Accuracy in Media

On Friday YouTube removed a video from China Uncensored dating to February 2020, before Covid invaded the U.S., citing “medical misinformation” for the censorship of an interview from an award-winning journalist who had covered previous viral outbreaks such as Ebola.  

“In Feb. 2020, we interviewed @Laurie_Garrett about Covid,” said Shelley Zhang of China Uncensored via Twitter. “We did not go against WHO guidance. The science may have changed since then, but no one is going back to Feb 2020 for medical advice. @TeamYouTube is deleting the historical record in the name of removing misinformation.” 

China Uncensored wasn’t told by YouTube which part of the interview was deemed problematic but said that the video had been so thoroughly deleted that even their own archival copies of the video had disappeared from the platform.  

It’s reminiscent of an anecdote that was told by a Russian language professor at the University of Maryland in the late 1980s. 

The Great Soviet Encyclopedias were the closest thing to the internet that the Russians had at the time. In the old Soviet Union, citizens were required to give the state their name and addresses if they purchased an encyclopedia. 

That’s because as party doctrine changed, the state would send out patches to addressees, which book owners were then required to paste over older portions of the encyclopedia’s entries to update the information to represent the “new” truth. 

“There were all those awkward junctures,” said the LA Times about Russian encyclopedias as the USSR endured its death throes, “such as the time when Josef Stalin’s infamous chief of the secret police, Lavrenti Beria, fell into disgrace and all Great Soviet Encyclopedia owners were ordered to cut his entry out of the ‘B’ volume and paste in more than anyone could ever want to know about the Bering Strait.”

But the danger when far beyond boring readers about a frigid body of water that separated Asia from North America in order to “non-person” the brutal Beria. 

“We want to tell the truth, but we don’t know where it lies anymore,” Andrei Zaitsev, deputy editor in chief and head of Soviet Encyclopedia’s history department told the Times in 1991 about the corrosive effects of the Soviet editorial practices. “And not only don’t we know, but historians don’t know it either.”

That’s what’s so insidious about the Great Censorship that’s happening today in the USA.   

Fact-checkers and thought police are trying to blot out history in real time, affecting even the memories of how we arrived at this place in history, in part because the people with regulatory power over platforms like YouTube are frightened that the truth about how we arrived here might harm them.   

So Americans today, like those Soviet editors, have no idea where the truth really lies. 

They only know that there are people who don’t want them to know the truth, and a lot of those people are members of the press who write clever chyrons like “fiery but mostly peaceful” about protests that end in gunfire to cover for the sad truth about how the country got to arson and gunfire during peaceful protests.   

Or they just work at YouTube deleting videos that the people who run it don’t like.  

While YouTube eventually reversed course and restored the deleted video from China Uncensored, it would have been better if the video had never been deleted at all, not just for history, but for our place in history. 

The next time, the YouTube thought police might not be so generous. 

Because generosity, as Lavrenti Beria would tell you, is a rare thing among those who wield the power to rewrite history.  




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