WaPo Editorial Board Calls For Investigation Into Chinese Lab Theory After Dismissing It As ‘Conspiracy Theory’

(GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images)

Shelby Talcott Senior White House Correspondent
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The Washington Post’s editorial board is calling for an investigation into the theory that COVID-19 leaked from a Chinese lab after the paper spent time dismissing it as a “conspiracy theory.”

The media, scientists and public health experts spent months dismissing the notion that COVID-19 originally came from lab in Wuhan, China. A lengthy investigative essay from New York Magazine’s Intelligencer, however, seems to be changing people’s minds. The piece describes multiple surprising discoveries that push back on the “conspiracy theory” assertion.

The Post, for one, seems to have taken notice, with its editorial board declaring on Sunday evening that “we can’t discover the pandemic’s origins if China’s thought police keep watching scientists.”

“But the possibility of a laboratory accident or inadvertent leak having caused the coronavirus outbreak must not be ignored,” The Post’s editorial board wrote.

“A credible investigation of how the pandemic began will require China to be completely open and transparent, including about the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” the board added. “The presence of China’s thought police overseeing scientific inquiry does not bode well.”

This declaration is a far cry from The Post’s past reporting on COVID-19, as the paper spent considerable effort dismissing the lab theory. In February, The Post confidently wrote that Republican Arkansas Sen. “Tom Cotton keeps repeating a coronavirus conspiracy theory that was already debunked.”

The Post called it “a fringe theory” and noted that Cotton admitted to a lack of evidence supporting his comments. Cotton, the paper asserted, “suggested it’s necessary to ask Chinese authorities about the possibility.”

Asking these questions was “fanning the embers of a conspiracy theory that has been repeatedly debunked by experts,” according to The Post. (RELATED: Did Coronavirus Come From A Lab? Ten Key Takeaways From A Shocking New Report)

In May, The Post published a fact check analyzing whether “the new coronavirus” was “accidentally released from a Wuhan lab.” This article wrote that “it’s doubtful” and decided, after investigating, that evidence backed the theory that coronavirus came from nature.

“The balance of the scientific evidence strongly supports the conclusion that the new coronavirus emerged from nature — be it the Wuhan market or somewhere else,” the fact-check article reads. “Too many unexpected coincidences would have had to take place for it to have escaped from a lab.”

The Post is just one example of how the media and others asserted that the coronavirus did not originate in a lab. Many of these efforts came after President Donald Trump repeated the claim, as the NY Mag essay noted. The magazine argued that when Trump and other high-level officials began to make comments about a Chinese laboratory, “everyone took sides” and the theory became partisan. (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Majority Of Intelligence Community Agencies Believe Coronavirus Leaked Out Of Wuhan Lab, Senior Intel Official Says)

“Everyone took sides; everyone thought of the new disease as one more episode in an ongoing partisan struggle. Think of Mike Pompeo, that landmass of Cold War truculence; think of Donald Trump himself,” Nicholson Baker, author of the NY Mag essay, wrote. “They stood at their microphones saying, in a winking, I-know-something-you-don’t-know sort of way, that this disease escaped from a Chinese laboratory.”

“Whatever they were saying must be wrong,” the essay continued. “It became impermissible, almost taboo, to admit that, of course, SARS-2 could have come from a lab accident. ‘The administration’s claim that the virus spread from a Wuhan lab has made the notion politically toxic, even among scientists who say it could have happened,’ wrote science journalist Mara Hvistendahl in the Intercept.”