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How a Trump media dump mainstreamed Chinese lab coronavirus conspiracy theory
::: 栏目 :::

A conspiracy theory about Covid-19 escaping from China’s Wuhan
Institute of Virology is the Trump administration’s Iraqi WMD.
And the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin is playing the role of
Judith Miller.
By Max Blumenthal and Ajit Singh

With US deaths from Covid-related complications peaking above
30,000, allies of President Donald Trump are taking their anti-
China public relations blitz to new heights of absurdity, hoping
to legitimize a conspiracy theory blaming a Chinese biological
research lab for engineering the novel coronavirus.

The theory points to the Wuhan Institute of Virology as the
culprit behind the pandemic, either through an accidental leak
caused by unsafe research on bat coronaviruses or deliberately, by
manufacturing a biological weapon. First deployed in January by
the right-wing Washington Times, the conspiracy was dismissed and
discredited at the time by journalists and scientists.

With an apparent cue this April from a Trump administration
desperate to shift the blame for its feckless coronavirus
response, Fox News and the Washington Post have fished the story
out of the right-wing’s political wet market and polished it off
for public consumption.

Though neither outlet published a single piece of concrete
evidence to support their claims, the story has gained traction
among even fervently anti-Trump elements of the political

Regarding the real source of Covid-19, the conclusion by a team of
American, British, and Australian researchers could not be more
clear: “we do not believe that any type of laboratory-based
scenario is plausible…. Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2
is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated
virus,” the virologists stated in a March 17 article published in
the scientific journal Nature.

A group of 27 public health scientists from eight countries signed
an open letter this March in the Lancet medical journal issuing
support to scientists and health professionals in China and
“strongly condemn[ing] conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-
19 does not have a natural origin.” The letter states that the
scientific findings to date “overwhelmingly conclude that this
coronavirus originated in wildlife, as have so many other emerging

Having spent the past four years railing against the “fake news
media” and “deep state” elements in the national security
bureaucracy for their campaign to paint him and his allies as
Russian collaborators, Trump is now employing the same tactics he
condemned to ratchet up conflict with China. By planting fake news
about Chinese evildoing through anonymous US officials and dodgy
document dumps, the White House appears to hope that an escalated
conflict abroad will paper over its failures at home.

Trump’s deployment of conspiracy theories about a Chinese lab not
only mirrors the tactics his opponents used to ramp up the
Russiagate narrative, it recalls the successful disinformation
campaign neoconservatives in the George W. Bush administration
enacted when they planted a seemingly explosive revelation about
Iraqi weapons of mass destruction with New York Times
correspondent Judith Miller.

The august reputation of the Times conferred legitimacy on the
bunk WMD story, enabling the Bush administration to sell the
invasion of Iraq to the Beltway political class across partisan
lines. Miller was ultimately exposed as a fraudster and went to
jail to protect her neocon sources, but not before thousands of
American service members were killed in Iraq and hundreds of
thousands of Iraqis died in the chaos they spawned.

Today, as the Trump administration ratchets up its propaganda war
against China to a disturbing new level, a neoconservative
columnist at the Washington Post is filling Miller’s shoes.

The Washington Post’s Josh Rogin
From dormant conspiracy theory to Iraqi WMD-style disinformation
The theory that Covid-19 virus escaped from a biological research
lab in Wuhan, China was revived on April 14 in a dubiously sourced
Washington Post column by Josh Rogin. A neoconservative pundit
whose bio lists past work at the Japanese embassy, Rogin has spent
years agitating for regime change against the countries comprising
the Bush administration’s “axis of evil.”

Toward the end of his article, Rogin admitted, “We don’t know
whether the novel coronavirus originated in the Wuhan lab.” Up
until that point, however, he offered every possible insinuation
that the virus had indeed emerged from the Wuhan Institute of
Virology. His article appeared to be an intelligence plant that
depended heavily on documents dumped by US government officials
eager to turn up the heat on China.

The Post columnist’s hypothesis rested largely on a January 2018
cable from the US embassy in Beijing he claimed to have innocently
“obtained.” The cable warned that “the [Wuhan] lab’s work on
bat coronaviruses and their potential human transmission
represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic.” But as we
explain later, Rogin distorted the nature of the research in
question and subsequently refused to publish the rest of the US
cable when pressed to do so by scientists.

While shielding his credibility behind caveats, Rogin turned to
Xiao Qiang, a US-backed regime-change activist deceptively
identified as a “research scientist,” to argue the Wuhan lab
theory was “a legitimate question that needs to be investigated
and answered.” No virologists or epidemiologists were quoted by

Rogin’s article came in for strident criticism by Dr. Angela
Rasmussen, a Columbia University virologist, who called his claims
about the Chinese lab “extremely vague,” and stated he failed to
“demonstrate a clear and specific risk.” But by this point, a
disinformation operation apparently guided by the White House was
in full swing.

On April 15, the day after Rogin’s op-ed appeared, right-wing Fox
News correspondent Bret Baier published a remarkably similar
article which stated, “there is increasing confidence that the
Covid-19 outbreak likely originated in a Wuhan laboratory…”

Like Rogin, Baier offered no concrete evidence to support his
incendiary claim, relying instead on unspecified “classified and
open-source documents” from “US sources,” which he admitted he
had not personally viewed.

That evening, the arch-neoconservative Republican Senator Tom
Cotton launched a carefully choreographed tirade on Fox News.
“Bret Baier’s reporting shows that the Chinese Communist Party
is responsible for every single death, every job lost, every
retirement nest egg lost, from this coronavirus,” Cotton
thundered. “And Xi Jinping and his Chinese communist apparatchiks
must be made to pay the price.”

The Chinese Communist Party is responsible for every single death,
every job lost, every retirement nest egg lost, from this
coronavirus. And Xi Jinping must be made to pay the price.

— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) April 16, 2020

The well-timed spectacle of Cotton’s appearance suggested close
coordination between his office, the Trump administration, and
their media allies to sell the conspiracy theory to the public.

Meanwhile, leading lights of the liberal anti-Trump commentariat
burnished Rogin’s article with the sheen of bipartisan

After it was shared by New York Magazine columnist Yashar Ali, New
York Times columnist Charles Blow expressed his own amazement at
the supposedly revelatory column: “I didn’t see this coming.”

Buzzfeed’s Tom Gara went a step further, proclaiming the
“escaped from a lab theory” to be “totally plausible” in a
tweet sharing the op-ed.

Even the Columbia Journalism Review wrote that Rogin’s piece
“contained bombshell new reporting,” ignoring the Washington
Post columnist’s well-established history as a publicist for the
neoconservative movement.

MSNBC host Chris Hayes also appeared to be taken in by Rogin’s


— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) April 14, 2020

On April 17, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo elevated the baseless
theory to the global stage when he stated, “We are still asking
the Chinese Communist Party to allow experts to get into that
virology lab so that we can determine precisely where this virus

That same day, Trump declared that “it seems to make sense” that
the virus had been manufactured in a lab in Wuhan. Like Cotton and
Pompeo, he offered no evidence to support his hunch.

TRUMP: "It seems to make sense" that COVID was released from a lab
in China pic.twitter.com/mLDit5iAEL

— ᏔმƦ𝔢ჳ💤 (@mooncult) April 17, 2020

Six months away from a presidential election, and in the midst of
a gruesome public health crisis that threatened to plunge the US
economy into a depression, a fringe conspiracy theory had become
the centerpiece of Trump’s culture war against China.

In fact, the story first appeared as a trial balloon launched by a
right-wing newspaper in January, back when few in the US were
paying close attention to the Covid outbreak.

The oddball origins of the Wuhan lab theory
On January 24, a shocking headline blared from the pages of the
Washington Times, a right-wing paper owned by the South Korean
cult known as the Unification Church. “Coronavirus may have
originated in a lab linked to China’s biowarfare program,” the
paper announced.

Its source for the remarkable claim was a former lieutenant
colonel in an Israeli military intelligence unit named Danny
Shoham. “Coronaviruses [particularly SARS] have been studied in
the institute and are probably held therein,” Shoham remarked to
the Washington Times, referring to the Wuhan Institute of

Though Shoham suggested “outward virus infiltration might take
place either as leakage or as an indoor unnoticed infection of a
person that normally went out of the concerned facility,” he
ultimately conceded (as virtually every other expert has so far):
“so far there isn’t evidence or indication for such incident.”

Shoham is currently a fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for
Strategic Studies, a Likud Party-linked research center based at
Israel’s Bar-Ilan University. A look at his work for the
institute reveals a clear dedication to Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu’s agenda, with a particular focus on
containing Iran and pressing the case for regime change in Syria.

The Begin-Sadat Center has previously urged the West against
defeating ISIS, positing the jihadist group as a “useful tool”
in undermining the Syrian government and Iran.

Besides Shoham, the Washington Times cited a broadcast report by
Radio Free Asia (RFA) insinuating that the Wuhan Institute of
Virology could have been the source of Covid-19.

Left unmentioned was RFA’s role as a US government news agency
created during the Cold War as part of a “Worldwide Propaganda
Network Built by the CIA,” in the words of the New York Times.

RFA is operated by the US Agency for Global Media (formerly the
Broadcasting Board of Governors), a federal agency of the US
government operating under the watch of the State Department.
Describing its work as “vital to US national interests,” the US
Agency’s primary broadcasting goal is to be “consistent with the
broad foreign policy objectives of the United States.”

Larry Klayman, a right-wing Republican lawyer with a penchant for
filing nuisance suits against political foes, quickly seized on
the Washington Times story as the basis for a $20 billion class
action lawsuit against China in US federal court. (Senator Cotton
and the neoconservative Henry Jackson Society have since called
for aggressive US lawfare actions against China over coronavirus.)

Days after the Washington Times article, the paper’s mainstream
rival the Washington Post published a lengthy article quoting
virologists who refuted the theory that Covid-19 had been
engineered, testifying to the quality of research at the Wuhan
Institute of Virology, and pouring cold water on the theory that
the virus could have been a bioweapon.

On March 25, two months after its report first appeared, the
Washington Times added an editorial note to the article
essentially disowning its thesis: “Since this story ran,” the
note read, “scientists outside of China have had a chance to
study the SARS-CoV-2 virus. They concluded it does not show signs
of having been manufactured or purposefully manipulated in a lab,
though the exact origin remains murky and experts debate whether
it may have leaked from a Chinese lab that was studying it.”

That same day, Danny Shoham told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz,
“As of now there are still no unequivocal findings that clearly
tell us what the source of the virus is.”

The conspiracy theory seemed to have floundered. In its
desperation to revive the seemingly dead story over two months
later, the Trump administration apparently turned to the same
outlet that had initially debunked it: the Washington Post.

Spinning US State Department cables into sinister Chinese schemes
The April 14 column by the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin that
brought the Wuhan lab conspiracy back from the dead read like a
classic State Department document dump. Relying on a pair of two-
year old cables from the US embassy in Beijing, Rogin stoked
suspicions about alleged safety issues at a lab studying
coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).

The Chinese facility is a biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) lab, the
highest international standard of biosafety precaution. Dozens of
BSL-4 facilities are in operation around the world — including 13
facilities in the US alone as of 2013. “The ultimate goal of BSL-
4 research,” according to Scientific American, “[is] to advance
toward prevention and treatment of deadly diseases.”

Rogin based his fear-mongering about alleged safety concerns with
the Chinese lab on a single, vague comment by US embassy officials
with no apparent scientific expertise. “During interactions with
scientists at the WIV laboratory,” the cable reads, “they noted
the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained
technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-
containment laboratory.”

However, the main takeaway of the State Department cables dumped
on Rogin undermines the columnist’s most sensational claims. In
the documents, US officials put more emphasis on the value of the
research conducted in the Wuhan lab to predict and prevent
potential coronavirus outbreaks than they did on safety concerns.

“Most importantly,” the cable states, “the researchers also
showed that various SARS-like coronaviruses can interact with
ACE2, the human receptor identified for SARS-coronavirus. This
finding strongly suggests that SARS-like coronaviruses from bats
can be transmitted to humans to cause SARS-like diseases. From a
public health perspective, this makes the continued surveillance
of SARS-like coronaviruses in bats and study of the animal-human
interface critical to future emerging coronavirus outbreak
prediction and prevention.”

Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist and associate research
scientist at the Center of Infection and Immunity at the Columbia
University School of Public Health, pointed out that the cable
“argues that it’s important to continue working on bat CoVs
because of their potential as human pathogens, but doesn’t
suggest that there were safety issues specifically relating to
WIV’s work on bat CoVs capable of using human ACE2 as a

Ultimately, Josh Rogin was forced to admit that there was no
evidence to support his insinuations, conceding in the penultimate
paragraph of the article, “We don’t know whether the novel
coronavirus originated in the Wuhan lab.”

While Rogin claimed that it was an “unusual step” for US embassy
officials to visit the lab in Wuhan, international exchanges are
extremely common, as is collaboration between American and Chinese
researchers. Since opening in 2015, WIV has received visits from
scientists, health experts, and government officials from over a
dozen countries.

The facility in question, the National High-level Biosafety
Laboratory, is the product of joint-collaboration between China
and France, and certified by authorities in both countries along
with International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
standards in 2016. Since 2015, eight delegations of French
government officials, scientists, and health professionals have
visited the lab.

It is important to note that France, the country with the most
experience with and knowledge of the Wuhan lab other than China,
has strongly rejected reports that the novel coronavirus
originated in the facility.

“We would like to make it clear that there is to this day no
factual evidence corroborating recent reports in the US press
linking the origins of Covid-19 and the work of the P4 [or BSL-4]
laboratory of Wuhan, China,” an official at President Emmanuel
Macron’s office said on April 18.

According to the WHO, “much investment was made in staff
training”, with researchers being trained in the US, France,
Canada, and Australia and then in house before the lab became
operational. Chinese researchers have been forthright and
transparent in their safety protocol, publishing, in May 2019, an
overview of their training program for laboratory users in a US
CDC publication on emerging infectious diseases.

Non-scientist Xiao Qiang at a gathering of the National Endowment
for Democracy, a US government regime change entity originally
established by the CIA
Rogin’s faux “scientist” is a US government-backed regime
change activist
Instead of discussing issues surrounding WIV with scientific
experts, Rogin attempted to bolster his claims by relying on the
speculation of anonymous Trump administration officials and Xiao
Qiang, an anti-Chinese government activist with a long history of
US government funding.

Rogin referred to Xiao merely as a “research scientist,”
dishonestly attempting to furnish academic credibility for the
professional political dissident. In fact, Xiao has no expertise
in any science and teaches classes on “digital activism,”
“internet freedom,” and “blogging China.” Revealingly, Rogin
completely omitted the real record of Xiao Qiang as an anti-
Chinese government activist.

For over 20 years, Xiao has worked with and been funded by the
National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the main arm of US
government regime-change efforts in countries targeted by
Washington. The NED has funded and trained right-wing opposition
movements from Venezuela to Nicaragua to Hong Kong, where violent
separatist elements spent much of 2019 agitating for an end to
Chinese rule.

Xiao served as the executive director of the New York-based NGO
Human Rights in China from 1991 to 2002. As a long-time grantee of
the NED, he served as vice-chairman of the steering committee of
the World Movement for Democracy, an international “network of
networks” founded by the NED and “for which the NED serves as
the secretariat.” Xiao is also the editor-in-chief of China
Digital Times, a publication that he founded in 2003 and that is
also funded by the NED.

Using “unverified theories” to smear a Chinese scientist
To slyly suggest the Wuhan Institute of Virology as the source of
the Covid-19 outbreak, Rogin honed in on the record of Shi
Zhengli, the head of the WIV’s research team studying bat
coronaviruses, distorting her record to paint her as a reckless
mad scientist. Rogin claimed that “other scientists questioned
whether Shi’s team was taking unnecessary risks” and that “the
US government had imposed a moratorium on funding” the type of
research that Shi’s team was undertaking.

To back up his assertion, Rogin cited a 2015 article in Nature on
a debate over risks associated with an experiment that created a
hybrid version of a bat coronavirus. Yet the article did not even
name Shi, referring instead to a study that took place in the US
– not Wuhan – that was led by a team of American infectious-
disease researchers at the University of North Carolina. Shi
contributed to the study as one of 13 co-authors, 10 of whom
worked at American universities.

According to Nature, the American-led study was “under way before
the US moratorium began, and the US National Institutes of Health
(NIH) allowed it to proceed while it was under review by the

Out of concern that its article was being carelessly repurposed by
conspiracy theorists to suggest that coronavirus was engineered in
a lab, editors at Nature placed a disclaimer at the top of the
article this March which stated: “We are aware that this story is
being used as the basis for unverified theories that the novel
coronavirus causing COVID-19 was engineered. There is no evidence
that this is true; scientists believe that an animal is the most
likely source of the coronavirus.”

In his zeal to spread Cold War conspiracism, Rogin conveniently
neglected to mention the disclaimer.

Scientists question Rogin’s shoddy reporting, pundit melts down
Scientists have slammed Josh Rogin for failing to interview any
experts and relying on vague insinuations in order to push a
politically-driven agenda.

Dr. Angela Rasmussen, the Columbia University virologist,
criticized Rogin’s sensational claims about the Chinese lab’s
safety protocols as “extremely vague,” stating that he failed to
“demonstrate a clear and specific risk.” Dr. Rasmussen went on
to knock Rogin for inaccurately representing the US State
Department cables and “cherry-pick[ing] quotes” in order to
advance his narrative.

Dr. Stephen Goldstein, another virologist and postdoctoral
researcher at the University of Utah School of Medicine, accused
Rogin of “multiple substantive, scientific gaps” and relying on
“unsupported innuendo.” Revealingly, Rogin rejected their
requests to publish the US State Department cables in their

After being challenged by Dr. Rasmussen, Dr. Goldstein, and others
over his irresponsible reporting and failure to consult scientific
experts, Rogin claimed to have spoken with “top virologists,”
but refused to elaborate or explain why he did not include the
opinions of these alleged experts in his article.

It's irresponsible for Dr. Rasmussen to lodge ad hominem attacks
when she doesn't know who I did or didn't talk to. There are lots
of scientists with competing theories and competing analyses. Many
have told me they disagree with you, including top virologists.

— Josh Rogin (@joshrogin) April 15, 2020

Which virologists? There are none named or quoted in the article.
This is a simple question.

— Stephen Goldstein (@stgoldst) April 15, 2020

An April 17 Forbes article by Dr. Jason Kindrachuk, an assistant
professor of viral pathogenesis at the University of Manitoba,
also undermined Rogin’s claims, asserting that no scientific
evidence exists to support the theory that the novel coronavirus
leaked from a Chinese lab.

A career of carrying water for militarists
While countless journalists have been driven out of mainstream
media for challenging pro-war narratives, the Washington Post’s
Josh Rogin has made a career out of publishing sensationalist and
often factually challenged neoconservative propaganda dressed up
as reporting.

After a stint at a Japanese daily newspaper and the embassy of
Japan, Rogin earned his name carrying water for the US national
security state. At the Daily Beast, he teamed up with fellow
neocon Eli Lake on a bogus 2013 story claiming al-Qaeda’s
“Legion of Doom” gathered together for a “conference call.”

An obvious product of leaks by national security hardliners
seeking to paint Obama as weak on terror, Rogin and Lake were
ultimately forced to qualify the non-existent “call” as a “non-
telephone communication” after it came in for mockery and
criticism from national security experts.

Two years later, Rogin promoted another fake story featuring
photos of a column of Russian tanks resupplying pro-Russian
separatists in Ukraine. The photos turned out to be years old, and
depicted Russian tanks in South Ossetia.

Rogin’s upward failing trajectory led him next to Bloomberg,
where he and fellow neocon cadre Eli Lake were rewarded with
$275,000-a-year salaries to continue publishing stenography for
foreign policy hardliners in Congress and the State Department.

Since Rogin joined the Amazon-owned Washington Post in 2017, he
has pressured former White House national security advisor John
Bolton to follow through on his “Troika of Tyranny” label with
regime-change operations against socialist states in Latin
America; seized on the US killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-
Baghdadi to call for Washington to murder Syrian President Bashar
al-Assad; clamored for the US to support extremist militias in the
al-Qaeda-controlled Idlib province of Syria; and suggested a
former Obama official should be prosecuted in federal court for
lobbying for the private Chinese communications firm, Huawei.

At the start of what became a years-long crusade to denigrate Rep.
Tulsi Gabbard for her opposition to the US proxy war on Syria,
Rogin was compelled to publish a 70-word-long correction after
accusing Gabbard of acting as “Assad’s mouthpiece in

Despite his long record of gaffes and feverish rhetoric, Josh
Rogin has managed to mainstream a conspiracy theory dismissed by
scientists as pure bunk. Embedded at a paper that has built its
brand on opposition to Trump, he provided the Trump administration
with the perfect vehicle to deliver New Cold War propaganda to the
public. As the Post’s motto warns, “Democracy dies in

Max Blumenthal
Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and the author of
several books, including best-selling Republican Gomorrah,
Goliath, The Fifty One Day War, and The Management of Savagery. He
has produced print articles for an array of publications, many
video reports, and several documentaries, including Killing Gaza.
Blumenthal founded The Grayzone in 2015 to shine a journalistic
light on America’s state of perpetual war and its dangerous
domestic repercussions.


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