day, China closed every movie theater in the country. This Monday, two days ago, authorities in Shanghai shut down the city's two most popular tourist attractions, the Shanghai Tower and the Oriental Pearl Tower, for an indefinite period. That is not the behavior of a government that believes it has tamed the outbreak. No. It's an expression of fear.
The rest of us should be afraid, too. China is the largest country in the world. When the Chinese distort critical datasets -- like how many people are infected or how many are dying -- that directly affects how every other country in the world responds to the disease.
We may have wasted months assuming things about the coronavirus that were not true. There's a big cost to that. But more broadly, we should be worried about what comes after this.
The Chinese government sees this moment as a battle in the struggle for control of the world. They're not distracted by impeachment or debates over pronouns. They think in sweeping terms. That's their advantage. It could be our undoing.
This is a propaganda war with historic long-term consequences. And so far, we are losing badly.
Adapted from Tucker Carlson's monologue from "Tucker Carlson Tonight" on April 1, 2020.