FB and fact-checkers cited scientist with ties to Wuhan lab to dispute COVID lab-leak theory

For roughly a year, media fact-checkers and Facebook cited a scientist with financial ties to dangerous research being conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China to push back on claims that COVID-19 may have escaped from that lab.

The scientist, Peter Daszak, who funded risky coronavirus research via his nonprofit, EcoHealth Alliance, at the lab for several years, was often cited by media fact-checks and other reports over the past several months to discount suggestions that COVID-19 was developed at the institute and escaped, Fox News reported Friday.

Between 2014 and 2019, Daszak’s nonprofit sent the lab $3.4 million, according to The Wall Street Journal, “but his involvement with it didn’t prevent him from playing a key role in early media dismissals of the lab-leak idea,” the network’s report noted further.

The British researcher’s name came up in a Washington Post fact-check video that was posted last May in which he talked about his projects with the Wuhan lab examining bat-linked viruses that were capable of causing “the next pandemic.”

However, while the video presented circumstantial evidence regarding the leak theory, including the lab’s proximity to the initial outbreak as well as its historic lack of adequate security, it still came to the conclusion that it was unlikely to have occurred.

The narrator echoed the institute’s denial that it could have been where COVID-19 originated before quoting Daszak, who claimed that “China’s been incredibly open, and I believe it’s because it’s been a scientific collaboration.”

Later, WaPo’s primary fact-checking journalist Glenn Kessler mocked Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) after he criticized the video, claiming that it demonstrated how it was “virtually impossible” that the virus originated from the lab.

But a year later, Kessler has since posted a timeline about why, “suddenly,” the lab-leak theory is now plausible.

“The source of the coronavirus that has left more than 3 million people dead around the world remains a mystery. But in recent months the idea that it emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) — once dismissed as a ridiculous conspiracy theory — has gained new credence,” Kessler wrote.

Cruz mocked the outlet and Kessler as “clowns” in a tweet earlier this week.

Facebook fact-checking partner Science Feedback also cited Daszak in February 2020 with a post titled, “Scientific evidence indicates virus that causes COVID-19 infection is of natural origin, not the result of human engineering.” And in June 2020, Daszak wrote an op-ed for a far-left British pub, The Guardian, in which he struck down the lab-leak narrative.

Daszak was also cited in an April 2020 CNN piece under the headline, “How did coronavirus break out? Theories abound as researchers race to solve genetic detective story,” in which he was quoted as saying he was “very confident” that COVID-19 began as a natural occurrence. NBC News also quoted him as pushing back against “conspiracy theories” regarding the Chinese lab.

Recently published emails also indicate that Daszak was behind a letter published by the once-respected medical journal The Lancet in February 2020 signed by 27 scientists, all of whom “strongly condemn[ed] conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.” Neither the letter nor the outlet revealed that Daszak’s organization had provided the lab millions in funding for coronavirus research.

Fox News host Steve Hilton was among the first journalists to connect the dots between Daszak, his organization, and its funding of risky research at the Wuhan institute. He was also the first major network journalist to link COVID-19 to Dr. Anthony Fauci and then-prohibited “gain-of-function” research funding through Daszak as a subcontractor.

“Do you think we might also be told why, despite the ban that was in place at the time, our own government funded the research that looks like it led to the worst global catastrophe in a hundred years and whether we’re still funding it?” Hilton asked in early February.

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Jon Dougherty

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