Disgraced former anchor Dan Rather is lecturing people again about the truth.
I cannot emphasize enough how wild it is that the guy who lost his job for trying to influence the 2004 presidential election with honest-to-God fake news has rebranded as an elder statesman of media, popping up online and on television at random to dish out pithy quotes and advice on what it means to stand for facts and accuracy.
Rather has set his sights on former Daily Show host Jon Stewart, who voiced support last week for the COVID-19 lab leak theory, which posits the coronavirus escaped from a research facility in China.
The press, which dismissed the lab hypothesis last year as an insane “conspiracy theory,” conflating it often with an entirely different theory alleging COVID-19 is actually a biochemical weapon, has largely come around to the idea the virus may have indeed escaped a research facility. The media have come around even though there is no new evidence or data from when the hypothesis was first put forward by Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who was branded a lunatic for even suggesting it. Members of the press have changed their minds for reasons that are not entirely clear.
To be clear, Stewart is not one of these people. What he said last week during an appearance on the Late Show With Stephen Colbert marked his first public remarks on the issue. Stewart began first by praising the scientists responsible for developing and distributing COVID-19 vaccines in record time. But Stewart also criticized the scientific community, claiming it tends to play fast and loose with facts, theories, and public safety.
“Can I say this about scientists?” Stewart asked. “I love them, and they do such good work, but they are going to kill us all. The last words man utters are somewhere in a lab a guy goes, ‘Huhuh! It worked.’”
For Rather, it is deeply troubling, disturbing, etc., that the former Daily Show host would say such a thing.
“I cannot overemphasize how dangerous this line of thinking is,” Rather said this weekend in an opinion article. “We can expect that from the supporters of Donald Trump, but the words of Jon Stewart and many who share his politics show that this is not an issue that cuts neatly along partisan lines.”
“It is true that some scientists have done some bad things in the name of research — such as the Tuskegee experiments,” he added, “Scientists have been wrong. Science and technology have been tools that supported colonialism and oppression. Science does not release us from our moral responsibilities. All of this is the case because science is a human endeavor and scientists are human, subject to the same frailties and base instincts as any member of our species. But science is also a way of thinking, where we challenge our own dogmas and beliefs, where we change our minds and approach when the data show we were wrong.”
After all that, Rather notes, “Furthermore, it seems that most virologists do not think that the virus has the chemical fingerprints of human engineering. But that could be perhaps a possibility. We just don’t know. And we need to try to find out, letting the facts lead wherever they may.”
For the record, Stewart only said it seems likely the virus escaped a lab. He didn’t say it was a certainty this happened.
“There's a novel respiratory coronavirus overtaking Wuhan, China!” the former Daily Show host said, taking a shot at all the people who wouldn’t so much as consider the lab leak hypothesis. “What do we do? Oh, you know who we could ask? The Wuhan Novel Respiratory Coronavirus lab. The disease is the same name as the lab. That's just — that's just a little too weird, don't you think?”
Stewart added, “And then the actual scientists are, like, how did this – ‘So, wait a minute, you work at the Wuhan respiratory coronavirus lab, how did this happen?' They're like, ‘Oooh, a pangolin kissed a turtle?’ No! The name of the lab! Look at the name! Let me see your business card! Show me your business card! ‘Oh, I work at the coronavirus lab in Wuhan!’ ‘Oh! Because there's a coronavirus loose in Wuhan. How did that happen?’ Maybe a bat flew into the throat a turkey and sneezed into my chili, and now we all have coronavirus.”
Rather is not amused. He is upset with Stewart, accusing the professional funnyman of “playing into the trope of the mad scientist at a time when we need science more than ever to solve our more pressing problems — most notably climate change.”
Can we be honest for a second here? Rather isn’t upset at what Stewart said but that a member of the team said it. This is the aggrieved reaction of a teammate betrayed.
“I fear this reasoning — or should I say ‘unreasoning’ — has not only consumed the modern Republican party but is in danger of consuming an even broader swath of the American and global public,” Rather writes, tying Stewart’s remarks to the GOP writ large.
Rather concludes, “I don’t think the world ends with a guy in a lab saying, ‘huh, it worked.’ It ends with a society, high on its own hubris, closing its minds to nuance, knowledge, and understanding. And that’s not a laughing matter. “
Speaking of hubris, now is as good a time as any to remind you all Rather still believes he did nothing wrong when he went on-air in 2004 with forgeries supposedly showing George W. Bush was mostly "AWOL" during his tenure in the Texas Air National Guard.
Insofar as following where the facts about the pandemic’s origins take us, Rather isn’t wrong. But Stewart also didn’t quite do what the former anchor alleges he did.
Also, as far as sermons regarding truth and honesty are concerned, let them come from someone who isn’t best known for trying to tank a presidential election with fake news.