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Why China Was Never Held Accountable for the Covid-19 Lab Leak

On the menu today: Today’s newsletter is a little bit about the Covid-19 lab-leak theory, a little bit about those social-media stories about notes left for waitresses, and a whole lot about what our culture deems newsworthy and important (and how the president of the United States shapes the world’s perceptions of what is important). Oh, and it’s also a little bit about the worst Commander in Washington since Daniel Snyder.

Ignoring China’s Covid Role . . . to Our Detriment

We now know that prominent U.S. virologists did not want DARPA and the U.S. government to know what kind of gain-of-function experiments were being done on coronaviruses found in bats at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. James Meigs, writing over at Commentary:

The December breakthrough came when the medical watchdog group U.S. Right to Know unearthed an early draft of a 2018 grant proposal for a “Project DEFUSE.” The proposal outlines a joint project between [Ralph] Baric’s UNC lab and a team headed by WIV senior scientist Zhengli Shi, the famous “Bat Lady” of the Wuhan lab. The proposal was drafted under the supervision of Peter Daszak — whose EcoHealth Alliance would funnel the hoped-for grant money to the researchers — and was addressed to the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). In the end, DARPA declined to fund the project. But many experts suspect the Wuhan lab conducted research along these lines using other funding sources.

Some of the most telling passages in the newly released documents show how EcoHealth’s Daszak and UNC researcher Baric planned to evade this oversight. . . .

Daszak’s and Baric’s deceptiveness about how and where their research would take place is all the more stunning when you consider how dangerous their proposal was. The project called for combining various bat-borne coronaviruses, modifying them by adding a “furin-cleavage site” that might help the virus bind to human cells, and then testing the supercharged virus on mice bred to have human-like cells in their lungs. When SARS-CoV-2 surged out of Wuhan in early 2020, it featured this exact type of furin-cleavage site, something never before seen in this family of viruses. This was the genetic quirk that alarmed many virologists who thought the virus looked “engineered.”

So, while DARPA didn’t fund the DEFUSE project, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Wuhan scientists followed this general roadmap (perhaps without the Americans’ knowledge). . . .

I said what I had to say in that cover piece back in 2022, that the natural-origin theory requires us to believe a series of coincidences so unlikely that it becomes effectively impossible:

In the autumn of 2019, there were three institutions in the entire world that were doing gain-of-function research on novel coronaviruses found in bats. One was in Galveston, Texas, one was in Chapel Hill, N.C., and the third was in Wuhan, China.

In theory, the pandemic could have started with some random Chinese person who didn’t have any connection to the bat coronavirus research conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology or the Wuhan CDC. This person would have a spectacularly unlucky run-in with a bat or other animal, and that random Chinese person caught the exceptionally rare naturally occurring animal virus that infects, sickens, and spreads among human beings like wildfire. This same hyper-contagious bat virus would have the exceptionally unusual trait of being extremely difficult to find in bats.

This extraordinarily unlucky person would then travel to the metaphorical doorstep of one of the three labs in the world doing gain-of-function research on novel coronaviruses found in bats and start infecting other people in the city of Wuhan. Under the natural-origin theory, the Wuhan laboratories just happen to be mind-bogglingly unlucky that events played out in a way that so closely mimics the consequences of a lab accident.

And, at least in the venue of American public opinion, those of us who thought a lab leak was a more likely cause of the pandemic won the argument. Back in 2023, a Quinnipiac University poll showed that 64 percent of Americans believed the pandemic started from a lab leak, compared to 22 percent who believed it had a natural origin. And the Economist/YouGov poll showed similar numbers: Sixty-six percent believed in the lab-leak theory, abd 16 percent believed in the natural-origin theory.

Though we won the argument in the realm of public opinion . . . nothing happened. There are still few real consequences for the Chinese government, certainly no consequences commensurate for unleashing a plague that killed about 7 million people officially and anywhere from 18 million to 32 million if you count all the suspiciously high excess deaths in places such as China and Russia, among others. President Biden assures us that U.S. and Chinese relations are in a “thaw.”

Stories don’t get any bigger than the origin of a virus that caused a global pandemic, effectively shut down the world for a year, and changed the lives of every human being on the planet. We’re still dealing with the learning loss; we’re still living with the consequences of missed cancer diagnoses; we’re dealing with an explosion of skepticism about the value of all kinds of vaccines — thanks a lot, mandate advocates; and we’re dealing with an estimated financial cost of $14 trillion. (For perspective, all U.S. federal government spending in fiscal year 2023 was $6.1 trillion.)

And yet, when we wake up every morning, most of us choose to think about other topics — and hey, there are a lot of other important priorities in this world. But sometimes it feels like vast swaths of American society chose to forget about the pandemic at the first opportunity and chose to not keep asking how and why the pandemic started, because they and some of our leaders didn’t like the probable answers. Holding the Chinese government accountable for setting off the pandemic would just be too difficult. There’s still $575 billion in trade between the two countries. Mustn’t upset the applecart.

To quote the late wise philosopher Dennis Green, “They are who we thought they were, and we let them off the hook.”

Instead, we think about other things, often much less consequential things. I generally don’t like stories that bubble up into the news cycle from the realm of rarely verifiable social media, and few make me roll my eyes more than the “you won’t believe what this customer wrote on her check to her waitress!” stories. (I guess I don’t mind the stories about customers leaving generous tips and sweet or inspiring notes, but I still wonder whether they’re really news.)

First, these stories are often hoaxes. Second, assuming what happened is true . . . alas, the world has rude customers and service employees often bear the brunt of their antipathy. I wish that wasn’t the case, but it is, and it has always been so. I doubt the value of these anecdotes as news. I don’t think the actions of one particular jerk makes any grand or revealing statement about our society.

There are times when it can seem that the focus on who wins the presidency is an unhealthy obsession, a campaign that now effectively goes on for two years, vacuums up tons of money that could be put to better use elsewhere, dominates the news cycle, and often brings anything resembling actual governing to a halt.

And yet, the presidency has awesome power, even in the hands of an 81-year-old who has “lost something off his fastball,” to use the most generous euphemism. One of those powers is the ability to influence what the news covers, and what Americans discuss.

Biden has decided that forgiving studentloan debt is the great cause of our time, or at least one of them. Never mind that these were loans that were taken out voluntarily, and with full knowledge of the consequences for not paying them back on time. This is a demographic that voted heavily for Joe Biden; therefore, the power of the state must be used to alleviate their financial burdens.

To the best that I can determine, Biden has not spoken publicly about the origin of Covid-19 since August 2021. After receiving a report from the intelligence community that amounted to, “Eh, we don’t know, boss,” Biden declared, “We will do everything we can to trace the roots of this outbreak that has caused so much pain and death around the world, so that we can take every necessary precaution to prevent it from happening again. . . . The world deserves answers, and I will not rest until we get them.” Of course, this was right around the time when the Taliban was reconquering Kabul.

Apparently, President Biden will spend a portion of the State of the Union Address talking about “shrinkflation” — the sense that you’re paying the same price for a bag of chips that has more air and fewer chips than when the inflation rate hit 9.1 percent in July 2022. Rich calls it Biden’s “War on Packaging.”

If Biden wanted to talk about the unresolved questions about the origin of Covid-19, and the Chinese government’s refusal to cooperate with international inquiries, he could. Biden could discuss:

Chinese government reports and officials described ongoing equipment problems and inadequate safety training that in some cases resulted in lab animals being illegally sold after being used in experiments, and contaminated lab waste getting flushed into sewers. The problems were exacerbated, they reported, “by a secretive, top-down bureaucracy that sets demanding goals while reflexively covering up accidents and discouraging any public acknowledgment of shortcomings.”

Biden could talk about how, in the crucial early days of the pandemic, the Chinese government silenced and arrested doctors who tried to sound the alarm and insisted the new virus was not contagious among human beings, effectively dooming the world.

All of this is reported in places like this publication and the Washington Post and other independent Western journalism institutions; this isn’t classified information.

But President Biden hasn’t said anything about the origin of Covid in more than two years. It just isn’t that important to him.

In the modern era, the federal government and the man atop the executive branch focuses his attention on the easy and popular stuff — forgiving student-loan debt and the amount of air in your bag of chips. The real challenges of our time are just too difficult to focus upon, apparently.

ADDENDUM: Last week, over in that other Washington publication I write for, I wrote that the news that Commander, President Biden’s German shepherd, was involved in at least 25 biting incidents in less than a year illuminated a deeper problem around the president and his team, that “the president’s dog pulling a Cujo is an abnormal situation, but it seems that in this White House, everyone just has to pretend that something that is obviously, glaringly, undeniably not right is totally unremarkable.”

For writing this, the usual suspects decided I was history’s greatest monster.

This morning, Jill Abramson writes a review of recently released Secret Service records. Abramson is a former executive editor of the New York Times, a columnist for the Washington Post, and far from a reflexive Biden-basher. She concludes, “But as I waded through the gory details of all these biting incidents, my empathy for the Bidens faded. Put plainly, these documents are a harrowing narrative of pet ownership in high places run dangerously amok. Two dogs belonging to the same family were both serial biters and had to be exiled. At some point, the trouble is not the animals — it’s the owners.”

Well, I guess she gets to be history’s greatest monster this week.

Source: National Review