COVID-19 Matt Taibbi Media

Matt Taibbi: On The Explosive Coronavirus Story

As months-long joint investigation goes public, some additional details and context.
Wuhan Institute of Virology main entrance. Ureem2805, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Matt Taibbi / Racket News

Michael Shellenberger’s Public today released a blockbuster story, “First Person Sickened By COVID-19 Was Chinese Scientist Who Oversaw “Gain Of Function” Research That Created Virus,” which generously credits Racket. The story cites three government officials in naming scientist Ben Hu, who was in charge of “gain-of-function” research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, as the “patient zero” of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is a major story, contradicting early official explanations pointing to zoonotic cross-species “spillover” at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, colloquially known as the Wuhan wet market. The mystery bat or pangolin suspected of transmitting the disease to humans at that market was never found. The Public story for the first time asserts the source of contamination: a Wuhan Institute scientist fell ill after exposure to a virus engineered at his place of work.

The implications of this are enormous and represent a major problem for the federal health bureaucracy, several intelligence agencies, and the news media, to say nothing of politicians in both parties (but particularly those on the Democratic side) who’ve deflected public interest from the Wuhan Institute and gain-of-function research. The secrets of both the pandemic’s origin and the reason for America’s at-best-sluggish investigation of same have become the mother of all political footballs, and today’s news is likely to be just the first in a series of loud surprises.

The bulk of this investigation was done by Michael and the Public team, who’ve been digging into this matter with impressive ferocity for a while now. My part was more incidental, and I’m a bit hamstrung in talking about the nature of it, except to say that in addition to the material Michael dug up in today’s article, numerous federal agencies appear to have designed their probes of Covid-19’s origins so as to discount the possibility of lab origin in advance.

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We were told, for instance, that despite longstanding interest in the Wuhan Institute as a potential security concern, at least one intelligence agency overruled a majority of its in-house investigators to produce a report on the pandemic’s origin discounting the lab-leak hypothesis.

The “patient zero” report is likely to focus even more attention on stories by publications ranging from the Washington Post to the Intercept to the Wall Street Journal about U.S.-funded “gain-of-function” research, which sources insist is the likely reason many agencies (with the notable exception of the FBI and the Department of Energy, which both pointed at lab origin as a possible explanation) were steered away from the Wuhan Institute as a possible outbreak source.

The Public story should force a hard look at the cost of steering investigators away from the Wuhan Institute. Jamie Metzl, a former member of the World Health Organization expert advisory committee on human genome editing, put it this way in Michael’s story:

Had US government officials including Dr. Fauci stated from day one that a COVID-19 research-related origin was a very real possibility, and made clear that we had little idea what viruses were being held at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, what work was being done there, and who was doing that work, our national and global conversations would have been dramatically different.

The identity of Covid’s “Patient Zero” is a big part of a puzzle that will likely take a while to fully assemble, but there’s reason for optimism this time. Unlike other recent stories that have been ignored, like the Nord Stream explosion, numerous mainstream news organizations either have individual reporters or whole teams assigned to the theme Michael hit first today. Sooner or later, this story is coming out. I.F. Stone famously said all governments lie, but it’s beginning to look like the scale of this one would have shocked even him.

In any case, congratulations to Public, and please stay tuned to this space and theirs for more.

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Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi, author of the New York Times bestsellers The Divide, Griftopia, and The Great Derangement, was a contributing editor for Rolling Stone and winner of the 2007 National Magazine Award for Columns and Commentary.

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