COVID-19 origins study is not a sensational TV show
First Voice

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Earlier this week, CNN ran a documentary titled "The Origins of COVID-19: Searching for the Source," featuring again the tired trope of speculation regarding the "lab-leak theory" of the virus origins and interviews with a number of virologists and scientists speculating on the origins of the pandemic. The program offered no clear answers but proceeded to pour cold water over the World Health Organization's (WHO) first study in Wuhan, cynically playing down its conclusions as being politically motivated as if to give the impression that the laboratory leak was not given enough consideration.

For a so-called impartial analysis, CNN fails to offer any balanced perspective or critical insight as to how the origins of the virus have become an instrument of politics, as opposed to a credible scientific question up for investigation and study. It presents the lab-leak search as something neutral and scientific, when it has been in fact aggressively weaponized by U.S. politicians for geopolitical gain. On top of that, it then fails to mention how this politicization itself has stifled scientific investigation for its genuine origins and undermined international cooperation. The search for the origins of this virus is not a sensational TV show, yet this is how CNN markets it to be.

The program does not explore critically how the "theory" of the lab leak emerged and forced its way into the mainstream. It did not come from a scientific background, but as an instrument of far-right Republicans, such as Senator Tom Cotton, who used it to push his aggressive agenda on China. It utilizes a guilt by association argument and rests on a number of assumptions and speculations. This is why it was never taken seriously, and the only scientists who have contemplated it are ones whose careers have a stake in politics.

A screenshot of former U.S. President Donald Trump's tweet describing COVID-19 as the "China Virus."

A screenshot of former U.S. President Donald Trump's tweet describing COVID-19 as the "China Virus."

Dr. Robert Redfield, former U.S. CDC director, was quoted in the program saying, "I do not believe this somehow came from a bat to human and at that moment in time, the virus came to the human, became one of the most infectious viruses that we know in humanity." While it is absurd for him to use the timing of the virus's emergence as the basis for the lab-leak theory report and ignoring that many infectious diseases in human history has zoonotic origins and became widespread out of the blue, it is astonishing that a U.S. CDC director would make such unscientific speculations at a time when his country was registering COVID-19 cases in the hundreds of thousands with thousands of deaths each day.

But, perhaps it shouldn't be such a surprise coming from an official who overruled CDC scientists and softened recommendations to suggestions at the White House's behalf.

Later, the WHO's COVID-19 origins study did not suit the narrative of "blame" on China, and the White House sought to undermine it willingly and trash its credibility. There is no reason to question the data or findings of that report, the problem is its conclusions were benign and not incriminating enough. The United States has leveraged funding and accused the WHO of being "too pro-China" to deliberately undermine the credibility of WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, leading him to do a U-turn on the lab-leak theory and speculate on the idea because it was in the interests of his political survival to do so. Essentially, American politicization has undermined the WHO as a medium of world health governance.

CNN has asked a number of questions as to how a natural origin came about, but did the authors and editors not contemplate the fact that the very politicization of the virus which they are staking this piece on is itself a barrier to this investigation? Has it not contemplated that so many people have pushed this theory out of bad faith and opportunism, that China might no longer see the value in cooperation? As Biden's own intelligence review concludes, Beijing is experiencing "frustration" that the issue is being "used to exert political pressure on China." It is no wonder when pieces like this continue to make baseless insinuations again and again and turn the pandemic into a political football rather than a scientific query.

This is why we are where we are today.

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