Lab-Leak Denial: When in Doubt, Blame Trump

Lab-Leak Denial: When in Doubt, Blame Trump

The Mediaverse by Dennis Kneale, TruthDAO opinion columnist

Will the media ever own up to their sins in covering Covid-19? Rhetorical questions always have an answer that is self-evident, this one being “no.” Instead, they will resort to their go-to: Blame Trump.

As the pandemic began to overtake the planet in 2020, likely started by the leak of a newly created virus engineered in a Chinese government lab, the New York Times waded in with a story bylined by four reporters on April 30, 2020. Never mind whether Covid-19 was born in a Wuhan lab, the Times went after President Trump.

Headline: “Trump Officials Are Said to Press Spies to Link Virus and Wuhan Labs.” They “have pushed American spy agencies to hunt for evidence to support an unsubstantiated theory” as “President Trump escalates a public campaign to blame China for the pandemic.”

“Some analysts are worried that the pressure from senior officials could distort assessments about the coronavirus and be used as a weapon in an escalating battle with China,” the Times reported. Oh, poppycock.

A day later, May 1, 2020, ran its own four-byline story, including that of Jim Acosta, a virulent anti-Trumper. Headline: "Trump contradicts US intel community..."  It said intelligence officials “are facing enormous pressure” to investigate the lab theory, and “the situation on the inside is alarming.” Sigh.

Then the Washington Post, on May 4, ran an "analysis" by Jacqueline Alemany, and the sense of sneer was redolent. It says the Trump reelection campaign had “moved to shift blame to China from the White House’s own response to the virus,” adding: “Never-mind that a growing body of scientific evidence shows the virus was the product of a natural process.”

On Sept. 15, 2020, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Fox News hosted Dr. Li-Meng Yan a Chinese virologist who had worked at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, who said the virus was manmade in the Chinese lab. Politifact published a fact-check article, giving this claim the biggest-liar rating it uses: “Pants on Fire.” It later removed this item.

On Sept. 30, the Times ran a story  on a new Cornell University study on coronavirus misinformation: “Study Finds ‘Single Largest Driver’ of Coronavirus Misinformation: Trump.” “Mentions of Trump” comprised almost 40% of the “misinformation conversation.” Mere mentions apparently count against him.

The researchers ran an analysis of 38 million stories. What the Times neglected to point out: less than 3% of these stories had misinformation—surprisingly low. Of these 1.1 million flawed articles, the Wuhan lab “conspiracy theory” ranked fourth among 11 subtopics, with almost 30,000 articles mentioning it.

It wasn’t a conspiracy theory: it was a plausibility.

A week later, the journal Nature ran a “blame Trump” article by Jeff Tollefson, headlined, "How Trump damaged science—and why it could take decades to recover.” Sample: “The US president’s actions have exacerbated the pandemic… Some of the harm could be permanent.” Chicken Little meets Eeyore.

Then came a fact-check on Oct. 6, 2020  by liberal outlet “Evidence-Free ‘Lab Leak’ Speculation Boosts Trump’s Xenophobic Approach to Coronavirus.” Albeit, speculating about a lab leak seems pertinent rather than “xenophobic.”

But the sands started to shift in the new year of 2021. New York magazine on Jan. 4, 2021 published “The Lab-Leak Hypothesis” by book author Nicholson Baker. On May 24, the magazine followed up with a scathing takedown by Jonathan Chait: “How the Liberal Media Dismissed the Lab-Leak Theory and Smeared Its Supporters.”

Cue media retreat. a day later:  “Media face hard questions on Trump, Wuhan lab.” This, “amid a growing acceptance that it is possible COVID-19 originated in a Chinese laboratory. The idea was disparaged as a conspiracy theory by multiple outlets last year—almost surely because its loudest promoter was then-President Trump.”

A startling moment of rare clarity.

Glenn Kessler in the Washington Post (May 25th): “Timeline: How Wuhan Lab Leak Theory Suddenly Became Credible.” The idea that the virus emerged from a Wuhan lab, “once dismissed as a ridiculous conspiracy theory—has gained new credence.”

This had former President Trump bragging on Newsmax, as quoted in the New York Post on May 25th: “And people didn’t want to say China. Usually, they blame it on Russia. It’s always Russia, Russia, Russia, but I said right at the beginning it came out of Wuhan.” That, he did.

On May 27, 2021, President Biden ordered intel agencies to report back to him in 90 days on the lab leak theory and other alternatives, as AP and others reported. Their coverage of Biden’s order was in stark contrast to the way they covered Trump’s earlier, similar edict (see Part Two of this series). (((INSERT LINK)))

Time to blame Trump, again. (May 26th): “How Distrust of Donald Trump Muddled the COVID-19 ‘Lab Leak’ Debate.”  “Trump was widely criticized for his xenophobic language and what may critics assumed was another example of his irresponsible deployment of non-facts.”

The article’s unrepentant dismount: “And we wonder why Americans dismissed Trump when he asserted that a lab accident in China may have been to blame. It’s possible to be correct and untrustworthy at the same time.” Hm, I’m not hearing “We’re sorry.”

A few weeks later, a startling op ed in The Wall Street Journal reported that new evidence that Covid-19 was, indeed, manmade in a lab. The virus carries an added feature that increases its lethality; and a DNA sequence that Chinese researchers had withheld from the world when they published an early paper identifying Covid-19 in February of 2020.

The secret sequence is a favorite marker implanted by researchers—CGG-CGG. This rare combo (of the DNA building blocks cytosine and guanine) has never before been found in nature, the article said. The media largely ignored this story, too.

In August 2020, intelligence agencies reported back to President Biden with inconclusive results. Even now, the National Intelligence Council and four other agencies still abide by the less likely bat-virus theory. The FBI and the Energy Department say Covid was caused by a lab leak. The CIA remains undecided.

Given this mishmash, why were the media so hellbent on quashing the most likely explanation for a manmade act that cost more than seven million lives?

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."