Why Did The Media Discount COVID's Lab Leak Theory For So Long?

A few reasons, and one major takeaway.

The U.S. media has been engaging in a subtle course correction over the past several weeks with regard to its treatment of the “lab leak” theory of COVID-19’s origin, which posits that that the global pandemic was sparked not by animal-to-human transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus but instead by a leak of that virus from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a Chinese lab which studies coronaviruses and is located in the city of Wuhan where the first outbreak of COVID-19 occurred.

It’s a significant course correction for a media that not only discounted and downplayed the theory throughout the entirety of the pandemic, but regularly labeled it an unfounded conspiracy theory. For instance, Vox conducted what it considered to be a thorough “debunking” of the “conspiracy theory” in March of last year.

When Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton began referencing the possibility of a lab leak origin last year, both the New York Times and the Washington Post accused him of repeating a debunked “fringe” conspiracy theory.

But that’s changing now. Not only will you not see any national press outlet refer to the theory as a conspiracy theory any more — let alone one that’s “fringe” or has been “debunked” — but we’re also beginning to see them give significant voice and space in their coverage to those who believe that the theory not only deserves more thorough investigation, but also deserves to be near the top of the list in terms of possible explanations. In April, the New York Times devoted an entire news story on the recent World Health Organization COVID-19 investigative report to the critics of that report who are calling for more consideration of the possibility of a lab leak origin. And late last month, the Washington Post editorial board published an editorial calling on the WHO to fully investigate the lab leak theory — the same Washington Post that had called that theory a fringe conspiracy theory last year.

To be clear, the possibility that COVID-19 originated from a lab leak is nowhere near confirmed. How could it be? It hasn’t really been investigated (which is the point). What the media is now doing is simply adopting the basic attitude of what we might expect from almost any rational thinking person, which is to consider the theory a valid and worthwhile possibility deserving of investigation. After all, if you approached random people on the street last year and told them that a lab that harbors and studies coronaviruses exists in the exact city where the COVID-19 pandemic began, almost every single person would have put that near the top of the list of things to investigate. But our elite national media literally did the opposite of that. Why?

I believe it’s due to several interlocking reasons — some that are obvious, and some less so (and some downright shocking) — with perhaps one fundamental dynamic underlying them all.

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