Covid and the New Age of Censorship

It doesn’t promote public health when media and tech companies stifle scientific debate.

Originally published at the Wall Street Journal.

Amazon has said earlier that “as a bookseller, we believe that providing access to the written word is important, including books that some may find objectionable.” The company sells “Mein Kampf” and “The Anarchist’s Cookbook.” But when it comes to Covid, Amazon has a different standard. At least half a dozen other authors have emailed me that their books have been pulled. Amazon won’t disclose how many, or other details about how it picks books to censor.

Google-owned YouTube censors even more aggressively. The company disclosed in October that it had pulled more than 200,000 videos about the epidemic—including one from Scott Atlas, a physician who was advising President Trump. Facebook has not only censored videos and attached warning labels or “fact checks” to news articles, but removed groups that oppose lockdowns and other restrictions. 

That online entertainment and retail companies have benefited financially from lockdowns adds to the ugliness of their suppression efforts. Interestingly, Apple—whose mobile business means it gains less than other big tech companies—has been less aggressive.

Tech companies aren’t alone in their efforts to stifle debate. Traditional news outlets, book publishers and even scientific journals are reluctant to publish information that challenges ideological orthodoxies. The Danish authors of a study on whether masks protect their wearers from coronavirus struggled for months to get it published, despite its obvious public-health importance. When they finally convinced a journal to print the paper, which showed that masks didn’t appear to protect their wearers, the journal’s editor felt compelled to write a piece defending her decision to run it.

News organizations then treated the study’s findings with a skepticism absent from the coverage of most other peer-reviewed scientific research. A New York Times headline declared: “A New Study Questions Whether Masks Protect Wearers. You Need to Wear Them Anyway.” Newspapers are now in the business of ordering their readers around.

Outlets like the Times are increasingly unwilling even to ask ideologically inconvenient questions. Few acknowledge that top biologists are calling for an independent investigation into the possibility that Sars-Cov-2 is the product of a Chinese laboratory accident.

Although I was a reporter at the Times for a decade and I am no conservative, almost no one there spoke up for me when Amazon refused to publish my Covid booklets. Fortunately, business leaders like Elon Musk and independent-thinking media figures like Glenn Greenwald came to my defense. Amazon eventually relented. But many other people and ideas are still being suppressed.

The book business is also constrained. Even though my Covid booklets have sold almost a quarter-million copies, two mainstream publishers declined to make offers for a full-length book I am writing on the epidemic after saying they would. “You see what I mean about conservative imprints being some of the few places left truly interested in free speech,” an editor at one wrote. I’ll turn to a conservative publisher if that’s what it takes to be true to liberal principles.

Mr. Berenson is a former reporter for the New York Times and author of the “Unreported Truths” series about Covid.

Read more at Wall Street Journal.


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