Then vs now media headlines on lab leak astound. What’s their next move if true, total whitewash?

Communications specialist and columnist Drew Holden began a lengthy Twitter thread Wednesday predicting if the COVID-19 lab leak theory is proven, media outlets that have disputed it for more than a year will merely yawn.

His thread comes as many of those same outlets begin to entertain the theory after calling out Republicans, researchers, and health experts for months as conspiracy nuts, perhaps in a bid to shelter China from the fallout.

“‘I mean, even if China did recklessly release a plague that killed millions of people and half a million Americans and then violated international law to cover it up, does it really matter?’ is the next stage of this,” Holden begins.

“That the Covid pandemic could’ve leaked from a lab in Wuhan went from terrible, racist conspiracy theory to plausible overnight for the mainstream media, without a shred of accountability,” he continued, before posting several comparative screengrabs of various media headlines contrasting disbelief in, and mocking of, the theory last winter to now considering the possibility.

“You may remember that much of the really bad coverage was focused on @SenTomCotton’s suggestion that we better understand the potential for a lab leak from Wuhan. The difference in framing here from @nytimes between May 2020 and May 2021 is…stark,” Holden noted.

But it wasn’t just NYT. There’s a lot of ammo from @CNN, too. Not even two months ago, they ran a piece writing off the lab leak theory as ‘like something out of a comic book.’ Yesterday, the tone had changed, without any reference to their own role in the previous debate,” he added.

Early on, the Times labeled Cotton’s theory “fringe,” as did other media outlets and left-wing pundits.

As for CNN, Holden noted its some of the network’s early coverage was akin to serving as a propaganda outlet for Beijing before finally changing tunes in recent days as emerging data indicates the theory is more than just a notion.

“But if you go back further, @CNN’s coverage gets even worse. Early in 2020, they ran CCP talking points suggesting it was all a political tactic based on ‘disinformation.’ A little over a year later, CNN is asking the same questions President Trump and his team were panned for,” he wrote.

Holden also called out network correspondent Chris Cillizza for helping to promote a perspective most helpful to China.

@ChrisCillizza has been a key voice for @CNN on this. In February 2020, he cited a CNN factchecker who concluded you can ‘say that didn’t happen’ about the lab leak. Yesterday, he seemed baffled that Dr. Fauci wasn’t entirely on his side anymore. So much for ‘trust the science,'” he wrote, citing a story questioning why the nation’s lead immunologist has suddenly begun to consider the possibility.

Holden then turned his attention to the Washington Post, which is also guilty of initially blowing off any consideration of the lab leak theory as a hoax — after spreading, for years, the false claim that former President Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory came with Russian “collusion.”

Specifically, the Post also accused Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, of being a conspiracy theorist.

I can’t say this enough. In early 2020, @washingtonpost accused @SenTomCotton of ‘fanning the embers of a conspiracy theory repeatedly debunked by experts’ for asking the same questions the Post’s reporting is currently asking,” Holden wrote, going on to note that the paper’s own fact-checking division failed to note its previous conclusion regarding the theory.

And for some reason @washingtonpost’s timeline of events just so happens to omit their own ‘fact check’ of the lab leak theory from April 2020 that concluded ‘the balance of the scientific evidence strongly suggests the conclusion that the new coronavirus emerged from nature,'” he wrote.

Politico, meanwhile, published some of the same stories attempting to debunk those who believe the virus came from a Wuhan lab, but Holden noted the outlet appears to have accepted that view is at least possible faster than its media peers.

@politico had a quicker about-face than most. While they decried that the Wuhan lab was ‘at the center of conspiracy theories about the pandemic’s origin,’ in March 2021 they resurfaced worries about ‘risky coronavirus experiments’ from 2018. Wonder why ‘no one listened,'” he noted, quoting part of the latter report’s headline.

He went on to cite examples of Reuters reversing course as well as NPR, the latter of which he said was “awful about this one.”

The Hill also came in for criticism from Holden, who noted that the publication’s attitude changed about the leak story after Trump left office.

Other others were also exposed for the duality of their messaging on the issue including BusinessInsider, Fortune, and the BBC.

“The worst part of all of this (except for the damage to public trust, of course) is the absolute lack of accountability. The media totally blew it on this story in ways that could make it less likely that we ever get to the bottom of this. Without offering so much as an apology,” he added.

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Jon Dougherty

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