Journalists Argue Use of Term ‘Wuhan Virus’ is Racist as China Seeks to Obfuscate on Origins of Epidemic

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March 9, 2020

Journalists are calling Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other Republicans racist for referring to the deadly COVID-19 as the "Wuhan virus," as the Chinese regime attempts to not only deny the origin of the coronavirus but blame the United States for its spread.

Pompeo referred to the coronavirus as "Wuhan virus" in a March 5 press conference and in interviews the following day. Journalists accused Rep. Paul Gosar (R., Ariz.) of racism for using the term, even as the congressman placed himself in self-quarantine after being exposed to the virus.

Pompeo's use of "Wuhan virus" was a direct rebuke of the Chinese Communist Party, which has begun to deny that the virus originated in China, even though it admitted as much in the early stages of the outbreak.

French newspaper La Croix reported Monday that the "relentless Chinese propaganda machine" has launched an effort to deny the Chinese origin of the coronavirus. "In the eyes of the Chinese Communist Party, that China could have been singled out as the source of the coronavirus is unacceptable," the paper said. "Everything that links China to the virus must be questioned and disappear from all history books."

La Croix reports that Chinese diplomats have received orders to tweet that Wuhan is where "we thought at the beginning to be at the origin of the epidemic" and to say that the virus's "real origin remains unknown. We are looking for where it comes from exactly." The Chinese embassy in Tokyo, meanwhile, has sent messages to its nationals warning of the "Japanese coronavirus."

The French paper's reporting comports with public statements from Chinese officials, including remarks from Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian that, "It is yet undetermined where the virus originated."

The report comes after Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) warned in an op-ed that the Chinese, Russians, and Iranians were waging disinformation campaigns blaming America for the virus.

"The Chinese military portal recently published an article baselessly claiming that the virus is 'a biochemical weapon produced by the U.S. to target China,'" noted Rubio, who sits on the Senate's intelligence and foreign relations committees.

Pompeo has taken issue with American reporters for using regime talking points to distance China from the outbreak.

"No less authority than the Chinese Communist Party said it came from Wuhan," Pompeo told CNBC. "So don't take Mike Pompeo's word for it. We have pretty high confidence that we know where this began, and we have high confidence too that there was information that could have been made available more quickly and data that could have been provided and shared among health professionals across the world."

"As a first matter, the Chinese Communist Party has said that this is where the virus started," Pompeo told Fox News Friday. "It has proven incredibly frustrating to work with the Chinese Communist Party to get our hands around the dataset which will ultimately be the solution to both getting the vaccine and attacking this risk."

Reporters had no problem citing the origin of the outbreak before Pompeo's remarks. A Lexis Nexis search finds that the term "Wuhan virus" had appeared in English-language news media 3,583 times prior to March 5. The term "Wuhan coronavirus," also used by Pompeo, was used 8,119 times over the same timeframe.

Media use of both terms dropped off when the World Health Organization issued a Feb. 11 guidance officially labeling the virus "COVID-19." But Lexis Nexis indicates "Wuhan virus" was still used 423 times by English-language media between Feb. 12 and March 5; "Wuhan coronavirus" was used 1,184 times.

The term "Wuhan virus" actually predates the current coronavirus outbreak, first appearing in print in 1996 to refer to a particularly worrisome strain of influenza. "The Type A-Wuhan virus, which can lead to deadly complications in the elderly, is the most dangerous of three viruses expected around the nation," the Associated Press reported  at the time, citing a Clinton administration CDC official who called the virus "Wuhan."