The networks on Thursday offered a grudging concession to the idea that Covid may have emerged from a Chinese lab, calling it a “a vindication of sorts for Trump-era officials” despite the former President “trying to pin it on China.” (They didn't call it a vindication for Trump specifically.) On NBC’s Today, Kristen Welker allowed, “This morning, a once controversial theory on the origins of COVID-19 now gaining ground. Experts in the Biden administration are now actively considering the possibility, once dismissed, that COVID may have been accidentally leaked from a Chinese lab.”
Over on ABC’s Good Morning America, Mary Bruce brought up the previous administration while still sounding dismissive as she conceded: “It's a theory that was heavily promoted by former President Trump as he tried to pin this pandemic on the Chinese. But now President Biden says there's no clear consensus on the origin and he's making it clear that he is giving this lab theory a second look.”
On CBS This Morning, Nancy Cordes would allow a vindication only for “Trump-era officials” as she discussed the possibility: “It's a vindication of sorts for Trump-era officials who long argued that they believe that this virus originated in a lab only to be dismissed in part because of some of their anti-China rhetoric.”
Only NBC’s Welker briefly chided the Biden administration for slowly coming around to this investigation: “This morning, some critics are asking what took so long for the President to light a fire under this investigation.” But none of the networks on Thursday covered a CNN.com article claiming:
President Joe Biden's team shut down a closely-held State Department effort launched late in the Trump administration to prove the coronavirus originated in a Chinese lab over concerns about the quality of its work, according to three sources familiar with the decision.
It may be okay now to talk about Covid originating in a Wuhan lab, but any topic that threatens Biden is still off limits.
Transcripts are below. Click “expand” to read more.
Good Morning America
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: We are going to go to the White House where President Biden has ordered U.S. Intelligence agencies to intensify their investigation into the origins of the coronavirus and whether it came from a Chinese lab. Senior White House correspondent Mary Bruce has the latest. Good morning, Mary.
MARY BRUCE: Good morning, George. This marks a significant change in tone here. Until now the Biden administration and the scientific community have largely dismissed this theory that the virus originated in a Chinese lab. It's a theory that was heavily promoted by former President Trump as he tried to pin this pandemic on the Chinese. But now President Biden says there's no clear consensus on the origin and he's making it clear that he is giving this lab theory a second look. This morning, the President asking new questions about the origins of Covid-19 and setting a new deadline in the search for answers. Biden directing the U.S. Intelligence community to redouble their efforts and report back within 90 days, saying they've coalesced around two likely scenarios. One, the virus was transmitted through contact with an infected animal. The other it escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China. Dr. Anthony Fauci yesterday on capitol hill asked about the origin of Covid-19.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: I still believe that the most likely scenario is that this was a natural occurrence, but no one knows that 100% for sure.
BRUCE: In March the world health organization determined it was unlikely the virus emerged from a lab, but earlier this week The Wall Street Journal reported three workers in that Chinese lab became sick with flu-like symptoms in November 2019 and had to be hospitalized. One month before China reported its first case of Covid. Now, until now the White House has said that any further investigation should be led by the world health organization, but now with these questions growing, the president is asking U.S. Intelligence officials to dig deeper as they try to figure out what really happened here.
CBS This Morning
ANTHONY MASON: The debate over the origin of covid-19 is heating up. Yesterday President Biden announced he's giving the U.S. intelligence community 90 days to produce a report on the subject which could have major implications for U.S. Relations with China. Nancy Cordes is following this at the White House. Good morning.
NANCY CORDES: Good morning. In this new statement from the President, it was candid about the fact that there is still disagreement within the U.S. intelligence community about where the Covid-19 virus originated. He said that, quote, "The U.S. intelligence community has coalesced around two likely scenarios. Some in the community lean toward the theory that Covid emerged from human contact with an infected animal. But others now lean toward this laboratory accident theory." Many in the intelligence community, he says, still don't think there's enough information to make an assessment either way. And that's why he now wants them to redouble their investigations and get data from China.
So far, however, China has rejected the lab accident theory, and it's been unwilling to share information. So the White House hasn't said whether and how it plans to compel China to hand that information over. Now interestingly, when Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Frances Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health, testified on the hill yesterday, they said that they still believe it's most likely that this virus emerged naturally in nature, in part because that's how viruses typically spread. They did concede, however, that a lab accident is possible, that more research is needed. It's a vindication of sorts for Trump-era officials who long argued that they believe that this virus originated in a lab only to be dismissed in part because of some of their anti-China rhetoric.
7:00 AM TEASE
HODA KOTB: COVID Mystery. President Biden orders U.S. intelligence officials to redouble efforts to find out if the virus escaped from a Chinese lab, saying he wants a full report on where, when, and why the pandemic started, on his desk in 90 days.
7:03 AM TEASE
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: In the meantime, there are new questions this morning tied to the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, with U.S. intelligence officials now re-examining the theory that the virus may have spread accidentally from a Chinese lab. Kristen Welker in Washington with the latest on that.
HODA KOTB: We’re going to move now to the coronavirus. Americans are getting ready for what’s expected to be a Memorial Day weekend that feels a little bit more normal, given the rise in vaccinations and the drop in cases. This amid new questions and a new investigation by the U.S. intelligence community on how the pandemic started. We do have two reports, and that’s where we’ll start, with NBC’s chief White House correspondent Kristen Welker. Hey Kristen, good morning.
KRISTEN WELKER: Hi Hoda, good morning to you. Despite the catastrophic impact of COVID-19, investigators are still struggling to figure out the origins of the virus. And now, President Biden is urging U.S. intelligence officials to redouble their efforts to solve the mystery, including the possibility the virus may have spread from a Chinese lab. This morning, some critics are asking what took so long for the President to light a fire under this investigation.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Probe Into COVID’s Origin and Wuhan Lab]
This morning, a once controversial theory on the origins of COVID-19 now gaining ground. Experts in the Biden administration are now actively considering the possibility, once dismissed, that COVID may have been accidentally leaked from a Chinese lab. In a statement, the President saying the intelligence community has coalesced around two likely scenarios, first that the virus arose from human contact with an infected animal, and second, that it resulted from a laboratory accident.
Adding to the urgency, NBC News has confirmed a U.S. intelligence report that three researchers at that lab fell ill and sought treatment at a hospital before COVID was identified. Cases of the virus exploded in late 2019 in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Early speculation centered on an animal market, but also the nearby Wuhan Institute of Virology, where coronaviruses were being studied, leading some to allege COVID-19 may have come from the lab.
SEN. TOM COTTON [R-AR, JANUARY 30, 2020]: Wuhan also has China’s only biosafety level four super laboratory that works with the world’s most deadly pathogens to include, yes, coronavirus.
DONALD TRUMP [APRIL 30, 2020]: You had the theory from the lab. We have people looking at it very, very strongly.
WELKER: Some conspiracy theories developed claiming the virus was released or manufactured in Wuhan on purpose, which experts fully rule out. But some scientists and many in the media, and intelligence community, also at the time dismissed the idea that the virus was leaked by humans accidentally.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI [MAY 2020]: Everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that it evolved in nature and then jumped species.
WELKER: NBC News gained exclusive access to the lab in 2020.
JANICE MACKEY FRAYER: Has anyone at the lab, either personnel or connected to the lab, a third party contractor, tested positive for this virus?
CHINESE OFFICIAL: No.
WELKER: China has been widely criticized for a lack of transparency. Earlier this week, a joint World Health Organization and Chinese report called it extremely unlikely the virus escaped from a lab. But intelligence gathering continued, and now, renewed focus on the leak theory after those confirmed reports that researchers were sick. And experts point out there’s been no hard evidence so far of the virus transmitted from an animal to humans.
DR. FAUCI: I believe we do need the kind of investigation where there’s open transparency.
KOTB: And Kristen, we just heard that there’s a growing call, obviously, for further investigation. So just walk us through what happens next.
WELKER: Well, Hoda, pressure now mounting from Capitol Hill. In fact, the Senate passed legislation requiring intelligence officials to declassify information about the origins of COVID-19, though it faces an uncertain future in the House. Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the Chinese embassy here spoke out overnight, calling these developments political manipulation and the blame game. The White House won’t say whether China will face consequences if it refuses to cooperate, but a lot of focus on this issue here in Washington, Hoda.
KOTB: Indeed. Alright, Kristen Welker for us there at the White House. Kristen, thank you.