How the Media Muzzled the Lab-Leak Theory
The Mediaverse by Dennis Kneale, TruthDAO opinion columnist
In the opening months of the Covid-19 epidemic Chinese officials said the deadly new virus must have originated and mutated in a bat, which then got eaten by, perhaps, an armadillo-like pangolin, which then was killed, slaughtered and sold at a “wet market” in Wuhan. Then some people ate its infected flesh, contracted the new virus, developed a new, virulently lethal flu, and spread it to their neighbors.
Voila! The first pandemic in over a hundred years then broke out.
Now the Department of Energy, in a new assessment, says Covid-19 likely emerged from a Chinese virus research lab in Wuhan, home to three such sites. The FBI concurs. The media’s role in denying this story for three years bears new scrutiny.
Most new viruses emerge from animal-to-human transmission, and the World Health Organization, closely tied to China, obligingly bowed to this alibi. So did the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the medical establishment.
But they also went out of their way to explicitly dismiss the possibility of a lab leak, even though Chinese officials had refused to let investigators inspect the suspect lab in Wuhan, a city of over 12 million people in central China, 500 miles west of Shanghai on the eastern coast.
The press pushback against the lab-leak theory began weeks after Republican Sen. Tom Cotton cited it publicly in early February of 2020. (See Part One [INSERT LINK] of this column.) Weeks later, the media crackdown turned to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
ABCnews.com on March 12, 2020: “False claims about sources of coronavirus cause spat between the US, China.” It said Pompeo “has even branded the outbreak the ‘Wuhan Virus,’” and that this had “prompted accusations from some as stigmatizing Chinese people…”
This notion that calling Covid the “China flu” or “Wuhan flu” was anti-Asian and racist was concocted by the Chinese government. It was promoted by the state media, and then parroted by Democrats and the American media. I think the term is “useful idiots.”
For over a century, new diseases were named for where they first emerged: the Spanish flu (1918), MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome), Ebola, Lyme disease (Old Lyme, Connecticut). Only now is the practice suddenly politically incorrect.
Even the Chinese state media used the terms “Chinese flu” and the “Wuhan flu” at the start of the crisis, a search of the internet Wayback Machine shows. Then they pivoted and insisted the terms were racist. I learned this while helping Lou Dobbs on his book, "The Trump Century." There’s more on my Ricochet podcast, "What's Bugging Me."
In April 2020, President Trump asserted that a lab leak in China may have caused the pandemic. On a Wednesday, April 15, he told reporters “a lot of people are looking into it,” and “it seems to make a lot of sense.”
On Friday, Dr. Anthony Fauci undercut him in a briefing they did with reporters, as BusinessInsider.com reported. Headline: “Dr. Fauci throws cold water on conspiracy theory…”
Two weeks later, on April 30, Trump was at a press briefing, and he was asked a question that was too perfectly phrased not to have been planted: “Have you seen anything at this point that gives you a high degree of confidence that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the origin of this virus?”
“Yes I have,” Trump answered, as BBC.com reported. “And I think the World Health Organization should be ashamed of themselves, because they’re like the public relations agency for China.”
This was immediately undercut by the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees U.S. spy agencies. It told the media it concurs with “wide scientific consensus” regarding Covid-19’s “natural origins.”
A few days later Pompeo was the target, again. The New York Times, May 3, 2020: “Pompeo Ties Coronavirus to China Lab, Despite Spy Agencies’ Uncertainty.” The Guardian said Pompeo claimed there is “enormous evidence” of the lab origins of Covid, “but did not provide any of the alleged evidence.”
ABC News reported that “Pompeo changes tune,” “as intel officials cast doubt.” The story said he first cited “enormous evidence” before “shifting Wednesday to say there’s ‘significant’ evidence, but the U.S. doesn’t have ‘certainty’ yet.”
This is reasonable, but it was faulted, anyway. Bloomberg had Pompeo “asserting that (China) covered up the origins of the virus even as he eased off earlier claims of ‘enormous evidence’ that the virus escaped from a laboratory there.”
Rolling Stone headline: “In One Interview Pompeo Says COVID-19 Came from Wuhan Lab, Then Says It Didn’t, Then Again Suggests It Did.” Deck: “The secretary of state was all over the map while discussing an unsubstantiated theory…”
The media focused on poking holes in Pompeo’s claims rather than pursuing the lab leak. The lesson journalists still have yet to learn is the same as it ever was: avoid rushing to judgment, and tell opposing views of the truth. When everyone else is shouting the same thing, give greater consideration to the notion they might be flat wrong.
Up Next in Part Three: When in Doubt, Blame it on Trump.
Dennis Kneale, @denniskneale on Twitter, is a media strategist and writer in New York. He spent more than 30 years at The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, CNBC, and Fox Business. His podcast is called "What's Bugging Me."