When the Wall Street Journal reported in a front-page lead story that the Department of Energy had concluded the COVID-19 pandemic resulted from a leak from China’s Wuhan laboratory, you might have argued it was old news. The FBI had already, it turns out, come to the same conclusion and with a higher degree of confidence (moderate) than the Energy Department (low).
Those agencies’ conclusions, moreover, came as a result of a May 21 directive from President Joe Biden to multiple intelligence agencies to review two “equally plausible scenarios” for COVID’s origin, “whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal” (the zoonotic theory) “or from a laboratory accident” (the lab leak theory).
That should have been big news since the zoonotic theory, advanced early and widely accepted by government scientists and many journalists, had become entrenched as early as February 2020 when COVID first became big news.
Emails unearthed by a House committee and quoted by longtime New York Times science reporter Nicholas Wade showed that Scripps Research Institute scientist Kristian Andersen had written National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci on Jan. 31, 2020, to inform him that he and other scientists had concluded that COVID-19 was “inconsistent with expectations from the evolutionary (that is, zoonotic) theory.”
But former National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins emailed on Feb. 2 that if the lab leak theory were accepted, “the voices of conspiracy will quickly dominate, doing great potential harm to science and international harmony.” Thus, after a teleconference with Collins and Fauci, Andersen, in a Feb. 4 email, characterized the lab leak as one of an unnamed number of “crackpot theories.” Later, on March 20, he said the virus was “not a laboratory construct.”
So why the switch? Well, scientists like Andersen knew that Fauci and Collins controlled huge streams of research funding. Fauci and Collins knew that they had repeatedly approved funding at the Wuhan lab. The conspiracy was not to spread the lab leak theory but to suppress it.
The zoonotic theory had become unassailable dogma by the time Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) advanced the lab leak theory on Fox News on Feb. 16. “Fringe theory” and “conspiracy theory,” huffed The New York Times. “A coronavirus fringe theory,” wrote the Washington Post . Other eminent journalists piled on, even though an accident, by definition, is not the result of a conspiracy.
Facebook, led and staffed almost entirely by left-wingers, promptly followed the lead of government science funders and suppressed news of the lab leak theory for more than a year. The State Department-backed Global Disinformation Index, the Washington Examiner’s Gabe Kaminsky revealed, similarly sought to suppress the theory. Twitter, under its similarly biased pre-Musk regime, used “visibility filtering” to downplay the lab leak theory. President Donald Trump’s March 2020 tweets about “the China virus” were attacked as “racist” by multiple critics, and those advancing the lab leak theory were attacked for “racism.” The lab leak theory, The New York Times science writer Apoorva Mandavilli tweeted in May 2021, has “racist roots.” Even advocates of the zoonotic theory were briefly charged with racism, too.
Nevertheless, serious and carefully nuanced arguments were made for taking the lab leak theory seriously, in multiple articles by Nicholas Wade, in science writer Matt Ridley and Alina Chen’s book “Viral: The Search for the Origin of Covid-19,” in a National Review cover story and in a detailed report from the liberal ProPublica organization published with Vanity Fair.
The press, even while proclaiming that “democracy dies in darkness,” was reluctant to shed any light on the lab leak theory. Even worse was the behavior of scientists. “Welp,” tweeted FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver when the Wall Street Journal story on the Energy Department’s decision broke. “The behavior of a certain cadre of scientists who used every trick in the book to suppress discussion of this issue is something I’ll never forget. A huge disservice to science and public health.”
The origin of COVID is not the only issue on which the scientists have disgraced themselves. Just this month, the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet published a review of 65 studies that concluded that the natural immunity of those who have contracted COVID provides more protection than the vaccines. There goes the case for requiring that the previously infected get multiple vaccinations.
And just last week, Britain’s prestigious Cochrane Library released a study of 78 randomized control trials with 610,000 participants, which concluded that masks make no difference — none — in stopping transmission of respiratory diseases like COVID. “There is just no evidence they make any difference. Full stop,” said the study’s lead author. So much for the mask mandates, including the CDC masking guideline, which teachers unions got the CDC to impose upon schoolchildren by applying their undue political influence.
We don’t know for certain — and given Chinese secrecy, we probably never will — that COVID resulted from a lab leak. But we do know that leading scientists and science funders in government lied, distorted and suppressed the truth. We do know that public health officials stuck and still stick to requirements that have negative effects but no scientific basis. We know that many journalists who arrogantly offer themselves as voices speaking truth to power were actually exerting power to suppress truth.
Elite scientists and journalists today complain that they get no respect. Their record shows they don’t deserve much.
Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner and a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
From 1974 to 1981, Barone was vice president of the polling firm of Peter D. Hart Research Associates. From 1981 to 1988, he was a member of the editorial page staff of The Washington Post. From 1989 to 1996 and again from 1998 to 2009, Barone was a senior writer for U.S. News & World Report. He was senior staff editor at Reader's Digest from 1996 to 1998.
Barone is the principal co-author of The Almanac of American Politics, published by National Journal every two years. The first edition appeared in 1971. He is also the author of Our Country: The Shaping of America from Roosevelt to Reagan (Free Press, 1990), The New Americans: How the Melting Pot Can Work Again (Regnery, 2001) and Hard America, Soft America: Competition vs. Coddling and the Competition for the Nation's Future (Crown Forum, 2004).
Over the years, Barone has written for many publications, including The Economist, The New York Times, The Detroit News, the Detroit Free Press, The Weekly Standard, The New Republic, National Review, The American Spectator, American Enterprise, The Times Literary Supplement and The Daily Telegraph of London. He has served as a political contributor to the Fox News Channel since 1998 and has appeared on many other television programs.
Barone graduated from Harvard College (1966) and Yale Law School (1969), and was an editor of the Harvard Crimson and the Yale Law Journal. He served as law clerk to Judge Wade H. McCree Jr. of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit from 1969 to 1971.
Barone lives in Washington, D.C. He has traveled to all 50 states and all 435 congressional districts. He has also traveled abroad extensively and has reported on elections in Russia, Mexico, Italy and Britain.
View his work here.