In lefty circles, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida has become the subject of general disdain and social-media scorn for his cruelty toward immigrants, his political theatrics, and his toadying loyalty to President Donald Trump. So it's no wonder the hashtag #MattGaetzIsATool resurfaces again and again on Twitter.
The latest upsurge in Gaetz's favorite hashtag comes in response to a recent 60 Minutes report that revealed how misinformation he spread on national television effectively killed a research organization's grant to search for a cure for the novel coronavirus.
In a 60 Minutes segment on Sunday night, CBS News correspondent Scott Pelley reported that a "political disinformation campaign" that leads back to Gaetz killed critical research funding for a New York-based nonprofit called EcoHealth Alliance, which for decades has traced the origins of infectious diseases in an effort to prevent pandemics.
Pelley traced the sequence of events back to April 14, when Gaetz appeared on Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tonight and blamed a lab in Wuhan, China, for spreading the novel coronavirus.
"The [National Institutes of Health] gives this $3.7 million grant to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, they then advertise that they need coronavirus researchers," Gaetz told Carlson. "Following that, coronavirus erupts in Wuhan."
Gaetz went on to say that "either conspicuously or miraculously," the institute was able to sequence the virus before the Chinese government acknowledged its existence but that the institute didn't disclose its feat until later.
"So at best, Americans are funding people who are lying to us, and at worst, we're funding people who we knew had problems handling pathogens who then birthed a monster pathogen onto the world," Gaetz said.
Gaetz said he was calling on U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar to stop funding the grant.
The conspiracy made it into a White House press briefing on April 17, when a reporter from the conservative Newsmax TV cable channel asked about a report that the National Institutes of Health under the Obama administration gave the Wuhan lab $3.7 million in 2015. Trump responded that the administration was looking into it and that it would "end that grant very quickly."
On April 23, Trump made good on his promise and pulled the program's funding.
The problem? The U.S. never funded a $3.7 million grant to the Wuhan Institute. The grant went to EcoHealth Alliance, which collaborated with the Wuhan lab in its research. According to Pelley's 60 Minutes report, EcoHealth's work was considered important enough that the Trump administration itself reauthorized and increased the grant last year.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to New Times Broward-Palm Beach's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling South Florida's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
On Twitter late last night, Gaetz defended the theory he posited on Carlson's show.
"The Wuhan Institute of Virology takes 10 days to notify the world of the sequence of coronavirus - and American taxpayers are supposed to keep funding them? After the State Dept said they weren't being safe?" he tweeted. "Looks like @CBSNews is going all China First."
Coincidentally, EcoHealth president Peter Daszak had warned 60 Minutes nearly 20 years ago that a pandemic was inevitable.
"What worries me the most is that we are going to miss the next emerging disease, that we're suddenly going to find a SARS virus that moves from one part of the planet to another, wiping out people as it moves along," Daszak predicted in that 2003 interview.