The Atlantic’s David Frum appears to be first out of the gate in what will likely become a coordinated, aggressive media campaign to defend the people and institutions that got the COVID-19 origin story wrong — and absolve them of all responsibility, however complicit they might be — and instead blame it all on Trump and his supporters.
It sounds stupid, I know, but it’s true. Frum thinks Trump and his tens of millions of supporters “are not interested in weighing the evidence” of the virus’s origins, and only want “payback for the political and cultural injuries inflicted on them by the scientists.” The whole thing, for them, is just “a weapon in a culture war here at home.”
Leaving aside the deep irony that Frum, of all people, is accusing anyone of not being interested in weighing the evidence, we need to understand this opening salvo for the retcon job it is. Frum is preemptively exonerating the gatekeepers and experts who resisted, and in some cases actively opposed, any discussion or serious inquiry into the possibility that COVID -19 didn’t emerge naturally but escaped from a lab in Wuhan.
If Trump and his supporters turn out to be right, then they’re right for the wrong reasons, says Frum. As Bret Weinstein noted, this is an attempt to “fictionalize the history” of the debate about COVID’s origins and “immunize” the corrupt people and institutions that were on the wrong side of that debate. (Frum, you have to admit, is the perfect person to lead the charge on this.)
The COVID Origin Debate Isn’t Going Away
The need for such a campaign has become apparent in recent days because the question of COVID’s origins isn’t going away. There are two main theories: either the virus naturally jumped from animal to humans, or it was being studied — and perhaps manipulated or enhanced — in a lab and accidentally escaped.
A much-criticized report issued in March by a World Health Organization-led team dismissed the idea that the virus could have escaped from a lab, calling it “extremely unlikely” despite the team having no access to relevant records or data in China. It concluded animal origin was the more likely of the two possibilities. The WHO-led team, which included scientists from China, devoted just four of 313 pages in its report to the possibility that the virus came from a lab.
Then last week, a group of prominent scientists published a letter in the journal Science calling for a deeper investigation, including the possibility that the virus escaped from a lab by accident. The letter’s signatories include some of the world’s leading coronavirus researchers. One of them is Dr. Ralph Baric, who collaborated with Dr. Shi Zheng-li, China’s foremost expert on bat viruses, at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, located in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began. They were trying to enhance the ability of bat viruses to infect humans.
The letter came just days after Nicholas Wade, a veteran science reporter for Nature and The New York Times, published a long essay laying out in great detail the evidence behind both origin theories. The takeaway from Wade’s piece is that the lab leak theory has a mountain of circumstantial evidence to support it, while the animal theory has absolutely nothing.
Who’s Afraid Of the Truth?
So why did the entire corporate media dismiss the lab leak theory as some crazy conspiracy theory last year? Well, because Trump and his supporters suggested it. When Sen. Tom Cotton last February had the temerity to note on Fox News that the virus emerged not far from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, The New York Times ran with the headline: “Senator Tom Cotton Repeats Fringe Theory of Coronavirus Origins.”
Never mind that what Cotton actually said was rather mild: “We don’t have evidence that this disease originated there. But because of China’s duplicity and dishonesty from the beginning, we need to at least ask the question to see what the evidence says, and China right now is not giving evidence on that question at all.”
The Times’ reaction to Cotton was emblematic of corporate media at large. From the outset, very few journalists wanted to talk about the lab leak theory for fear of being tarred as a fringe conspiracy theorist. No major media organizations devoted resources to investigating the disease’s origin, and almost no prominent scientists came forward to ask the tough questions that some of them are asking now.
Last May, in an interview with National Geographic, Dr. Anthony Fauci dismissed the theory that COVID could have escaped from a lab. “If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats and what’s out there now, [the scientific evidence] is very, very strongly leaning toward this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated,” Fauci said. “Everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that [this virus] evolved in nature and then jumped species.”
When New York Magazine published a lengthy essay by Nicholson Baker in January, going over much of the same territory that Wade did last week, the silence from the rest of the corporate press was deafening. Baker cataloged in great detail the recent history of what’s called gain-of-function research, which involves making naturally occurring viruses more potent, or transmissible, in an effort to predict what the next big pandemic-causing virus might be and prepare for it.
In recent decades, writes Baker, scientists have
made machines that mix and mingle the viral code for bat diseases with the code for human diseases — diseases like SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome, for example, which arose in China in 2003, and MERS, Middle East respiratory syndrome, which broke out a decade later and has to do with bats and camels. Some of the experiments — ‘gain of function’ experiments — aimed to create new, more virulent, or more infectious strains of diseases in an effort to predict and therefore defend against threats that might conceivably arise in nature.
Very few people even knew about such research before the pandemic. But Fauci did. As director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, he supported funding for gain-of-function experiments as part of a broader strategy of vaccine development. If anyone might have insight into how such experiments might result in a lab accident that could trigger a pandemic, it’s him.
Yet he refuses to discuss any of this, even with members of Congress who ask him about it directly. If you missed the recent exchange between Fauci and Sen. Rand Paul on this subject, it’s worth watching in full, partly to see Fauci’s breathtaking arrogance and condescension, but mostly to see how he refuses to answer or even engage a fairly straightforward question.
.@RandPaul: "Dr. Fauci, do you still support…NIH funding of the lab in Wuhan?"
Dr. Anthony Fauci: "Senator Paul, with all due respect, you are entirely and completely incorrect…"
— CSPAN (@cspan) May 11, 2021
Notice Fauci’s response. He insists — in legalistic, carefully circumscribed language — that the NIH “has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.” He repeats this, mantra-like, throughout his exchange with Paul, circling back to it every time the senator presses him on why the U.S. government was funding Baric’s collaboration with the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
But at one point Fauci pivots. Paul asks him if the National Institutes of Health has funded Baric’s gain-of-function research and Fauci says Baric doesn’t do gain-of-function research, but then says, “and if it is, it’s according to the guidelines and it is being done in North Carolina, not in China.”
So, is Baric doing gain-of-function research, or not? Set aside whether it’s being done in China or North Carolina. Set aside whether the NIH was directly funding the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Does Fauci support such research? He won’t say, and instead just keeps repeating his carefully parsed sentence that the NIH does not fund gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Fauci’s evasion speaks volumes. If he were concerned, like the rest of us are, about the origins of COVID-19, if he really wanted to find out whether it might have been the result of gain-of-function research and somehow escaped from the lab in Wuhan, he would’ve gone to great lengths to answer Paul’s questions and explain to the American people exactly what Baric was studying, and why, and how.
If Baric wasn’t doing gain-of-function research, then what was he doing? Is it relevant to the pandemic? What was the extent of his collaboration with Shi and the Wuhan Institute of Virology?
At some point, he’s going to have answer those questions, because the American people are going to demand concrete answers. Other prominent virologists are willing to talk about this, so why isn’t Fauci?
The former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, said in a recent interview that, “it’s important to just maintain scientific objectivity as we begin to look at the evidence for the ultimate origins of this particular virus,” and that, “Covid-19 is really distinctively different in that it entered into our awareness, and literally at the same time had very efficient human to human transmission. That’s not how zoonosis usually enter in the human species.”
Now that prominent scientists like Redfield and others are saying such things, prominent journalists like Frum are scrambling to re-write the history of how their entire industry dismissed and demonized anyone who suggested COVID might have escaped from a lab.
Their hatred of Trump and his supporters made it impossible for them not to politicize the pandemic, to insist that COVID couldn’t have escaped from a lab, because that would benefit Trump and validate his supporters. And now it will prevent them from telling the truth when the truth eventually comes out. Just watch.