Fox News is pushing a debunked theory on the origins of the coronavirus -- again

Two Fox News programs promoted a debunked theory about the origins of the coronavirus disease in Wuhan, China, echoing former White House adviser Steve Bannon and his billionaire benefactor Guo Wengui. The discredited speculation, which The Washington Post labeled a “fringe theory” and PolitiFact identified as “false,” posits that the coronavirus epidemic was engineered in a high-security laboratory housed in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Rutgers University professor of chemical biology Richard Ebright told the Post that “based on the virus genome and properties there is no indication whatsoever that it was an engineered virus.”

Despite lack of evidence, Fox anchor Martha MacCallum and Fox host Tucker Carlson lent credence to this theory on their respective February 18 broadcasts. MacCallum, who Fox News touts as a “straight news” anchor, hosted Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) for a clean-up interview after he appeared with Maria Bartiromo on Fox News over the weekend pushing the evidence-free narrative, which was then written up and debunked in The New York Times. (Cotton had also pushed the theory during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on January 30.) MacCallum pushed back once lightly, citing Ebright’s assertion about the virus genome as well as criticism from CNN’s Chris Cillizza.

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Citation From the February 18, 2020, edition of Fox News' The Story with Martha MacCallum

During the 8 p.m. hour, Tucker Carlson, who has floated the theory before, continued the network’s unfounded fearmongering about the origins of the coronavirus. In an interview with The Washington Times’ Bill Gertz, whose thinly sourced reporting Bannon has used as a launch pad for his reckless speculation, Carlson cited “a few actual experts” who are “considering” the theory. (However, it is unclear who those experts are or if they exist.) He also claimed it was “worth getting to the bottom of” speculations about the coronavirus' origins because his audience had “probably seen that on the internet.”

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Citation From the February 18, 2020, edition of Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tonight

TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): Some people, and this includes a few actual experts on the subject, are considering another possibility -- that the coronavirus was made in a lab in Wuhan. You’ve probably seen that on the internet. Is that true? How plausible is this theory? Worth getting to the bottom of.

CARLSON: Is there any evidence as of tonight that this virus originated in a lab?

BILL GERTZ (THE WASHINGTON TIMES): Well, I don’t know. We don’t know that they were. We know that -- here’s another fact. The Wuhan Institute of Virology has the only P4 lab, that is for pathogen 4 -- it’s the most secure lab you can have. There’s only one in China that’s declared, and it’s in Wuhan, and it’s like, 20 miles from this market. That’s a fact.

The White House just last week ordered the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study. They say hey look, we’ve got to find out the origins of this, so they want to know what the origin is too.

CARLSON: So, I mean, I think the headline in this conversation -- which I appreciate, I appreciate your sober analysis -- is that we don’t actually know and anyone pretending that he or she knows is lying.

Gertz has appeared multiple times on Steve Bannon’s War Room: Pandemic podcast. Bannon’s regular guest Dr. Steven Hatfill, an expert who previously worked at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, has repeatedly refuted the theory on the show. But this has not stopped the former Trump adviser from repeating the baseless claim, as it continues to metastasize throughout the right-wing media.