MATTHEWS: What the media’s abrupt change of heart on the Wuhan lab-leak theory tells us

A worker fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic in Toppenish, Wash., Thursday, March 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Perhaps more so than any other theory about the origins of COVID-19, the one the mainstream media treated as the most suspect was the one about how the virus might have been accidentally leaked from a Wuhan, China, virology lab.

The prevailing belief at the time from scientists and medical experts was that the virus likely emanated from a Wuhan wet market and was transmitted from an animal (fish or bats) to humans. Anyone (usually Republicans) who deviated from that theory, and similar theories widely accepted in the medical/scientific community, was endlessly ridiculed.

But as America slowly returns to a sense of normalcy, questions about the virus’s origins have been ramping up. And, all of a sudden, the lab-leak theory characterized as a wacko conspiracy theory in 2020 when it was suggested by then-President Trump, high-ranking members of his administration, and prominent Republican senators is suddenly being treated as plausible.

Why the abrupt change of heart? Because President Biden’s chief medical adviser and NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci told a fact-checking outlet in May that he was “not convinced” the coronavirus developed naturally and that he was “perfectly in favor of any investigation that looks into the origin of the virus.”

Because Fauci, long a media darling during the pandemic, lent the theory credence, the media kicked into high gear, filing piece after piece treating the theory as credible. Facebook even lifted its ban on discussions about the origins of COVID-19. Prior to that, posting that you believed the virus might have leaked from a lab was grounds to get your account, group or page suspended or banned.

It was a rather remarkable about-face and one that gave whiplash to many of us who were on the receiving end of mockery from reporters, fact-checkers and Democrats whenever the lab leak theory was brought up.

But Trump, then-Sec. of State Mike Pompeo, Republican Sens. Tom Cotton, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul had all brought up the lab-leak theory last year at various points, believing it was a possibility that deserved to be looked into. After all, understanding where the virus came from is key to preventing another pandemic.

Yet they were treated with contempt. Journalists approaching stories about the theory started out believing that it was false and set about proving it was, instead of simply asking questions and making determinations as to its validity after doing careful research and due diligence.

It took over a year of the same Republicans and conservative publications not backing down to get us to the point where Dr. Fauci finally said what he did, and the media began admitting the lab-leak theory should be taken seriously.

Conservatives long suspected that the main “problem” with what the media and Democrats painted as a baseless “conspiracy theory” was that the people making the allegations were Republicans, with Trump, of course, being the most prominent one.

Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler as much as admitted it last week.

“The Trump administration’s messaging was often accompanied by anti-Chinese rhetoric that made it easier for skeptics to ignore its claims,” Kessler wrote.

ABC News reporter Jon Karl said the same Sunday. “[B]ecause Trump was saying so much else that was just out of control … [the lab leak theory] was widely dismissed.”

In other words, the primary reason the media and social media platforms deliberately suppressed discussions on the lab leak theory was that Republicans were making the claims.

It’s my opinion that what little bit of trust that was left between the people and the press has been irrevocably broken by the media’s willful manipulation of public health information, and journalists have no one to blame for it but themselves.

Media analyst Stacey Matthews has also written under the pseudonym Sister Toldjah and is a regular contributor to RedState and Legal Insurrection.