The hypothesis that COVID-19 could have originated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) generated a major media uproar and caused some liberal media to begin to assume its fiasco by labeling the theory a conspiracy. In addition to covering their mistake, some important media such as The Washington Post or New York Magazine, explained several of the reasons why they acted “skeptical” with the theory; one of them is that Homeland Security officials dismissed the hypothesis because former President Donald Trump pushed it.
Homeland Security officials, as well as health experts and liberal media, despite having no evidence to back up their skepticism, decided to dismiss the plausible lab accident theory just because Trump used it to “attack” China.
According to The Washington Post, health and Homeland Security officials had WIV in their sights and these “expressed frustration that there was not better funding in the intelligence community to gather more information on the lab’s activities.”
“Trump offered no evidence to back the lab theory. His trade adviser, Peter Navarro, a longtime China hawk, accused the Chinese government of engineering the virus, offering no credible evidence to support such an audacious claim. For some of the officials who were privately suspicious of the Wuhan lab, Trump’s and Navarro’s comments turned the lab-leak scenario into a fringe conspiracy theory. It became nearly impossible to generate interest among health experts in a hypothesis that Trump had turned into a political weapon, they said.”Washington Post’s article.
However, the officials stopped believing in the lab accident theory only because Trump began to publicly disseminate it.
Trump and Navarro’s comments were in April 2020. At that time, both Fox News and Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin published news reports reporting on bat coronavirus research conducted at WIV that concerned U.S. officials.
There was no evidence, but there was reasonable doubt
As Josh Rogin himself explained, American officials who worked in Beijing and were at WIV sent diplomatic cables in early 2018 explaining that the Wuhan lab was conducting potentially dangerous research with bat coronaviruses, including the controversial gain-of-function, a research that genetically boosts a virus to introduce them into humanized guinea pigs or mice and see how they evolve.
This controversial practice, health experts explained, is aimed at analyzing its effects on humanized samples in order to create antibodies or antidotes to a potential disease.
The problem is that, according to some American officials, the Chinese military had a lot of influence in the WIV and this laboratory, despite being the first Chinese laboratory to achieve the highest international bioresearch safety level (known as BSL-4) did not meet the personnel standards necessary to manage the equipment or facilities of this type of laboratory, which is why it was unsafe to conduct experiments such as gain-of-function.
Of course, the mere fact that the Wuhan Institute of Virology conducted dangerous experiments does not mean that it is the source of the virus, however, in the face of a global health crisis, it would have made sense for this lab to undergo a rigorous investigation to determine if the origin of the virus was born at this site.
But the Chinese regime had other plans. The secrecy of the Chinese Communist Party systematically prevented independent investigations on its territory and boycotted attempts by the questioned World Health Organization (WHO) to conduct studies at WIV. It also spread its own baseless theories about the possible origin of the virus.
Another important point is that, even if the virus had been generated by a jump between species (from bats to humans), that does not mean that it did not come out of a laboratory. That was the explanation that Xiao Qiang, a research scientist at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, gave Josh Rogin last year.
Despite the fact that by 2020 there was already reasonable doubt to question the seafood market theory and turn the spotlight on the Chinese lab that conducted dangerous coronavirus studies without trained personnel, national security officials and health experts decided to bury the “conspiracy theory” because of its alleged racial bias and not follow the reasoning of Trump administration officials.
The liberal media also followed the opinion of the experts who ridiculed the theory and today are retracting it.
Officials under fire
Jonathan Chait of the progressive-leaning New York Magazine wrote an interesting critique based on the recent WaPo story that revealed security officials’ stance on the lab accident theory:
“A recent Washington Post story, looking back at the government’s response to virus’s origination, reported that many officials refused to explore the lab-leak hypothesis because it was associated with right-wing politics… That is an extraordinarily damning admission. Health experts who understood all along that it was entirely possible that the virus emerged from a lab simply refused to examine the hypothesis because it had become associated with the likes of Donald Trump.”
But not all of the liberal media criticized the pundits and mainstream media for their inadequate coverage of the possible lab accident. A lengthy Vanity Fair story, for example, reads a critique of the Trump administration for allegedly politicizing the environment and also pushing the lab theory as “toxic racism.”
However, the same report accepts that “With President Trump out of office, it should be possible to reject his xenophobic agenda and still ask why, in all places in the world, did the outbreak begin in the city with a laboratory housing one of the world’s most extensive collection of bat viruses, doing some of the most aggressive research?”
With Trump gone, the theory is no longer a “conspiracy” or “racist”
President Joe Biden has already approved a review of the origins of COVID-19 including the possibility that the virus may have come out of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. With the Republican no longer in office, the lab accident is no longer far-fetched and no longer xenophobic. Or so say the liberal media.
Some media make mea culpa, but others still see it as reasonable that they have accused the conspiracy theory just because the right wing was the first to denounce it.
Jonathan Chait explains that this sets a dangerous precedent in two sentences: “When scientists are openly arguing against the study of a scientific hypothesis, for non-scientific reasons, something has gone haywire” and “That journalists dismissed a plausible theory, because they associated it with people who have noxious beliefs, does not strike them as a problem, but a correct epistemological model”.
In the end both national security officials, liberal media and health experts ended up playing into the hands of the Chinese Communist Party for an entire year. Just when the world most needs an answer about the origin of COVID-19.