- Accuracy in Media - https://www.aim.org -

Media takes WHO report, China at its word, dismisses lab origin theory for COVID-19

After a several-week mission in Wuhan, China, officials from the World Health Organization concluded that it’s “extremely unlikely” the COVID-19 virus originated in a laboratory setting. The media, as it did in the early days of the pandemic, fell in line with parroting the rhetoric put forth by the WHO with little mention of the transparency concerns from China.

The New York Times headlined the news coming from WHO as a “public relations win” [1] for China. The Associated Press reported WHO zoologist Peter Daszak as saying the team received full access to the sites [2] being investigated. In the prior paragraph, the AP reported that the Chinese government had initially “put limits on research into the outbreak and ordered scientists not to speak to reporters.”

Ned Price, spokesman for the U.S. State Department, is holding back judgment on WHO’s findings. Price said in a press conference that the department looks forward to receiving WHO’s report and reiterated previously expressed “concerns regarding the need for full transparenc [3]y and access from China and the WHO.” The “jury is still out” on the transparency China gave the WHO team for its investigation, which began in January.

Daszak  in response to Mr. Price’s comments tweeted that one shouldn’t “rely too much on U.S. intel [4]Happy to help WH w/ their quest to verify, but don’t forget it’s “TRUST” then “VERIFY”!”

Many organizations have questioned transparency and collaboration from China throughout the pandemic. The independent research group TotalAnalysis ranked China 96th out of 100 nations on its COVID Data Transparency Index. Mike Laflin, director of research for the organization, said in a news release that China’s data management “appears to be deliberately opaque.” [8]  

A report from Rand Corporation suggests that China’s COVID-19 caseload was 40 times higher [9] than the country reported in early 2020. Yet, U.S. media repeats numbers and narratives told by China. NBC News in November 2020, for example, published an article describing how China controlled the pandemic [10] while it ran a “riot” in the rest of the world. This article reports that China’s restrictions are similar to those in the U.S. and Europe but the difference is in public adherence. 

The idea that America has failed in pandemic response, however, doesn’t stick when looking at several points. HealthDay/Harris Poll published in October 2020 found that mask compliance was 93% [11] for Americans saying they sometimes, often or always (72% said always) wear masks when outside the home and unable to socially distance. When it comes to vaccines, the U.K.’s The Independent described the U.S. as “at the forefront of global efforts [12] to develop a vaccine, having ploughed billions of dollars into research funding.” 

The theory that the Wuhan Institute of Virology (which does study bat coronaviruses) could have released SARS-CoV-2, perhaps through a biosecurity lapse, originated within the first few months of the pandemic. It was quickly poo pooed [13]. However, several months later, health organizations began looking into the possibility of the lab having possession [14] of the virus prior to December 2019. Some media outlets began reporting on bat coronaviruses that had sickened mine workers [15] with a pneumonia-like condition being sent to the lab. And, eventually, the WHO announced it would send a team to Wuhan [16] to investigate various origin scenarios. The investigation itself was initially delayed by China [17].

In a press briefing this week, WHO’s Dr. Peter Ben Embarek said the virus “most likely” has animal origins. WHO is continuing research into theories, such as direct human exposure to a host species, transmission from an intermediary species, or transmission via frozen food products after the virus jumped to humans via the host or through an intermediary species. 

China Daily, run by the Chinese Communist Party, echoed many of Dr. Ben Embarek’s comments from the Tuesday press briefing, emphasizing abandonment of the lab-leak theory [18] and that the investigation of the virus’ origin not be “geographically bound.”

This is not the first time Accuracy in Media has called out news outlets for implicitly trusting China – most recently, calling out [19]CNN [19] for publishing a press release from the Chinese military.