Early on in the current pandemic, before the Wuhan coronavirus virus began killing Americans, Sen. Tom Cotton raised the possibility that the virus originated in a high-security biochemical lab in Wuhan, the Chinese city at the center of the outbreak. Given the very close proximity of the lab to the outbreak’s point of origin, the suggestion was plausible.
At least as plausible was the notion that the source of the outbreak was Wuhan’s “wet markets” where various bats and other exotic animals are sold. This was the Chinese government’s line and, initially, I was willing, tentatively, to accept it.
For his part, Sen. Cotton didn’t say that the virus came from a Chinese lab. Indeed, he made it clear that “we don’t have evidence that this disease originated there.” He merely said that “we at least have to ask the question.” And Cotton certainly did not suggest that the Chinese unleashed the virus intentionally.
Nonetheless, the mainstream media accused Cotton of peddling fringe conspiracy theories. The New York Times’s Alexandra Stevenson did so in an article called “Senator Tom Cotton Repeats Fringe Theory of Coronavirus Origins.” Not surprisingly, Chris Cillizza of CNN attacked Cotton along similar lines, accusing him of “playing a dangerous game.”
Tucker Carlson has compiled clips of other media hacks — Fareed Zakaria and Brian Williams, for example — making the same sort of accusation. Zakaria apparently compared Cotton to 9/11 “truthers.”
I couldn’t help wondering whether the left and the media would have been this dismissive if the virus had originated very near a Russian biochemical lab or, for that matter, an Israeli one. It seemed likely to me that the left and the media would not have been.
As time went on, I began to learn facts that increased the likelihood that the Wuhan coronavirus originated in a Wuhan biochemical lab, facts that Cotton might already have known. There was evidence that the first known cases had no contact with the wet market initially said to be the virus’ source, a fact that Chinese state media has acknowledged. Moreover, there apparently is no evidence that the Wuhan markets sold bats or pangolins. the animals from which the virus is thought to have jumped to humans. And the bat species that carries the virus isn’t found within 100 miles of Wuhan.
By contrast, Wuhan has two labs where, according to Cotton, we know that bats and humans interacted. One is the Institute of Virology, eight miles from the wet market said to be the virus’ source; the other is the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention, barely 300 yards from that market.
Sen. Cotton summarized this evidence and more in a Wall Street Journal op-ed published last week. He still isn’t saying for certain that the virus originated in a Chinese lab. He admits that the evidence is “circumstantial,” but says it “all points to the Wuhan labs.”
Certainly, some evidence does. The labs in question were ordered to destroy their samples, and the lab that first published the virus’ genome reportedly was shut down. These actions by the Chinese government may preclude ever finding direct evidence that the virus originated in a Wuhan lab. However, they add to the circumstantial evidence that it did.
Regardless of how one evaluates the evidence, it cannot plausibly be argued that Sen. Cotton is pushing a fringe conspiracy theory. There’s too much circumstantial evidence to support the notion that the virus came from a Chinese lab.
Indeed, Cotton isn’t even presenting a conspiracy theory. To my knowledge, he has never suggested that the virus’ jump from the lab (if that’s what happened) was other than an accident.
I’ll suggest some “conspiracy theories,” though. The mindless attack on Sen. Cotton by the Times, Cillizza, Zakaria, Williams, et al. stems not from an evaluation of the evidence but rather from (1) a desire to attack a politician they don’t like, or (2) a desire to defend China that, as I suggested above, wouldn’t apply to certain other countries, or (3) a combination of these two desires.