The Covid mystery deepens … or so we are told

Accuracy is important for the BBC.  Hence the straplines in its reporting yesterday on the origins of Covid-19 in Wuhan, China:

Covid origins may never be known – US intelligence

“But US agencies say the virus, first identified in China, was not developed as a biological weapon.”

“The office that oversees US spy agencies could not establish how the coronavirus pandemic began.”

But the Financial Times thought the same material merited a different angle:

“A US intelligence agency has spelt out for the first time how and why it thinks the virus that causes Covid-19 first jumped from animals to humans via an accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.” 

And:

“According to the report, analysts at the unnamed agency believe the dangerous nature of the science being carried out at the Wuhan lab and the lack of safety precautions make it most likely that it is the source of the pandemic.”

Hmmm …

Sadly the unwillingness of the Chinese government to cooperate precludes certainty. 

The FT also touches on the role of Dr Fauci:

“It comes just days before Anthony Fauci, the head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testifies to Congress, where he is likely to be grilled on why he approved a $600,000 grant that was used for risky coronavirus research at Wuhan.”

Although it did not have enough space to go into the good doctor’s earlier tergiversations on the subject and the not-unsupportive media coverage he then received (honourable mention should be given to the National Review for its coverage of this aspect of the story).

Useful though this coverage is (well, some of it), you can’t help feeling it’s a little bit overdue.

As the National Review – again – reported in January under the headline “The Wuhan Lab-Leak Hypothesis Goes Mainstream”:

“This morning, New York magazine unveiled “The Lab-Leak Hypothesis” — Nicholson Baker’s lengthy and detailed exploration of the possibility that the SARS-CoV-2 virus and ongoing coronavirus pandemic is the result of a lab accident in Wuhan, China. Baker goes even further, speculating that the reason this virus is similar to many previously discovered viruses but not quite the same is that it may have been altered through gain-of-function experiments.”

And it seemed clear that the game was up back in June, when progressive icon Jon Stewart took the mickey out of both the natural-origins hypothesis and his less-astute Late Show successor Stephen Colbert.

But a few weeks later the BBC was still gamely sticking to its script:

The belief that Covid-19 originated in a Wuhan lab, once dismissed as a conspiracy theory, has gained respectability although it still remains unproven. Now former President Donald Trump is using this shift in scientific thinking to energise his supporters.”

Well, thank goodness for a competitive media environment and the fact that no one is trying to curb what we read through our Facebook feeds.

But given its long time reputation for excellence and impartiality, it would be nice if the BBC (and legacy media more generally come to think of it) had chased this story with the vigour they showed on, say, Russia collusion and that sort of thing.

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