On the heels of Dr. Anthony Fauci’s admission that the lab-leak theory is a possible explanation for the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Washington Post is also changing its tune amid growing circumstantial evidence.
The story, “Timeline: How the Wuhan lab-leak theory suddenly became credible,” is by Glenn Kessler, who writes the Post’s “Fact Checker” column.
Kessler wrote Tuesday that in “recent months the idea that it emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) – once dismissed as a ridiculous conspiracy theory – has gained new credence.”
“How and why did this happen?” he asked. “For one, efforts to discover a natural source of the virus have failed. Second, early efforts to spotlight a lab leak often got mixed up with speculation that the virus was deliberately created as a bioweapon.”
Kessler – known for his “Pinocchio” ratings evaluating the truthfulness of statements by public figures and media – said that those two facts made it “easier for many scientists to dismiss the lab scenario as tin-hat nonsense.”
But there is evidence that the Wuhan lab collaborated with the People’s Liberation Army, and many who long have been skeptical of the natural-origin theory pushed by Beijing argue establishment media simply didn’t do their job. Instead, they took the word of the Chinese Communist Party and of scientists blinded by a hatred for Donald Trump and, in some instances, saddled with a conflict of interest.
A Washington Post story on May 1, 2020, was headlined “Was the new coronavirus accidentally released from a Wuhan lab? It’s doubtful.”
CNN.com ran a story May 5, 2020, titled “Anthony Fauci just crushed Donald Trump’s theory on the origins of the coronavirus.”
Among the skeptics of the natural origin theory is Cambridge-educated British science writer Nicholas Wade, who is known for a New York Times column he wrote for many years.
In a lengthy analysis published this month in which he contends the circumstantial evidence points overwhelmingly to a lab leak, he noted a February 2020 letter signed by a group of virologists and others published in the eminent British science journal The Lancet.
The scientists insisted on a natural origin and condemned “conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.”
Establishment media, Wade pointed out, largely ran with that conclusion without any serious investigation.
The scientists wrote that they “overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife” and called on readers to stand with Chinese colleagues on the frontline of fighting the disease.
But Wade showed how the signatories “were assuring the public of facts they could not know for sure were true.” It turned out that the letter had been organized and drafted by the president of the EcoHealth Alliance, Peter Daszak.
The fact that Daszak’s organization funded coronavirus research at the Wuhan lab – a clear conflict of interest – was not disclosed to The Lancet’s readers, Wade noted. To the contrary, the letter concluded, “We declare no competing interests.” And, significantly, Daszak was the sole American representative on the WHO team investigating the pandemic’s origin.
The news site Vox has quietly revised a March 4, 2020, article on the origin of COVID-19 that cited the declaration in The Lancet.
Titled “The Conspiracy Theories About the Origins of the Coronavirus, Debunked,” it said “virologists who’ve parsed the genome and infectious disease experts who study coronaviruses have more than enough evidence to show that the virus is brand new and came from nature, not the Wuhan lab,” the National Pulse reported.
Vox said a “large group of them, citing genome analyses from multiple countries, recently affirmed in The Lancet that the virus originated in wildlife.”
“The emergence of the virus in the same city as China’s only level 4 biosafety lab, it turns out, is pure coincidence,” they said.
Among the changes to the article one year later were exchanging “is” for “appears to be” and deleting “not the Wuhan lab.”
The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that three Wuhan Institute of Virology researchers became ill with COVID-like symptoms in November 2019 and sought hospital care, according to a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report.
‘Always reasonable’ theory
Kessler acknowledged that from the beginning of the pandemic, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., was spotlighting the Wuhan lab’s location at the epicenter of the outbreak and pressing China for answers.
On Monday, Cotton said on Twitter that the lab leak hypothesis was “always reasonable” yet denounced as a conspiracy theory by “reporters & activists in white lab coats.”
“The common-sense case for a lab leak is the same as it was in January 2020, when I first mentioned the possibility,” the senator said.
“Isn’t it strange that this once-in-a-century bat coronavirus pandemic just happened to emerge within a few miles of China’s biggest laboratory researching bat coronaviruses? Shouldn’t we at least look at that lab?” he asked.
Cotton said the Wuhan Institute of Virology and Wuhan Centers for Disease Control “need to open their doors & databases for a full audit of their research—especially dangerous gain-of-function research.”
Kessler noted the Trump administration also highlighted the lab scenario, but he added that officials “generally could only point to vague intelligence.”
And, the Post columnist said, the Trump administration’s “messaging was often accompanied by anti-Chinese rhetoric that made it easier for skeptics to ignore its claims.”
That’s presumably a reference to Trump calling it the “China virus,” adopting the traditional convention of naming a virus after its place of origin.
One year ago, at the White House, Trump was asked by a reporter: “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. Yes, I have,” Trump replied. “And I think the World Health Organization [WHO] should be ashamed of themselves because they’re like the public relations agency for China.”
On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that when Trump began pushing the lab hypothesis last year, other governments that could have helped press for a lab investigation distanced themselves from the administration, according to Andrew Bremberg, the U.S. ambassador to the WHO at the time.
“It was like an overnight shift,” he said. “When the president first touched this, they shut down.”
‘Pants on Fire’ rating.
On Monday, an interview conducted earlier this month surfaced in which Dr. Anthony Fauci admitted that the lab-leak theory is a possibility.
Ironically, the interview was conducted by the Poynter Institute’s fact-checking site PolitiFact, which less than a week later unpublished its highly influential “fact check” from last September that declared the lab-leak theory was “ridiculous,” worthy of its “Pants on Fire” rating.
In its partnership with PolitiFact, Facebook was using the “fact-check” to justify censoring accounts presenting evidence the Wuhan coronavirus originated in a lab. News organization that rely on Facebook for distribution were forced to comply with PolitiFact’s conclusion about the virus’ origin or be suspended or banished from the platform.
The Hill reporter Joe Concha recalled Tuesday in an interview with Fox New that in February 2020, when the world was beginning to learn about the virus, establishment media dismissed as conspiracy theory the concerns of Trump and Cotton that the virus might have come from a lab.
Trump and Cotton had access to classified information, Concha pointed out, and the Chinese had kicked out foreign journalists.
So how is it, he asked that establishment media and politicians were so adamant about the natural origin theory?
“How did they come to a definitive conclusion when we didn’t know what we didn’t know,” he asked.
“Why did the U.S. media believe at face value the World Health Organization … and by extension the Chinese Communist Party, that it came from a wet market blocks away from the lab, as opposed to verifying, which could take some time?”
“How could you believe the Chinese Communist Party?”
Pressed on the issue at the White House on Monday by Fox News reporter Steve Doocy, press secretary Jen Psaki insisted that the White House needed “access to the underlying data.”
“They will be waiting a long time,” Concha remarked.
The Biden administration is recommending that the WHO lead a more thorough investigation into the possibility of a lab leak. A U.S. official told the Wall Street Journal an investigation should include other laboratories in Wuhan as well as the WIV and examine “biosafety records and interview staff members.”
Meanwhile, Beijing not only rejects the lab-leak theory, it wants the WHO to probe whether the pandemic began outside of China.
“The U.S. keeps concocting inconsistent claims and clamoring to investigate labs in Wuhan,” China’s foreign ministry said in a written statement. “This fully shows that some people in the U.S. don’t care about facts and truth.”