New York magazine’s latest cover story, “The Lab-Leak Hypothesis,” concludes that COVID-19 is a human-engineered virus that escaped from a Wuhan lab — the very same theory that moved Facebook to suppress a Post opinion piece for weeks last year.
Steven W. Mosher only called it a possibility in these pages on Feb. 23, 2020. But Facebook quickly moved to suppress the column as “False Information” — and wouldn’t unblock it until April 17. Bet that a left-leaning magazine won’t have the same trouble.
Nicholson Baker’s feature goes into great length on issues Mosher touched on. Baker believes the virus “was made more infectious” in the laboratory, “perhaps as part of a scientist’s well-intentioned but risky effort to create a broad-spectrum vaccine,” and accidentally escaped.
Mosher expressed less certainty in “Don’t buy China’s story: The coronavirus may have leaked from a lab,” but noted (among other facts) China’s shoddy lab-safety record, the quick trip of Beijing’s top biowar expert to Wuhan as the pandemic began and cases in which researchers sold monkeys and rats on the live animal market after experimenting on them.
Yet Facebook “fact-checkers” put a “False Information” alert on the column and blocked posters’ friends from reading it for themselves — never mind his careful caveats and The Post’s own clear “opinion” label on the piece. Still, media figures accused The Post of spreading a “conspiracy theory.”
Baker spoke to a number of scientists who said their first thought on hearing of the outbreak was “lab accident.” But once President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested the virus began in a Chinese lab, many deemed it “impermissible, almost taboo,” to agree. And experts called for comment were themselves often engaged in “gain-of-function research” that manipulates deadly viruses — and didn’t want to lose their funding if the public turned against it. Indeed, one expert Facebook relied on had regularly worked with Wuhan’s researchers and done experiments in their lab.
As Baker writes, “We still know very little about the origins of this disease.” Right: China doesn’t want the world to know — and American media, social and otherwise, have helped Beijing bury the story.