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Brownstone Institute

The Great Game of Let’s Pretend


11 minute read

From the Brownstone Institute

BY Jeffrey A. TuckerJEFFREY A. TUCKER  

Two nights ago was supposed to be a night of reckoning and truth. The intrepid and independent journalist Tucker Carlson was to grill Donald Trump, who skipped the GOP debates because he is already the hands-down frontrunner and doesn’t want anything to do with conventional politics.

Tucker had spent the last three years on Fox correctly denouncing lockdowns, censorship, vaccine mandates, and medical segregation, plus the attacks on American liberty. He certainly knows what’s what. One might have supposed that the issues that tanked the Trump presidency and nearly the whole of American society and liberty would be front and center. Now was the time!

Oddly, none of it came up in his interview with Trump. The interview answered none of our questions about why Trump did what he did, which not only wrecked the American economy but arguably lost him the election. Even if you think the election was stolen, it was only through the mail-in ballots that the Covid controls unleashed. Tucker drilled down into none of this. It was as if 2020 did not happen at all.

The simultaneous GOP debate was even worse. Ron DeSantis started with a bang and spoke about lockdowns but the topic fizzled quickly. Following a flurry of pharma ads – indeed the entire event was funded by FDA-approved drug sales – the moderators briefly asked former vice president Mike Pence if he thought his administration bore any responsibility for learning loss because the Trump administration urged school closures.

Pence – who spent 2020 running cover for Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx – wholly ignored the question and said something else. The topic was never revisited again.

There was not one word said about tech censorship, the millions displaced and harmed by vaccine mandates, the dictatorial reach of the administrative state, the vast flurry of litigation against everything and everybody, the mass loss of trust in government and media, the foundational attack on the Bill of Rights, or the very real threat that it could happen again.

On the same day as the debate, we already saw mask mandates being reimposed. But no one spoke about it.

You surely see what’s going on here. The biggest issues in American life, which everyone experienced with vast tragedy and death all around, and about which everyone knows, are suddenly too sensitive to bring up. It’s something of which multitudes are aware but because all official institutions were involved, all official institutions are quiet about it. As a result, the great reckoning we need for renewal is farther off than ever.

Meanwhile, we’ve got Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., out there on countless public interviews, as a presidential candidate, saying remarkable things like 1) the CIA in 1963 killed his uncle who was president, 2) the intelligence community works with Big Pharma on gain-of-function research to create and cure new killer viruses, 3) they germ-gamed the lockdowns since 2001, 4) the lockdowns of March 2020 was a coup d’etat against representative democracy, 5) right now we have industry-captured Deep-State agencies that are ruling America who have no regard whatsoever for the US Constitution or the idea of freedom.

He says all of this without any shyness and with a great deal with knowledge and detail. He provides the receipts. Indeed, he has written several books on these themes. People listen and think “Oh that’s very interesting” and go hear him speak, without any presumption that he stands any chance to be President despite his wild popularity because, essentially, the fix is in.

Biden has already been selected to get the nomination, which rather demonstrates RFK’s point. Meanwhile, I’ve never once heard any reporter or read any article that challenges him on any of the facts. It’s as if everyone knows that what he is saying is true but we cannot do anything about it anyway. So he is tolerated as a wayward eccentric from a noble lineage but best ignored if we know what’s good for us.

It’s a very strange time in American political history, no doubt. We have one line of thinking sweeping through the population – which is based on mass incredulity and fury – and then another which is a veneer of normalcy that is slathered on top of our anger by all official institutions, which work hard to keep all these topics out of respectable conversations. Meanwhile, the whole of academic, mainstream social media, major mainstream media, and all of government seems to agree that all these obvious topics are too incendiary to be raised in polite company.

So everyone in the top layer of this manufactured consent is glad to play along with this great game of pretend. Meanwhile, people are fully aware now that the intelligence community is deeply involved in areas of life we previously thought were independent. And we suspect this is true even of organizations and publications we once thought were more-or-less trustworthy. How else to explain their silence and/or lies on all the crucial issues of our time?

As regards all the institutions that locked down the population just a few years ago, nothing has changed. Sure, there are a few court decisions extant that said they went too far but those are all being challenged and await appeals to the Supreme Court. But while these grueling processes play themselves out, Google, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, and all the rest of our formerly free social-media platforms are more brutally censorial than ever. YouTube even announced that it will tolerate no content that contradicts the World Health Organization, which only three years ago recommended to the entire world the lockdowns pioneered by the CCP in Wuhan.

In the last few days, my own phone has blown up with people terrified of a new lockdown. They worry about leaving the country for fear of new travel restrictions. They worry about new vaccine mandates for their kids in school. They are thinking of moving to Florida and away from the big cities on the coasts where crime worsens by the day and skyscrapers are still mostly empty because workers won’t come back. And the #1 song in the world wails about the cruelty of this new world and how it is sending people to an early death.

Who would have imagined that a collapse on this level would happen in plain sight and everyone would see it and yet the entirety of the culture planners would in effect impose a fatwa on anyone who speaks about it?

Certainly I never imagined this scenario. Our whole lives we’ve sung about the “land of the free and the home of the brave” but here we are unfree and not brave. Because of facial-recognition technology, we cannot even hit the streets anymore. That was the real point of the post-January 6 crackdown: to serve as a lesson that if we resist in person, we will be recognized and dealt with severely.

The silence about the truth is utterly deafening. It’s not just that we aren’t getting answers to our questions; we aren’t even getting questions outside a handful of venues including this one.

Meanwhile, the highest hopes for saving the country from ruin are being placed in the hands of the very chief executive under whom all this began. And why? Because people believe that he was tricked and betrayed into greenlighting this wreckage even though he has never actually said anything like this. It’s the only hope people have. It’s a thin hope indeed.

When I first read Orwell’s 1984, it seemed like a dark and implausible fantasy and warning. I never imagined that it was really a reductio ad absurdum of a reality that he saw unfolding before him in the rising totalitarianism of his time. It turns out that he was a prophet of just how corrupt a highly politicized society with overweening bureaucracy can be in practice when careerism trumps courage and the cash nexus spreads the coercive mindset throughout all the commanding heights of the social order.

We are finding out now. The soundtrack of the end times is not Mahler or Wagner. It is gaming music with dance numbers on TikTok, with darkly distant echoes of a simple country singer in Virginia decrying the rich men north of Richmond.


  • Jeffrey A. Tucker

    Jeffrey A. Tucker is Founder and President of the Brownstone Institute. He is also Senior Economics Columnist for Epoch Times, author of 10 books, including Liberty or Lockdown, and thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press. He speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.

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Brownstone Institute

Witnessing the Media’s Covid Coverage from the Inside

Published on

From the Brownstone Institute


If right-leaning outlets wanted my words and left-leaning ones did not, my Occam’s razor landed on ideology as the explanatory factor. So-called progressive media had a story to uphold and rejected any plot twist that threatened the cohesion of its narrative.

In the movie An Education, the main character gets sidetracked from her studies by a smooth-talking art dealer who turns out to be a criminal—and married. Our protagonist learns more from that experience than from all the medieval literature books she cracked open before. I have similar feelings about my own education. While I’ve been earning my living as a writer for the past 29 years, it’s only during the Covid era that I learned what the writing business is really about.

I wear two hats in my professional life: medical writer, creating materials for doctors and the healthcare industry, and feature-article journalist for consumer magazines. It wasn’t until Covid that I began pitching essays and op-eds for publication.

I started with a piece called “A Tale of Two Pandemic Cities,” which grew out of my short trip to Amsterdam and Stockholm in the summer of 2020, when the European Union opened its doors to “well-behaved” countries like Canada. The Covid hysteria in my country had made me desperate to visit more balanced parts of the world, and my trip didn’t disappoint. The article found a home at a Canadian outlet called Healthy Debate, though the editor asked me to temper my enthusiasm for the Swedish strategy with an acknowledgement of its risks. Happy to find a legit publisher for my first Covid piece, I capitulated, sort of. (You can judge for yourself.)

Thus began a feverish outpouring of essays, each one motivated by the same bewildered questions: What the hell is happening to the world, and why? Has everyone else gone mad, or is it me? I had written a few controversial articles throughout my career, but never before had I held a “dissenting view” about an issue that affected the whole world—or felt such an urgent need to express it.

The Great Divide

I quickly learned that certain news outlets were less open to my pieces than others. Salon, fuggedaboutit. Spiked Online, bull’s eye on the first try. Washington Post, not a chance. Wall Street Journal, a couple of “close, but no cigar” efforts and then finally a yes. It boiled down to this: the further left a publication leaned, the less likely it would publish my pieces (or even respond to my inquiries). I’m sure a statistician could write an equation to capture the trend.

So why the radio silence from left-wing publications? I doubted I was tripping their “Covid disinformation” radars, as my pieces had less to do with scientific facts than with social philosophy: the balance between safety and freedom, the perils of top-down collectivism, the abuse of the precautionary principle, that sort of thing. If right-leaning outlets wanted my words and left-leaning ones did not, my Occam’s razor landed on ideology as the explanatory factor. So-called progressive media had a story to uphold and rejected any plot twist that threatened the cohesion of its narrative. (Not that right-wing media behaved much differently. Such is the age of advocacy journalism.)

Most nerve-wracking of all were the publishers who accepted my articles but, like that first Healthy Debate editor, insisted I make substantive changes. Should I concede or push back? I did a bit of both. The most important thing, I told myself, was to make people reflect on the topsy-turvy policies that had freeze-framed the world. If I had to soften a few sentences to get the word out, so be it. I have the utmost respect for writers who refuse to yield on such matters, but 29 years of paying the bills from my writing have tipped my internal compass toward pragmatism.

I did stand my ground with an article on the mask wars. My thesis was that the endless and pointless disputes on social media—masks work, no they don’t, yes they do, no they don’t—had less to do with science than with worldview: irrespective of the data, social collectivists would find a way to defend masks, while my freedom-first compatriots would never countenance a perma-masked world.

One editor agreed to publish the piece if I mentioned that some studies favor masking, but I argued that quoting studies would undercut my central argument: that the forces powering the mask wars have little to do with how well they block viruses. He wouldn’t budge, so we parted ways and I found a more congenial home for the piece at the Ottawa Citizen.

Hidden Treasures

The process of pitching counternarrative essays, while arduous at times, led me to a smorgasbord of lesser-known, high-quality publications I never would have discovered otherwise. Topping the list was the glorious UnHerd, a UK news and opinion website with such daring thinkers as Mary Harrington and Kathleen Stock on its roster of contributors. The US-based Tablet magazine offered consistently fresh takes on Covid and never took the easy road in its analyses. In its pages I found one of the most powerful Covid essays I have ever read. The author, Ann Bauer (no relation), teased out the common threads between the “settled science” about the virus and the litany of quack theories about autism, which fed into her son’s death by suicide.

Then there was Quillette, whose contempt for the sacred cows of wokeism gave me a special thrill. True confession: I blew my chances with Quillette and it’s my own damned fault. Like many working writers, I sometimes pitch a piece to more than one outlet at the same time, a practice known as simultaneous submissions. This goes against protocol—we’re supposed to wait until an editor declines our pitch before approaching the next one—but the reality is that many editors never respond. With the deck thus stacked against us, we writers sometimes push the envelope, figuring the odds of getting multiple acceptances (and thus pissing off editors) are low enough to take the risk.

On this particular occasion, I submitted an article called “Lessons from my Half-Vaxxed Daughter” to three publications. Medpage Today responded right away, and I accepted their offer to publish it. (This was while Marty Makary, the dissident-lite physician who called out people’s distorted perception of Covid risk in mainstream media, led the editorial team.) A few hours later, Quillette’s Canadian editor sent me a slightly reworked version of my piece and told me when he planned to run it. I had no choice but to proffer a red-faced apology and admit I had already placed the article elsewhere. He never responded to my email or to a follow-up mea culpa a few weeks later—and has ignored everything I’ve submitted since then. I guess I’ll have to wait until he retires.

Podcast Polarities

Earlier this year, Brownstone Institute published my book Blindsight Is 2020which critiques the pandemic response through the lens of 46 dissident thinkers. By all standards a moderate book, it stays clear of any “conspiratorial” speculations about the origins of the pandemic or the political response to it. Instead, it focuses on the philosophical and ethical issues that kept me awake at night during the peak Covid years—the same themes I explore in my essays, but in greater depth. I wrote the book not just for “my team,” but for those who vehemently opposed my views—perhaps especially for them. I didn’t expect to change their minds as much as to help them understand why some of us objected so strenuously to the policies they cheered on.

After the book came out, a few podcasters invited me to their shows. I appeared on a Libertarian Institute podcast in which the host puffed on his hand-rolled cigarettes while we talked. I spoke to an amiable ex-con podcaster who made it his mission to share Ayn Rand’s ideas with the world. I bonded with Rupa Subramanya—a brilliant Canadian conservative journalist and podcaster featured in my book—over the Freedom Convoy we had both supported.

All told I’ve appeared on 22 podcasts to date, each of them hosted by a right-leaning or libertarian host. Crickets from the left. Not one to accept defeat, I’ve begun reaching out to left-leaning podcasters on my own. Perhaps one day I’ll hear back from them.

Covid media, like so much else in modern life, has become hopelessly fractured: the tall, left-facing trees dominate the landscape, telling the story of a deadly virus that we “did the best we could” to manage. Below the tree canopy lies the tangle of weeds that sway in the wind, whispering songs of freedom and warning against the totalitarian impulses that all too readily emerge during crises. While I’ll continue to throw my essays at those unyielding trees, the messy underbrush is where I’ve found my journalistic home.


  • Gabrielle Bauer

    Gabrielle Bauer is a Toronto health and medical writer who has won six national awards for her magazine journalism. She has written three books: Tokyo, My Everest, co-winner of the Canada-Japan Book Prize, Waltzing The Tango, finalist in the Edna Staebler creative nonfiction award, and most recently, the pandemic book BLINDSIGHT IS 2020, published by the Brownstone Institute in 2023

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Brownstone Institute

Why So Many Countries Followed China’s Lockdown Example

Published on

From the Brownstone Institute


The answer to why countries followed China’s lockdowns is simple. They were told to do so by the World Health Organization (WHO). Why did the WHO tell them to do that? You might want to ask Dr. Bruce Aylward

A novel coronavirus that was 10 times deadlier than the flu had gripped the world in 2019. Without a compass to navigate the Covid-19 pandemic, all lessons learned from previous viral pandemics were thrown out the window. The World Health Organization was adamant, “This is not the flu.” Tony Fauci terrified the US House of Representatives with forecasts of disaster. Global populations were defenseless without a vaccine for the novel coronavirus that no one had ever seen before. The only viable defense at the time was to shut down the world.

China took the lead in lockdowns. Media exported from China showed people dropping dead in the streets. Caskets were piling up. Doors to buildings were sealed to lock in tenants. Throughout the panic, all reasonable alternative assessments of risks from the viral outbreak were ignored, censored, or rejected.

Nevertheless, I wondered whether a video of a person falling down in the street was really representative of the entire population. Were caskets piling up largely due to families fearing to claim them because of contamination with the virus? I noticed that the front doors to my local mall in Ontario, Canada had also been sealed, just like in China apartment buildings, but this was only to control access through a single entrance to the building, not to seal in customers.

My first clue that the emergency response to the outbreak of the coronavirus didn’t seem to make sense was when I heard Fauci tell television audiences that if our response seems to be overreacting, then we are probably doing the right thing. What? Since when is overreacting ever the right thing to do? Do generals win wars by overreacting?

I looked at the numbers that Fauci had presented to the US House of Representatives concerning case and infection fatalities of the coronavirus. They were backwards! His 10-times deadlier prediction was simply a made-up number! This was in March 2020. By May 2020 it was obvious that people were NOT dying at the inflated rate Fauci had predicted.

I published a paper on Fauci’s coronavirus mortality overestimations: Public Health Lessons Learned From Biases in Coronavirus Mortality Overestimation. But when I mentioned all this to my friends, they responded that the lower than predicted deaths just proved the lockdowns were working. Fauci was off the hook. Back to China.

WHO/China Joint Mission on Covid-19

The answer to why countries followed China’s lockdowns is simple. They were told to do so by the World Health Organization (WHO). Why did the WHO tell them to do that? You might want to ask Dr. Bruce Aylward, the Director of the WHO/China Joint Mission on Covid-19 investigating the coronavirus outbreak.

Aylward noticed a precipitous drop in novel coronavirus pneumonia (NCP) in China during February 2020. This was before China adopted WHO’s name of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). Upon seeing China’s surveillance data, Aylward announced the spectacular findings to the world and told the world to do what China has done and lock down. But he appeared to make a fundamental epidemiological error by wrongly assuming that the association of China’s lockdowns with lower deaths proved the lockdowns were working (just like my friends had told me).

Soon after in March 2020, China published its latest case definitions for NCP (Covid-19). In a nutshell, the definitions showed that no one could be declared to have died of the disease unless they had viral pneumonia (a severe acute respiratory illness), and only if no other virus normally associated with viral pneumonia was present, except SARS-CoV-2.

Coinfections with the coronavirus were not acceptable criteria, and what should have been a broad surveillance case definition with high sensitivity to monitor the spread of the virus within the population narrowed down considerably into an overly specific diagnostic case definition. That pretty much sealed the deal to declare Covid-19 deaths in only single digits for many months during the pandemic throughout China. This super-low outcome impressed Dr. Bruce Aylward enough in February 2020 to implore the world to lock down. Did we ever!

In the meantime, other countries used case and death definitions that went to the opposite extreme of China’s narrow diagnostic definitions, disseminating overinflated surveillance numbers without adjusting the numbers to remove bias. Even Fauci eventually admitted that reported cases and deaths counted WITH the coronavirus are much higher than cases and deaths counted FROM the coronavirus. Ironically, the WHO had previously published material on the correct use and interpretation of surveillance and diagnostic definitions in infectious disease outbreaks. Aylward didn’t appear to get the memo.

There is more to the story. Was this even really a novel coronavirus, or just a novel genetic sequence of the coronavirus showing greater detail than previously available? China supposedly received updated genetic sequencing technology in late 2019. They had abandoned surveillance of SARS in 2003 for lack of technology.

Now they were back in business again by the end of 2019. The team of virologists that reported the genetic sequence of the virus in Wuhan noted that it would be necessary to investigate the epidemiological evidence to guide infection control responses. Who has time for that? Shut it down!

If the novel coronavirus isn’t really so novel, this would explain why the lockdowns didn’t work. We had already known that lockdowns don’t work in other viral pandemics. Even China eventually gave up its Zero Covid Policy after it was obvious that lockdowns weren’t working. My friends owe me some explanations to justify their lockdown views. Maybe Fauci isn’t off the hook after all.

For more information on biases in Covid-19 case and death definitions, see my peer-reviewed article with cited references: Biases in COVID-19 Case and Death Definitions: Potential Causes and Consequences.


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