I know it sounds crazy, but we live in crazy times: The novel coronavirus may have escaped from a lab in Wuhan.
That doesn’t mean it’s a bioweapon. That doesn’t mean it was manmade. That doesn’t mean it’s deliberate. That’s not the point.
The point is that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was doing research on bats and coronaviruses at the same time that the virus first started circulating.
There was evidence of security issues at the facility. There was also evidence that bats weren’t sold in the wet market that was allegedly the locus of the spread of the disease. The bats that spread the virus weren’t native to the area, either.
It isn’t just crazy right-wing social media personalities saying this. This is The Washington Post. Quoth their editorial board: “A more troubling explanation is that the coronavirus was inadvertently spread from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which had carried out research on bat coronaviruses and possessed a biosafety level 4 facility, the most secure for handling highly pathogenic and infectious diseases. It is not beyond possibility that an accident or spill occurred.”
President Donald Trump brought the theory front and center this week when he said during one of his media briefings that he’d seen evidence the virus had originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
This caused all kinds of alarums and excursions in medialand, all from outlets that pretended they’d never heard of such a thing or that the president was engaging in conspiracy theorizing.
A special fake news award in this category needs to be given to NBC News. I’m writing this on Saturday morning; President Trump said this on Thursday. Yet, two days later, the distinguished news organization that brought us Tom Brokaw and Huntley and Brinkley still has, both on its website and on Twitter, claims the president told the world the virus was created in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
“President Donald Trump suggested Thursday he has seen evidence that the coronavirus was created in a Wuhan lab, just hours after the Director of National Intelligence said in a statement that the virus was ‘not manmade or genetically modified,'” politics reporter Lauren Egan wrote.
Here was a tweet that echoed that:
President Trump suggests he has seen evidence that the coronavirus was created in a Wuhan lab, hours after the DNI said in a statement that the virus was “not manmade or genetically modified.” https://t.co/tKpCWt0bSn
— NBC News (@NBCNews) April 30, 2020
Here’s the issue: Egan’s own reporting makes it clear Trump said no such thing.
Egan wrote that the president was “asked by a reporter if he had seen anything that gave him a high degree of confidence that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the origin of the virus.”
“Yes I have,” Trump responded. “We have people looking at it very, very strongly,” Trump added. “Scientific people, intelligence people, and others.”
Asked about the evidence, Trump said the obvious: “I can’t tell you that. I’m not allowed to tell you that.”
Where was the created part? Who cares, apparently?
By the way, it’s not like people haven’t told them about this, as you may indeed imagine:
Those are not the words he said. You need to remove this tweet. It’s a flat out lie.
— Kambree (@KamVTV) April 30, 2020
— Benny (@bennyjohnson) April 30, 2020
What a mess. I expect professional paid writers to know the difference between “originated” and “created.”
— Nicole Stacy (@Nicole_in_DC) May 1, 2020
So, issue a correction? Take down the tweet? Nah, they’re good.
However, on the off-chance that NBC should decide to delete the tweet, here’s a screenshot:
(Note, incidentally, the green check mark on the bottom right. That’s a seal of approval from NewsGuard, which bills itself as “The Internet Trust Tool,” indicating that the site “generally adheres to basic standards of credibility and transparency.” Seems like they might need to take a second look at NBC’s credibility.)
There are plenty of bad takes on what the president had to say, but few of them were actually fake news. Congratulations to NBC News, I suppose, which couldn’t figure out what he was saying in a clip that was basically over before it began.
If you want to trace how it all went wrong from Huntley and Brinkley to Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow — though this postdates Matthews’ flight from the NBC nest and Maddow’s departure from the orbital trajectory of reality — this illustrates the pattern of degradation quite nicely.
There’s always the possibility Lauren Egan made a mistake, as do we all. Did her editor make a mistake, too? The person who reads through the Twitter comments and reader emails — were they the last person on earth to discover “Tiger King” right when this got published on Thursday and now can’t stop writing long, tortuous Facebook posts about what it all means?
If this is the explanation, well, there you go, but I don’t think that’s how it worked.
Rather, even knowing this theory has been kicking around for quite some time, even knowing it’s supported by a fairly august body of evidence, even knowing the president didn’t say the virus was created inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology, they thought this was close enough to their version of the truth to pass muster.
I guess you could call this “alternative facts?” Or we could just go with what it is: fake news.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.