On the February 10 edition of his Fox News prime-time show, Tucker Carlson floated an unsubstantiated theory about the origins of the coronavirus outbreak, echoing conspiratorial fearmongering about the disease from former Trump adviser Steve Bannon and his billionaire benefactor, as well as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR).
The debunked narrative that the coronavirus was engineered and leaked from an infectious disease research laboratory near Wuhan, China, has been described as an “outbreak of nonsense” and a “fringe theory.” Rutgers University professor of chemical biology Richard Ebright told The Washington Post that “based on the virus genome and properties there is no indication whatsoever that it was an engineered virus.”
Despite previous reporting debunking this theory, Carlson asked his guest Dr. Janette Nesheiwat, the medical director of a chain of urgent care clinics, whether the disease was “not a naturally occurring virus” but was “somehow created by the Chinese government,” hedging by saying, “I’m certainly not endorsing this, but there has been a lot of speculation.” Nesheiwat immediately shot down the unfounded theory, saying the virus has “actually existed for many, many years, it’s just that the virus has mutated, it’s changed.”
This conjecture about the outbreak’s origins is prolific throughout the right-wing media and matches false claims pushed by Bannon on his radio broadcast War Room: Pandemic. Like Carlson, Bannon’s baseless theory about the origins of the virus was repeatedly shot down by his guest, Dr. Steven Hatfill, a medical expert who previously worked at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. Guo Wengui, a controversial Chinese billionaire and exiled critic of the Chinese government with whom Bannon has a lucrative professional relationship, has also pushed the claim on his website G News alongside other fake stories about the epidemic. And according to a report from Business Insider, Cotton has also pushed the narrative during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
This is not the first time Carlson has engaged in fearmongering about baseless conspiracy theories. In the aftermath of the devastating 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting which took the lives of 58 people at a country music festival, he repeatedly hyped the completely unfounded theory that the security guard who was shot while responding to the shooter may have been using a fake ID to work at the hotel and may have actually been an accomplice to the tragedy. And during a January 2018 show, Carlson did not push back when Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) claimed he had “credible evidence” (which he did not present) that the shooter had connections to the terrorist group ISIS.