In both journalism and policymaking — if not always in politics, or in the sordid world o f score-settling by unemployed, second-rate apparatchiks — facts matter, and intellectual integrity matters. In light of the remarkable quantity of errant nonsense that has been written in the last couple of weeks about squabbles inside the U.S. State Department about how to look into the origins of SARS-CoV-2 in the closing weeks of the Trump Administration, I hope this open letter will help set the record straight for those who still care about things such as facts.
I write this because, to put it bluntly, I’m tired of being the butt of stupid and paranoid conspiracy theories being promulgated by those who know better. I recognize that some of these conspiracy narratives are, for any thoughtful person, self-refuting even on their face. (As someone who has been warning the policy community since at least 2007 about threats to the United States and the democratic world from the Chinese Communist Party’s geopolitical ambitions — including in two scholarly books and scores of articles and speeches, including in official capacity at the State Department — have I been “protecting” the Chinese Communist Party from accountability? Good grief.)
Nevertheless, I’ve been around politics long enough to know that an imbecility that slots into a convenient narrative beats an awkward fact any day, and manic performative outrage is much more fun than sober analysis. So perhaps offering clarity here won’t change a thing. Yet I’m still going to try.