President Donald Trump on Sunday lambasted CBS News and its flagship “60 Minutes” program for “doing everything within their power … to defend China” after an episode that explored his coronavirus conspiracy mongering.
The “60 Minutes” segment reported that Trump’s administration had defunded — for political reasons — a nonprofit engaged in potentially lifesaving research about bat-borne coronaviruses, including the one causing the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the episode, eminent virologist Peter Daszak — who’d raised the alarm about a possible pandemic as far back as 2003 — said the National Institutes of Health had recently canceled a grant to his EcoHealth Alliance, though the organization’s work is very relevant to the ongoing outbreak, which scientists think originated in bats.
NIH confirmed to USA Today that it axed EcoHealth Alliance’s grant last month, but would not elaborate on the reason.
“60 Minutes” asserted that the organization — which has been receiving NIH funding since at least 2002 — had been singled out because of “pandemic politics.”
For 15 years, EcoHealth Alliance has worked with the internationally renowned Wuhan Institute of Virology to catalog bat-borne illnesses, “60 Minutes” said. Such research has been and remains critical to the understanding of diseases like COVID-19.
But in recent weeks, the Wuhan Institute, which is located in the same city where the new coronavirus was first reported, has come under scrutiny from Trump and some of his allies who’ve claimed ― without evidence or scientific backing ― that COVID-19 was potentially engineered at the institute or elsewhere in China and either accidentally or purposefully unleashed on the world.
Still, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a vocal defender of Trump, suggested last month that the virus could have been made at the Wuhan Institute, which he erroneously said had received a ”$3.7 million grant” from the NIH.
That grant, as “60 Minutes” noted, had in fact been given to EcoHealth Alliance and not to the institute. According to Daszak, the nonprofit has spent about $100,000 annually to collaborate with Wuhan researchers ― a collaboration that he said is essential to helping the U.S. prepare for pandemics like the one currently ravaging the globe.
“If we want to know anything about the next pandemic we need to be working in China,” Daszak told USA Today.
“In peoples’ imaginations there might be this image of one person in a lab in China who drops a petri dish and that somehow leads to a massive outbreak,” Daszak continued. “It’s just not like that. Every year there are millions of people going in bat caves and hunting and eating wildlife. It happens every day. They are being exposed to bat viruses every day. It only takes one of these people to go to a city, cough and spread a virus. The aim of our work is to directly benefit U.S. national security and public health. If we don’t do this we are going to be on the front line again when the next virus hits.”
Trump appeared to respond to the “60 Minutes” episode in a tweet on Sunday.
CBS News and “60 Minutes” are “doing everything within their power, which is far less today than it was in the past, to defend China and the horrible Virus pandemic that was inflicted on the USA and the rest of the World. I guess they want to do business in China!” the president wrote.
Daszak told “60 Minutes” that conspiracy mongering by Trump and his allies has been a major obstacle in the world’s fight against COVID-19.
“This politicization of science is really damaging,” he said. “You know, the conspiracy theories out there have essentially closed down communication between scientists in China and scientists in the U.S. We need that communication in an outbreak to learn from them how they control it so we can control it better. It’s sad to say, but it will probably cost lives.”
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