American Pravda: Covid, Wuhan, Iran, and Several Red Herrings

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by Ron Unz, The Unz Review:

The Alleged Wuhan Lab-Leak and Its Scientific Skeptics

During most of the last year theories regarding the origins of Covid, whether conspiratorial or otherwise, had disappeared from the public debate, pushed aside by the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests and the final stages of the heated presidential campaign.

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In early January, prominent liberal author and public intellectual Nicholson Baker had tried to revive the issue with a 12,000 word cover story in New York magazine, only to see his Covid lab-leak theory swamped and forgotten when the DC Capitol was stormed by a mob of outraged Trumpists two days later.

  • The Lab-Leak Hypothesis
    For decades, scientists have been hot-wiring viruses in hopes of preventing a pandemic, not causing one. But what if …?
    Nicholson Baker • New York Magazine • January 4, 2021 • 12,000 Words

But then on May 2nd, a revolution occurred after former New York Times science journalist and editor Nicholas Wade published a lengthy article on Medium. His careful 11,000 word analysis mustered the strong evidence that the virus was the artificial product of a human lab, suggesting that it had probably leaked out of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, China’s most advanced viral research facility. That laboratory was known to have been working with those types of coronaviruses and was located in Wuhan, the site of the initial outbreak, raising all sorts of obvious suspicions.

  • The Origin of Covid
    Did people or nature open Pandora’s box at Wuhan?
    Nicholas Wade • Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists • May 5, 2021 • 11,000 Words

The floodgates soon opened and over the next few weeks far more was written on that subject than had been produced during the previous twelve months combined. In just one example, Donald G. McNeil, Jr., the forty-five year veteran of the Times who had spearheaded his paper’s Covid coverage, published a striking mea culpa and embraced the lab-leak hypothesis, admitting that he and other Timesmen had previously dismissed the idea as “far right” lunacy, closely associated with “Pizzagate, the Plandemic, Kung Flu, Q-Anon, Stop the Steal, and the January 6 Capitol invasion.”

McNeil had already retired from the Times the previous December after an unrelated controversy, but others at his former newspaper had also experienced a similar change of heart. For more than a year, the editors had been fiercely critical of the lab-leak theory, heavily promoted by Donald Trump and his allies, but with Trump now safely gone, their perspective changed.

In late June, Zeynep Tufekci, one of their opinion columnists, published a 5,500 word article harshly criticizing China and arguing that the global epidemic had probably been the consequence of a Chinese lab-leak. Prof. Tufekci’s field of study was sociology rather than the biological sciences and her expertise lay in social media, but the appearance of her long piece surely reflected a seismic shift in the views of her top editors.

A far longer exposition of this emerging American media consensus had appeared at the beginning of that same month in Vanity Fair. The 12,000 word article strongly favored the lab-leak theory and focused upon the bureaucratic infighting regarding that issue within the national security apparatus of the Trump Administration. Based upon months of investigative reporting and numerous interviews, the piece seemed to heavily rely upon anonymous Trump intelligence sources, while generally taking our government claims at face value.

Moreover, although the suggestion was presented in a defensive, insinuating manner, the long article also raised serious suspicions that Covid had been developed as a Chinese bioweapon, with that particular word appearing nine times in the text. Millions had already died around the world, including many hundreds of thousands of Americans, so some might find it troubling that such inflammatory accusations had appeared in one of America’s most prestigious general interest magazines, especially considering the near-total lack of any supporting evidence. This article demonstrated the drastic shift in elite media sentiment, with theories previously confined to the extreme anti-China ideological fringe now occupying the center of American journalism.

This situation carried disturbing echoes of how those same mainstream media organs had played a similar role twenty years ago in fostering the hoax of Saddam’s WMD and promoting our disastrous Iraq War. Indeed, I found it rather ironic that one of the main Trump Administration Covid experts quoted in that article and others was David Feith, whose father Douglas Feith had been one of the leading Neocons involved in that notorious Bush Administration intelligence fraud. Moreover, the lead author of the front-page Wall Street Journal story that helped to revive the lab-leak theory in late May was Michael R. Gordon, who had previously shared a byline with Judith Miller on most of the fraudulent Iraqi WMD stories that had propelled us into war. And in early 2020, former Mossad agent Dany Shoham had been one of the earliest figures suggesting that Covid was a Chinese bioweapon leaked from the Wuhan lab, with few remembering that in 2001 he had falsely fingered Saddam’s regime as the source of the Anthrax mailings. It almost seemed that members of the old Iraqi WMD cast were reassembling for a revival.

A useful roundup of this sudden wave of supportive lab-leak coverage came in a 4,500 word article published by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a left-leaning watchdog organization. The article documented this rapid media shift by citing examples from the Washington Post, the New YorkerNew York Magazine, and ABC News, and strongly pushed back against it, continuing to argue for a natural origin of the virus.

Unfortunately, although this piece was quite useful as a compendium of media links, the analysis provided was far from persuasive. Author Joshua Cho was described as a recent college graduate and former FAIR intern, presumably placing him in his early 20s, so I was hardly surprised to notice quite a number of factual and logical errors in his presentation. Most egregiously, he devoted half his article to attacking Wade, whom he ignorantly and insultingly denounced as a notorious promoter of “pseudo-science” and he seemed rather dismayed that prominent left-liberal journalists such as Thomas Frank and Jonathan Cook had taken Wade’s views so seriously. Perhaps this rather self-important former intern should recognize that they probably know some things that he does not, and might consider that Wade had become the science editor at the New York Times almost a decade before Cho was even born.

However, others possessing far greater credibility and scientific expertise have also recently challenged the lab-leak hypothesis on much stronger grounds. The day before Cho’s article appeared, Bloomberg had run a long interview with Danielle Anderson, an experienced Australian virologist who had been the only Westerner working at the Wuhan lab during the period in question. By her account, the description of the lab and its operations provided by the Western media had been totally at odds with what she had seen working there, and the likelihood of a virus leak seemed nil.

Based upon a few sentences in American government cables, our media has repeatedly alleged that the operating standards of the Wuhan lab were poor, but Anderson’s own experience had been entirely different, with the safety protocols so impressive that she later suggested they be adopted at her own research organization. For many months, former members of the Trump Administration had been promoting some questionably-sourced “third party” intelligence claiming that three lab workers became seriously ill in November 2019 with Covid-like symptoms, but Dr. Anderson could recall no such cases, and believed that she would have heard about them. She had generally enjoyed a very friendly and open relationship with her Chinese colleagues, with scientific gossip regularly being shared back and forth. Under these circumstances, she felt certain that if a suspected lab-leak had occurred, she would have heard about it, but there had never been a hint of any such incident.

Furthermore, the creation of a dangerous virus such as Covid would have required many layers of official authorization by lab administrators, and she doubted that a decision of such importance could have been taken without word getting around. While she admitted that it was theoretically possible for some rogue Chinese lab researcher to have secretly undertaken such a project and bioengineered the virus, then accidentally infected himself or others, she rated the likelihood as “exceedingly slim.”

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