When Senator Tom Cotton tried to argue that there was a possibility that the COVID-19 pandemic originated in a leak from a lab in Wuhan China, the reaction to his suggestion for further research into the topic was met with the kind of universal condemnation usually reserved for neo-Nazis and other white supremacists.
But Cotton based his suggestion on sound science and keen observation. In an interview with Fox Business with Maria Bartiromo in February 2020, Cotton said, “We also know that just a few miles away from that food market is China’s only biosafety level 4 super laboratory that researches human infectious diseases. Now, 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.”
The media pile-on was immediate. Mediaite’s Isaac Shore chronicles the extraordinary reaction by major media and other left-wing pundits. Some writers conflated Cotton’s measured, careful response with the Senator claiming that the coronavirus was a bioweapon manufactured by China. Cotton said no such thing, but by claiming that Cotton was pushing the theory, they immediately discredited whatever else Cotton might have said.
Tom Nichols, a cable news “conservative” who has since been rewarded with a staff writer position at The Atlantic, approached Cotton’s comments even more scornfully. When Cotton pointed out to detractors that he had not said that the virus had originally been developed as a bioweapon by the Chinese government, and that there were several hypotheses worth exploring, Nichols responded by calling it an example of “why arguing with a conspiracy theorist rarely goes well.”
“It gives the person advancing the theory to keep repeating it ‘just as a hypothesis,’ as Cotton does here. Every time you ask him, he’ll repeat it, say it’s unlikely, and then say he’s just asking questions,” continued Nichols. One might wonder if such questions are worth being asked — especially by the press. But Nichols left that to Cotton, instead opting to mock the senator for doing so.
Note: The essence of practicing the scientific method is to ask questions. Obviously, this didn’t occur to the left-wing commentators who adopted this line of attack against Cotton.
Another staff writer at The Atlantic, Anne Applebaum, tried to compare Cotton’s suggested line of investigation with Soviet propaganda.
Wow. Just like the Soviet propagandists who tried to convince the world that the CIA invented AIDS https://t.co/BA8fXPnXif
— Anne Applebaum (@anneapplebaum) February 16, 2020
MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan actually tries to blame those who first advocated investigating the lab leak theory. “The simple reason why so many people weren’t keen to discuss the ‘lab leak’ *theory* is because it was originally conflated by the right with ‘Chinese bio weapon’ conspiracies and continues to be conflated by the right with anti-Fauci conspiracies. Blame the conspiracy theorists,” argued Hasan.
Also: ask yourself why so many people on the right, lay people, were obsessed with this one specific aspect of the science of Covid, which by the view is still not the majority view amongst scientists? Was it because of their scientific curiosity? Lol.
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) February 27, 2023
Hasan’s obvious disdain for “lay people” is the real reason the left so viciously attacked Senator Cotton and anyone else who mentioned the lab leak theory in print or elsewhere. The real scandal is the condescension and dismissiveness of the left that turned what should have been a scientific debate into just another episode of the culture wars.
Those who lent credence to the theory and were subjected to the dominant culture’s bottomless capacity for condescension as a result will be tempted to take a victory lap. And, you know what? They should! The story of the theory’s rise, fall, and rise again is a story of how too many abused their positions of authority to wage a conflict over cultural values under the guise of dispassionate empiricism. Anathematizing the lab-leak hypothesis was just the latest avenue through which they could impeach political actors they didn’t like.
Despite the Energy Department’s revelation that they have “low confidence” in their belief that the pandemic originated in a lab, the verdict on COVID-19’s origins is still out. For instance, we still don’t know if the U.S.-financed gain-of-function research at Wuhan played a role in the creation of SARS-CoV-2 or whether it was a natural transmission from bat to human. That second theory is far from being debunked and is probably the dominant theory among scientists worldwide.
Related: IG Report Skewers EcoHealth Alliance and NIH for Using Taxpayer Money for Research Into Bat Viruses
What makes it a scandal is the U.S. media’s attempts not only to stifle debate but to destroy those who sought an inquiry into the lab leak theory. The right did not make this issue a culture war entry. It was the left that saw an opening to accuse anyone who mentioned the lab leak theory of “racism” for even suggesting the enlightened Communists in China would have allowed a dangerous virus to escape into the wild to wreak havoc on the world.