Late last week, Thomas Friedman published an opinion piece in The New York Times titled "Beirut's Blast Is a Warning for America." The subhead says, "In this country, as in Lebanon, everything is now politics."
Friedman intones ominously, "(W)hen everything is politics, everything is just about power. There is no center, only sides; no truth, only versions; no facts, only a contest of wills."
I agree, so I read on for examples. And Friedman has them. But -- ironically -- they are exclusively opinions in opposition to leftist worldviews. "If you believe that climate change is real," he offers, "it must be because someone paid you off with a research grant. If you believe the president committed an impeachable offense trying to enlist the president of Ukraine to undermine Joe Biden, it's only because you want power for your party."
Conversely, therefore, if you question the current scientific "consensus" on climate change, it's just "politics"; it isn't because you're old enough to remember when we were told that the Earth was headed for another Ice Age (before that same "consensus" shifted to global warming). If you don't think President Donald Trump committed an impeachable offense, it isn't because it wasn't apparently an impeachable offense when then-Vice President Joe Biden withheld a billion-dollar U.S. loan guarantee to Ukraine unless its government fired a particular prosecutor investigating corruption. And it was just coincidence that Biden's son Hunter Biden was being paid millions by a Ukrainian energy company that was being investigated for corruption.
There were facts missing in all those simplistic synopses, but you'd have to do a lot of digging to find them. That's the point: Our media have made it their mission to push a narrative they want (often political), even if that means obscuring or ignoring facts they don't want Americans to know. As a result, they're not trusted.
Friedman ignores the press's role in all of this, just as he conveniently overlooks the left's politicization of everything generally -- science, medicine, weather, sports, entertainment, education, shopping, where you have your wedding. Everything conceivable has a leftist litmus test today (and painful consequences for deviation).
His jeremiad might also ring a bit less hollow if we hadn't just endured a three-year, mega-million-dollar "Russia collusion" charade launched and perpetrated entirely for political reasons; based upon factless fraud and deliberate deceit; and promoted incessantly by the press.
And if governments and the press can be deceitful, scientists are sometimes just flat-out wrong. So when science -- especially uncertain science -- gets politicized and the press gets into the mix with an agenda, yes, I'm sorry; that's a prescription for serious skepticism.
Three years ago, I wrote a column about margarine, and how the U.S. government and public interest organizations took preliminary nutritional science about saturated fats and turned it into a pro-margarine, anti-dairy crusade.
Sixty years later? "Oops. We were wrong."
Another example is medical marijuana. For years, patients suffering from crippling nausea and chronic pain swore that marijuana helped. Doctors -- and politicians -- insisted there were no studies to prove the truth of that. (Hello? It's a Schedule 1 drug and illegal under federal law. Of course there have been few studies.)
California decriminalized marijuana for medical purposes, and despite a Supreme Court decision upholding Congress's constitutional power to criminalize marijuana nationally, other states have followed suit. Thus, if we subsequently determine -- officially -- that marijuana does help patients with nausea and chronic pain, it will be in spite of what the "experts" told us, not because of it.
Now we have COVID-19, a global pandemic. The medical experts have been wrong about some things from the beginning. First we were told masks didn't help; now they're mandatory. Originally, we were told to stay home unless dealing with serious shortness of breath so we'd save ventilators for those who really needed them. Later information revealed that to be bad advice. Not only did it delay early intervention but some patients suffering from anoxia also have blood and circulatory problems, not pneumonia. That new information changed early detection and treatment.
We get it; mistakes will happen. But it is cynical and inaccurate to dismiss as mere "politics" people's legitimate concerns about government policies that cripple the economy, when those policies are based upon uncertain medical information.
The same can be said about medical treatments for the virus.
There are 330 million people in this country and nearly 8 billion globally. The virus will mutate. No medical intervention will work forever or for everyone. Physicians, clinicians and researchers are doing their best in a situation of incomplete and rapidly changing information. And they won't always agree.
Letting professionals try different treatments isn't dangerous, nor is the willingness to listen to multiple viewpoints. That's the way science works. What's dangerous is politicizing the research, the available treatments and the dissemination of information.
It's counterintuitive when we're told by government "experts" that only one perspective on the efficacy of treatments or medical interventions is permitted. It's absurd when the social media companies that gave us cat memes and duck-lip selfies proclaim themselves to be arbiters of accurate medical and scientific information. And every red flag should go up when the national media decides to make medical opinions on the efficacy of certain treatment methodologies a referendum on Donald Trump. Are you kidding? There's your "politicizing."
If you want people to heed your professional opinion, don't tie your professional opinion to your politics. If you tie your professional opinion to your politics, don't complain when those who don't agree with your politics don't take your professional opinion seriously.
And if you want people to believe the facts, then give them the facts, whether you like them or not. If you won't do that, then you won't be trusted, even -- perhaps especially -- when you need the public to trust you.