Late-night hosts like Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel and Samantha Bee dismissed the lab-leak theory or defended China in routines in 2020.
When the legacy media famously rejected the COVID lab-leak theory during the height of the pandemic, left-leaning late-night hosts were also in sync with the message.
The lab leak theory, or the theory that the virus came from a leak at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, was widely dismissed as a conspiracy and "fringe" theory by liberal pundits and comedians alike. But in recent days, FBI Director Christopher Wray and the U.S. Energy Department have both indicated the virus likely started in the lab after all.
Since the pandemic arrived in 2020, comedians on ABC, NBC and CBS have dismissed the theory, appearing not to take it seriously because it was pushed by the Trump administration.
One of the most memorable pop culture moments related to the COVID pandemic came when former "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart appeared on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" in 2021. Stewart famously angered the media and stunned Colbert's audience – and appeared to surprise Colbert himself – when he embraced the lab leak theory.
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Stewart said the pandemic was "more than likely caused by science," prompting Colbert to ask his longtime friend to elaborate.
"‘There’s a novel respiratory coronavirus overtaking Wuhan, China,'" Stewart said. "'What do we do?’ ‘Oh, you know who we could ask? The Wuhan novel respiratory coronavirus lab.’ The disease is the same name as the lab. That’s just a little too weird, don’t you think?"
"‘Oh, my God, there’s been an outbreak of chocolaty goodness near Hershey, Pennsylvania. What do you think happened?'" Stewart continued. "Like, ‘Oh I don’t know, maybe a steam shovel mated with a cocoa bean?’ Or it’s the f---ing chocolate factory!"
Colbert, a fanatic supporter of Democrats who previously dismissed a potential lab-leak as a "conspiracy theory" in 2020, appeared to cringe as he said, "That could be." He then quickly offered the mainstream theory.
"It could be possible that they have the lab in Wuhan to study the novel coronavirus diseases because in Wuhan there are a lot of coronavirus diseases because of the bat population," Colbert said.
Stewart joked that Austin, Texas, also has a large bat population, but he hasn’t heard of any coronaviruses coming from that part of the world.
Jon Stewart, left, tells Stephen Colbert why he believes COVID-19 leaked from a lab in Wuhan, China, on "The Late Show" on June 14, 2021. (CBS / Screenshot)
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Colbert joked at one point that Stewart was working for Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.
"This is not a conspiracy," Stewart said before Colbert joked that they had already stopped filming.
Two years later, Colbert continued to downplay the notion COVID began in a lab despite the Energy Department assessing that. Normally a devotee of government agencies, Colbert suddenly became skeptical.
"Well, there it is. Chinese wet markets, you’re off the hook," he joked.
"No. No. Bad energy department. No bio labs until you finish building your electric car charging stations. Stay in your lane," Colbert said. "You don’t see the Census Bureau building nukes."
Colbert neglected to mention – or didn't know – the Energy Department has a division which specializes in the study of biological weapons such as viruses, as noted by National Review.
Colbert, who also called Wray’s admission "the opposite of a bombshell," was hardly the only late-night host to downplay or dismiss the lab leak theory.Video
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ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel once mocked former-President Trump for embracing the lab leak theory.
"That’s his new angle to feed the wingnuts, to treat this virus like it was a conspiracy of some kind," Kimmel said in 2020. "Tomorrow he’ll blame the Spanish flu on Antonio Banderas."
TBS’ since-canceled Samantha Bee even defended China early in the pandemic after playing a montage of Fox News hosts criticizing China over the virus.
"China, we know it’s not your bad," Bee said. "Tying coronavirus to China and Chinese people isn’t just a racist dog whistle, it’s a whole racist orchestra… the coronavirus is not an excuse to be racist."
Bee's comments were remarkable given the condemnation China has faced worldwide for its initial cover-up of the virus outbreak, which was critical to its spread around the globe.
Colbert offered a similar line of attack, accusing Trump of offering his "racist rebrand" of COVID by calling it the "China virus" in 2020.
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Last month, Stewart discussed backlash from the left after his memorable appearance on Colbert’s show.
"The larger problem with all of this is the inability to discuss things that are within the realm of possibility without falling into absolutes and litmus-testing each other for our political allegiances as it arose from that. My bigger problem with that was I thought it was a pretty good bit that expressed kind of how I felt, and the two things that came out of it were I'm racist against Asian people, and how dare I align myself with the alt-right," Stewart said on "The Problem with Jon Stewart."
"The backlash was swift, immediate, and quite loud. And again, I didn't take that personally either. Like, we live in a world where, like, I have my opinions, I'm not mad at the backlash either because they're doing what I'm doing, which is expressing myself," Stewart continued. "The part that I don't like about it is the absolutes and the dismissive like 'f--k you, I'm done with you. I will never forgive you, you have crossed an unforgivable line.'"
Stewart joked that he might as well have put "Hillary for Prison" on his head given the left's volcanic eruption over his remarks.
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Fox News’ David Rutz, Joe Silverstein and Kristine Parks contributed to this report.
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