After spending the last 18 months belittling those who questioned whether COVID-19 may have leaked from a laboratory in China, the media have begun aggressively backpedaling, claiming that their newfound support for an investigation into the virus’ origins hinges on “new information.”
Yet their justification is hard to identify, given that they cite virtually nothing that was not public information nearly a year ago. The only meaningful change is the change in the White House.
Like many in the legacy media, The Washington Post’s fact checker Glenn Kessler made a stunning about-face on Tuesday.
Last May, Kessler had publicly chided Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) for raising the possibility of a lab origin, lecturing the senator that “it is virtually impossible for this virus jump from the lab.” He accused Cruz of missing “the many interviews with actual scientists” that had been published on the origins of the novel coronavirus. “We deal in facts, and viewers can judge for themselves,” Kessler flexed.
I fear @tedcruz missed the scientific animation in the video that shows how it is virtually impossible for this virus jump from the lab. Or the many interviews with actual scientists. We deal in facts, and viewers can judge for themselves. https://t.co/TprMnaHSZL
— Glenn Kessler (@GlennKesslerWP) May 1, 2020
On Tuesday, Kessler walked the path most taken, following a host of fellow journalists by posting a story titled “Timeline: How the Wuhan lab-leak theory suddenly became credible.”
What new evidence?
Under the section titled “new evidence,” Kessler admits that last July 4, The Times of London reported that a virus similar to COVID-19 — which had killed three men in an abandoned copper mine in 2012 — had been taken to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The miners became the subject of a major study published last October in the journal, Frontiers in Public Health.
He padded this out by noting that, in March, “60 Minutes” aired a “report on lingering questions about the origins of the coronavirus.” In May, former New York Times science reporter Nicholas Wade “review[ed] the evidence.” A week later, 18 scientists signed a public letter declaring that “theories of accidental release from a lab … remain viable.”
But evidence has to exist before it is reviewed, and questions and theories have to be posed before they can linger or remain viable. It appears that the only thing that made the theory suddenly “credible” for Kessler is that other legacy media outlets stopped ridiculing it.
Similarly, last May, CNN regurgitated the talking points of the Chinese Communist Party, insisting President Trump and the Republican Party promoted the theory out of political expedience.
“We urge the US to stop spreading disinformation."
China says recent accusations by the Trump administration that the Covid-19 pandemic originated in a lab in Wuhan are a political strategy for Republicans ahead of the 2020 presidential election. https://t.co/noJa7g8n9f
— CNN (@CNN) May 6, 2020
On Monday, CNN reported that “new information on Wuhan researchers’ illness furthers debate on pandemic origins.” Yet the story’s second sentence made clear that the information is anything but “new.”
“A State Department fact sheet released by the Trump administration in January said that the researchers had gotten sick in autumn 2019 but did not go as far as to say they had been hospitalized,” it said.
The State Department announced on January 15 that “several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses. This raises questions about the credibility of WIV senior researcher Shi Zhengli’s public claim that there was ‘zero infection’ among the WIV’s staff and students of SARS-CoV-2 or SARS-related viruses.”
“Any credible inquiry into the origin of the virus must include interviews with these researchers and a full accounting of their previously unreported illness,” it added.
CNN’s new report noted that its “new information” adds only the detail that the lab workers were hospitalized, and “the intelligence community still does not know what the researchers were actually sick with.”
CNN’s competitor, MSNBC, encapsulated the change in one brief onscreen exchange.
“For most of the last year-and-a-half, the idea that it may have leaked from a Chinese lab was seen as an unfounded conspiracy theory,” intoned host Stephanie Ruhle on Tuesday, “but that may be changing.” NBC reporter Ken Dilanian opened the segment by saying, “Back in January, the Trump State Department, on its way out the door, put out a fact sheet where they said that the U.S. had determined that several researchers at this Wuhan Institute of Virology had become sick in the fall with COVID-like symptoms.”
“But that was dismissed at the time, because it was the Trump administration,” Dilanian admitted. “But in fact, it was based on intelligence, Stephanie.”
For once, MSNBC speaks for a large constituency: Much of the media have confessed their anti-Trump bias affected their coverage of the deadly global pandemic.
The prestige media have serially blamed Donald Trump and other Republicans for their lack of curiosity, their investigative inertia, and their slack-jawed credulity.
“The Trump administration’s messaging was often accompanied by anti-Chinese rhetoric that made it easier for skeptics to ignore its claims,” Kessler wrote. President Trump regularly spoke about making Beijing pay for concealing the virus and letting infected citizens travel the world, turning a local outbreak into an international pandemic.
New York Times White House reporter Maggie Haberman told CNN’s “New Day” on Monday that it was President Trump and then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who “made this instantly political.” She called the media’s dismissal of the theory “example 1,000 when the Trump administration learned when you burn your own credibility over and over again, people are not immediately going to believe you, especially in an election year.”
Still, some say the media’s execrable performance provides a chance for journalists to review Journalism 101. One of the first advocates of the lab origin theory, U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), tweeted, “One lesson for the media is that self-interested denials from the Chinese Communist Party do not equal ‘debunking.’”
One lesson for the media is that self-interested denials from the Chinese Communist Party do not equal "debunking." pic.twitter.com/awYnmSS01A
— Tom Cotton (@TomCottonAR) May 25, 2021
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.