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What COVID-19 reveals about media-labeled “conspiracy theories”

By Mecca Fowler 

In the past year, the news surrounding COVID-19 revealed just how opaque the news gathering process is. Once the COVID-19 pandemic made its way to the United States, the news cycles spun out of control. The narrative and the timelines of news seemed to blur. Eventually, any news that didn’t come straight from the CDC or National Institute of Health (NIH) was all but shut down. 

Quickly, “Fact-checkers” either picked apart anything contrary to their information or disregarded them as “conspiracy theories”. Things got so intense that it became taboo to even question the media’s narrative. 

Now, one year later, many of the same “conspiracies” last year ended up being true. One of the most controversial “conspiracies” gaining credibility is that COVID-19 might’ve leaked from a lab in Wuhan, China. 

Recently, Dr. Anthony Fauci has been in the hot seat for being too quick to dismiss the theory. For a year, the media used Fauci as a go-to expert on how to handle this pandemic. Any dissenting voices were shut out of the conversation.  

On May 11th, the senate held a meeting to review the United States response to the pandemic. At this hearing, Dr. Fauci clashed with Rand Paul over the origins of the COVID-19 virus. Rand Paul suggested that COVID-19’s origins were strongly linked to a Wuhan lab leak. He also accused the NIH, along with Dr. Fauci, of financially supporting this same lab through gain of function research. 

 In the field of virology, gain of function research is the process of making a virus more transmittable in order to study its properties. However, sometimes this process can be manipulated, causing potential harm. 

According to the NIH, “Certain gain-of-function studies with the potential to enhance the pathogenicity or transmissibility of potential pandemic pathogens (PPPs) have raised biosafety and biosecurity concerns, including the potential dual use risks associated with the misuse of the information or products resulting from such research.” 

During the hearing, Fauci vehemently denied any existence of such research between the NIH and China as it pertains to Covid. Rand Paul insisted he had evidence to the contrary. He also pointed out that 18 scientists published a letter in Science Mag calling for further investigation into the matter. 

“We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data.” The letter wrote, “A proper investigation should be transparent, objective, data- driven, inclusive of broad expertise, subject to independent oversight, and responsibly managed to minimize the impact of conflicts of interest.” 

Last year, former president Donald Trump and then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said they had credible evidence of COVID-19 leaking from a lab. Unsurprisingly, the media didn’t take their claims seriously. Dr. Fauci also staunchly took the opposite position in the media. He claimed there was no evidence Covid could have come from a lab. The media claimed Fauci’s comments were a dismissal of “conspiracy theories”.   

In March 2021, the media still dismissed experts as conspiracy theorists. Dr. Robert Redfield of the CDC commented similar thoughts. Redfield told CNN he believed the virus escaped in a lab leak. This is allegedly not an uncommon occurrence for viruses. 

“Now, I am of the point of view that I still think the most likely aetiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory, escaped.” He said, adding, “The other people don’t believe that. That’s fine. Science will eventually figure it out. It’s not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in a laboratory to infect the laboratory worker.” 

This has pushed the World Health Organization’s (WHO) to take a new position as well. They now say the lab leak theory is the least of the possible origins for COVID-19. However, it’s still being investigated.  

“Although the team has concluded that a laboratory leak is the least likely hypothesis, this requires further investigation, potentially with additional missions involving specialist experts, which I am ready to deploy,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told WHO members. 

Fast forward to current times and more evidence has surfaced. In mid-May, Republicans within the House Intelligence Committee cited circumstantial evidence about the possibility of a lab leak. Ranking Member Republican Rep. Devin Nunes (CA) and his Republican colleagues released reports about the virus’s origin. The report said “significant circumstantial evidence raises serious concerns that the COVID-19 outbreak may have been a leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.” 

By now, it’s clear the mainstream media repeatedly labels subjects and news as “conspiracies theories” if they don’t like the news source. Further, what is the mainstream media and China trying to cover up by continuously down-playing the possibility of the lab leak origin? From the outside looking in, their story looks shaky, at best.   

Does the media assume anything they don’t want to believe is a conspiracy and just roll with that? Furthermore, whose job is it to decide what the nature of a “conspiracy theory” is? The term is becoming a lazy rebuttal to information people don’t want to know or hear. That was the case in this situation. 

Now, as more evidence resurfaces, no one can deny the possibility of a lab leak. These same media outlets are having to reexamine how their skewed and biased news coverage became journalistic overreach. With each debunking of their “debunked” conspiracy theories they lose credibility. 

Would it not have been easier to put bipartisan politics aside and examine the claims thoroughly when they originated? After all, this pandemic took a toll on not only the United States, but the rest of the world. The true nature of a conspiracy theory is that dismissing news as such helps no one, especially if the news has teeth. We should all be skeptical and pull back the layers of any story that uses such terminology. 

A week ago, Buzzfeed requested access to Dr. Fauci’s e-mails through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. When Fauci’s e-mail correspondence during the pandemic was made available to the public, some information contradicted his earlier testimony. 

Namely, the emails indicated Dr. Fauci was warned early on during the pandemic that parts of the virus appeared to be engineered. What was once paraded as a conspiracy theory was once again proven to have factual basis. 

This review of the timeline of the Wuhan lab leak theory is an excellent case study. We would be wise to hear out other’s opinions that aren’t our own despite partisan lines. How much better off could we have been if we explored the disease’s origins a year ago? 

At the bare minimum, journalists should examine how their biases can disrupt their journalistic integrity. 

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Mecca Fowler


Mecca Fowler is a passionate writer with a background in journalism and social media management. She is a free-speech advocate who hones in on her ability to reach across political spectrums to have engaging and transformative conversations to push the conscious of American culture forward.

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