Chuck Todd might not be the only Sunday news anchor on Donald Trump’s to-be-fired list. In last night’s 60 Minutes, Scott Pelley accused Mike Pompeo of “attempt[ing] to resurrect a debunked theory” a week earlier on COVID-19 by suggesting it was “man-made.” However, that’s not what Pompeo meant, as the transcript of the interview makes perfectly clear (via the Daily Wire):
As the U.S. took the lead for illness and death from coronavirus, the White House moved the focus to the Chinese government. Last Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attempted to resurrect a debunked theory that the virus was man-made in China. https://t.co/MZbfe4LeXi pic.twitter.com/bIjTRfboTg
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) May 10, 2020
Last Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pomepo attempted to resurrect a debunked theory that the virus was man-made in China.
Mike Pompeo on ABC’s “This Week”: Look, the best experts so far seem to think it was man-made. I have no reason to disbelieve that at this point.
This clip is taken out of context, however, not unlike what Todd did with William Barr earlier in the day. Pompeo did say this, but he made it clear he misspoke in almost the very next breath. The State Department has the transcript up from his interview on This Week with Martha Raddatz, and it is very clear that what he argued is that he believes the COVID-19 virus escaped from the Wuhan lab, not that it was man-made:
QUESTION: Do you believe it was man-made or genetically modified?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Look, the best experts so far seem to think it was man-made. I have no reason to disbelieve that at this point.
QUESTION: Your Office of the DNI says the consensus, the scientific consensus, was not man-made or genetically modified.
SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s right. I agree with that. Yeah, I’ve seen their analysis. I’ve seen the summary that you saw that was released publicly. I have no reason to doubt that that is accurate at this point.
QUESTION: Okay. So just to be clear, you do not think it was man-made or genetically modified?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ve seen what the Intelligence Community has said. I have no reason to believe that they’ve got it wrong. But you have to put this in context. Here’s what’s important, Martha. Here’s what’s important. The Chinese Communist Party had the opportunity to prevent all of the calamity that has befallen the world, and here we find ourselves today – you and I were talking about we haven’t seen each other physically for a long time. That’s true of people all across the world.
Again, pulling remarks out of context from interviews published by other organizations is a remarkably bad idea. It’s literally true that those words came out of Pompeo’s mouth, but it’s also clear that he corrected himself when Raddatz asked him about it. What Pompeo actually did was controversial enough for commentary, anyway. He and US intelligence claim that COVID-19 escaped from the lab rather than crossed over in the wet markets or through some other more natural process, a conclusion that our other allies dispute. Why not just report on what Pompeo’s actually arguing and dissect that?
The answer: 60 Minutes has a long tradition of making intellectually dishonest political attacks, as many discovered with Rathergate. Pelley and his crew then lined up experts to debunk an argument that Pompeo wasn’t making in order to paint him and the administration as liars who are desperate to shift blame to poor, unfortunate China:
Elodie Ghedin: People have been saying that’s an engineered virus. And it’s not. And we know that by looking at the genetic information, looking at the code. And the code tells you a lot.
Human-engineered viruses have common and obvious genetic components, including the virus’s overall molecular structure called its backbone.
Elodie Ghedin: If a virus had been engineered, it would’ve used the backbones that we know. And there’s none of that in that virus. And let’s say it was a brand-new backbone. Well, it wouldn’t look like what it’s looking like, because we can find every piece of that virus. We can find these pieces in other very similar viruses that circulate in the wild. From the genetic information, it’s clearly not an engineered virus.
Yes, well, that’s why US intelligence doesn’t believe it’s man-made, and neither does the Trump administration. If they thought this was a biological weapon unleashed on the world, the US response would look much different than it is now. This is nothing more than strawman-building on Pelley’s part.
Nor is it the only intellectually dishonest part of this report. Pelley also reported that the State Department previously praised the work at the Wuhan Institute of Virology without also revealing the warnings about their lack of competence in high-risk viral containment. In doing so, Pelley seriously misrepresented the nature of those memos, the Daily Wire’s Ryan Saavedra notes:
Pelley goes on to praise the Wuhan Institute of Virology, saying that it was “internationally respected” and that State Department cables sent to Washington, D.C., in 2018 said that the lab was “critical to future… outbreak prediction and prevention.” Pelley downplayed the warning contained in the cables as the State Department was “concerned” about a lab not having enough trained researchers.
Here is how Washington Post reporter Josh Rogin, who broke the story, described the State Department cables:
What the U.S. officials learned during their visits concerned them so much that they dispatched two diplomatic cables categorized as Sensitive But Unclassified back to Washington. The cables warned about safety and management weaknesses at the WIV lab and proposed more attention and help. The first cable, which I obtained, also warns that the lab’s work on bat coronaviruses and their potential human transmission represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic. …
The research was designed to prevent the next SARS-like pandemic by anticipating how it might emerge. But even in 2015, other scientists questioned whether Shi’s team was taking unnecessary risks. In October 2014, the U.S. government had imposed a moratorium on funding of any research that makes a virus more deadly or contagious, known as “gain-of-function” experiments. …
Sources familiar with the cables said they were meant to sound an alarm about the grave safety concerns at the WIV lab, especially regarding its work with bat coronaviruses. The embassy officials were calling for more U.S. attention to this lab and more support for it, to help it fix its problems.
“The cable was a warning shot,” one U.S. official said. “They were begging people to pay attention to what was going on.”
The only thing that Pelley even mentioned about China was that the Chinese communist government silenced one doctor who tried to warn about the outbreak which is a distortion of how China responded to the pandemic, as China’s cover-up continues to this day.
It would be easier to take media criticism of “Pandemic Politics” more seriously if the media wasn’t so determined to play it themselves. Should CBS fire Scott Pelley too? Actually, most of us would be satisfied if they just fired their news division’s executive editor … Zhao Lijian.