Fox News host Tucker Carlson wants his Facebook clicks. But after Facebook attached a “False Information” label to a video from his Tuesday night program, Carlson went off on the social media colossus on Wednesday night: “Diversity of view: Facebook doesn’t believe this. They believe in censorship."

At issue was a Tuesday segment that the host allowed to drift out of control. A guest on the program, Chinese virologist Li-Meng Yan, claimed that China had created SARS-CoV-2 — the coronavirus that causes covid-19 — to wreak “damage,” a striking conclusion that had already met with a great deal of scientific refutation. Carlson appeared taken aback by the claim: “What you’re alleging is shocking — more even than I anticipated when we invited you on,” said Carlson.

As the discussion wound down, Carlson confessed to Yan that he lacked the “grounding” to properly explore her findings. Though he refrained from endorsing her claims, he sure did wink at them. “You know, it’s hard to be shocked in a moment like this, but you’ve succeeded in shocking me,” he said.

The upshot? Carlson couldn’t vouch for the incendiary words of a guest that he’d invited to appear on his show. Yet, when Facebook looked at the same material, and reached a similar conclusion — well, that was an outrage worthy of a stern and crinkle-lipped Tucker Carlson tirade. “Facebook suppressed the video, presumably on behalf of the Chinese government,” Carlson ranted, without supplying evidence. “Facebook executives made it harder for users to watch our segment.” (Facebook provided links to earlier fact-checks on the topic).

Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, took similar precautions regarding the “Tucker Carlson Tonight” video. Funny how organizations outside of Fox News don’t share the same wobbly standards as Fox News.

Discussion of the SARS-CoV-2 origin story is a pandemic-long drama, and the idea that China was behind it has circulated now and again. But a study published by Nature in March concluded that it’s “improbable that SARS-CoV-2 emerged through laboratory manipulation of a related SARS-CoV-like coronavirus.” Also in March, the Lancet published a letter smacking down “conspiracy theories suggesting that covid-19 does not have a natural origin. Scientists from multiple countries have published and analyzed genomes of the causative agent, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), and they overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife.” The Office of the Director of National Intelligence in April issued a statement supporting that consensus.

The point of all this background? When Carlson invited Yan to appear on his show, they were challenging a hardened scientific consensus on SARS-CoV-2. A news program would, accordingly, lay out the prevailing view and walk viewers carefully through the contrary allegations, complete with the views of other virologists and detailed explanations of the science. Instead, Carlson allowed Yan to state her case, which included statements like this one: “So, together with my experience, I can tell you, this is created in the lab. This is from that template owned by [the Chinese] military and also, it was spread to the world to make such damage.”

And then the host quit. “Unfortunately, this is not the forum for the details of your research,” said Carlson in a stunning abdication. “I don’t have the grounding necessary to ask you the right questions.” Then he provided an admission that “Tucker Carlson Tonight” shouldn’t be trusted with important issues: “This is when you wish for a functioning media because what you just said completely changes everything we think we know about the pandemic that’s wrecking our country. So I really hope, sincerely, that you will be doing many interviews in American media and explaining this in much greater detail.”

For context, Carlson welcomed Marc Siegel, a Fox News medical contributor, who declared that he was “skeptical” of the claims but lauded the credentials of Yan, who is a former postdoctoral fellow at the University of Hong Kong. The Erik Wemple Blog asked Fox News about Carlson’s preparations for the show; we’ll update with any response.

Viewers of Carlson’s show surely weren’t surprised by Yan’s appearance, considering that the host has steadily pushed the coronavirus lab angle from the early months of the pandemic. “Now more than ever, we believe it is worth knowing where this disease came from. That ought to be the first question,” said Carlson on Wednesday night in a rare flicker of lucidity. Clearly, there are compelling reasons to know this stuff. As Alex Berenson, the former New York Times reporter and critic of mainstream-media covid-19 coverage told this blog, there are several reasons for such inquiry, one of them being that “China is an increasingly powerful and aggressive actor worldwide — if it is allowed to stonewall in an issue this important it will only become more brazen.”

Too bad Carlson isn’t up to the job of leading such an inquiry. Among the data points omitted from his Tuesday night presentation was that, as the Daily Beast reported, Yan’s study is the work of the Rule of Law Society and the Rule of Law Foundation, nonprofit organizations linked to Stephen K. Bannon, a former presidential adviser and prominent China basher. Bannon was charged in August with fraud stemming from an alleged scheme to siphon donor money solicited to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Also: Yan’s former employer disputes her version of events.

One of Carlson’s on-air tricks is to meld current events with his command of history. In his rant about Facebook’s alleged censorship, for instance, he made this association: “Censorship does not make us wiser. It does not make us better informed. If it did, we’d be speaking Russian right now. The Soviet Union would run the world; it would have worked. But, instead, the Soviet Union is extinct. It collapsed under the weight of its own absurdities, absurdities abetted by censorship,” he said, working up to this point: “And that’s the most basic lesson of dictatorships, all of them. Anything built on lies falls apart over time.”

Except that’s not true anymore. Lies are working well these days, thanks to all the soft places they have to lay their eggs. As proof, we have Donald Trump, whose lies during the 2016 presidential campaign secured an electoral college victory. We have QAnon, the vile conspiracy-theory community knocking on the door of Congress. And we have “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” a program so stocked with deception and misdirection that it racked up the biggest ratings numbers in cable-news history earlier this year.

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