Did PBS’ ‘Frontline’ Get at the Real Story of Covid’s Origins?
It has been 15 months since SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, took the world by storm. As of this date, there have been more than 104 million confirmed cases worldwide and 2.3 million deaths; 444,000 have been in the U.S. More chilling, perhaps, is the seeming lack of curiosity on the part of many in the government, the scientific establishment, and the mainstream media, into the actual origin of the pandemic, and who might be responsible.
A case in point is “Frontline,” the PBS current affairs magazine that recently aired a 90-minute documentary entitled ”China’s COVID Secrets.”[i] The segment purports to uncover what the Chinese government knew of the COVID-19 virus and how state secrecy and ”confusion” in the early weeks of the pandemic contributed to the crisis.
Yet, instead of delving into the evidence that the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) was complicit in developing the COVID virus, the producers chose to double-down on the discredited theory that the virus emerged sua sponte in the Huanan wet market in Wuhan, a theory that even the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership has slowly walked back.[ii]
The same can be said of the assertion that the virus caught the Chinese flat-footed in late 2019, even as many local doctors understood the seriousness of the threat and raised an alarm. Chinese defector Li-Meng Yan, M.D., Ph.D.,[iii] a virologist and colleague of the researchers in Wuhan, has stated publicly her belief that the government was fully aware of the magnitude of the problem their scientists had created. Still, several of the doctors and journalists who communicated their fears to associates in the West were quickly arrested, killed, or have since disappeared into the bowels of China’s vast and unaccountable penal system.[iv]
It is not surprising that “Frontline” would tack so far off the actual story of COVID-19’s origin. Many of the ”experts” its producers turned to for insight are the same researchers who are known to have collaborated with scientists at the Wuhan laboratory for years. The WIV is China’s only biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) research laboratory.[v] “Frontline” appears to have ignored a growing body of evidence that points directly to U.S.-Chinese collaboration in experiments to enhance the pathogenicity and transmissibility of SARS bat viruses in humans.[vi] In scientific nomenclature, this type of experimentation is known as gain-of-function (GoF) research.
Personal and professional relationships run deep within this small, but tightly-knit research community, as do funding, technology and data sharing, joint publishing, laboratory exchanges, reciprocal awards and conference appearances. In short, conflicts of interest, real or perceived, should have been disclosed in this so-called documentary.
This is all the more reason why serious investigative journalism requires the exploration of countervailing views as an essential element in unlocking truth. “Frontline” had a professional duty to share with viewers the close web of relationships that binds its various ”experts” before blithely accepting the opinions of these ”experts” at face value. The show’s producers failed to do this to any meaningful degree.
It is telling that “Frontline” ignored the fact that a portion of the funding for bat virus gain-of-function experiments at the Wuhan laboratory came from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) by way of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), headed by Dr. Anthony Fauci.[vii] This omission is particularly concerning since work at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a division of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), is being conducted in collaboration with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Chinese military officials are on record as having touted that biological weapons are an integral part of China’s warfighting doctrine.[viii]
A truthful account of COVID’s origin would have called into question why American scientists were collaborating on research that is of direct benefit to the Chinese military, America’s foremost peer competitor on the world stage and a nation bent on replacing the U.S. as the world’s predominant superpower. The 21st century, the Chinese have proclaimed, will be the Chinese century.[ix]
Also overlooked in the broadcast was an appreciation of the 2014 directive[x] from the Obama White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Health and Human Services ordering a ”pause” in all ”gain-of-function” research until concerns over ”biosafety and biosecurity” could be fully assessed through a ”deliberative process.”[xi] The directive reads, in part:
New USG funding will not be released for gain-of-function research projects that may be reasonably anticipated to confer attributes to influenza, MERS, or SARS viruses such that the virus would have enhanced pathogenicity and/or transmissibility in mammals via the respiratory route. The research funding pause would not apply to characterization or testing of naturally occurring influenza, MERS, and SARS viruses, unless the tests are reasonably anticipated to increase transmissibility and/or pathogenicity. [xii] (Emphasis added)
Crucially, the phrase ”The research funding pause would not apply to characterization or testing of naturally occurring influenza …” may have provided U.S. and Chinese scientists with just the loophole they needed to continue their collaboration despite the U.S. moratorium. All that was required was for the researchers to hew closely to the CCP line and maintain the fiction that COVID-19 is a naturally occurring event. To this day it remains an assertion unsupported by clear and convincing evidence. A far more plausible explanation is that the virus was genetically modified in a laboratory.[xiii]
By all appearances, nothing was going to slow the GoF research initiated between NIAID partners and the Wuhan Institute of Virology, not even cables from the U.S. Embassy in China in 2018 that warned repeatedly of serious deficiencies in safety and administrative protocols at the Wuhan laboratory. Even as COVID-19 raged across the world in August 2020, NIAID pushed ahead with its plans, reinstating a $7.5 million grant to the EcoHealth Alliance, a principal collaborator with the Chinese in gain-of-function virus research.[xiv]
Why was the program continued? Under whose authority? Toward what end? These are just some of the critical questions that “Frontline” should have asked but failed to raise. Had the producers sought the input of U.S. national security experts familiar with the Chinese biological weapons program and not simply relied on like-minded individuals parroting the same institutional line, then perhaps this issue would have received the attention it deserves.
Other glaring omissions in the “Frontline” report include:
- No mention was made of the near statistical impossibility that a bat virus could make an evolutionary (zoonotic) ”leap” to humans without the assistance of targeted genetic manipulation in a laboratory setting coupled with intermediate host adaption.
- No mention was made of the fact that the Chinese are purported to have on hand hundreds of deadly virus strains as a result of their years of viral research engineering.
- No mention of U.S. university collaboration in bat virus research with the Wuhan laboratory.
- No mention of mounting evidence showing that the presence of a furin cleavage site in the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein points strongly to a laboratory engineered effort to facilitate the adaptability of the virus for human infection and, hence, transmission.[xv]
- No mention of the defection of whistleblower Dr. Li-Meng Yan, her refutation of the ”naturally-occurring” COVID-19 theory, and the evidence to support her claims provided in her scientific papers.
- No mention of the official warnings from visitors to the Wuhan lab that its containment/safety protocols were poorly enforced and could lead to an unintended leak of a virulent virus strain.
- No mention of how the Chinese have co-opted many in the Western scientific community infiltrated public and private laboratories across the world, and stolen western intellectual property and technology pertaining to genetic manipulation.[xvi]
- No mention of President Trump’s bold move to halt all travel between China and the U.S. as early as January 2020 in an effort to slow the spread of the virus, despite this action being called ”hysterical xenophobia” at the time by then-candidate Joe Biden and in much of the mainstream media.[xvii]
- No mention of the specific Chinese grants, awards and research opportunities given to ”experts” featured in the “Frontline” presentation that may be an indication that their objectivity on the issue of the virus’ origin might be compromised.
- No mention that China is a major contributor to WHO and holds great sway over its policies and procedures.
- No mention of the code of silence that appears to unite much of the scientific community that relies on the Chinese-NIH-WHO nexus for funding and promotion. They are a global group of loyalists who routinely quash any criticism of Chinese practices and deny all evidence that breaks with the CCP line on how the COVID-19 virus originated.
- No mention of Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, and his consistent touting of the Chinese party line since the start of the pandemic, though he continues to praise Chinese President Xi Jinping and the CCP leadership for their transparency, accountability, and enlightened approach to halting the viral spread.
- No mention of the impact that the virus has had on Europe, Africa and other parts of the Third World.
- No mention that the CCP ordered that ships carrying vitally needed PPE supplies to the U.S. were turned back in the early days of the pandemic so that China could make use of the supplies at the expense of U.S. citizens.
- No mention of Chinese nationals infected with COVID who were caught by U.S. Border Patrol attempting to cross into the U.S. illegally while the border was closed.
- No mention of the numerous seizures by U.S. Customs of Chinese counterfeit and ineffective PPE being smuggled into the U.S.
There are many glaring inadequacies in the “Frontline” program. Perhaps, none is more egregious than its unwillingness to pursue the mounting body of evidence that COVID-19 is almost certainly laboratory modified virus and not a naturally occurring phenomenon.[xviii] It would be one thing if this documentary were prepared by amateurs. However, for an award-winning documentary series with 30 years of outstanding investigative work under its belt, these ”oversights” bearing directly on the question of who is responsible for the deaths of nearly half-a-million Americans from the COVID-19 pandemic, are nothing short of journalistic malpractice of the highest order.
[i] PBS-Frontline, ”China’s COVID Secrets,” A 90-Minute Documentary Special, Aired February 2, 2021, 10:00 ET, YouTube broadcast: PBS Announcement:
[ii] Areddy, James T., ”China Rules Out Animal Market and Lab as Coronavirus Origin,” The Wall Street Journal, May 26, 2020. Also: ”Chinese researchers debunk theory that COVID-19 originated from Wuhan wet market,” Times of India, May 27, 2020, 23:06 IST.
[iii] Yan, Li-Meng, M.D., Ph.D., et. al.,” SARS-CoV-2 Is an Unrestricted Bioweapon: A Truth Revealed through Uncovering a Large-Scale, Organized Scientific Fraud,” Zenodo, October 8, 2020.
[iv] Woodward, Aylin, ”At least 5 people in China have disappeared, gotten arrested, or been silenced after speaking out about the coronavirus — here’s what we know about them,” Business Insider, February 20, 2020. Also: Woods, Amanda, ”Whistleblowing coronavirus doctor at Wuhan Hospital mysteriously vanishes,” New York Post, April 1, 2020. Also: Knowles, George, ”China’s disappeared: At least one is dead and the rest haven’t been heard from in months, so why isn’t the world asking what happened to the brave souls who dared to speak up about the coronavirus outbreak after Beijing lied to the world?” Daily Mail, April 19, 2020.
[v] Pfluke, Corey, ”Biohazard: A Look at China’s Biological Capabilities and the Recent Coronavirus Outbreak,” Air University, Maxwell AFB, Alabama, March 2, 2020.
[vi] Yan, Li-Meng, et.al., ”Unusual Features of the SARS-CoV-2 Genome Suggesting Sophisticated Laboratory Modification Rather Than Natural Evolution and Delineation of Its Probable Synthetic Route,” Zenodo, September 14, 2020.
[vii] Sellin (Ret.), Col. Lawrence, ”Did Fauci’s NIH Institute Financially Assist China’s Military?” Citizens’ Commission on National Security (CCNS), September 6, 2020.
[viii] Zang, Ming, ”China: War Without Rules,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November 1, 1999. Also: Chansoria, Dr. Monika, ”Biological Weapons the Focus of China’s Military Research in the Last 20 Years,” Japan-Forward, March 25, 2020. Also: Kania, Elsa B. Kania and VornDick, Wilson, ”Weaponizing Biotech: How China’s Military Is Preparing for a ‘New Domain of Warfare,”’ Center for New American Security, August 14, 2019.
[ix] Pillsbury, Michael, The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s secret strategy to replace America as the global superpower, National Defense University Press, 2015.
[x] McNeil, Jr., Donald G., ”White House to Cut Funding for Risky Biological Study,” New York Times, October 17, 2014.
[xi] Obama, President Barack, ”Doing Diligence to Assess the Risks and Benefits of Life Sciences Gain-of-Function Research,” White House press release, October 17, 2014 at 3:30 pm ET.
[xii] White House Directive, ”U.S. Government Gain-of-Function deliberative Process and Research Funding Pause on Selected Gain-of-function Research Involving Influenza, MERS, and SARS Viruses.”
[xiii] Sellin (Ret.), Col. Lawrence, ”The Conceptual Basis for a Bioengineered COVID-19,” Citizens’ Commission on National Security (CCNS), April 27, 2020.
[xiv]Terry, Mark, ”NIH Awards EcoHealth Alliance $7.5 Million Grant Despite Political Furor,” BioSpace, August 28, 2020. Also: Sellin (Ret.), Col. Lawrence, ”Call for an Investigation of NIAID’s Collaboration with China on the COVID-19 Virus, Citizens’ Commission on National Security (CCNS), September 13, 2020.
[xv] Sellin (Ret.), Col. Lawrence, ”A 2008 Synthetic Model to Make a COVID-19 Virus in the Laboratory,” Citizens’ Commission on National Security (CCNS), September 21, 2020.
[xvi] Wray, Christopher, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, ”Responding Effectively to the Chinese Economic Espionage Threat,” FBI News, Department of Justice China Initiative Conference, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C., February 6, 2020.
[xvii] Adams, Becket, ”Opinion: Biden absolutely did oppose the China travel restrictions and call them ‘xenophobic,”’ Washington Examiner, October 8, 2020.
[xviii] Sellin, (Ret.), Col. Lawrence, ”Tracing the origins: COVID-19 is not naturally-occurring,” Citizens’ Commission for National Security (CCNS), June 2, 2020.
Rand H. Fishbein, Ph.D., is President of Fishbein Associates, Inc., a public policy consulting firm based in Potomac, Maryland. He is a former Professional Staff Member (Majority) of both the U.S. Senate Foreign Operations Appropriations and Defense Appropriations subcommittees and worked as Special Assistant for National Security Affairs to the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.