How mainstream US media outlets make a U-turn on virus ‘lab leak’ theory
Published: Jul 25, 2021 01:49 PM
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The tracing of COVID-19 origins is supposed to be a task for scientists. Yet Western media have never stopped hyping speculations and smears against China. Granted, some of them, including mainstream US media outlets, remained cautious with a disapproving view on the "lab leak" theory in 2020. Yet their stance took a U-turn by clamoring how credible a "lab leak" from Wuhan could be.

In January 2020, the Washington Post published an article entitled "Experts debunk fringe theory linking China's coronavirus to weapons research." The next month, The New York Times called the hypothesis a "conspiracy theory" which "lacks evidence and has been dismissed by scientists." By the end of 2020, the Associated Press put it more bluntly, "Debunked COVID-19 myths survive online, despite facts."

Their rhetoric, however, took a sudden turnabout since May. Washington Post claimed, "To some pundits, the early dismissals of the lab thesis now look like media malpractice." And New York Times wrote, "Scientists don't want to ignore the 'lab leak' theory" and welcome the call for a more rigorous investigation of a virus lab in Wuhan.

The change coincides with the time when US President Joe Biden directed the US intelligence community to redouble their efforts in investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and report back to him in 90 days. Or in other words, it coincides with Biden's increasingly clear strategy against China. 

Infographic: Wu Tiantong/GT

Infographic: Wu Tiantong/GT

The "lab leak" theory was once pushed hard by the Trump administration, yet due to his horrible relations with mainstream US media outlets, the latter often scoffed at his remarks, kept a distance with his stance, while showing a supportive attitude toward the Democratic Party.

After Biden walked into the Oval Office, thanks to his good relationship with media outlets, the latter is willing to play the role as a horn and a tool of the current administration. That being said, the "lab leak" theory is no longer a pure science affair, but the epitome of a major power game between China and the US. 

In the early stage of the outbreak, the US failed in combating the virus, which humiliated the country's image as a world leader. Yet by choreographing conspiracy theories, US politicians and media jointly shaped a worldview of the pandemic, in which China is portrayed as a demon, while the US is still the leading role. Take Bloomberg, an "authoritative" media outlet. It put the US in the No.1 position in its COVID Resilience Ranking. Nothing can better illustrate its move than "it tried so hard."

If the US was simply scapegoating and was out of a defensive, realistic tactic to insist that the virus originated in China, the hype over the "lab leak" theory is a major step forward. It has become a weapon for the US to secure its leadership, to make the US a "saint" and make China a "devil." 

The easily changed stance of the so-called liberal news sources in the US vividly proved that they are participating in and serving the Biden administration's information war to demonize China. 

The theory is nothing but a forged, fake "knowledge" about China, creating an image that China's biosafety management is a disaster, which will later result in a global iron curtain to contain any progress in China's biotechnology. This is a link in Biden's comprehensive demonizing strategy, just like how US puts more efforts in fabricating "China hacking" very recently. 

So far, from the perspective of science, the "lab leak" theory is sheer nonsense. But in terms of an information war, even if Washington won't get the conclusion it wants in the end, it could still successfully divert the public's attention and muddy the waters, pinning China on a position of being suspected. For the US, that would be a victory. 

When it comes to propaganda about China, US media outlets are trapped in a predicament - not daring to accept the truth, not daring to voice the truth, and not daring to take defeat. American media outlets still have the ability to correct errors. But the capability is becoming weaker in terms of China-related issues, as core mainstream media outlets are taking the side of the "lab leak" theory. 

US media outlets had acted as a political tool during the US elections, this is already well known. Now, people from across the world are also increasingly aware that these media are also tools to serve the US' geopolitical interests. US media outlets are even helping politicians lie, creating and spreading rumors worldwide. This has turned out to be one of the natures of mainstream US media.

Media outlets should shoulder the responsibility of covering the facts, yet when it comes to putting their political stance in priority, they are no less proactive than politicians. US media outlets have long seriously degenerated. They do not care about science at all. All they want is that the WHO declares Wuhan is where the COVID-19 first appeared in the world. 

All the US will get from this information war is a temporary condescending position over the case. Yet China is no longer a lamb to be slaughtered. Justice may be delayed, but will never be denied. Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's. When the US government kidnaps science with politics, some politicians may win, but the neutral and objective banner of US media outlets will lose. 

The author is an associate professor at the School of International Relations, Beijing International Studies University. opinion@globaltime.com.cn