Several members of the media are now grasping at straws in order to excuse their dismissal of the lab-leak theory in 2020, many of them pointing fingers at former President Trump.
The notion that COVID leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology was widely dismissed as a racist “conspiracy theory” and “fringe” nonsense when it was first pushed by Republicans in 2020. But the COVID lab-leak theory has since been viewed as the most probably by the FBI and U.S. Energy Department, prompting the pundits and reporters who rejected it in the first place to blame Trump as such a lightning rod at the time, they essentially had no choice but to oppose it.
While many focus on the “low confidence” angle because the Energy Department isn’t certain where COVID originated – some other agencies still favor the natural origin hypothesis – others have suggested Trump and members of his administration were so vile and racist that their theory had to be dismissed out of hand.
“Everybody has an excuse for their bias and their activism and lack of logic,” media analyst Joe Concha told Fox News Digital. “And when in doubt, break glass and blame Trump for everything.”
“We had journalists and pundits and editorial boards who believed the Chinese Communist Party over Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz and the president of the United States, all because of their party affiliation, and there was an election after all here at home,” Concha added.
On ABC’s “The View,” co-host Sunny Hostin declared that Trump “unleashed xenophobia” during a conversation about the lab leak hypothesis. Co-host Whoopi Goldberg recently made excuses for comedian Jon Stewart, who famously embraced the lab leak theory in 2021 during an appearance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”
“[Trump] made it about Asian people, and I’m sure Jon Stewart didn’t realize that that’s what was happening, because I’m sure he didn’t know what was going on all over the country with Asian folks getting smacked and hit and people saying stuff to them about bringing the disease here,” Goldberg said.
“If you-know-who had not started with that, had he not made it about that,” Goldberg continued, “had he said, ‘Listen, this might have come out of a lab,’ it probably would have been listened to a lot differently.”
MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan insisted the lab-leak theory was dismissed because it was being “conflated” with the right’s “anti-Fauci conspiracies.”
“The simple reason why so many people weren’t keen to discuss the ‘lab leak *theory* is because it was originally conflated by the right with ‘Chinese bio weapon’ conspiracies and continues to be conflated by the right with anti-Fauci conspiracies. Blame the conspiracy theorists,” Hasan tweeted.
FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver mocked Hasan’s tweet, writing “This is so refreshingly honest. The Bad People thought the lab leak might be true, therefore as journalists we couldn’t be expected to actually evaluate the evidence for it.”
Left-wing CNN columnist Jill Filipovic was blunt, specifically naming Trump and blaming his rhetoric for the lab leak theory being dismissed.
“The best explanation I can come up with is that Trump’s racist ‘China virus’ bulls–t, which resulted in lots of anti-Asian bigotry and attacks on Asian people, put liberals understandably on the defense against any theory that seemed to blame China for Covid,” Filipovic tweeted.
MSNBC analyst John Heilemann told late-night host Bill Maher last week that Trump “politicized” the lab leak theory.
“The lab was always a thing where it could have been, where it could have come from,” Heilemann said, although in 2020 he was one of the many liberal voices decrying it as nonsense. “But I will say if you go back to that time, why did people seize on the notion that they’ll reject the lab leak theory? Because like everything else in COVID, Donald Trump politicized it from day one.”
“His thing in the first two weeks was ‘kung flu’ and it’s not that it started in a lab, that the Chinese released it on the world, that it was a bioweapon… It was in his political interest to make China the villain,” he added.
The media trend of blaming Trump for why some figures wouldn’t embrace the possibility that the coronavirus accidentally leaked from the a Chinese lab is nothing new. CNN’s former boss Jeff Zucker would not even allow his network to chase down the lab-leak story in the early months of the pandemic because he believed it was a “Trump talking point,” a CNN insider recently told Fox News Digital.
“It is kind of crazy that we didn’t chase it harder,” the insider said.
Last week, MSNBC host Chris Hayes blamed “the larger culture war” for how the left rejected the lab-leak theory, though he did admit there was a “kernel of truth” that some voices were “too quick” to shut down the theory as the pandemic began unfolding; he cited Twitter as being wrong to flag such theories as misleading or disputed.
“It’s clear now the lab leak is at least plausible… maybe not the most likely view, but not insane. But above all else, what the furor over the lab leak theory demonstrates is just how broken this form of political discourse has become, especially when it comes to discussing COVID-19, right?” Hayes said. “There is some set of facts about the world that we both need and want to know that then end up picking some up some ideological valence because of whatever role those facts play in culture war arguments.”
Although it’s back in the news this year, the lab-leak theory had already begun to gain credence in mainstream media since Trump left office more than two years ago. In 2021, ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl said “some things may be true even if Donald Trump said them” when telling viewers why the lab hypothesis was largely rejected at the time.
“Because Trump was saying so much else that was just out of control, and because he was, you know, making a frankly racist appeal talking about Kung Flu, and the China virus, he said flatly this came from that lab, and it was widely dismissed,” Karl said.
NBC’s Chuck Todd also addressed the issue on “Meet The Press” in 2021, saying that “for many,” the lab leak theory got “tangled up in politics” and was conflated with one theory that the Chinese released the virus deliberately.
Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler similarly wrote, “The Trump administration’s messaging was often accompanied by anti-Chinese rhetoric that made it easier for skeptics to ignore its claims.”
Kessler’s colleague Aaron Blake, wrote a 2021 analysis titled, “The vexing ‘lab leak’ theory on China and the coronavirus,” in which he defended reporters dismissing the Trump administration claims that there was a high probability the virus originated in a lab.
“Given everything we know about how Trump handled such things, caution and skepticism were invited. That (very much warranted) caution and skepticism spilled over into some oversimplification, particularly when it came to summarizing the often more circumspect reporting,” Blake wrote.