Another mea culpa in the works?

A four-minute read

Dear reader,

It has been interesting to see how the broadsheet media have shifted their reporting on the origins of the pandemic in recent days. For over a year they have been parroting the views of a small group of scientists who loudly rubbish the idea that it escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan.

As we wrote in early March, anyone who takes an dispassionate look at the facts can see quite clearly that the ‘lab leak’ hypothesis is anything but a conspiracy theory. It is a real possibility. Furthermore, the scientists who want us to believe otherwise (in Germany their most prominent member is Christian Drosten) have conflicts of interest that they don’t declare, and which journalists either haven’t properly looked into or choose not to mention.

Read our article on the pandemic’s origins here

Despite the fact that no new evidence has emerged in recent weeks, the lab hypothesis is suddenly making headlines in the New York Times and just about every other US media outlet. The main change is that a US President who is not the sworn enemy of the liberal media is explicitly considering the possibility that the virus escaped from a lab.

Meanwhile, ever more scientists are calling for a “proper investigation” into whether SARS-Cov-2 escaped from a research facility; and the Wall Street Journal has reported on a US intelligence report that scientists at a Wuhan lab fell ill with coronavirus-like symptoms several weeks before the first officially confirmed cases.

In a face saving operation, the NYT - which previously dismissed the lab leak hypothesis as a conspiracy theory - has framed its change in tone as being based on “shifting science”.

The fact that the story has been front page news in the US for days means that even the dozy German media have started to take notice. But the coverage, especially by the country’s most influential outlet, der Spiegel, has been pathetically lacking in substance.

In its only story on the issue, Spiegel gave a perfunctory summary of the facts before jumping into an interview with a certain Dr. Matthias Glaubrecht.

Glaubrecht is a professor of biodiversity at Hamburg University, but apparently also sidelines as an expert in intelligence gathering.

“Intelligence reports have the characteristic that they are secret and remain secret. So we cannot verify whether such a report actually exists, what it really says, and what evidence, if any, is listed in it,” he said of the WSJ article. “The bottom line is that the current debate is based on hearsay.”

Besides displaying the hubris that we have become accustomed to hearing from Germany’s best and brightest over the past year, Glaubrecht’s main contribution to the debate is to regurgitate the official line of the Chinese communist party.

“According to experts who searched for the origin of the pathogen for the WHO in Wuhan in January 2021, not a single Sars-CoV-2 infection was known among the laboratory staff at the time. Antibodies were also not found in the blood of the personnel, which contradicts the claim that the people had previously been infected with the virus,” Glaubrecht says.

The WHO investigation he refers to is now largely discredited because of the fact that it was conducted under the oversight of Chinese authorities, who haven’t exactly gained a reputation for transparency over the past 18 months.

Or, as one of the WHO team was candid enough to admit: “Were we shown everything? You can never know. The group wasn’t designed to go and do a forensic examination of lab practice.”

The Wuhan Institute of Virology. credit: Wikimedia Commons

It is also important to understand Glaubrecht’s worldview. He claims that the pandemic was caused by the “ever deeper advancement of humans into nature and thus closer contact with wild animals.” In other words, he believes that modernity is at fault. This is a fashionable opinion among some virologists (and seems to help loosen the purse strings of funding organizations), but it’s also a controversial one. Other specialists in the field question the factual basis upon which such claims are made.

Proponents of the “it’s-all-our-fault” worldview were behind the risky research being carried out in Wuhan, where scientists were trying to stay one step ahead of the next pandemic by adapting bat pathogens to human cell structures.

Whether these scientists ultimately end up being right or not, they need not fear having their views challenged by der Spiegel. Which probably explains a pattern I’ve noticed of late...

When sober German scientists do media interviews they almost always go to the Hamburg magazine. Drosten rarely talks to the press, but his one interview this year was with two Spiegel journos who egged him on to denounce peers who oppose lockdowns. Likewise, Melanie Brinckmann, Viola Priesemann and other members of so-called Team Vorsicht go to the Hamburg magazine when they want a megaphone for their opinions. 

Science journalist Axel Bojanowski, who spent nine years working for Spiegel Online, recently wrote an intriguing article in which he described how the magazine had started hiring Greenpeace PR managers and climate activists onto its science pages. This has led green NGOs to praise the magazine for its “much improved reporting on the climate crisis.”

For Greenpeace activists, the notion that modernity is the cause of all ill in the world is an article of faith. Thus it should come as no great surprise to learn that the magazine’s new found objectivity on climate change is leading to equally balanced reporting on the coronavirus pandemic.

Some observers have been reminded of the compromised reporting in the US in the build up to the Iraq war, when journalists prized cosy contacts with government officials over critical reporting. One suspects that, when all the facts finally emerge, the editorial pages of our best newspapers might have to print a few more mea culpas of the type issued by the NYT in 2004.

What else has been happening?

  • One of my favourite nonsenses of German foreign policy is the principle of ‘no weapons exports to regions of tension’, which has a similar logic to it as ‘no tractors for the farmers’ or ‘no bread to the hungry.’ But, of all the people to question this queer orthodoxy, no one would have expected it to be the leader of the formerly pacifist Green party. Step forward Green co-leader Robert Habeck, who said during a visit to the Ukraine this week that Germany should be backing Kiev with military hardware. Habeck stressed that he was only talking about “weapons for defence, for self-defence, defensive weapons. I think it's hard to deny these to Ukraine.” Somehow, his co-leader Annalena Baerbock failed to hear the words ‘defensive weapon’ in that proposal. Asked whether she agreed, she said that “Robert made it clear this morning that we are not talking about defensive weapons, but - as we have already said - about munitions clearance, and the use of armoured vehicles to recover wounded civilians.” The other parties smelled blood. Die Linke said Habeck was being “blinded by a hatred of Russia”; the SPD said the proposal risked “escalating and prolonging” the conflict.

  • The AfD have agreed upon their leading duo for the upcoming federal election. They are going to be led by Alice Weidel and Tino Chrupalla. The pair, who have been backed by the hard right of the party, won some 70 percent of a vote among the party base. Polling at around 10 percent nationwide, the AfD are running on a manifesto of taking Germany out of the EU and restricting migration.

  • Germans have been quarrelling about whether children should be given Covid vaccines so that they can go back to school in the autumn. The government wants to jab everyone above the age of 12 by the end of August. But the country’s independent vaccine commission has said that it is against vaccinating children due to a lack of studies on side effects in minors, which could mean that long term health consequences would outweigh the protection against the disease. Elsewhere people have expressed concern at the possibility that children may only be allowed back into the classroom on the proviso that they have received a vaccination.

J.L.