Turley: The COVID Lab Leak Is A Scandal Of Media And Government Censorship
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Energy Department has concluded that the COVID pandemic most likely arose from a laboratory leak.
The conclusion is reportedly based on a classified intelligence report recently provided to the White House and key members of Congress. Many will be exploring why the scientific evidence of a lab leak was so slow to emerge from intelligence agencies.
However, for my part, the most alarming aspect was the censorship, not the science.
There will continue to be a debate over the origins of COVID-19, but now there will be a debate.
For years, the media and government allied to treat anyone raising a lab theory as one of three possibilities: conspiracy theorist or racists or racist conspiracy theorists.
Academics joined this chorus in marginalizing anyone raising the theory. One study cited the theory as an example of “anti-Chinese racism” and “toxic white masculinity.”
As late as May 2021, the New York Times’ Science and Health reporter Apoorva Mandavilli was calling any mention of the lab theory as “racist.”
She embodies the model of the new “advocacy journalism” at the Times. Reporters who remained wedded to the dated view of objective journalism were purged from the ranks of The Times long ago.
Mandavilli and others made clear that reporters covering the theory were COVID’s little Bull Connors. She tweeted wistfully “someday we will stop talking about the lab leak theory and maybe even admit its racist roots. But alas, that day is not yet here.”
However, one former New York Times science editor Nicholas Wade chastised his former colleagues for ignoring the obvious evidence supporting a lab theory as well as Chinese efforts to arrest scientists and destroy evidence that could establish the origin.
Others in academia quickly joined the bandwagon to assure the public that there is no scientific basis for their theory, leaving only racist or politics as the motivation behind the theory. In early 2020, with little available evidence, two op-eds in The Lancet in February and Nature Medicine went all-in on the denial front.
The Lancet op-ed stated, “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that Covid-19 does not have a natural origin.”
We were also supposed to forget about massive payments from the Chinese government to American universities and grants of some of these writers to both Chinese interests or even the specific Wuhan lab.
No reference to the lab theory was to be tolerated. When Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) merely mentioned the possibility in 2020, he was set upon by the usual flash media mob. The Washington Post ridiculed him of repeating a “debunked” coronavirus “conspiracy theory.”
In September 2020, Dr. Li-Meng Yan, a virologist and former postdoctoral fellow at the University of Hong Kong, dared to repeat the theory on Fox News, saying, “I can present solid scientific evidence . . . [that] it is a man-made virus created in the lab.” The left-leaning PolitiFact slammed her and gave her a “pants on fire rating.”
President Joe Biden accused Trump of fanning racism in his criticism of the Chinese government over the pandemic and his Administration reportedly shut down the State Department investigation into the possible lab origins of the virus.
When Biden later revived an investigation into the origins, he was denounced as “sugar-coating Trump’s racism.”
The categorical rejection of the lab theory is only the latest media narrative proven to be false. The Russian collusion scandal, the Hunter Biden “Russian Disinformation,” the Lafayette Park “Photo Op” conspiracy, the Nick Sandmann controversy, the Jussie Smollett case, the Migrant Whipping scandal.
On the lab theory, media like the Washington Post piled on senators like Cruz and Cotton for mentioning the lab theory only later to admit that it could be legitimate.
All of those experts and writers who were called racists or suspended by social media were simply forgotten in media coverage.
That is why this is really about censorship.
The media guaranteed that we did not have a full debate over the origins of the virus and attacked those who had the temerity to state the obvious that there was a plausible basis for suspecting the Wuhan lab.
None of this has diminished demands for more censorship. Even after Twitter admitted that it wrongly blocked The New York Post story before the 2020 election, Democratic senators responded by warning the company not to cut back on censorship and even demanded more censorship.
Recently, the Twitter Files revealed an extensive and secret FBI effort to censor citizens on social media.
This included undisclosed efforts by members like Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Cal.) to get Twitter to ban a columnist and target critics. In a House hearing, democratic leaders like Rep. Jamie Raskin (D., Md). called for more censorship and opposed investigations into the censorship efforts.
These same figures in politics and media are just moving on to the next approved narrative.
President Biden previously called for more censorship and accused Big Tech of “killing people” by not censoring more views deemed “COVID misinformation.”
The opposite is true. By suppressing alternative scientific and policy views, the public was denied a full debate over mask efficacy, vaccine side effects, COVID origins and other important issues. Many of those questions are only being recognized as legitimate and worthy of debate.
Censorship does not, as President Biden claims, save lives.
It is more likely to cost lives by protecting approved views from challenge. It does not foster the truth any more than it fosters free speech. Whatever the origin of COVID-19 may be in China, the origins of our censorship scandal is closer to home.
Jonathan Turley is an attorney and a professor at George Washington University Law School.