David Frum is the first prominent journalist to fictionalize the debate over the origins of COVID, but he won’t be the last.
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.