06 February 2020

Tencent Proves Legacy Media "Journalism" Not Worth A Dime

Mark Twain pithily observed in his autobiography that "there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." China's official reports on the 2019-nCoV coronavirus sweeping that country may very well be a combination of all three--and the legacy media is enabling Chinese mendacity at every turn.

As of this posting, the number of reported confirmed cases in China is 28,023, with 563 reported deaths. The vast majority of cases are in Wuhan, in Hubei Province, where the disease originated: 19,665 reported confirmed cases, and 549 deaths. There are nearly a thousand cases each in two of China's most economically important provinces, Zhejiang and Guangdong--and yet no reported deaths.

As disconcerting as these official numbers are, marking as they do the spread of the disease from just around 50 reported cases a little more than a month, there has been a persistent undercurrent of stories suggesting they are a fraud, and that the real numbers are far, far worse. This was made plain on February 5, when Taiwan News reported that Chinese social media giant Tencent's "Epidemic Situation Tracker" page had, on February 1, briefly showed statistics ten times the official reported numbers:
On late Saturday evening (Feb. 1), Tencent on its webpage titled "Epidemic Situation Tracker" which showed confirmed cases of novel coronavirus (2019nCoV) in China standing at 154,023, 10 times the official figure at the time. It listed the number of suspected cases as 79,808, four times the official figure. 
The number of cured cases was only 269, well below the official number that day of 300. Most ominously, the death toll listed was 24,589, vastly higher than the 300 officially listed that day.
Tencent Was Not The First Time

As frightening as the Tencent numbers were, they were not the first time Tencent had briefly flashed extraordinarily high numbers. 
Moments later, Tencent updated the numbers to reflect the government's "official" numbers that day. Netizens noticed that Tencent has on at least three occasions posted extremely high numbers, only to quickly lower them to government-approved statistics.
Moreover, the Tencent numbers were themselves merely the latest and most apocalyptic plague report coming out of China. Since the first quarantines in Wuhan were announced, there has been a persistent backdrop of news items suggesting China was systematically underreporting the numbers of both confirmed and suspected cases, as well as attributed deaths. 

On January 24, right after Wuhan was placed under quarantine, the Wall Street Journal ran a story questioning if China had  misrecorded some coronavirus deaths as simply "severe pneumonia".

HONG KONG—A 53-year-old fitness trainer died on Wednesday after checking into a hospital in Wuhan a little more than a week earlier, said his niece. His family had expected the death certificate to reflect the deadly coronavirus, because as his condition deteriorated, his doctors told his family he was suffering from an untreatable virus in his lungs. 
Instead, it recorded “severe pneumonia” as the cause of death, she said. The relatives of two other people who died in separate hospitals in Wuhan this week also described similar situations, saying the causes of death had been given as “viral pneumonia.”
That same day, a video was tweeted out, claiming to be of a nurse in Wuhan, making an urgent plea for help, as the number of cases in Wuhan was far higher than was being recorded.

This video was subsequently reported by ZeroHedge.

On January 25, video emerged, purportedly of a doctor in Huanggang, near Wuhan, claiming the epidemic was far more dire than the government was admitting. 

On January 29, William Yang, correspondent for Deutsche Welle, tweeted that China was secretly cremating victims of 2019-nCoV, citing Chinese media outlet Intium as a source:

On January 30, Yahoo News Australia, cited Yang in their coverage of this storyOn January 31, the Daily Mail further echoed these claims.

On February 2nd, Chinese news outlet Caijing ran a story, since censored, claiming widespread underreporting of cases:
Caijing understands that at least five suspected deaths at the hospital have not been diagnosed, so it does not count towards the confirmed deaths. This means that the number of confirmed and fatal cases that people can see at present does not fully reflect the full picture of the epidemic.
That same day, Maree Ma, GM of Vision Times Media Corporation (AU), tweeted out a photo showing an entire block in Wuhan being locked down over a single case of coronavirus:
While these reports are anecdotal, they are not entirely without provenance, nor are they, so far as can be determined, from related sources. These are independent claims of underreporting and even outright deception by the Chinese government. While they do not specifically corroborate the Tencent numbers, they do make those numbers disturbingly credible. This was ironically emphasized shortly after the Tencent numbers were reported by the Taiwan News, when the Epoch Times carried a story about citizen-journalist Fang Bin, who was detained by police in Wuhan on February 1 after releasing video clips showing five hospitals overflowing with sick, dead, and dying.
Claiming to be medical officers on duty, they said he was a “hazard” to others for going to the hospitals without proper health protection, and broke into his home. They ignored Fang’s repeated protest that his temperature was normal.
The men took away his laptop, a desktop computer, and a cellphone. The next thing he knew, he was at a police station. 
The police questioned him on the videos he had released. “You ignited a nuclear bomb,” they said during the interrogation, according to Fang. 
Fang said they also accused him of taking money from “foreign forces,” and threatened to quarantine him for “creating fear.” 
“There should only be one voice, otherwise it will create chaos,” they told him.
There is nothing that screams "cover-up" quite so much as a visit from Big Brother for simply stating--or showing--empirical fact.

The Official Narratives Do Not Make Sense

As I noted in my last column, the official narratives have suffered from a lack of credibility almost from the outset. 

As was noted in other reporting, Wuhan is a city of 11 million people, and yet an influx of 850 new patients to the city's hospitals was enough to tax their capabilities. 
It takes neither a rocket scientist, an epidemiologist, nor a statistician to recognize the sheer illogic of such a situation. A healthcare system equipped to handle the routine needs of 11 million people is overwhelmed by a sudden influx of patients amounting to less than 0.01% of the population?
China's official government pronouncements are not merely difficult to reconcile with the reported statistics, they are impossible to reconcile. On January 26, the mayor of Wuhan acknowledged that as many as 5 million people had left the city prior to quarantine, and each of them was a potential carrier of the coronavirus. At the same time, Ma Xiaowei, the minister in charge of China's National Health Commission, stated the virus was becoming more transmissible. At that time, the number of reported cases within China was around 2,000, with only 30 reported cases outside of China.

5 million potential carriers of a disease resulting in 2,000 reported cases hardly describes a virus becoming more transmissible. Rather, it describes a virus not very transmissible at all. If we take the word of the mayor of Wuhan, and that of Ma Xiaowei, there should be far more cases than have been reported. The 28,023 cases reported in China should have arisen days ago, and there should be a far greater number of cases outside of China.

Where are all the cases?

(Update: there may actually be the beginnings of an answer to this question with the development of 42 new cases of coronavirus on a cruise ship currently being quarantined by Japan. The close proximity of patients to each other and the relative ease with which surfaces can be contaminated on a maritme vessel--a primary reason cruise ships occasionally battle Norwalk virus--may shed some light on the dynamics of a patient population necessary for coronavirus to become highly contagious)

Not only have the official statements been internally contradictory, in many instances they are contradicted by research data. On January 29-30, when the official statistics reported 7,711 cases and 170 deaths, or a mortality rate of 2.2% of cases (this is also called the case fatality rate), The Lancet carried a research study showing the mortality rate in Wuhan to be 11% of cases--greater than the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918. 

On January 23, the World Health Organization rated the coronavirus' transmissibility (its R0 factor) at between 1.4 and 2.5. This number was subsequently challenged by research from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which calculated the R0 factor at 4.08.

It bears noting that these higher mortaility rates and R0 factor are very much inline with the mysterious Tencent numbers. If anything, the Tencent numbers suggest the mortality and transmissibility of the disease are even higher.

It should also be noted that, despite these contradictions, the World Health Organization has praised China for its response to the coronavirus epidemic.

The Legacy Media Remains Two Steps Behind The Story

Despite the mounting questions about China's handling of the epidemic, and increasing doubt about the credibility of their statistics, the legacy media has continued to credulously report the official narratives. The significant variance between the disease' spread inside China and outside China has not been explored, or even noted by the legacy media, which instead merely parroted the ludicrous statement by the WHO that the lack of cases outside China was testament to China's efforts at containment.

“The fact that to date we have only seen 68 cases outside China and no deaths is due in no small part to the extraordinary steps the government has taken to prevent the export of cases,” [WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus] said.
The legacy media has done little to question China's reported statistics, electing to merely publish them without question or comment. Only as the stories become undeniable has the legacy media opted to challenge the official narrative--a pattern replicated by China itself, as it only recently responded to allegations 2019-nCoV is in fact a bioweapon released (presumably/hopefully accidentally) from a research lab in Wuhan.

Only after alternative and social media released numerous credible challenges to the official government updates from China did legacy media report any WHO official breaking ranks to acknowledge China's response to the virus has been "reprehensible".

Over a month since the coronavirus was first acknowledged and the legacy media is still two steps behind the story, still promoting the official government narrative regardless of the facts on the ground.

What the legacy media stubbornly is refusing to do is make any effort to connect any of the dots. What the legacy media is refusing to do is ask any of the rather obvious questions about this epidemic.

Why is the disease spreading so much inside China but not outside China? 

Why is person to person transmission relatively rare outside of China despite rampant spread within China?

Why are there no reported cases in Africa?

Why has the potential for fecal-oral transmission not received greater attention? And why do CDC and WHO prevention guidelines continue to emphasize droplet precautions--a standard protocol for respiratory infections--and not mention fecal transmission prevention guidelines?

Why have the facilities at the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory (Level 4) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences not received greater scrutiny as a possible origin for the virus, despite earlier concerns about lax containment standards?

The legacy media has, so far, shown little to no interest in exploring any of these aspects to the disease. Yet these questions bear directly both on an understanding of the pathogen and effective containment and mitigation measures against the spread of the disease.

Is Coronavirus A Bioweapon?

Disquieting as it may be, mention must be made of the possibility that this coronavirus strain has been engineered in Wuhan's research labs. While there is no documentary or physical evidence conclusively proving an engineered virus released from a lab, there are a number of facts that at least prompt the question, even if the question is dismissed by China and the legacy media as "conspiracy theory":

The facts are the facts, and if the facts suggest a conspiracy, then so be it.  Only 20 miles away from the market in question stands the LARGEST Level 4 Biohazard Lab in Asia, which studies directly into the world's deadliest pathogens including SARS and coronavirus.  In 2017, experts warned that a virus could escape the labs in Wuhan because of lax containment standards.  To put this in perspective, it would be like an Ebola outbreak striking the city of Atlanta and then blamed on a food market only 20 miles from the CDC.  It looks suspicious... 
Last year, Chinese researchers were dismissed from a Level 4 lab in Winnipeg, Canada without public explanation, but the same lab was exposed last year for sharing deadly virus samples with China, including Ebola and henipavirus.  One of the Chinese researchers work focus was the SARS virus.  Media and government attention in Canada at the time of the scandal was on concerns that the lab in Winnipeg was supplying viral samples that would be used in China's biowarfare programs.
It should also be noted that a laboratory origin does not exclusively suggest a bioweapon release. If it was released from a lab, it could just as easily have been the result of a vaccine experiment gone off the rails. However, India is investigating the possibility the virus is a bioweapon, and is investigating what role the Wuhan lab might have played in its release:
In retaliation India has launched a full-scale investigation against China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology. The Indian government has ordered an inquiry into a study conducted in the Northeastern state of Nagaland (close to China) by researchers from the U.S., China and India on bats and humans carrying antibodies to deadly viruses like Ebola.
The primary rebuttal against the bioweapon/lab origin of the disease has been the assertion that a "wet" market in Wuhan was the epicenter of the initial outbreak. However, this assertion has already been disproven by the Chinese themselves. Yet the "wet" market origin theory remains the darling of the legacy media. Against the lab origin theory we have denials from the Chinese government, but in the absence of compelling evidence for a zoonotic origin, and especially in the light of China's proven mendacity with regards to transparency regarding the outbreak, those denials must be taken with a grain of salt.

The bioweapon narrative might be derided by the legacy media as "conspiracy theory", but it has been neither debunked nor conclusively disproven. Quite the contrary, the steady stream of information from social and alternative media that eventually leaks into the legacy media lends the bioweapon narrative a chilling credibility. Do not expect the bioweapon narrative to disappear any time soon. It is, has been, and remains a distinct and disturbing possibility.

(Update: The "bioweapon" narrative took a surprising turn into the realm of possibility with the revelation that The Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Chinese Army had filed for a use patent on Gilead Science's antiviral drug Remdesivir--and that it began the filing process on Janaury 21, a full two days before the first quarantine of Wuhan was announced. Officials in China have yet to explain how they were so prescient as to recognize the potential value of the Gilead drug before the need for it had even been identified.)

The Public Needs Information And The Media Needs To Go Get It

Conspiracy theories prosper when there is incomplete information. When questions are not asked, when follow-up is not done, when a story is not pursued, the eternal questions "Why?" invite speculation, and nurture conspiracy theory.

The antidote to conspiracy theory is information. The role of the journalist is to gather information and disseminate it to the public.

Thus far, the legacy media has been content to parrot and promote the official propaganda while ignoring or suppressing awkward questions and lines of investigation. They have been content to be purveyors of propaganda. 

Propaganda is not journalism. Being the last to acknowledge obvious truths is not journalism--it is also not a viable means to retaining credibility.

Even with the official narratives, 2019-nCoV is a serious pathogen. People need to take it seriously. People need good information about prevention, about its transmission, and about its severity. 

Yet the legacy media continues to ignore glaring gaps in the information being disseminated to the public, and is making little or no effort to fill in those gaps. 

While alternative media sources are developing parts of the ignored narratives, the ability of alternative media to disseminate that information is actively being hindered by the social media giants Facebook and Twitter, under the rubric of combating "misinformation" (what regular people commonly call "truth"). Between Big Tech and Big Government, the public are being given just one single narrative arc, without regard to factual falsities and discrepancies. 

When there is only one permissible view of any story, that is called "propaganda".

The legacy media has become the propaganda arm of the Chinese government.

Maybe tomorrow will be the day the epidemic begins to recede. Perhaps the day after tomorrow doctors will announce a vaccine, or even a cure for this disease. Hopefully very soon we will see an end to new cases, new deaths, and new quarantines.

Maybe. Perhaps. Hopefully. Until then, people need answers to questions. 

The most urgent need for every person seeking protection from 2019-nCoV is information. The most urgent responsibility for every media outlet is to get and distribute that information.

The greatest dereliction of the legacy media is that they are neglecting to do that.

7 February 2020: updated to include information about coronavirus on the Diamond Princess cruise ship while under quarantine in Yokahama, Japan
7 February 2020: updated to include reference to the Wuhan Institute of Virology filing a use patent on Gilead Sciences anti-viral mediation Remdesivir

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