CNN has long referred to itself as "the most trusted name in news" and famously launched its "Facts First" campaign during the Trump era, but like many other outlets, that sentiment fell by the wayside when it came to the COVID lab-leak theory.
In recent days, the theory that COVID originated from a lab leak at the Wuhan Institute of Virology has 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, a sentiment expressed by top Trump administration officials nearly from the outset.
But in the early months of the pandemic, then-CNN president Jeff Zucker would not allow his network to chase down the lab-leak story because he believed it was a "Trump talking point," according to a well-placed CNN insider.
"People are slowly waking up from the fog," the insider told Fox News Digital. "It is kind of crazy that we didn't chase it harder."
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Throughout Zucker's tenure as CNN's chief, he pulled what was once widely seen as a straight-news organization to an anti-Trump operation. CNN bent over backwards to knock down what former President Trump and members of his administration said lending credibility to the lab-leak theory, as the White House was deemed a nemesis by the network.
On March 28, 2020, CNN’s Oliver Darcy published a story headlined, "Here’s how to debunk coronavirus misinformation and conspiracy theories from friends and family," that offered advice about dealing with pesky loved ones who didn't believe in mainstream COVID-19 narratives at the time.
"While the coronavirus pandemic has isolated family and friends inside their homes, it has in many cases increased online or over-the-phone communication with loved ones," Darcy wrote.
"But, in some cases, relatives and friends share poor information – whether it is bad science related to how to prevent the virus, debunked rumors about cities being put on lockdown, or conspiracy theories about the origins of Covid-19. While any strain of misinformation is not ideal, misinformation related to a public health crisis has an especially dangerous element to it," Darcy continued before declaring that "bad information during a public health emergency poses a risk to those who fall victim to it."
Darcy's admonition came as CNN was one of many mainstream outlets to declare the lab-leak notion utterly preposterous.
CNN host Fareed Zakaria once said "the far right has now found its own virus conspiracy theory" while discussing the possibility of a lab leak.
On Feb. 18, 2020, CNN published a "Facts First" examination of claims made by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., one of the earlier supporters of the lab leak theory. CNN insisted "it’s possible, yet unlikely, that the lab was connected to the start of the outbreak," citing an infectious disease expert who said of the lab leak theory, "I have seen no one provide any solid information to support that theory. I think at this point you can draw a line through it and say that didn’t happen."
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CNN anchor John Vause called Cotton’s theory "misinformation" on air during a conversation with Dr. Anthony Fauci that year, who responded that "theories that are not based on evidence and facts often can really mislead people."
A CNN headline from April 2020 reading "Nearly 30% in the US believe a coronavirus theory that’s almost certainly not true" was based on a Pew Research poll taken at the time.
"Its origin is up for debate, but it wasn’t made in a lab," CNN reported. "There’s still much we don’t know about the coronavirus pandemic, but virus experts agree on one piece of its origin story: The virus likely originated in a bat, not in a Chinese lab."
On May 5, 2020, CNN published an analysis by Chris Cillizza, who has since been laid off from the network, headlined, "Anthony Fauci just crushed Donald Trump’s theory on the origins of the coronavirus." The piece noted that Trump "has been making the case that the coronavirus originated not in nature but in a lab in Wuhan, China" but insisted Fauci’s claim that the virus likely originated naturally was more accurate.
"Now, before we play the game of ‘he said, he said’ remember this: Only one of these two people is a world-renowned infectious disease expert. And it’s not Donald Trump," Cillizza wrote.
"In short, Fauci’s view on the origins of the disease matters a whole lot more than Trump’s opinion about where it came from," he continued. "Especially because, outside of Trump and his immediate inner circle, most people in a position to know are very, very skeptical of the Trump narrative that the virus came out of a lab – whether accidentally or on purpose."
CNN DISMISSES REDFIELD THEORY CORONAVIRUS CAME FROM WUHAN LAB AS 'CONTROVERSIAL' AND 'WITHOUT EVIDENCE'
In 2021, ex-CDC Director Robert Redfield – a virologist by trade – told CNN he believed coronavirus escaped from the Wuhan lab but was promptly dismissed. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta told viewers that the World Health Organization (WHO) feels the lab leak theory was "unlikely" and Chinese officials have pointed to "multiple" origins, including "U.S. military labs."
The Twitter account for CNN's since-canceled "New Day" even framed Redfield's theory as lacking "clear evidence." CNN’s online coverage of the Redfield interview took things a step further, calling it a "controversial theory without evidence."
Chris Cuomo, who was CNN's biggest star at the time before his firing in December 2021, admitted to viewers in May 2020 he didn't know whether the lab-leak theory was true, but he invited CNN correspondent Alex Marquardt to downplay it, reporting that the "body of evidence is circumstantial," "foreign intelligence partners dispute" the theory, citing the World Health Organization calling it "speculative" and even echoing China's swipe towards Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as being "insane" for touting the theory.
The early stages of COVID were a tough time for CNN, as the network not only dismissed the lab leak theory and allowed Chris Cuomo to goof around on air with his brother, then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D., it was also accused of hypocrisy.
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Jim Acosta, now a left-wing weekend anchor who served as CNN’s chief White House reporter at the time, was mocked for declaring Trump referring to the virus as "foreign" could be "smacking of xenophobia." Weeks earlier, Acosta himself had tweeted about the "Wuhan coronavirus," and his own network had used the same term.
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CNN didn't respond to requests for comment.