The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal took Democrats and the left-leaning media to task over their refusal to address “gain of function” research of the kind being performed at a Chinese lab where some theorize the COVID-19 virus escaped and which was funded, in part, with money from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases run by Dr. Anthony Fauci for decades.
The board accused the media overall of “groupthink” by ignoring the issue because it may give “the populist right” led by politicians like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) political ammunition in their quest to potentially hold U.S. officials like Fauci accountable.
The editorial comes on the heels of another tense back-and-forth between Fauci and Paul during the former’s testimony before the Senate last week in which the libertarian-leaning Kentucky Republican accused Fauci of lying to lawmakers during previous sessions when he testified that neither he nor his agency had ever funded gain-of-function research.
Last week, Paul said on Fox News’s “Hannity” that he has scientists “lined up by the dozens” to testify that Fauci’s agency did indeed fund such research, which involves the manipulation of viruses so they become more infectious for research purposes. He also announced he will be sending a criminal referral to the Justice Department for Fauci.
“Mr. Paul, excitable as he may be, is a medical doctor who did his homework,” the editorial board wrote on Sunday. “The Senator clearly sees a political benefit in hammering Dr. Fauci and China, but the celebrity scientist and his allies have obvious conflicts of interest.”
And the reason why they are obvious, the editorial board continued, is because Fauci and all researchers doing gain-of-function studies “would suffer significant reputational damage and perhaps lose funding if scientific research they supported caused a pandemic.”
The editors appeared to doubt Fauci’s statement that the $600,000 he directed to the Wuhan Institute of Virology via a nonprofit organization over a number of years to study bat coronaviruses was “judged by qualified staff up and down the chain as not being gain-of-function.” The editors said that several scientists think that the “government definition is too limited and can allow de facto gain-of-function research to bypass safety protocols.”
The editors then turned to the media, most of whom have underreported or ignored altogether the gain-of-function research because, they believe, it would seem to put them on the same side with Paul.
“Democrats and much of the media will avoid the topic because Mr. Paul and the populist right have taken up this cause,” the WSJ editors wrote. “Such groupthink is what prevented the lab-leak theory from being treated seriously for more than a year. Making the same mistake twice is inexcusable.”
The paper reported in May that three Wuhan Institute of Virology researchers developed COVID-19-like symptoms in November 2019, a full month before the virus was first reported in that city. After the report, outlets and politicians who had previously dismissed the lab-leak theory because it was embraced early on by then-President Donald Trump and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) began to reconsider it.
“I think a lot of people on the political left, and a lot of people in the media, made the mistake, they said, ‘wow if Tom Cotton is saying something, it can’t be true.’ Or they assumed that. And that’s not right,” observed New York Times writer David Leonhardt.
The editors concluded that Congress needs to “thoroughly investigate” the process by which funding was approved for the WIV’s gain-of-function research and then and “debate limits on this kind of research in the U.S. and push for international standards.”
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