Whoops! PolitiFact Backtracks Factcheck Over COVID-19 Lab Leak Hypothesis

Posted: May 20, 2021 2:45 PM
Whoops! PolitiFact Backtracks Factcheck Over COVID-19 Lab Leak Hypothesis

Source: Xiao Yijiu/Xinhua via AP

Fact-checking organization PolitiFact quietly removed an article that was used to go after those who questioned whether COVID-19 had originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is located in the Chinese city where the virus first started to emerge. 

In its original post, which was published on September 16, 2020, PolitiFact's headline was "Tucker Carlson guest airs debunked conspiracy theory that COVID-19 was created in a lab." The piece criticized Carlson for having Dr. Li-Meng Yan theorize COVID-19 came from the lab in Wuhan. 

"Over the next six-and-a-half minutes, Yan, a virologist and former postdoctoral fellow at the University of Hong Kong, explained that the Chinese government created the coronavirus in a Wuhan lab and released it intentionally. The virus’ genome, she said, indicates that it was modified. She accused the Chinese Communist Party of silencing those who claim otherwise.

"'It’s hard to be shocked in a moment like this, but you have succeeded in shocking me,' Carlson said at the end of the interview. 'Unfortunately, this is not the forum for the details of your research; I don’t have the grounding necessary to ask you the right questions.'

"Scientists do. The consensus of the scientific community and international public health organizations is that the coronavirus emerged from bats and later jumped to humans."

Fox News reported on Wednesday Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee say there is "significant circumstantial evidence" that the COVID-19 outbreak stemmed from a leak at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

"International efforts to discover the true source of the virus, however, have been stymied by a lack of cooperation from the People’s Republic of China," the Republicans wrote. "Nevertheless, significant circumstantial evidence raises serious concerns that the COVID-19 outbreak may have been a leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology." 

Politico reported how 18 leading scientists published a letter in the academic journal Science last week calling for further investigation to determine the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic. "Theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover both remain viable," they wrote.

On Monday, PolitiFact posted the following editor's note:

"When this fact-check was first published in September 2020, PolitiFact’s sources included researchers who asserted the SARS-CoV-2 virus could not have been manipulated. That assertion is now more widely disputed. For that reason, we are removing this fact-check from our database pending a more thorough review. Currently, we consider the claim to be unsupported by evidence and in dispute. The original fact-check in its entirety is preserved below for transparency and archival purposes."