FACT CHECK: Tom Cotton Didn’t Spread a ‘Conspiracy Theory’, But the Media Used CCP Propaganda to Attack Him Anyway


There is new, increasing, and compelling evidence to suggest the novel coronavirus did not originate from the infamous wet market in Wuhan, but rather was the result of “safety and management weaknesses at the WIV (Wuhan Institute of Virology) lab.”

While developments don’t yet confirm the theory dismissed early on as “conspiracy,” it suggests details shared most notably by Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) are by no means outlandish.

“This virus did not originate in the Wuhan animal market.” Sen. Cotton told Fox News’s Maria Bartiromo.

And while Twitter accounts like those of the popular ZeroHedge website were banned for suggesting the official Chinese Communist Party line was fraudulent, it behoves us to recall who has been at the cutting on the subject.


A February 17 New York Times article by Alexandra Stevenson was titled: “Senator Tom Cotton Repeats Fringe Theory of Coronavirus Origins.”

The article alleges, “The conspiracy theory lacks evidence and has been dismissed by scientists. But it has gained an audience with the help of well-connected critics of the Chinese government such as Stephen K. Bannon.”

Stevenson claimed, without evidence, that “…right-wing media outlets fan the anger. Beijing, with its heavy-handed censorship and stranglehold on information, unwittingly gives the conspiracy theories a boost.”

Stevenson is right about one thing: heavy censorship and hiding information creates an environment that is conducive to the spread conspiracy theories. However, by not even asking basic questions, The NYT once again ends up with its hand in the cookie jar.


Yahoo! News put out a video describing Cotton’s theory as debunked.

On the clip, one caption reads: “The claim, making its rounds in right-wing publications and on the internet, suggests that the virus may have started as an unleashed biological weapon”.

The video then quotes from Cui Tiankai, China’s ambassador to the United States, condemning Sen. Cotton’s statements as dangerous, and likely to “fan up racial discrimination and xenophobia.”

But Cotton did not insinuate that the virus was man-made. He called for questions to be answered. Something the Chinese Communist Party has so far refused to do, with the assistance of the World Health Organization running public relations interference for them.

The Chinese ambassador’s comments were made on CBS’ Face The Nation: one of the countless examples of news outlets propping up Chinese officials to spread their propaganda.

The Washington Post originally took a similar angle to Yahoo! News, enlisting an expert to “debunk” Cotton’s claim that the virus may have originated in the WIV.

Richard Ebright, the expert that the Washington Post Enlisted, dismissed that the virus was “engineered”, again a claim never made by Cotton, but one which the media appears to want to pin to him.

WaPo conveniently buried where Ebright concurred with Cotton about the possibility of the virus being a result of malfeasance. It wouldn’t be a good look if your chosen expert was also a conspiracy theorist, would it?


MSNBC may have the most egg on its face over this situation.

A February 17 article made the same assertions as the Washington Post, dishonestly pinning the theory that the virus was man-made on Cotton, and citing Ebright’s claim that this was impossible (while also omitting the part where Ebright agreed with Cotton on the possible origin).

The difference with this piece is that the author went wider: attacking the entire Republican Party as conspiracy theorists.

“There are some prominent political figures in the nation’s capital who seem a little too fond of conspiracy theories. Folks like Donald Trump and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) routinely seem to embrace some rather nutty explanations for events with more rational explanations. But let’s not forget Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who occasionally embraces some doozies of his own.”

MSNBC continues bashing Cotton and other Republicans for dabbling in “conspiracy theories”. The article presents a false premise, then used it to attack an entire party by using other examples such as Cotton worrying about the use of the U.S. southern border for terrorism, or for calling out the Kavanaugh-Christine Blasey Ford hoax.

Speaking of “doozies”.

More recent reports stating that was long-standing concern about safety and management practices at the lab doesn’t prove anything, but it is compelling evidence that Cotton, Bannon, and other proponents of this theory have been further vindicated, at least in terms of their ideas being labeled as “conspiracy theories.”

Sen. Cotton is right that the Chinese government has to be held responsible, at least for their unwillingness to be truthful and transparent with the rest of the world.

Ben Bailey

Ben Bailey is a National Pulse 2020 Writing Fellow

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