(CNN)It was a blockbuster story. A respected Chinese virologist appeared on Tucker Carlson's show on Fox News in mid-September to share the results of her just-completed report. The conclusion: The novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19 was likely engineered in a Chinese lab. On Carlson's show, she claimed it was intentionally released into the world.
Then, its validity began to unravel. The publication of the paper by lead author Li-Meng Yan -- an expatriate from China seeking asylum in the US -- was quickly linked to former White House adviser Steve Bannon, long a strident critic of China's government. The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security -- a leading authority on the pandemic -- criticized the science behind the report, and pointed out that Yan and her co-authors "cite multiple papers in their reference section that have weaknesses or flaws."
A CNN review of Yan's research found it was also built on what appears to be the same theories, similar passages and identical charts presented by an anonymous blogger whose writings were posted on a website linked to Bannon months earlier. Additionally, a source told CNN the three co-authors of Yan's paper used pseudonyms instead of their real names, a practice frowned upon in scientific and academic work.
Yet, even after Facebook slapped a "false information" flag on Carlson's September 15 interview with Yan and Twitter suspended Yan's account, Carlson, Bannon and Yan have pressed forward.
"You'd think that our media would want to get to the bottom of this pandemic," Carlson said on his October 6 show, "but instead they ignored her claims."
Yan -- who is back on Twitter -- published a second report on October 8 titled "SARS-CoV-2 is an Unrestricted Bioweapon," which doubled down on the theory that the virus sweeping the globe was manmade and added that its "unleashing" was intentional. That study also included material seemingly copied from the anonymous blogger.
Both of Yan's controversial papers link to Bannon.
Prominently featured on both -- just beneath the title and authors, in a manner that resembles how university affiliations and funding sources are often listed -- are the Rule of Law Society and the Rule of Law Foundation.
The twin non-profit ventures were announced in November 2018 by Bannon and billionaire Guo Wengui, aka Miles Guo, a Chinese exile and fierce critic of the current regime in China. Bannon was arrested on Guo's yacht this summer for the unrelated allegation that he defrauded donors who contributed to his crowdfunding campaign to support President Donald Trump's border wall.