The make-believe quality of the American power structure is flickering like a frayed copy of a third-run movie, but still seems to be fooling most of the people at least part of the time. President Joseph Biden resembles a distant, ceremonial figure like the King of Thailand—or perhaps Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI: someone who must be heard but not really listened to.
Last week, Biden exited an ice-cream shop, decked in his trademark aviator shades, holding a cone. A small crowd, composed mostly of fans, oohed and ahhed his appearance. “We are so excited about what you are doing for the country,” one enthusiast gushed. “Well, thank you,” responded the President.
A reporter called out, “Mr. President, what did you order?” Biden gestured with his cone and answered, “Chocolate chocolate chip,” to gasps of wonderment and approval, the way benevolent aunts might applaud a 3-year old who has buttoned his pants correctly. The reporter followed up her initial salvo by asking what Biden would say to Republicans who were blocking the establishment of a commission to investigate the disorder at the Capitol on January 6. “Eat some chocolate chocolate chip,” he riposted.
For decades, Newseum-level media analysts have gravely discussed the way that the White House press corps, in the days of FDR and JFK, was supine and compliant. Reporters used to help the White House hide the fact that FDR was crippled, and that JFK had extramarital dalliances. But during the Vietnam War and Nixon’s depredations at Watergate, we were told, the press embraced its muckraking, obstreperous legacy, and went after entrenched power like starving ferrets. During the Trump years in particular, reporters fearlessly took on the autocratic fascist, ruthlessly calling him out on his lies, prevarications, and scarcely concealed high signs to his Klansman supporters.
So what happening now? Is the press corps still fighting to afflict the comfortable? Or are they taking a well-deserved break?
The release of the emails of Anthony Fauci (“Dr. Fauci”) has further frayed the edges of the standard narrative, especially following the general acknowledgement that the novel coronavirus almost certainly did emerge from the lab in Wuhan that conducted advanced research into bat viruses, contradicting 18 months of fevered insistences that the virus appeared “naturally.”
Even speaking as a non-scientist and just as someone who reads newspapers, the massive effort by the media and other servants of power to pretend that the virus emerged out of a batcave seemed absurd and coordinated from the beginning. As early as February or March 2000, I recall reading that there was a major virology lab a few hundred yards from the “wet market” that was first identified as the source of initial contagion. Wasn’t this coincidence worthy of investigation?
Instead, we were subject to constant insistences that the lab-leak hypothesis was a racist “conspiracy theory” that Trump was using to deflect attention away from the 500,000 people he had murdered through denial and mismanagement of the pandemic response. Not too long ago we were informed that the Chinese claim that the virus came from meat imported into China from abroad—possibly from America—was credible. “Who knows?!” became the correct response.
The real story apparently was too hot to keep covered up forever, and seems to be leaking out slowly. Eventually we may know the truth. Meanwhile, Dr. Fauci still has his job, and Joe Biden laps contentedly at his ice cream.