The once-respected CBS News program "60 Minutes" attempted to set the record straight about the origins of COVID nearly a year after declaring the lab-leak theory "debunked."
In recent days, the theory that COVID originated from a lab leak in Wuhan had been embraced by FBI Director Christopher Wray and a bombshell report indicated that the U.S. Energy Department believes the virus likely started in the lab.
However, back in May 2020, CBS News' Scott Pelley cast significant doubt on the Trump administration's assertions of the theory, telling viewers "both the White House and the Chinese Communist Party have been less than honest."
Instead, Pelley hyped the credibility of Peter Daszak, president of the group EcoHealth Alliance and one of the world's most vocal foes of the lab-leak theory. EcoHealth Alliance received government funding from the National Institutes of Health and has had a long working partnership with the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), which is now widely believed to be ground zero for the COVID pandemic.
The "60 Minutes" correspondent praised the work of EcoHealth-WIV at the time as being "critical right now."
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"And so that [Remdesivir] testing would not have been possible if it hadn't been for the work that you did with the NIH grant," Pelley said.
"Correct," Daszak responded.
Pelley lamented how the Trump administration abruptly ended EcoHealth's funding because of a "political disinformation campaign targeting China's Wuhan Institute."
"As the U.S. led the world in illness and death, the White House moved the focus to the Chinese government," Pelley told viewers as he swiped the Trump administration. "Last Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attempted to resurrect a debunked theory that the virus was man-made in China… The administration has offered no evidence of an accident or genetic engineering."
The "60 Minutes" correspondent pushed the notion that the virus stemmed from a wet market and turned to another expert who suggested that the virus came naturally from a pangolin.
"There is zero evidence that his virus came out of a lab in China," Daszak insisted.
"Does the Wuhan Institute of Virology, to your knowledge, have this virus in its inventory?" Pelley asked.
"No," Daszak answered.
"Why do you say so?" Pelley followed.
"The closest known relative is one that's different enough that it is not SARS-CoV 2, so there's just no evidence that anybody had it in the lab anywhere in the world prior to the outbreak," Daszak answered.
CBS News has said its report was based on the facts known at that time.
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Fast forward to March 2021 when Pelley's colleague Lesley Stahl posed the question, "How did SARS-CoV 2… originate," calling a potential lab-leak a "leading theory."
Stahl spoke with Jamie Metzl, a former Clinton administration official and an advisor to the World Health Organization (WHO) who was among several scientists calling for a new investigation in Wuhan since the first one that was conducted was essentially run by the Chinese government.
"Wait, you're saying that China did the investigation and shared the results to the committee and that was it?" Stahl asked in shock.
"Pretty much," Metzl replied. "Imagine if we had asked the Soviet Union to do a co-investigation of Chernobyl."
Stahl also interviewed Daszak, who still deemed the lab-leak theory "extremely unlikely." But unlike Pelley, Stahl grilled the EcoHealth Alliance president for defending China's handling of the probe.
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"You're just taking their word for it," Stahl reacted.
"Well, what else can we do?" Daszak pushed back. "There's a limit to what you can do, and we went right up to that limit. We asked them tough questions. They weren't vetted in advance and the answers they gave we found to be believable, correct and convincing."
"But weren't the Chinese engaged in a cover-up?" Stahl asked. "They destroyed evidence, they punish scientists who were trying to give evidence on this very question of the origin."
"Well, that wasn't a task to find out if China covered up the origin issue," Daszak responded. "We didn't see any evidence of any false reporting or cover-up in the work that we did in China… There were Ministry of Foreign Affairs staff in the room throughout our stay, absolutely. They were there to make sure everything went smoothly from the China side."
"Or to make sure they weren't telling you the whole truth and nothing but the truth," Stahl quipped.
"You sit in a room with people who are scientists, and you know what a scientific statement is and you know what a political statement is. We had no problem distinguishing between the two," Daszak doubled down.
Stahl highlighted declassified intelligence information showing China buried revelations that Wuhan lab scientists had COVID-like symptoms and that the Chinese military had been working with the lab. But Daszak kept insisting COVID itself was never in the lab.
Metzl, as Stahl pointed out, "beg[ged] to differ, citing how Wuhab lab researchers were sent to bat caves and returned samples that were "genetically mostly related" to COVID.
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"And that has led a growing number of prominent scientists and public officials to call on China to provide greater transparency and access to investigate the source of the virus, including whether it originated at the lab in Wuhan," Stahl told viewers in a June 2021 update of her report.