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TK Mashup: The Lab Leak "Conspiracy Theory"
"NOT MAN MADE OR GENETICALLY MODIFIED," they cried in unison, until they didn't, as Matt Orfalea's latest trip back in time shows
After Covid-19 hit America’s shores, a question naturally arose: how did this happen? Most of us assumed the mystery would soon be unraveled, that the society of epidemiological detectives who found everything from the rat that transmitted Lassa Fever to the leak that caused viral outbreaks in Marburg and Frankfurt would nail down the origin of the pandemic.
It didn’t happen. We were initially told something about bats, a weird animal called a pangolin, and a Chinese “wet market,” but never heard the full story. A combination of the virus originating in an authoritarian state and a sudden seizure of incuriosity among the international press corps led to a strange coverage détente, in which we weren’t told exactly what happened, but we were told all sensible people were sure of what didn’t happen. 27 scientists in The Lancet put it this way in mid-2020: “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.”
As TK contributor Matt Orfalea pieces together in his latest hilariously disturbing trip to our recent past, the notion that Covid-19 did not originate in a lab became a mandatory talking point. This might have made sense, if epidemiologists had definitively identified the source of the disease. But they hadn’t, making the intensity of the press reaction both comical and suspicious.
A common explanation for the propaganda is that once Donald Trump suggested the disease might have had a laboratory origin, it became mandatory to denounce the idea for political reasons. The Trump-said-it-so-it-must-be-wrong angle was also ubiquitous, as Orfalea shows here:
In the main mashup, in a series of revealing montages, press figures are also shown wasting no time embracing the word-for-word conclusion of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) that the disease was “not manmade or genetically modified.” The sections involving denunciations of Senator Tom Cotton are particularly interesting because Cotton was accused of “fanning the embers of a coronavirus conspiracy theory” just for including lab origin among the possible causes, even as he said natural origin was “most likely.” This showed that even considering a lab-origin hypothesis was, to press critics, now the same as advancing or embracing an idea they considered “debunked.”
The idea that the disease may have originated in a lab suddenly became acceptable again last spring, when the likes of Dr. Anthony Fauci began entertaining the idea in public. Fact-checkers who’d issued fierce declarations about “conspiracy theories” backtracked. Internet platforms like Facebook that had been banning such assertions announced, “We will no longer remove the claim that Covid-19 is man-made or manufactured from our apps.”
We still don’t know what caused the pandemic, but that’s not the issue here. The concept of telling the public you’re this certain of something when you quite obviously are not is at least somewhat new, both in politics and in media. The crucial problem shown in this reel is the complete absence of humility about the possibility of error. The most well-meaning scientists make mistakes — even the famous tale of the discovery of HIV’s “Patient Zero” later fell into question thanks to genetic analysis — and there was a time not long ago when no responsible press outlet would have declared any hypothesis off-limits before the mystery had been solved.
Orfalea does a great job here using everything from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure to Fahrenheit 451 to show the dangerously moronic certainty of modern propaganda. The origins of Covid-19 remain a mystery, but another Whodunit is why curiosity and the spirit of free inquiry have been made taboo in a business where those qualities were once prerequisites.