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From: FAIR <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Fri, Apr 7, 2023 at 6:02 PM
Subject: Media's Lab Leak Theorists See Spies, Not Scientists, as Arbiters
of Science


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Media's Lab Leak Theorists See Spies, Not Scientists, as Arbiters of Science
Ari Paul
[image: Wall Street Journal depiction of Wuhan lab]

[image: WSJ: Lab Leak Most Likely Origin of Covid-19 Pandemic, Energy
Department Now Says]

*Readers should have very low confidence in the Wall Street Journal's
assumption (2/26/23
that classified intelligence reports are helpful gauges of scientific

The *Wall Street Journal* (2/26/23
broke the news that classified documents show the US Energy Department
believes Covid emerged from a lab leak in China, which sent shockwaves
through the rest of the media. Such a statement by the Energy Department
 “would be significant despite the fact that, as the report said, the
agency made its updated judgment with ‘low confidence,’” according to the
*Guardian* (2/26/23

"Low confidence" is a term intelligence agencies use to signify
that "information’s credibility and/or plausibility is questionable, or
that the information is too fragmented or poorly corroborated to make solid
analytic inferences, or that we have significant concerns or problems with
the sources."

Speaking of low confidence, Michael Gordon, one of the *Journal* reporters
on the byline, used to write for the *New York Times*. There he co-authored
spurious articles with the infamous Judith Miller about imaginary Iraqi
weapons of mass destruction that were used to justify the US invasion of
Iraq (*New York Times*, 9/8/02
*New York Review of Books*, 2/26/04
*Guardian*, 5/27/04
*FAIR.org*, 3/20/13

Nevertheless, this one article from a sketchy reporter, relaying a single
government agency's speculations that were self-labeled as dubious, managed
to reignite the lab leak controversy, with virtually every major US news
outlet returning to the story.

Readers should be asking why so many in media find government talking
points on a scientific question so newsworthy. There is a vast amount of
scientific research that points to Covid spreading to humans from other
animal hosts—“zoonotic jump” is the technical term—and pours serious cold
water on the lab leak hypothesis, as well as some of the political actors
who promote it.
*'Public-health groupthink'*
[image: NYT: Lab Leak Most Likely Caused Pandemic, Energy Dept. Says]

*"Officials would not disclose what the intelligence was"—but that's good
enough for the front page of the New York Times (2/26/23

After the *Journal* story broke, the *New York Times* (2/26/23
noted that the FBI “has also concluded, with moderate confidence, that the
virus first emerged accidentally from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a
Chinese lab that worked on coronaviruses.” Meanwhile, “four other
intelligence agencies and the National Intelligence Council have concluded,
with low confidence, that the virus most likely emerged through natural
transmission.” Other outlets trumpeted the *Journal*’s report, giving the
impression that new evidence about the pandemic’s origins had come to light
(*CNN*, 2/27/23
*NPR*, 2/27/23
*CBS*, 2/28/23

While this reporting indicates that there is little consensus among
government agencies about the virus’ origins, those who want to believe in
the lab leak myth—like Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, to which the *Journal*
belongs—used the report as definitive proof of Chinese carelessness, or
even treachery.

The *Wall Street Journal* editorial board (2/26/23
said the Energy Department declaration “doesn’t mean the case is
definitive,” but that it adds “more evidence that the media and
public-health groupthink about Covid was mistaken and destructive.” The
*Journal* stressed that the “salient detail is that DoE’s judgment is based
on ‘new’ but still secret intelligence”—which is known as the "trust us"
school of journalism.

In another *Journal* op-ed (3/6/23
Tim Trevan, a founder of CHROME Biosafety and Biosecurity Consulting
attempted to say that money, political liberalism, careerism and social
pressure clouded the scientific community’s ability to accept the lab leak
hypothesis. “I am not suggesting that scientists consciously decided to
thwart the truth,” he said:

You don’t have to posit conspiracy theories to explain the rush by the
science establishment to exclude a lab-leak explanation to Covid. You
merely have to admit that scientists are human.

Trevan offers no evidence that a lab leak caused the pandemic, to back up
his insistence that scientists have been blind to the truth. He does,
however, indulge in low-brow anti-Communism and orientalism, saying the
“transparency” necessary for adequate laboratory safety “runs against the
grain of both Communism and China’s hierarchical traditional culture.”
Which is it: Is China too egalitarian in its Maoist ways, or too stuck in
its backward, pre-revolutionary past?

Jonathan Turley
opined at the *New York Post* (2/26/23
that the *Journal*’s scoop vindicated lab leak theorists who had been
branded as racists or conspiracy nuts. *Fox News* (2/27/23
echoed Turley, and it gloated (2/27/23
that “reporters, pundits and media outlets” who had doubted the lab leak
theory “were scolded and lampooned” as a result of the *Journal* report.
*'Intentionally manufactured'*
[image: Fox: CCP government 'intentionally released' COVID-19 'all over the
world,' Chinese virologist says]

*You really can say anything on Fox News (2/28/23
as long as it makes the right people look bad.*

*Fox News *host Tucker Carlson
who has promoted the racist “great replacement” myth on his show (*FAIR.org*,
*NPR*, 5/12/22
took the lab leak speculation and ran with it. He showcased Chinese
virologist Li-Meng Yan (2/28/23
who said that “the Chinese government intentionally manufactured and
released” the coronavirus behind the pandemic, while Carlson suggested “the
Chinese government unleashed Covid to destroy Western economies and elevate
their own position globally.”

Yan's research, while backed by MAGA ideologist Steve Bannon (*Vox*, 9/18/20
has been questioned by *National Geographic* (9/18/20
and her own Hong Kong University (7/11/20

Her narrative nevertheless fits into the anti-China hysteria of *Fox News*,
and has been an important player for the right’s media war since the
pandemic began. As the *New York Times *(11/20/20
put it:

For the diaspora, Dr. Yan and her unfounded claims provided a cudgel for
those intent on bringing down China’s government. For American
conservatives, they played to rising anti-Chinese sentiment
and distracted from the Trump administration’s bungled handling of the

Carlson, of course, is not bothered by the reality that the pandemic
negatively impacted the Chinese economy (*Wall Street Journal*, 1/17/23
and led to internal political unrest (*Al Jazeera*, 12/22/22
[image: NY Post: The lab-leak theory is now almost certainly proved and
other commentary]

*Anything you can point to is "proof" when you are not trying to examine
reality but instead have a story you want to tell (New York Post, 10/10/21

Rebroadcasting reports of official government assertions aligns nicely with
the Republican agenda. *The Hill* (2/26/23
reported that the “lack of confidence or details on the assessment didn’t
stop Republicans from claiming validation and calling for urgent action
against China.” And Sen. Roger Marshall (R.–Kansas) told the *Washington
Post* (2/28/23
that the report “gives us momentum to expose the true origins of Covid.” He
added, with Michael Crichton–like flair: “I think that there’s just no way
this virus could have come from nature. It’s just too perfect.”

The lab leak claim has been a major feature in Republican circles, the
conservative media and anti-Beijing political tendencies for years
now. The *New
York Post* editorial board (10/10/21
claimed that the alleged lab leak, and the Chinese government’s supposed
attempts to cover it up, were all but proven in the fall of 2021.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R.–Arkansas), who has insisted that China must be punished
for the Covid pandemic (*Fox News*, 4/10/20
“said part of the widespread media dismissal of the coronavirus lab-leak
theory last year stemmed from liberal networks’ financial connections to
the Chinese government” (*Fox News*, 6/7/21

The *Journal* report has raised tensions. US ambassador to China Nicholas
Burns (*BBC*, 2/28/23
said China must “be more honest about what happened three years ago in
Wuhan with the origin of the Covid-19 crisis.” It should come as no
surprise that reactionary corporate shock jocks like Joe Rogan, the
all-star of pandemic disinformation pundits (*Washington Post*, 2/2/22
are fans of the theory (*Fox News*, 4/12/22
*Appeals to hunches*
[image: Des Moines Register: Think horses, not zebras; COVID-19 lab leak
origin makes more and more sense]

*The "zebra" in this case is the lab leak theory—rather than zoonotic
transfer, which is the normal way new diseases are introduced to the human
population (Des Moines Register, 2/19/23

If the absence of anything new
in the Energy Department statement didn’t seem to give reporters and
editors pause, that’s because in a lot of media, the lab leak hypothesis is
advanced not so much based on evidence—because as far as tracing the virus
back to the lab, there is none—but on an appeal to the hunches, and
prejudices, of readers.

For example, an opinion piece in the *Des Moines Register* (2/19/23
offered a list of events that are supposed to lead one to the idea that it
could be true: The “Wuhan lab was working on bat coronaviruses, that
gain-of-function work was being done there, [and] that there were concerns
about the lab’s safety practices.” The *Register* op-ed, by former
Republican congressmember and retired surgeon Dr. Greg Ganske, mused “that
the pandemic started in the city where the lab is located, and that there
has been no natural occurrence explanation of the virus.” The takeaway:
“Which theory is most likely?”

This answer posed as a question is presented as though no one has ever
considered it, yet a brief look at the scientific record confirms that the
scientific community has looked into it.

First, it’s not proven that gain-of-function (GoF) research was, in fact,
being conducted  in subpar safety conditions
at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). Basic research
being conducted there has been misrepresented as deliberately trying to
make viruses more dangerous to humans, along with other widespread
falsehoods spread by disgraced science writer
Nicholas Wade. Sen. Rand Paul accused Dr. Anthony Fauci, without evidence,
of “lying” to Congress about the NIH not funding GoF research at the
WIV (*MintPress
News*, 9/29/21
*Newsweek*, 7/22/21

However, even if it were proven the WIV was doing GoF research on the
SARS-CoV-1-like coronaviruses known to be present there, like RaTG13 (which
shares 96% genetic similarity with the genome of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that
causes Covid-19),  that would still not bolster the lab leak theory. For
GoF experiments to create SARS-CoV-2, one would need to start with a virus
with at least 99% genetic similarity, and there is no evidence the Wuhan
lab had anything like this (*Health Feedback*, 3/19/21
*Cell*, 9/16/21
*Cutting through the noise*
[image: NPR: What does the science say about the origin of the SARS-CoV-2

*NPR (2/28/23
asked the right question.*

One mainstream media report in the aftermath of the *Journal* "exclusive"
cut through the noise, noting that while US government agencies bicker
about which low-confidence report is correct, the scientific community is
not particularly divided. “Virologists who study pandemic origins are much
less divided than the US intelligence community,” *NPR* (2/28/23
reported, adding that “they say there is ‘very convincing
data and ‘overwhelming evidence
pointing to an animal origin.”

The Energy Department disclosure comes one year after two peer-reviewed
studies concluded that wildlife susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 present at the
Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan was the most likely origin of the pandemic (
*Science*, 7/26/22
and that there were likely two, not one, animal spillovers at the market,
since a preponderance of the earliest known Covid-19 cases have a direct or
indirect link there, instead of to the WIV, which is nearly 10 miles away.

In the earliest days of the pandemic, two distinct genetic variants of
SARS-CoV-2 (known as lineages A and B) were circulating in Wuhan’s
population. If the pandemic truly originated at the WIV, as many lab origin
proponents suspect, one would have to posit convoluted scenarios, like one
person from the WIV being infected with lineage B and immediately going to
Huanan Market, not infecting anyone on the way; and another person at WIV
being independently infected with lineage A, also immediately going to the
market a week later. Both hypothetical spreaders would each have to leave
no trace at the lab or any other location in Wuhan, to explain why the
preponderance of the earliest known Covid-19 cases are clustered near the
market instead of near the WIV.

This is why scientists like Angela Rasmussen and Michael Worobey (*Globe
and Mail*, 7/28/22
for example, have concluded that “the evidence base for the origin of
SARS-CoV-2 is more robust and conclusive than nearly any other emergent
virus in the past century.” They noted that “we have access to the home
locations of the earliest known 174 COVID-19 cases in the world.” The
authors noted that scientists have “never had a spatial record like this,
of the ignition of any other pandemic, in human history”:

Using the data available and the scientific method in which we have been
trained, we have shown that the likelihood of SARS-CoV-2 originating
anywhere other than the Huanan market is vanishingly slim.

The “much simpler explanation” of SARS-CoV-2 being introduced to the human
population by “two separate zoonotic transmission events at the market,”
the authors conclude, is much more likely in comparison.
*Evidence of animal origins*
[image: Atlantic: The Strongest Evidence Yet That an Animal Started the

*Scientists offering new evidence about the origin of Covid-19 was a much
less compelling story than spies offering new speculation (Atlantic,

More recent evidence from scientists researching previously unavailable
genetic material collected by Chinese investigators from swabs at the
Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in January 2020—shortly after Chinese
authorities shut that market down on suspicions it was linked to the
virus’s outbreak—definitively shows that multiple animal species known to
be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 (most notably raccoon dogs) were present at
the market, since animal DNA there was found to be commingled with
SARS-CoV-2 (*Atlantic*, 3/16/23
*Zenodo*, 3/20/23
This corroborates photographic and business records of illegal live animal
sales being conducted there right before the pandemic’s outbreak, despite
the Chinese government’s lies and stonewalling regarding the wildlife trade
(*Nature*, 6/7/21
*Science*, 8/18/22

While these findings aren’t smoking-gun evidence of an animal origin,
because the data doesn’t distinguish whether the virus collected in the
wildlife stall there was brought there by wildlife or by already-infected
humans, they are still significant. The area in the market where most of
the SARS-CoV-2 positive samples clustered was also where most of the
samples containing wild animal DNA were found, whereas human genetic
material was most abundant in other parts of the market (indicating the
pandemic likely spread from animals to humans, rather than the other way
around). This is entirely consistent with a market origin, and exactly what
one would expect to find if the Huanan Market was indeed the origin of the
pandemic (*Nature*, 3/21/23
*Science*, 3/21/23

But despite the positive evidence in favor of a zoonotic origin, in
comparison to no evidence whatsoever for a lab origin, the *Journal* ran
with the Energy Department statement as though it were a scientific
revelation, and the rest of the media went along for the ride. It’s easy to
chalk that up as mere journalistic laziness, but one has to wonder if there
is something more sinister afoot, given US corporate media's enthusiastic
participation in the US governments' propaganda campaign to pump up China
as an adversary (*FAIR.org*, 3/16/23

In a media environment raising tensions over a Chinese balloon (*FAIR.org*,
and an Air Force memo about possible war with China (*CounterPunch*, 2/7/23
along with the Biden administration’s decision to send up to 200 more
troops to Taiwan (*Wall Street Journal*, 2/23/23
reports on a government disclosure about a potential lab leak with no real
new information create more friction between the two military giants, and
bring us no closer to understanding the pandemic’s origins or how to
prepare for the next viral catastrophe.

* To be fair, the other co-author, Warren Strobel, was one of the very few
in corporate media to report skeptically on WMD claims, along with his
partner at *Knight Ridder*, Jerry Landay (*Extra!*, 3–4/06
In recent years, however, Strobel has produced far more credulous work,
including a piece whitewashing the torture record of CIA director Gina
Haspel (*Wall Street Journal*, 5/25/19
see *FAIR.org*, 6/6/19
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