The Weekend Jolt

The Media Eat Crow on COVID Lab-Leak Theory

Security personnel keep watch outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology during a visit by the World Health Organization (WHO) team tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus in Wuhan, China, February 3, 2021. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Dear Weekend Jolter,

Call it “debunker mentality” — the media tendency to treat as debunked that which has merely been disputed. This tends to show up in coverage of uncomfortable narratives, like, just spitballing here, the possibility that COVID-19 can be traced to a Wuhan lab.

But today — and maybe it’s the vaccines talking, or maybe the return to normalcy has kindled more committed curiosity about the outbreak’s origins — those summary dismissals are getting a second look. Jim Geraghty pointed out earlier this week how discussion of the COVID lab-leak theory has moved from guarded whispers to something one can now do in polite company. More specifically, how it’s being entertained at the highest levels of the cultural and scientific mainstream.

The highly paid intern behind this newsletter is old enough to remember when mere mention of this scenario that not accompanied by a scoff and a sneerwas enough to earn you the moniker of conspiracy theorist. (Take it away, Vox.)

Turns out this was simply a theory . . . hold the “conspiracy.”

As Jim chronicled, institutions ranging from Science magazine to the Washington Post editorial board contend today that the lab-leak theory is viable, just as is the “zoonotic spillover” explanation that it could have jumped from animal to human, and are pressing for answers. Further, the CDC’s Rochelle Walensky had a blink-and-you-miss-it moment, testifying Wednesday that “a lab-based origin is one possibility.”

Here’s one telling example of how the tone in the press has shifted: This freshly stamped editor’s note on a since-archived fact-check from PolitiFact. The confident headline had been: “Tucker Carlson guest airs debunked conspiracy theory that COVID-19 was created in a lab.” The editor’s note is as follows:

When this fact-check was first published in September 2020, PolitiFact’s sources included researchers who asserted the SARS-CoV-2 virus could not have been manipulated. That assertion is now more widely disputed. For that reason, we are removing this fact-check from our database pending a more thorough review. Currently, we consider the claim to be unsupported by evidence and in dispute. The original fact-check in its entirety is preserved below for transparency and archival purposes. Read our May 2021 report for more on the origins of the virus that causes COVID-19.

Granted, Tucker’s guest, a virologist, may have gone too far in alleging here that the virus was “man-made.” The original fact-check acknowledged the less-dramatic possibility that the virus could have been studied in the lab and escaped. Yet both scenarios were collectively considered “dangerous” ideas in some corners last year. Both, at times, were, wait for it: Debunked! As NR’s Jimmy Quinn recalled, a February 2020 statement in The Lancet bluntly warned such “conspiracy theories” would stir up “prejudice.” For more, see Drew Holden’s terrific thread on the evolution in media coverage.

So what happens now? Wesley J. Smith writes:

Pressure is building, but I don’t expect China to allow any such open and rigorous investigation. If I am right, the CCP’s refusal to cooperate reasonably on an issue of such crucial import to the entire world should be deemed circumstantial evidence that the lab has something to hide.

Michael Brendan Dougherty, in urging an “audit” of the COVID-19 response in general, zooms out to draw this conclusion:

Maybe that’s the first action point going forward. The recognition that “expert consensus” is a guild’s conspiracy against the public. Real experts disagree, often violently. The public-health consensus against masks, then for them, or against the lab-leak theory and then for it, has turned out to be nothing more or less than a profession closing ranks in a crisis. If everyone agrees, then nobody can be blamed, and we can all keep going to the same conferences and approving each other’s grant funding.

The “consensus” is now a basic level of curiosity about “lab leak.” The theory has gone mainstream, it is said. Does that mean it’s not cool anymore?

Ponder the question. Ponder these links.

NAME. RANK. LINK.

EDITORIALS

The Supreme Court’s 6–3 conservative majority will have its first chance to weigh in on abortion. The stakes are high: Overturn Roe

Great news! Pipelines are okay now . . . if they help Russia: Biden Balks on Russia

ARTICLES

Kyle Smith: Why the Right Hates Fauci

Charles C. W. Cooke: The Democrats Have a Kamala Harris Problem

Kevin D. Williamson: The Mask Is an Outward Sign of Inward Things

Mike Pence: Violence in Israel Is the Price of Biden’s Weakness

Jeb Bush: The Year of School Choice

Andrew McCarthy: Playing Politics with Terrorism: Merrick Garland’s Absurd Warning

Rich Lowry: No, Israel Is Not an Apartheid State

Caroline Downey: Local Republicans Claim Trump’s Election Audit and Fraud Claims Giving Arizona a ‘Black Eye’

Jim Geraghty: The Rise and Fall of Bill Gates

Isaac Schorr: Fauci Admits Post-Vaccination Masking Was About ‘Signals’ Weeks after Insisting Otherwise

Isaac Schorr: Chicago Mayor Refusing to Accept Interview Requests from White Journalists

Madeleine Kearns: Further Proof that the American Psychological Association Is Intellectually Bankrupt

John Staddon: Why Can’t Academia Tolerate Dissent on Biological Sex?

David Harsanyi: What Does Vladimir Putin Have on Joe Biden?

Philip Klein: Unmask the Children

CAPITAL MATTERS

Daniel Pilla exposes the false narratives driving the IRS push for more enforcement bucks: Three False Narratives Being Used in the IRS Funding Push

Douglas Carr argues the wrong question is being asked about Biden’s corporate-tax proposal: Corporate Tax Hikes Would Kneecap the Economy

LIGHTS. CAMERA. REVIEW.

Armond White thinks it’s a marvelous night for a glowing review of Van Morrison’s latest: Van Morrison Explains It All for You

And he’s dazzled by the performances of Christoph Waltz and Vanessa Redgrave in this Beltway murder-mystery “bio-farce”: Swamp Creatures in Georgetown

Kyle Smith puts Hollywood’s leading pot evangelist on notice, that comedy and wokeness don’t actually mix: Seth Rogen’s Apology Tour

WHAT YOU’VE SEEN TO THIS POINT WAS JUST A TASTE. THIS IS THE FULL MONTY (of excerpts, people)

Here’s a one-two punch. Maddy notes the case of John Staddon, a Duke professor who reportedly “was booted off the American Psychological Association’s email listserv for stating that there are only two sexes.” The prof then offers his side of the affair in a piece for NR:

Recently, I was excluded from an email discussion listserv of the APA. I was not told exactly why, though I believe it was for a few mildly skeptical comments I had made about nonbinary sex. And I enjoyed the irony that my expeller told me, while in the act of kicking me out, that he recognizes “there are a wide range of views about many issues.”

Maybe so. But the biological facts here are clear. All mammals reproduce sexually; reproduction requires an egg and a sperm, the male supplies the sperm and the female the egg — no room for a third party. Male and female are it.

Former VP Pence argues here that Israel is suffering violence today, in part, as a result of the current administration’s missteps:

President Biden has sent the world a profoundly different message. Instead of seeking peace through strength, he has invited violence through weakness.

President Biden has emboldened anti-Semitic terrorist groups such as Hamas by shunning Israeli leaders and restoring more than $200 million in aid to the Palestinians that had been canceled by the Trump-Pence administration. He unilaterally took the Iranian-backed Houthis off the list of designated terrorist organizations. And worst of all, he has announced his intention to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, destabilizing the entire region. . . .

Every tepid statement uttered by the Biden-Harris administration is built on a false equivalency between Israel and Hamas. One is a sovereign nation with a legitimate government, and a trusted ally. The other is an internationally recognized terrorist organization that has fired more than 3,000 rockets at Jewish families and businesses in the past week.

Moving on to the current veep . . . According to our sophisticated internal metrics, Charles’s story on the “Kamala Harris Problem” took off on social media like a well-scripted debate line on busing. Maybe he’s onto something:

Now holding the vice presidency, Harris remains impressively unbeloved. Per a recent YouGov poll, her net approval rating is ten points underwater among all voters and 25 points underwater among independents, 44 percent of whom say they have a “very unfavorable” opinion. For a vice president to engender such feelings — especially at this stage in the cycle — is unusual, to say the least.

. . . There is a reason that, having been picked as Biden’s running mate, Harris was quickly shoved offstage.

What about Harris’s performance as vice president do we expect will change this dynamic? It’s now been two months since she was publicly selected to lead the Biden administration’s response to the roiling border crisis, and not only has she declined to visit the region even once, but, when asked about her absence, she has delivered her trademark dismissive laugh. Harris likes to say that she’s focused on the “root causes” of the surge in migration. But this is nonsense. She is focused on staying out of the way so that Joe Biden’s non-threatening uncle act doesn’t disintegrate in the face of its abundant contradictions. With conflict in the Middle East, rising inflation, and rocky unemployment numbers, on top of the continuing situation on the border, the last thing that the Democratic Party needs is for Kamala Harris to be more prominent than she is.

Which, in the long run, is a bit of a problem.

From the editorial on the Court’s decision to hear a Mississippi abortion-law case:

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear Mississippi’s appeal in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to decide the fate of the state’s Gestational Age Act. That law, passed in 2018 and held in limbo ever since by the courts, bans abortions after 15 weeks except “in a medical emergency or in case of a severe fetal abnormality.” Nothing in the text or history of the Constitution bars such laws, and the Court should say so.

Better still, it should put an end to the long charade of judge-invented abortion law. The Court should say that Roe v. Wade never had any legitimate basis in our Constitution, and return the issue to the people’s representatives. It should do so precisely because this issue is too important not to be decided by the people.

Kyle gives Seth Rogen a lesson in how to be, and stay, funny. It starts with not trying to appease those who cannot be:

The reason most comics don’t play the woke game is that they understand intuitively that no matter how woke you go, you will be out-woked. Rogen can never whip himself with enough cat-o’-nine-tails, because someone will always point out that the instrument is a product of patriarchal culture on the high seas, where preteen sailors were treated abusively and people might well have made gay jokes. The lesson here is pretty obvious: If you’re a comedian, be funny, and write off the few dozen people on the Internet who keep saying “that’s not funny.” And at all costs, don’t become one of them.

Shout-Outs

Joel Kotkin, at UnHerd: How America Turned into the EU

Joseph Simonson, at the Washington Free Beacon: How the AP Slanted Border Coverage to Hide the Crisis

Michael J. Totten, at Quillette: Leaving Portland

Jessica Custodio, at the College Fix: University appears stalled on its creation of an ‘Anti-Racism Institute’

Honorable Mention

Check out Isaac’s coverage here of NRI’s Ideas Summit, including some fiery remarks from Betsy DeVos.

CODA

In the D.C. burbs anyway, it’s striking just how closely the CDC guidance is followed, in both directions, for better or worse. Once the mask-away guidance came down, it was as if town life returned. Not just in the sense of being able to see people’s faces again, but in the general din and verve of Main Street. Plenty of other states had reached this point weeks, if not months, ago. But here, no longer does the reopening seem tentative, or conditions based. It’s happened.

In that spirit, and recognizing now is a completely different context from then, this nevertheless seems an appropriate close: “Freedom.”

Got a tune? Want to share? Send a link to jberger@nationalreview.com. Thanks for reading.

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