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The new Cold War over the origins of Covid-19

Linda Jaivin, on the credibility of Markson’s claims, and how ideology has impacted our ability to get to the truth of how this pandemic first started.

From the moment the pandemic began, uncovering the origins of Covid-19 has been a fraught pursuit.

Many different theories - some more viable than others - have flourished, including the hypothesis that Covid-19 was deliberately leaked from a lab in Wuhan. 

The Wuhan lab leak theory has been given new prominence thanks to a controversial book written by Australian journalist and Sky News commentator Sharri Markson.

Today, writer and contributor to The Saturday Paper Linda Jaivin, on the credibility of Markson’s claims, and how ideology has impacted our ability to get to the truth of how this pandemic first started.

 

Guest: Contributor to The Saturday Paper, Linda Jaivin.

 
Show Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]

RUBY:
From Schwartz Media I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

From the moment the pandemic began, uncovering the origins of Covid-19 has been a fraught pursuit.  

Attempts to investigate where the virus originated have been impeded by a chaotic White House under Donald Trump, and obscured by the Chinese Communist Party’s desire to keep information tightly controlled. 

As a result theories - some more viable than others - have flourished.. including the hypothesis that Covid-19 was deliberately leaked from a lab in Wuhan. 

The Wuhan lab leak theory has been given new prominence thanks to a  controversial book written by Australian journalist and Sky News commentator Sharri Markson.

Today, writer and contributor to The Saturday Paper Linda Jaivin, on the credibility of Markson’s claims, and how ideology has impacted our ability to get to the truth of how this pandemic first started.

It’s Wednesday October 20.  

[Theme Music Ends]

RUBY:
Linda, last time we spoke, you ran me through some of the different theories that were being discussed about the origins of COVID 19. Now there is a new and somewhat controversial book that has been released about that very topic. It's receiving a lot of attention. Can you tell me about the book? 

LINDA:
Sure. It's called What Really Happened in Wuhan. 

Archival tape:
“Was my great honour today to host a virtual launch for Shari Maxon's new book What Really Happened in Wuhan? It is a fantastic book.”

LINDA:
It's written by Shari Markson, who is the investigations editor at The Australian and a regular on Sky News and a winner two times of Walkleys. It is about the origins of COVID 19, the search for the origins, I should say.

Archival tape:
“It's of international significance, and it's great to welcome Sharri Markson into the programme once again. Shari, congratulations on the launch today on the book..”

LINDA:
It tells us a lot about the politics behind the search for the origins. It goes into the science, but more on the side that Shari Markson is on. And she is firmly on the side of the debate that this virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Archival tape -- Sharri Markson:
“Chris, firstly thank you so much. It was an honour to have you host the event today and you did such a brilliant job…”

RUBY:
And as you mentioned, the author Shari Markson, is a journalist - she works at the Australian, she also has a show on Sky. But how did she come to be writing this book - a book about the origins of COVID-19? What's her connection to the topic? 

LINDA:
Hmm. It's a good question. I mean her. She does have a personal connection, and it's a very sad one. Her grandmother died of COVID 19 in England in the UK, but that was relatively recent. She was already well into the research of this book. 

What exactly sparked it? I'm not sure. But I think that the fact that this story had a very strong anti-communist China element, had an anti WHO element, anti-Fauci element - all of this fits in with the general worldview of the Sky After Dark crowd and, you know, the new cold warriors generally. So I think it's it's in a way it's a logical fit. 

RUBY:
Hmm. So let's dig into some of the detail of what’s in her book. Does she have much to say about how the US and the White House under Trump approached this? 

LINDA:
Yes, that's that's that's the part that I honestly seriously enjoyed. I would call that the ‘what really happened in Washington sections’. 

Archival tape -- Sharri Markson:
“Mr. President, what evidence were you presented with that convinced you that it did in all likelihood, come from a lab?” 

Archival tape -- Donald Trump:
“Well, I started hearing stories, that you have also, that there were lots of body bags outside of the lab.” 

Archival tape -- Sharri Markson:
“Body bags outside of the Wuhan Institute of Virology.” 

Archival tape -- Donald Trump:
“I heard that a long time ago.”

LINDA:
So she has incredible contacts, as you might imagine, for somebody who works for the Murdoch empire inside the Trump White House.

Archival tape -- Sharri Markson:
“Was that something that came from the agencies, the intelligence agencies? Is that what they were telling you?”

Archival tape -- Donald Trump:
“I don't know where it came from. Ask China. But you're going to have to figure that out, and you probably won't be able to do it knowing you.” 

Archival tape -- Sharri Markson:
“President Trump told me that there were…”

LINDA:
Ah, Mike Pompeo speaks to her. The leading China adviser, Miles Yu, who's a military historian and Ronald Reagan fan whose passion for exposing the Communist Party she finds “admirable”. She also talks to Pete Navarro, whose White House office, she tells us contained a stockpile of hydroxychloroquine to last the entire Trump family a lifetime. And then there's David Asher... 

Archival tape -- Sharri Markson:
“David Asher also agrees that this could have been the first cluster of the pandemic.” 

Archival tape -- David Asher:
“I said we could have, you know, the whole world could have been different. It would've been like stopping 911 before it happened.”

LINDA:
...who led the State Department's investigation into Covid-19 and characterises doubters of, quote-unquote, China's sinister intention in Wuhan within the American intelligence community, including their bioweapons specialists as dilberts, dimwits and do-nothings.  

The good thing about Markson is that while she is definitely on the side of the of the new Cold Warriors and all of that...

But she is also cognisant, which you might not know from watching the I've seen of some of the clips  on YouTube of the Sky News bombshell revelations about Wuhan. 

Archival tape -- Sky News:
“They silenced journalists and disappeared some of them…

It won’t stop there…

What lead you to believe this came from a Wuhan lab 

It was obvious - there were body bags…”

LINDA:
She also in the book, she'll have these bombshell moments in these explosive revelations, but then she will eventually get to an actual expert who will say, “yeah, but nah”. 

Archival tape -- Sharri Markson:
He of course suspected it was a deliberate release which, ah, no one else I have interviewed thinks - everyone else thinks, including Trump, that it was accidental. 

LINDA:
So that I do give her credit for that.  

So what it comes down to and this is where it begins to go slightly wrong, is it comes down to the weight of circumstantial evidence. Now the question is what circumstantial evidence is reasonable and worthy of thinking about and what isn't. 

So that is the question, and it's one that has to be asked of this book. 

RUBY:
We'll be back after this. 

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RUBY:
Linda, we've been talking about Sharri Markson’s new book - which is focused on the origins of Covid-19 and in particular the theory it came from a lab in Wuhan. Her book lays out what was happening inside the White House under Trump. But she also looks at the other side - how things were unfolding within China. So how credible is she - and her sources - on that? 

LINDA:
OK, there's some, you know, absolute rookie errors like mixing up surnames and giving names, whatever field sort of fanciful things about Middle Kingdom and everything else, 

Now she has a couple of people she talks to, and one of them is Wei Jingsheng

Archival tape -- Sharri Markson:
“Wei Jingsheng spent 18 years in Chinese prisons for standing up to Beijing In ‘97 he made global headlines when he defected to the United States.”

LINDA:
He's a very famous dissident. He was a former Red Guard turned democracy advocate. 

Archival tape -- Sharri Markson:
“He still has impeccable contacts high up in the party. And they were telling him a virus was spreading in Wuhan in October.” 

LINDA:
He did grow up among the sons and daughters of high-ranking cadres. That's all true. But that doesn't make him as Markson claims a Communist Party insider and one of the founding 500 families. 

Archival tape -- Sharri Markson:
“When did you first hear that there was a virus in Wuhan? Was it during the time of the Military Games?” 

Archival tape -- Wei Jingsheng:
“Yes. I learned there was an unusual exercise by the Chinese Government during the Military Games. So I told Diamon about the possibility of the Chinese government using some strange weapons, including biological weapons. Because I knew they were using weapons of that sort.” 

LINDA:
So Wei Jingsheng tells her a couple of things. One is that and she makes a big deal of it. He tells somebody who tells her that he thinks it's actually possible that Covid-19 was leaked on purpose, possibly by Xi Jinping or his enemies, because anything is possible during a power struggle. And she does put it into the crazy trash, probably reluctantly, because she calls his revelations explosive. I call them classic conspiracy theories.

But she loves these things, so she's putting them out there. So this is where it can get a little bit tricky because you can't put it all out there. Call it explosive revelations. Walk it back to, you know, the level of like, actually, no one in intelligence thinks that it's that the Chinese released it deliberately and then go, you know, maybe they released it deliberately. You know, Wei Jingsheng tells a story. You have to be able to know how to weight these things.

RUBY:
Mm and so how should these things be weighed up Linda? Taking all of Shari Markson’s claims into account in this book and also the context that you have about China and the understanding you have about some of the sources that she's relying on, where are we left? How likely is it that Covid-19 came from a lab in Wuhan? And if that is a viable hypothesis, is it also possible that there was some sort of deliberate plan here that this was something that the Chinese government was involved in?

LINDA:
The Chinese involvement is definitely involved in covering up stuff about the virus generally and its spread. We know that we know that from the suppression of  whistleblowers and from the arrest of citizen journalists, OK, and that's their modus operandi. They cover things up, especially when it when you have a fatal problem - people are dying. So definitely yes, there was a cover up, we can say that for sure. 

Definitely, the Wuhan lab is a possible source of lab leak, almost definitely. Well, we have no proof whatsoever and no, no likely evidence for it being a deliberate leak. OK. And we also, as she points out, viruses have leaked from labs all over the world, including the U.S. and the U.K.  

RUBY:
Bearing that in mind then - do you think that this book is contributing to our understanding of how COVID 19 might have emerged? 

LINDA:
Yes and no. You know, I think you have to really read it with a lot of awareness. You have to understand that her China knowledge is quite it's bitsy and flawed, and her China informants are definitely they need to be fact checked, shall I say that? 

But you know, what's really interesting about it is it reveals the politics behind the search for the origins. We can see the power of Chinese dissident narratives in the West amongst policymakers. 

We also see that the that the way the Communist Party of China controls and suppresses information in this case about the pandemic creates this kind of clean slate on which anyone can write a conspiracy theory.

But, you know, ultimately we want to ask a couple of things. One is how can we get away from political polarisation, fouling important scientific and medical debates? This book comes from a very, very political place. And so, when you say what is the value we need to be able to get through all of that and know what to believe and what not to, and why she might be going for one source and not another source.

So we have to be - I think this is one of the big lessons of the book is that its flaws come from that place. And if we can get away from that place, we might get closer to being able to look at questions like this with clearer eyes.

RUBY:
Linda, thank you so much for speaking to me about all of this. 

LINDA:
Thank you. It's been a pleasure. 

RUBY:
A quick note from me - I’m taking a short break from the show - Osman Faruqi will be filling in for me, and I’ll be back next week.

Stay safe!

 

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OSMAN:
Also in the news today -


Victoria’s premier Daniel Andrews has warned that unvaccinated Victorians will not be able to enjoy the freedoms granted to vaccinated people until well into next year.

 

In a press conference on Tuesday, the premier warned that restrictions for the unvaccinated could stretch into 2022.

 

And New Zealand reported a record number of new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, with 94 new locally acquired infections. It's the largest number of new cases the country has recorded since the pandemic began. 

 

Health authorities have warned that they expect to see an increase in the number of cases in the coming days. 

 

The city of Auckland will remain in lockdown for at least another two weeks.


I’m Osman Faruqi, this is 7am, see you tomorrow!

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