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Today, October 24, 2020, there are many rallies around the world. Activists in these countries are joining in a common voice: Argentina; Bolivia; Peru; Uruguay; Italy; Germany; Poland; Belgium; Netherlands; United Kingdom; Ireland; Sweden; Denmark; France; and Austria. Citizens of all countries are paying an enormous price for the epidemic.
They have not only lost their loved ones, but their freedoms, their livelihood, their joy. Children and youth are suffering due to this crisis too. Without their friends and social activities, mental health problems in our young is at an all-time high. People around the world are demanding to be spared from the devastating consequences of the epidemic.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Chairman of Children’s Health Defense, provides an inspirational message for freedom and hope to activists around the world.
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So, I had this hope that the next thing I posted here would be a grand explanation about my extended absence, all the weird stuff that’s happened over the past few years, my loss of faith in nutrition as a front-line approach to healing, and various other sundries I’ve been storing up in my brain-attic.
But then COVID-19 happened, and if that isn’t the biggest cosmic plan-changer that ever did plan-change, then I don’t know what is. So we’re gonna roll with it. And at the risk of writing something that’ll already be outdated by the time I hit publish (such is the nature of current events), I’m hoping this post will stay evergreen (or at least ever-chartreuse) by sheer virtue of its universal core theme: navigating conflicting, emotionally charged narratives in which objectivity behooves us but doesn’t come easy.
So LET US BEGIN.
In case you didn’t notice, the cyber-world (and its 3D counterpart, I assume, but we’re not allowed to venture there anymore) is currently a hot mess of Who and what do we believe? This is zero percent surprising. Official agencies have handled COVID-19 with the all grace of a three-legged elephant—waffling between the virus being under control/not under control/OMG millions dead/wait no 60,000/let’s pack the churches on Easter!/naw, lockdown-til-August/face masks do nothing/face masks do something, but healthcare workers need them more/FACE MASKS FOR EVERY FACE RIGHT NOW PLEASE AND THANK YOU/oh no a tiger got the ‘rona!; on and on. It’s dizzying. Maddening. The opposite of confidence-instilling. And as a very predictable result, guerrilla journalism has grown to fill the void left by those who’ve failed to tell us, with any believability, what’s going on.
Exercising our investigative rights is usually a good thing. You guys know me. I’m all about questioning established narratives and digging into the forces that crafted them. It’s literally my life. Good things happen when we flex our thinking muscle, and nothing we’re told should be immune to scrutiny.
But there’s a shadow side here, too—what I’ll henceforth refer to as “lopsided skepticism.” This is what happens when we question established narratives… but not the non-established ones. More specifically, when we go so hog wild ripping apart The Official Story that we somehow have no skepticism left over for all the new stuff we’re replacing it with.
And that, my friends, is exactly what’s happening right now.
I’ve been watching homegrown theories about COVID-19 spiral through various social platforms, born from a mix of data (sometimes) and theory (usually) and anecdote (always). They’re generally a pushback against the mainstream narrative about the coronavirus’s timeline, severity, concern-worthiness, fatality rate, treatment, infection breadth, classification guidelines, origin… round and round we go. Some theories are reasonable (“Has the virus been here longer than we think?”), some are untenable (“The ‘virus’ is actually radiation poisoning from 5G towers!”), and many more lie somewhere between.
Most importantly, they all have one thing in common: a tendency to embrace any and all supportive data without, well, making sure it’s true.
Y’all know what I’m talking about. Evidence we’d never give the time of day if it didn’t work in our favor. The “I remember reading somewhere…”, the “I have a friend who knows someone who…”, YouTube interviews that are impossible to fact-check (but please just trust this person’s top-secret info from an organization they can’t name without the Feds beating down their door), crowdsourced anecdotes, retracted papers, retweeted screenshots of Facebook comments from people whose names and profile pictures are blacked out, the whole shebang.
This stuff. Is. EVERYWHERE.
Unfortunately, throwing a bunch of really bad evidence together can create the illusion of a well-supported theory. And this is what’s happening, my dudes. This is what it’s come to. In our rabid quest to undermine the Powers That Be andfigure out what’s really going on, we’ve thrown quality control out the window and become that which we loathe: loyalists to narrative over data.
Case in point, let’s look at what might be the most popular COVID-19 theory circulating right now: that mortality stats are getting padded by assigning deaths to COVID-19 that are really from other causes—thereby making this whole thing seem worse than it actually is. Depending on the sub-theory, this might be due to financial incentives for hospitals (more COVID-19 patients = more $$$); a coordinated government hoax to trick people into relinquishing their sovereignty; a way to butter us up for mass ID microchipping; something something lizard people; and so on.
And from what I’ve seen—and by all means correct me if I’m missing something—this theory draws on the following claims:
The CDC has literally issued guidelines telling doctors and medical examiners to classify deaths as COVID-19 if they “presume” the patient has it—no test results needed.
CDC data shows a precipitous drop in pneumonia deaths right around the same time COVID-19 became a thing—suggesting pneumonia deaths have been getting reclassified as COVID-19 deaths, and creating the illusion of a pandemic.
People who die with coronavirus, but not from coronavirus, are getting counted as COVID-19 deaths—again inflating the body count.
Despite COVID-19 mortality skyrocketing, total mortality is staying the same (or even dropping)—suggesting a “cause of death” shuffle, if you will, and betraying the idea that we’re seeing additional deaths from a new disease. (Alternatively: “Only people with preexisting medical conditions are dying and they were gonna keel over any minute anyhow.”)
This theory would be pretty awful if it’s true. We’d have been got. Duped. Manipulated AF. But how solid is the evidence? Have we actually peeled this thing apart piece by piece before getting all ragey about the injustice of it all?
Oh, we haven’t? Well GUESS WHAT WE’RE GOING TO DO NOW?
Let the unpeeling commence.
1. First, the whole “CDC is telling people to report COVID-19 deaths without testing!” ordeal. The damning bits come from the CDC’s COVID-19 reporting guide (PDF), which gives permission to use COVID-19 on a death certificate if it’s “suspected or likely” and “‘probable’ or ‘presumed’”:
And also says it’s okay to report COVID-19 without testing confirmation:
The point of contention here, which has sparked something of an outrage in important places such as Twitter, is that these guidelines allow a level of guesswork that could mess things up real bad. Especially if there’s already some sort of incentive to bend data in the direction of more coronavirus deaths. What if people assign COVID-19 willy nilly to anyone who has a cough or fever? Or who had a poorly-timed bout of allergies? Where does the line get drawn? For sure, “probable,” “presumed,” “suspected,” and “likely” aren’t very reassuring words when it comes to a disease we’ve shut down the whole globe to contain.
But is this actually conspiracy worthy? And, in a clinical setting, with actual doctors doing doctor things rather than us internet-dwelling oafs imagining how it all might go, would these guidelines really lead to a significant over-reporting of COVID-19 deaths?
For starters, let’s look more closely at that CDC reporting guide. Although it does say COVID-19 deaths can be assigned without a positive test result, it also emphasizes the importance of drawing from all available evidence in order to make an informed judgment:
Are you sick of this yet? Guess what? Alzheimer’s deaths can get the same code whether the disease is confirmed or “probable”:
Oh hey, remember 83 seconds ago when we were so mad that COVID-19 deaths could be listed as “probable” or “presumed”? Because it seemed like some unique-to-coronavirus word twist intended to help pad the death stats? REMEMBER?
No. Just no. This same language is consistent through all the cause of death guidelines, no matter the killer in question. It’s been that way for years. And COVID-19 is even lucky enough to get separate codes for “probable” versus “confirmed” cases, which is more than we can say for some other diseases. (And to boot, some places were already seeing COVID-19 mortality explode before reporting the “probable” deaths at all.) Heck, the guidelines for coronavirus deaths are far more straightforward than the maze-like estimation formula the CDC takes for flu mortality.
In short—and please make me eat my words if I’ve overlooked something important here—this really isn’t outrage-worthy. Certifying any form of death is an imperfect, partly subjective process, and concessions for that reality are baked into all sorts of official guidelines. If overzealous COVIDing is happening (and you’re welcome to investigate any theory-offshoots that it is), it’s not because the CDC told death certifiers to cook the books.
2. As for pneumonia deaths getting classified as COVID-19 deaths? This graph of CDC data has been making the rounds as evidence that something very shady, very shady indeed, is going on. As you can see, around week 10 of this year (starting March 2nd), pneumonia mortality told its wife it loved her and then jumped off a cliff:
If we’re already primed to think the COVID-19 numbers are being doctored, we might take this graph at face value and add it to our stash of outrage fodder. But that would not be smart, friends. Face value is where critical thinking goes to die. And so, in the spirit of questioning literally everything, we must ask: could anything else explain what we’re seeing?
Basically, the CDC’s death-certificate-processing system is a slow, laborious beast that ensures any recent mortality data is always incomplete. They give a decent rundown of how death certificates get handled from start to finish:
Provisional counts of deaths are underestimated relative to final counts. This is due to the many steps involved in reporting death certificate data. When a death occurs, a certifier (e.g. physician, medical examiner or coroner) will complete the death certificate with the underlying cause of death and any contributing causes of death. In some cases, laboratory tests or autopsy results may be required to determine the cause of death. Completed death certificate are sent to the state vital records office and then to NCHS for cause of death coding.
And here we have a special shoutout to our favorite infectious diseases, noting that pneumonia, flu, and COVID-19 certificates take extra long to trickle into the data pool due to manual coding (emphases mine):
At NCHS, about 80% of deaths are automatically processed and coded within seconds, but 20% of deaths need to manually coded, or coded by a person. Deaths involving certain conditions such as influenza and pneumonia are more likely to require manual codingthan other causes of death. Furthermore, all deaths with COVID-19 are manually coded. Death certificates are typically manually coded within 7 days of receipt, although the coding delay can grow if there is a large increase in the number of deaths. As a result, underestimation of the number of deaths may be greater for certain causes of death than others.
Zooming in even further, the CDC gives some stats conveying just how incomplete their recent data is, and boy howdy is it a sorry sight. At any given moment, data from two weeks ago is likely to be barely over a quarter complete, while data from eight weeks ago is still less than three-quarters complete:
Previous analyses of provisional data completeness from 2015 suggested that mortality data is approximately 27% complete within 2 weeks, 54% complete within 4 weeks, and at least 75% complete within 8 weeks of when the death occurred.Pneumonia deaths are 26% complete within 2 weeks, 52% complete within 4 weeks, and 72% complete within 8 weeks (unpublished). Data timeliness has improved in recent years, and current timeliness is likely higher than published rates.
The CDC even slaps this little disclaimer after each table of COVID-19, pneumonia, and flu death counts:
Once again, with feeling: CDC mortality figures are initially very incomplete, low-balled-as-all-get-out, and retroactively fill in over time. Which means a weird pneumonia death-drop will show up any time we check the most recent data, COVID or No-vid.
To illustrate, Joseph Dunn graphed the CDC’s pneumonia data as it appeared on the same mid-March week of each year since 2013. Behold:
Look at all them swan dives!
And data scientist Tyler Morgan even went to the trouble of graphing the data from every weekly CDC pneumonia report published in the last decade, to show how the lines shift as data gets back-filled. Click here or on the image below for the really cool animation (it’s weirdly beautiful and absolutely worth the 30 seconds of your life):
In other words, there’s nothing anomalous at all about 2020’s pneumonia trends. Nothing. The popular graph up top is a meaningless piece of hooey and it’s sad that it went viral.
Note: there’s an issue here I’m cognizant of, but intentionally not touching on yet, which is that some people believe the CDC (and any other government organization) literally makes up data from thin air, thus rendering all of the above irrelevant. This level of conspiracy is beyond the scope of this post, but I may try to address it at some point later on. Not from a data angle, but from a psychological one.
3. Here we have the wildly popular claim that people are dying with COVID-19, not really from COVID-19. At least, not in the numbers we’re being told. It’s basically a steroided-up version of Claim #1—just with more trickery and plot-thickness and finger-tenting.
The evidence for this one is a lot harder to fact-check, because there are actually no facts to check. Its trueness rests on us believing that doctors and death-certifiers are being marionetted by evil forces and/or just plumb don’t know what they’re doing.
The closest thing we’ve got to “evidence” are citationless social media statements like the above, which we’re expected to trust because LOOK AT ALL THOSE RETWEETS!, a few well-publicized examples of allegedly mis-assigned COVID-19 deaths, and Youtube interviews with people who are pretty sure they know what’s going on. Like this one, featuring Dr. Annie Bukacek, with nearly 750,000 views at the time of writing.
Apparently, she knows her stuff. And the stuff she knows is that the coronavirus figures are being manipulated!
Serious question: how many of us bothered to look Dr. Bukacek up before thrusting her atop a pedestal of trustworthiness? And sharing her video far across the lands? And assuming she’s an impartial commentator on the whole situation (her praiseful introducer was literally her pastor)? Should we really put faith in someone we didn’t even know existed ten seconds ago just because 1) they’re telling us what we want to hear and 2) an internet headline made them sound prestigious?
By the way, to state the obvious, this is me intentionally and very shamelessly cherry-picking to make a point. Not all of her reviews are bad. Nor do the existing ones necessarily prove she isn’t credible. And if we wanted to be truly fair, we could prod deeper and ask whether she might be getting bad-review-bombed due to her vocal pro-life activism or religious affiliation or anti-vaccine stance (she’s definitely got some haterz). There’s a lot of sticky tricky gray-zone business in evaluating reputation, which is why—whenever possible—we should investigate a person’s claims rather than their character.
But the issue here is that with Dr. Bukacek, we can’t “investigate her claims” without installing cameras into every death certifier’s brain and watching what unfolds within their basal ganglias. So we’re left with only her word. And one person’s word is not useful data. Even if it’s the best of persons and the best of words.
Now, to play devil’s advocate with my own arguments here, there’s another popular video—this one featuring Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx—that seems more genuinely suspect. I saved this one for last because it might actually have some merit. In it, Dr. Birx talks about the USA’s “very liberal approach to mortality” and outright states that people who die with COVID-19 are counted as COVID-19 deaths:
Transcript: There are other countries that if you had a preexisting condition, and let’s say the virus caused you to go to the ICU and then have a heart or kidney problem, some countries are recording that as a heart issue or a kidney issue and not a COVID-19 death. Right now we’re still recording it and we’ll—I mean the great thing about having forms that come in and a form that has the ability to mark it as COVID-19 infection, the intent is right now that those—if someone dies with COVID-19 we are counting that [as a COVID-19 death].
It’s not surprising this clip went gangbusters! It seems like a deal-clinching A-ha for anyone who suspected COVID-19 was getting slapped onto every death possible.
However, here and always, context matters. After all, this segment was carefully cropped from a much longer coronavirus briefing from April 7th. And if we listen to the full segment—the audience question that came before this clip, and the follow-up question that came after it, and the follow-up answer Dr. Birx gave, and the addendum answer Dr. Anthony Fauci gave—we can better orient ourselves in the conversation that was happening.
Go have a listen. The relevant stuff starts at the 1:39:07 mark:
Could it be that Dr. Birx thought the question-asker was wondering if lack of testing might cause under-reporting, and tried to reassure her by explaining that the current COVID hotspots are flush with tests? And that people with “heart or kidney problems” wouldn’t be reported as dying from those things if they’d ended up in the ICU from coronavirus? (Especially given that COVID-19 itself can cause cardiac injury and kidney damage?)
It sounds to me like the thrust of the asker’s question—which was more along the lines of “Are we sure we’re not over-counting deaths?!”—went over the heads of the task force, and they addressed a different issue than the one she was trying to get at.
But I can’t read minds. And I can’t prove that it’s not all just political doublespeak and of course they understood the question. And I think there’s far too little information in this video alone to assess it from a “scam vs. not-scam” angle. And most importantly, in the absence of actual mortality data that could clue us in to potential over-reporting, I doubt analyzing this thing to smithereens can bring us any closer to the truth.
But, you be the judge. And speaking of mortality data…
4. Lastly and not leastly: the claim that COVID-19 isn’t actually causing excess mortality; we’re just reshuffling death causes to stack up higher for COVID-19 and lower for everything else. Boom, insta-pandemic!
First, a note. This is a Very Important claim. It’s the supreme ruler of all the claims that came before it and perhaps all those incipient ones that will come after. It has executive power and a VIP card for entry into the most highly guarded chambers of our brains. This is because, unlike causes of death, actual body counts can’t be fudged. This is the one true test. If COVID-19 really is taking lives en masse above and beyond what we’d expect from normal death trends, total mortality is where it’ll show up. If it’s not, then our game of death-code musical chairs will be revealed for the con that it is.
Again: Very Important claim. This is the crux of it, my dear readers.
Fortunately, there’s an easy way to test this claim: looking at total mortality trends in areas that COVID-19 has purportedly ravaged, and comparing that to historical mortality in the same location. An absence of anomalous death spikes—taking into account, of course, delays in processing death certificates and the lag time between infection and dying—would suggest we’re over-reporting COVID-19. And if excess mortality does appear, then we either have to concede that COVID-19 isn’t a nothingburger after all, or propose that some other ghastly, unnamed entity is stealing lives very coincidentally at the same time we have a made-up pandemic.
*Keep in mind, too, that our current near-global quarantine should slash deaths from accidents and certain crimes and infectious disease—and thus “normal” mortality rates for right now would likely be lower than for previous years.
So let’s dig into this. The “COVID-19 is overblown” theory asserts that total mortality isn’t doing anything unusual. At least not significantly so. No more than a bad flu year, let’s say. And depending on the source, we may be furnished with graphs that seem to demonstrate this truth to our hungry, data-seeking eyes, such as the following for England and Wales:
There’s one very big problem here. Check the dates.
Almost universally, the “See, it’s nothing!” graphs use data from mid to late March, when COVID-19 was just starting to pick up steam in the areas it’s most recently terrorized. And in March, there really weren’t massive mortality spikes, except perhaps for Italy. Nothing to see here, folks was true. And no one in the infectious disease world was claiming otherwise. In March, the rumblings of upcoming mortality explosions was what people were getting worried about, not the numbers as they then stood. The whole deal with “exponential growth” is that it’s—wait for it—exponential. This is how we went from 0 reported COVID-19 deaths in the USA on February 15th, 65 deaths one month later, and 30,000 deaths yet another month later.
So let’s see what happens when we look, instead, at more recent data from countries with known COVID-19 outbreaks. (This site is a great starting resource for raw mortality data and some visuals.)
First, here’s what’s up with England and Wales now (source):
A big chunk o’ Europe getting excess-mortalitied (source):
New York City, graphed by the New York Times (article here; viewable with free subscription) (NOTE: this data is almost two weeks outdated and the the April deaths are now many magnitudes higher):
We could do this all day, but you get the point.
Here’s the deal, folks. People. Are. Dying. The mortality trends for COVID-19-affected areas look like what happens when you’re trying to draw a straight line and then sneeze. This is not normal. This is not how things “should” look. We can argue all we want about how accurate the COVID-19-specific data is—and indeed, there’s plenty to argue about— but total mortality doesn’t lie. This is real.
By all means, the above peel-apart is far from complete. I’m sure there are more viral videos we could assess, more statistics to double-check, more anomalies to ponder. The point isn’t to reach a final conclusion here—just to demonstrate the process. The level of detail that must go into investigating a theory before we let ourselves fully entertain it. And if that process seems exhausting, excessive, excruciatingly nit-picky, too time consuming—well, it’s the price of admission for calling ourselves “informed.” Anything less and we’re operating on faith. Which is okay, if that’s our goal. But we must call it what it is.
Now maybe you’re thinking, “Okay, the ‘COVID-19 deaths are getting padded’ theory didn’t really hold up. But what about G5 radiation causing virus symptoms? What about mandatory vaccine agendas getting pushed on the world? What about COVID-19 being a bioweapon? What about what about what about?”
To which I say, Yes! Great! What about them indeed! Put on your best-tailored thinking cap and go find out. Marinate in all the data you can find. Watch out for claims that seem sciencey but trace back to a 4chan post. Be mindful of the universal human tendency to filter out things we disagree with and embrace any evidence that we like. Dig in, first and foremost, with the goal of proving yourself wrong. If you can’t, then perhaps there’s something there.
Of course, I realize the type of deep-dive we did in this post isn’t always possible, and not everyone can sit at home all day opening so many browser tabs that their MacBook freezes with a “System Has Run Run Out of Application Memory” error (anyone else? No? Just me?). Sometimes we need shortcuts. So for anyone who really wants to do the work, to prioritize truth-seeking over ideology, to stay oriented in reality, to let go of false narratives, but who doesn’t have infinite time to do so: here are some questions to ask whenever a new or alternative theory presents itself. Especially a theory we find ourselves enamored with. None of these questions can substitute for ruthlessly investigating, but they can help us stay grounded in situations where our minds easily lead us astray.
Am I claiming to see through the media’s fear-mongering, but falling prey to conspiracy fear-mongering instead?
Am I being pressured to accept this theory in order to be “woke” or “not sheeple”?
Have I read the full context of this quote, clip, or screenshot before assuming I know what it means?
Does the group promoting this theory invite questions and critiques? Or does it flippantly dismiss those things and/or attack its doubters?
If this same form of evidence (Youtube interview, social media comment, etc.) was used to support the “other side” instead of mine, would I still consider it trustworthy?
Am I taking time to research counter-arguments to these ideas, even when I want them to be true?
Am I looking for good vs. evil narratives as a distraction from my immediate reality? Is getting worked up about hypothetical injustice easier than being present with what is?
Am I embracing this theory as a way to feel like I have control—by naming an enemy in a situation where I’m otherwise helpless?
Does seeing myself as a “good guy” on the side of “truth” or “justice” make me feel validated, empowered, and important?
It’s easy to trick ourselves into thinking we’re being Good Skeptics when we’ve really only lifted one veil of many. There’s nothing “woke” about rejecting the official story while gullibly swallowing its alternatives.
Rather, waking up means waking up to ourselves. It’s recognizing that the battle of good and evil we project onto the world is playing out daily within ourselves. It’s committing to seeing “what is,” instead of stories about “what is.” It’s spreading our skepticism evenly across the info-scape instead of saving it for the things we already distrust.
So here it is, you guys. This is me groveling at the collective feet of the internet, with one thing to say: to anyone—everyone—listening, we need to reflect on how we’re processing the claims we hear. If we’re going to question official narratives, we need to question alternative narratives with the same degree of rigor. There’s no use retiring our sheeplehood from the mainstream only to rejoin the herd on a different pasture.
These are quarterly meetings held every 3 months, as required by law, but seldom, if ever, publicized or reported on by the corporate “mainstream” media.
Health Impact News might be the only place where these quarterly meetings are reported, and you can review past reports here. We have been accused of publishing “Fake News” when we publish these reports, but all of the information is available to the public and posted on the Federal Government’s websites.
The Big Tech companies that control so much of the Internet’s traffic, work hard to suppress this information. If you visit one of Health Impact News‘ Facebook Pages, for example, you are likely to see this notice inserted to the top of our page:
The March 6th meeting by the Advisory Commission on Childhood Vaccines included a report from the Department of Justice (DOJ) on cases settled for vaccine injuries and deaths as mandated by the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP).
The NVICP was started as a result of a law passed in 1986 that gave pharmaceutical companies legal immunity from being sued due to injuries and deaths resulting from vaccines.
If you or a family member is injured or dies from vaccines, you must sue the federal government in this special vaccine court. Many cases are litigated for years before a settlement is reached.
The March, 2020 DOJ report states that 288 petitions were filed during the 3-month time period between 11/16/19 – 2/15/20, with 181 cases being adjudicated and 146 cases compensated.
The March, 2020 DOJ report lists 74 of these settlements for vaccine injuries and deaths, and 60 of those were for damages caused by the flu vaccine. Read more…
For more than an hour, President Donald Trump presided over a cabinet meeting, reeling off numerous false or misleading claims:
Trump claimed, without evidence, that President Barack Obama tried to call North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “11 times” but that “the man on the other side … did not take his call” due to a “lack of respect.” Obama’s national security adviser and deputy national security adviser both called Trump’s claim false.
Trump took credit for making a “deal” between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds that he said “people have been trying to make” for years. One expert called this claim “nonsense.” The deal is only a five-day pause in the conflict that arose when Trump pulled U.S. troops from the Syria-Turkey border.
The president boasted that “nobody has ever done” a National Prescription Drug Take Back Day until he took office. In fact, it started in 2010.
He wrongly claimed that “many” of the “ambassadors” House Democrats are interviewing in the impeachment inquiry were “put there” by past administrations. Seven of the nine officials who have testified behind closed doors so far were appointed to their most recent positions under Trump’s administration.
Trump made the illogical and unsubstantiated claim that there was no informant who provided information to the whistleblower, whose complaint triggered an impeachment inquiry. And even more absurdly, Trump suggested the informant was Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House intelligence committee.
Trump was wrong in saying “no other president” has donated his salary. John F. Kennedy and Herbert Hoover also did so, according to news reports and Hoover’s library.
In defending the quashed plans to hold the next G-7 at his own resort, Trump suggested that Obama getting a book deal was like “running a business” while Obama was in office. The deal came after Obama left office.
Trump said, “China is doing very poorly — worst year they’ve had in 57 years.” China announced its economy grew by 6% in the third quarter of 2019, when compared with the same period the previous year. That was “the weakest pace in at least 27-1/2 years,” according to a Reuter’s analysis of quarterly data.
Trump made his remarks during an Oct. 21 cabinet meeting, which started — after a prayer from Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson — with the president talking about the U.S. economy, which he described as doing “fantastically well.” (See “Trump’s Numbers October 2019 Update” for a statistical measure of how things have changed since Trump took office.)
Calling Kim Jong Un
Trump claimed, without evidence, that President Barack Obama tried to call North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “11 times,” but Kim “did not take his call.”
Trump, Oct. 21: I like Kim; he likes me. We get along. I respect him; he respects me. You could end up in a war. President Obama told me that. He said, “The biggest problem — I don’t know how to solve it.” He told me doesn’t know how to solve it. I said, “Did you ever call him?” “No.” Actually, he tried 11 times. But the man on the other side — the gentleman on the side did not take his call. Okay? Lack of respect. But he takes my call.
Obama’s national security adviser and deputy national security adviser both called Trump’s claim false.
Susan Rice, who served under Obama as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2009 to 2013 and as Obama’s national security adviser from 2013 to 2017, tweeted that Trump’s claim is “a total fabrication.” She added, “Trump is completely delusional, and it’s scary.”
Likewise, Ben Rhodes, who served as Obama’s deputy national security adviser, tweeted, “Obama never called Kim Jong Un. Obama never tried to meet Kim Jong Un. Trump is a serial liar and not well.”
Trump’s claim is similar to one we fact-checked back in July. Then, Trump said Obama was “constantly … begging for meetings” but that Kim Jong Un refused. As we wrote then, Obama administration officials and experts on U.S.-North Korea relations said that’s not true.
“At the risk of stating the obvious, this is horse-sh*t,” Rice tweeted then. “Yes. It’s horseshit,” added Gen. Michael Hayden, via Twitter. Hayden served as director of the CIA from 2006 to Feb. 12, 2009, shortly after Obama took office.
A Deal Between Turkey and Syrian Kurds
Trump praised his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria, saying the subsequent fighting that resulted between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds sparked a “deal” that he claimed “people have been trying to make” for years.
Trump, Oct. 21: If shooting didn’t start for a couple of days, I don’t think the Kurds would have moved. I don’t think, frankly, you would’ve been able to make a very easy deal with Turkey. … If they didn’t go through two and a half days of hell, I don’t think they would’ve done it. I think you couldn’t have made a deal. And people have been trying to make this deal for years. But we’re close to making it. We’ll see what happens.
Henri Barkey, a professor of international relations at Lehigh University and adjunct senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, called Trump’s claim of failed past attempts to broker such a deal “complete nonsense.”
“There is no effort of any sorts in the past between Turkey and Syrian Kurds,” Barkey told us in an email. “He is making things up.”
On Oct. 6, the White House announced it would withdraw U.S. special forces in northern Syria and that Turkey would soon move “forward with its long-planned [military] operation” against the Syrian Kurds, who had been U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State. Three days later, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan started “Operation Peace Spring,” resulting in dozens of deaths of civilians and Kurdish fighters.
After bipartisan criticism, Trump sent Vice President Mike Pence to meet with Erdogan in Ankara, Turkey, where on Oct. 17 they announced a five-day pause in the Turkish military operation to “allow for the withdrawal of YPG” from “the nearly 20-mile-wide safe zone area, south of the Turkish border in Syria.” The People’s Protection Units, or the YPG, is the armed wing of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party.
Turkey does have a long history of conflict with the Kurds, but direct Turkish involvement in northern Syria dates only to 2016. In August 2016, Turkey began Operation Euphrates Shield in northern Syria to clear the area of Islamic State terrorists and “prevent the YPG from establishing an autonomous area along the northern Syrian border with Turkey,” as explained in a January Congressional Research Service report.
Turkey felt threatened by the Syrian Kurds on its border. The Kurds were hoping for support from their allies in Washington, D.C. “Syrian Kurds wanted political recognition from DC,” and “down the road support for their autonomous state” in northern Syria, Barkey said.
National Prescription Take Back Day
Trump falsely said that “nobody has ever done” a National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, an event in which Americans can safely dispose of unused prescription drugs. The Drug Enforcement Administration began holding such national events in 2010.
Trump’s claim followed a briefing from White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on an upcoming take-back day on Oct. 26. After thanking Conway, he said, “Take Back Day is a big deal. And they’ve been talking about it for a long time. Nobody has ever done it. But it is big.”
The scheduled take back day, however, will not be the first, nor was the first national take back under Trump’s watch.
The initiative launched under Obama in 2010, with the primary aim of reducing misuse of old prescription drugs. The DEA has since organized two events each year — one in the spring and one in the fall — to encourage people to get rid of drugs lingering in their medicine cabinets. The most recent one was in April; Saturday’s take back will be the 18th event.
During a take back, people can drop off their expired, unused or unwanted medications anonymously and for free — no questions asked — at a variety of locations across the country. This year, for the first time, the DEA will accept vaping devices and cartridges, in light of the recent spate of deaths and lung injuries linked to those products.
This isn’t the first time that Trump has falsely taken credit for launching a new program.
Last October, he took credit for the Veterans Choice Program, which allows veterans to seek health care outside of the VA if there are long wait times or travel burdens, and falsely added that it had taken “44 years” to pass the legislation. In fact, the program was created in 2014 under Obama. And in July 2018, Trump inaccurately said that prior to a law he signed in 2017, there was “nothing you could do” to get rid of VA employees who mistreat military veterans. On average, around 2,300 VA workers were fired each fiscal year before Trump’s legislation going back to 2005.
In remarks about the ongoing House impeachment inquiry, Trump wrongly claimed that “many” of the “ambassadors” Democratic-controlled House committees are interviewing were “put there during Obama, during Clinton, during the Never Trump or Bush era.”
Actually, among the nine government officials who have testified in closed sessions so far, just two were appointed to their current or recently resigned positions under the Obama administration. The other seven were appointed by Trump or Trump appointees, such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Trump, Oct. 21: They’re interviewing — they’re interviewing ambassadors who I’d never heard of. I don’t know who these people are. I never heard of them. … Don’t forget, many of these people were put there during Obama, during Clinton, during the Never Trump or Bush era.
Let’s go through the list:
Steve A. Linick, the State Department inspector general, met with impeachment investigators on Oct. 2 and provided documents pertaining to Ukraine. Linick was appointed to the IG job by then-President Obama in 2013, and had served in the Justice Department under then-President George W. Bush and Obama from 2006 to 2010.
Kurt Volker was appointed special representative for Ukraine negotiations on July 7, 2017, by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a Trump appointee. Volker resigned from that job on Sept. 27 and testified before the House committees on Oct. 3.
Michael K. Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community, was nominated to the post by Trump in November 2017 and sworn in on May 17, 2018. Atkinson, who worked in the Justice Department for more than 15 years under both Republican and Democratic administrations, testified on Oct. 4.
George P. Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state in the European and Eurasian bureau, assumed that job on Sept. 4, 2018, under Secretary of State Pompeo, a Trump appointee. He joined the foreign service in 1992; he testified Oct. 15.
Gordon Sondland, a Trump nominee, was confirmed as ambassador to the European Union on June 29, 2018. Sondland, the founder and CEO of Provenance Hotels, donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration committee through four companies registered to him, according to The Intercept. He testified on Oct. 17.
Marie “Masha” Yovanovitch was nominated to be ambassador to Ukraine by Obama on May 18, 2016, and confirmed by the Senate two months later. Yovanovitch, who joined the foreign service in 1986, was removed from her post by the Trump administration in May. She testified on Oct. 11.
Michael McKinley, another career diplomat, who joined the foreign service in 1982, was appointed senior adviser to Pompeo in May 2018. He testified on Oct. 16, days after resigning.
William B. Taylor served under the Bush and Obama administrations and was appointedchargé d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine in June after Yovanovitch was removed as ambassador. Taylor had been ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009. He testified on Oct. 22.
Fiona Hill became deputy assistant to the president and senior director for European and Russian Affairs under the National Security Council in 2017. Hill resigned this summer and testified on Oct. 14.
Trump also made the illogical claim that there was no informant who provided information to the whistleblower. And even more absurdly, Trump suggested the informant was Rep. Adam Schiff.
Trump said the whistleblower relied on “second- and thirdhand information” and Trump questioned the very existence of an informant who told the whistleblower about the content of Trump’s July phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Trump, Oct. 21: Now, I happen to think there probably wasn’t an informant. You know, the informant went to the whistleblower, the whistleblower had second- and thirdhand information. You remember that. It was a big problem. But the information was wrong. So was there actually an informant? Maybe the informant was Schiff. It could be Shifty Schiff. In my opinion, it’s possibly Schiff.
Later, in an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, Trump reiterated his groundless theory.
Trump, Oct. 21: And where is the person who gave the whistleblower the information? Because is that person a spy? Or does that person even exist? I have a feeling that person doesn’t exist. I think Schiff might’ve made it up.
Let’s quickly deconstruct why Trump’s theory makes no sense.
Despite Trump repeatedly claiming that the whistleblower “gave a totally false account of my conversation” with the Ukrainian president, as we have written, the whistleblower’s account of the phone call matches up with the White House-released memo. (Though the president takes issue with the whistleblower’s allegation that he “pressured” Zelensky to investigate the Bidens.)
Specifically, the whistleblower made these three claims that were corroborated by the memo: Trump asked Zelensky to “initiate or continue an investigation” into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden; assist the U.S. in investigating allegations that “Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election originated in Ukraine”; and “meet or speak” about these matters with Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr.
The whistleblower, described by the New York Times as a CIA officer who was detailed to the National Security Council, wrote in his complaint that while he did not participate in Trump’s phone call with the Ukraine president, “in the course of official interagency business” he was informed about details of the phone call by “multiple White House officials with direct knowledge of the call.”
The intelligence community’s inspector general conducted a preliminary review of the whistleblower’s complaint and determined there were “reasonable grounds to believe that the complaint relating to the urgent concern ‘appears credible.’” Fox News reported that during the closed-door testimony of Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson to House lawmakers, it was revealed that the preliminary investigation included interviews with a handful of witnesses, including two of the whistleblower’s supervisors.
Since then, the New York Times reported that a second whistleblower, one with firsthand knowledge of the phone call, has stepped forward and was interviewed by Atkinson’s office.
Given that the original whistleblower did not participate directly in the Ukraine phone call, and yet got key details about it correct, it stands to reason he was provided that information by an informant.
As for Trump’s theory that the informant might be Schiff, that makes no sense. As we wrote, Schiff, chair of the House intelligence committee, wrongly implied that his committee had no contact with the whistleblower before receiving the complaint, when the whistleblower had in fact reached out to a committee aide before filing a complaint. Trump has speculatedthat Schiff “probably helped write” the complaint, but there’s no evidence of that, and a spokesman for Schiff and the House intelligence committee said in a statement, “At no point did the Committee review or receive the complaint in advance.”
But Schiff did not participate in the phone call, and therefore could not have provided details to the whistleblower about it, at least not unless Schiff was debriefed on the call by — an informant.
Trump Isn’t Only President to Donate Salary
Trump does indeed donate his salary, which we’ve written about before, but he was wrong when he said “no other president has done it.”
Trump, Oct. 21: I give away my salary. It’s, I guess, close to $450,000. I give it away. Nobody ever said he gives away his salary. … They say that no other president has done it. … They think George Washington did, but they say no other.
But John F. Kennedy also donated his salary in 1961, according to a Nov. 14, 1962, news article that attributed that information to the Minneapolis Tribune and Des Moines Register. The article said Kennedy was following the practice of Herbert Hoover, who “banked his presidential salary and gave it entirely to charity,” according to the Hoover presidential library.
Snopes.com wrote about this issue before Trump took office, noting that in Washington’s case, according to one book, he did refuse the salary at first but then accepted it at Congress’ urging.
In his book, “George Washington’s 1791 Southern Tour,” Warren L. Bingham wrote: “At first, Washington refused the salary, but Congress insisted on the principle, on which Washington also agreed, that the presidency should not be reserved for only those wealthy enough to work for free.”
Obama’s Book Deal
In defending his decision to host the 2020 G-7 at his Doral golf resort in Miami — and his subsequent reversal in the face of criticism — Trump claimed that other presidents “ran their business” while in office, citing Obama’s book and Netflix deals. But the book, reportedly a memoir on his presidency, and Netflix collaboration were announced after Obama left office.
Trump, Oct. 21: Hey, Obama made a deal for a book. Is that running a business? I’m sure he didn’t even discuss it while he was President. Oh, yeah. He has a deal with Netflix. When did they start talking about that? That’s only, you know, a couple of examples.
Penguin Random House announced on Feb. 28, 2017, a month after Obama left office, that it would publish books both by the former president and former First Lady Michelle Obama. The deal is reportedly worth about $65 million. Netflix announced a production deal with the Obamas in May 2018.
Trump also overlooks the fact that hosting the G-7 at Doral was akin to awarding a government contract to himself and accepting payments from foreign governments.
Trump made several claims about China’s economy, and some of them were inaccurate.
First, Trump said, “China is doing very poorly — worst year they’ve had in 57 years.” Later, he claimed, “they announced that they have the worst numbers they’ve had in 20 years.” He was closer to being accurate the second time.
“They announced six,” Trump said, referring to China’s growth in its real gross domestic product.
Most recently, China announced its economy grew by 6% in the third quarter of 2019, when compared with the same period the previous year. That was “the weakest pace in at least 27-1/2 years,” according to a Reuters’ analysis of quarterly data.
On an annual basis, China is currently projected to have real GDP growth of 6.1% for all of 2019, according to the International Monetary Fund. But that would be the lowest annual growth in 29 years — since China’s GDP grew by 3.9% in 1990, according to World Bank data going back to 1961.
Trump went on to say: “So, if I weren’t elected, by right now, China would be the largest economy in the world. It was expected. It was said by many people that China would, right now — they were expecting around the second year of this term.”
We don’t know where Trump saw that China was projected to surpass the U.S. as the world’s largest economy in 2018. As of 2016, China’s GDP in nominal dollars was $11.2 trillion, which was still about 40 percent less than the U.S. GDP of $18.7 trillion.
Plus, by one measure — purchasing power parity, which accounts for differences in prices across countries — China had already become the leading economy in 2014, according to a Congressional Research Service report updated in June. Citing figures from the IMF and World Economic Forum, the CRS report said, based on PPP, China ($25.27 trillion) was still ahead of the U.S. ($20.49 trillion) in 2018, while the U.S. ($20.49 trillion) still outranked China ($13.40 trillion) in nominal dollars.
Trump also was wrong when he said, “And we’re getting bigger, and they’re not.” China’s economic growth has slowed in recent years, but it is still increasing at a faster rate than real U.S. GDP, which grew by 2.9% in 2018 and at an annual rate of 2% in the second quarter of 2019.
And as the IMF noted in July 2018, “[e]ven with a gradual slowdown in growth, China,” in nominal figures, “could become the world’s largest economy by 2030.”
Editor’s Note: We’ve long understood the entanglement between the mainstream press and the national security system. This article gives us some deeper insight.
The New York Times has publicly acknowledged that it sends some of its stories to the US government for approval from “national security officials” before publication.
This confirms what veteran New York Times correspondents like James Risen have said: The American newspaper of record regularly collaborates with the US government, suppressing reporting that top officials don’t want made public.
On June 15, the Times reported that the US government is escalating its cyber attacks on Russia’s power grid. According to the article, “the Trump administration is using new authorities to deploy cybertools more aggressively,” as part of a larger “digital Cold War between Washington and Moscow.”
In response to the report, Donald Trump attacked the Times on Twitter, calling the article “a virtual act of Treason.”
The New York Times PR office replied to Trump from its official Twitter account, defending the story and noting that it had, in fact, been cleared with the US government before being printed.
“Accusing the press of treason is dangerous,” the Times communications team said. “We described the article to the government before publication.”
“As our story notes, President Trump’s own national security officials said there were no concerns,” the Times added.
Indeed, the Times report on the escalating American cyber attacks against Russia is attributed to “current and former [US] government officials.” The scoop in fact came from these apparatchiks, not from a leak or the dogged investigation of an intrepid reporter.
‘Real’ journalists get approval from ‘national security’ officials
But what was entirely overlooked was the most revealing thing in the New York Times’ statement: The newspaper of record was essentially admitting that it has a symbiotic relationship with the US government.
In fact, some prominent American pundits have gone so far as to insist that this symbiotic relationship is precisely what makes someone a journalist.
What was the Post columnist’s rationale for revoking Assange’s journalistic credentials?
Unlike “reputable news organizations, Assange did not give the U.S. government an opportunity to review the classified information WikiLeaks was planning to release so they could raise national security objections,” Thiessen wrote. “So responsible journalists have nothing to fear.”
In other words, this former US government speechwriter turned corporate media pundit insists that collaborating with the government, and censoring your reporting to protect so-called “national security,” is definitionally what makes you a journalist.
This is the express ideology of the American commentariat.
NY Times editors ‘quite willing to cooperate with the government’
The symbiotic relationship between the US corporate media and the government has been known for some time. American intelligence agencies play the press like a musical instrument, using it it to selectively leak information at opportune moments to push US soft power and advance Washington’s interests.
But rarely is this symbiotic relationship so casually and publicly acknowledged.
In 2018, former New York Times reporter James Risen published a 15,000-word article in The Intercept providing further insight into how this unspoken alliance operates.
Risen detailed how his editors had been “quite willing to cooperate with the government.” In fact, a top CIA official even told Risen that his rule of thumb for approving a covert operation was, “How will this look on the front page of the New York Times?”
There is an “informal arrangement” between the state and the press, Risen explained, where US government officials “regularly engaged in quiet negotiations with the press to try to stop the publication of sensitive national security stories.”
“At the time, I usually went along with these negotiations,” the former New York Times reported said. He recalled an example of a story he was writing on Afghanistan just prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks. Then-CIA Director George Tenet called Risen personally and asked him to kill the story.
“He told me the disclosure would threaten the safety of the CIA officers in Afghanistan,” Risen said. “I agreed.”
Risen said he later questioned whether or not this was the right decision. “If I had reported the story before 9/11, the CIA would have been angry, but it might have led to a public debate about whether the United States was doing enough to capture or kill bin Laden,” he wrote. “That public debate might have forced the CIA to take the effort to get bin Laden more seriously.”
This dilemma led Risen to reconsider responding to US government requests to censor stories. “And that ultimately set me on a collision course with the editors at the New York Times,” he said.
“After the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration began asking the press to kill stories more frequently,” Risen continued. “They did it so often that I became convinced the administration was invoking national security to quash stories that were merely politically embarrassing.”
In the lead-up to the Iraq War, Risen frequently “clashed” with Times editors because he raised questions about the US government’s lies. But his stories “stories raising questions about the intelligence, particularly the administration’s claims of a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda, were being cut, buried, or held out of the paper altogether.”
The Times’ executive editor Howell Raines “was believed by many at the paper to prefer stories that supported the case for war,” Risen said.
In another anecdote, the former Times journalist recalled a scoop he had uncovered on a botched CIA plot. The Bush administration got wind of it and called him to the White House, where then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice ordered the Times to bury the story.
Risen said Rice told him “to forget about the story, destroy my notes, and never make another phone call to discuss the matter with anyone.”
“The Bush administration was successfully convincing the press to hold or kill national security stories,” Risen wrote. And the Barack Obama administration subsequently accelerated the “war on the press.”
CIA media infiltration and manufacturing consent
In their renowned study of US media, “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media,” Edward S. Herman and Chomsky articulated a “propaganda model,” showing how “the media serve, and propagandize on behalf of, the powerful societal interests that control and finance them,” through “the selection of right-thinking personnel and by the editors’ and working journalists’ internalization of priorities and definitions of newsworthiness that conform to the institution’s policy.”
But in some cases, the relationship between US intelligence agencies and the corporate media is not just one of mere ideological policing, indirect pressure, or friendship, but rather one of employment.
In the 1950s, the CIA launched a covert operation called Project Mockingbird, in which it surveilled, influenced, and manipulated American journalists and media coverage, explicitly in order to direct public opinion against the Soviet Union, China, and the growing international communist movement.
Legendary journalist Carl Bernstein, a former Washington Post reporter who helped uncover the Watergate scandal, published a major cover story for Rolling Stone in 1977 titled “The CIA and the Media: How America’s Most Powerful News Media Worked Hand in Glove with the Central Intelligence Agency and Why the Church Committee Covered It Up.”
Bernstein obtained CIA documents that revealed that more than 400 American journalists in the previous 25 years had “secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency.”
“Some of these journalists’ relationships with the Agency were tacit; some were explicit. There was cooperation, accommodation and overlap. Journalists provided a full range of clandestine services—from simple intelligence gathering to serving as go‑betweens with spies in Communist countries. Reporters shared their notebooks with the CIA. Editors shared their staffs. Some of the journalists were Pulitzer Prize winners, distinguished reporters who considered themselves ambassadors without‑portfolio for their country. Most were less exalted: foreign correspondents who found that their association with the Agency helped their work; stringers and freelancers who were as interested in the derring‑do of the spy business as in filing articles; and, the smallest category, full‑time CIA employees masquerading as journalists abroad. In many instances, CIA documents show, journalists were engaged to perform tasks for the CIA with the consent of the managements of America’s leading news organizations.”
Virtually all major US media outlets cooperated with the CIA, Bernstein revealed, including ABC, NBC, the AP, UPI, Reuters, Newsweek, Hearst newspapers, the Miami Herald, the Saturday Evening Post, and the New York Herald‑Tribune.
However, he added, “By far the most valuable of these associations, according to CIA officials, have been with the New York Times, CBS and Time Inc.”
These layers of state manipulation, censorship, and even direct crafting of the news media show that, as much as they claim to be independent, The New York Times and other outlets effectively serve as de facto spokespeople for the government — or at least for the US national security state.
When you tune in to MSNBC, Fox News, or any of the other corporate media machines, you’re probably not going to hear much about the methods in which big pharma is taking advantage of consumers either through price gouging or medical mishaps. The reason for this is because talking about those stories creates a major conflict of interest for the people behind the scenes. Mike Papantonio discusses this with journalist and author Martha Rosenberg.
Transcript of the above video:
According to a 2009 study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, with the exception of CBS every major media outlet in the United States shares at least one board member with at least one drug company. Let me put it in perspective for you, these board members wake up, they go to a meeting at Merck or Pfizer, and then they have their driver take them over to a meeting with NBC to decide what kind of programming that network is going to air. For those board members who aren’t pulling double duty with a media conglomerate and a big drug company, they still understand that they can’t be honest and objective about big pharma because big pharma pays their bills.
Drug companies spend about $5 billion a year on advertising with these corporate media outlets, so when Pfizer or Merck or Eli Lilly, or any of the drug companies, kill or cripple Americans with defective drugs, do you really think these board members are going to allow their story to be told on the air? It can take anywhere from three days to a full week before the media reports on a drug or a medical device recall, if they report at all.
In the case of Invokana it took 32 days before television outlets reported a single story involving an FDA warning about the potential problems with the product. The FDA began warning about the extreme dangers of Cook IVC filters as early as 2010 and it took about five years, five years, before television media started reporting that to the public. It’s worth pointing out that in these instances it was only through non-corporate independent media outlets that these stories were told at all. It was the outlets who weren’t being forced, they weren’t being forced to remain silent about the drug industry.
You can replace IVC or Invokana with any other drug or product and the story is all the same. Stryker hip implants, C8, Vioxx, RoundUp, Xarelto, talcum powder, they’re all the same thing. The corporate media doesn’t care about these stories because they either share board members with these companies, or because they want those companies to keep throwing dollars their way in big advertising dollars. These gigantic media corporations aren’t going to do anything to threaten their relationship with big advertisers.
Drugs are cash cow advertising bonanza for corporate media. Fortunately an increase in number of Americans who are starting to wake up and realize that the mainstream media shouldn’t be trusted on issues like this. In recent years we’ve seen the alternative media experience rapid growth and mainstream media has been losing credibility at a staggering rate. Americans are starting to look elsewhere for the truth about what’s really going on out there. As a result of that advertising money kicking around the corporate media isn’t permitted to report complex drug stories anymore.
It’s as if they don’t understand things like the link between crony capitalism and the revolving door between the FDA and the drug industry, but the media is only one side of the story here. Big pharma knows that if it wants to continue manipulating the public it has to start with our elected officials in Washington DC. According to OpenSecrets, big pharma spent more than $58 million on politicians just in 2016, the most amount they’ve spend on a direct contribution in the last quarter century.
When it comes to lobbying, few industry spend more than big pharma did last year. They spent a staggering $244 million dollars to influence our elected leaders in Washington DC. It looks like things are about to get much worse, you see, big pharma understands that the ridiculous … their price gouging is starting to draw negative attention from the American public, and no matter how much they spend advertising or buying our politicians, they can’t keep the public anger down forever.
According to a new report by ProPublica, drug companies are offering huge money to any scientist, any professor or academic willing to author studies that are going to show that these drug markups are necessary, that they’re just fine. Their goal is to spread around enough money at universities to develop scientists and doctors who are going to create this fantasy story about how price gouging is just great for the American public, and then that story will be run by corporate media, dominated by the drug industry.
Joining me now to talk about big pharma’s influence over our daily lives and their quest for even more power is Martha Rosenberg, an investigative health reporter and the author of the book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency. Martha, is it an overstatement to say that big pharma, they have a firmer grip on our daily lives than most people realize, where it comes to the drugs that we take?
No. No Mike, I don’t think it’s an overstatement at all. I think this is the year that we celebrate 20 years of direct-to-consumer ads. Any time people are watching TV, they’re seeing the drug ads, and then on top of that there’s PR campaigns going on. One of which on the Sunday news shows that were trying to objectively talk about Obamacare, they were financed by a PR campaign called Go Boldly, which is trying to defend the high prices. In addition to the direct-
Martha, all you have to do is watch the nightly news. You’re liable to see eight advertisements for Merck and Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson. How can that not be influencing the reporters or the executive producers of that programming? They know where their money is coming from, they know where they’re getting this money, that some cat on the 50th floor makes this decision that says, “You know, we can’t tell these stories where drugs are killing people. We can’t tell it because we’re going to lose advertising dollars.” Can’t you basically already see that just by watching the nightly news and seeing those advertisements?
Of course you can. They won’t report on the dangers which of course you and I know about, and also they plant the idea in many people’s minds that they are sick and they need the drugs. That disease mongering is a big part of it. The screening, when they’re always saying, “Ask your doctor, you might have this or that disease,” the screening causes over-diagnosis, over-treatment and over-medication, which pharma loves.
Most people who handle cases in this industry, they look to you first on a lot of this reporting because you catch the stories certainly before corporate media does, or if corporate media gets it before you, corporate media doesn’t tell the stories because they’re ordered not to by their advertisers. But it’s not just corporate media that’s the problem, don’t we also have a problem with, they’ve put so much money into the political schemes taking place in DC. They bought politicians, there’s no other way to put it. The money is staggering, $244 million just for lobbying, endless money to individual campaigns. Don’t you see that happening as you follow these stories?
Definitely. I think that it’s one of the most expensive lobbying machines there is, the big pharma. What they’re doing now, big pharma and bio pharma are trying to defend their price, so we see a lot of that. Yeah, there’s no question. Up until the Affordable Care Act there was no hiding all the perks that doctors got, and there were examples in China, GSK, which is a big pharmaceutical company, was buying sex bribery to sell their drugs. Here in the US according to charges, Victory Pharma was buying lap dances for doctors to prescribe its opiates.
There’s worst stories than that, some of the stories we can’t even tell on the air. Let’s talk about this new ProPublica report about big pharma trying to pay scientists, I call them biostitutes. They’re doctors and scientists who will write anything the industry asks them to write for a check of $100,000. They’ll write anything.
Right now we have the industry going around trying to find these biostitutes that will say, “It’s just fine that the industry has these huge markups, even though sometimes it’s 6,000% markup on a drug, 10,000% markup.” They actually are going to find scientists and doctors who say, “That’s absolutely appropriate. The industry needs to do it.” You and I know that’s a lie because most of the money that they spend goes to advertising, it doesn’t go to R&D. What’s your take on that?
Yeah, right now what pharma has done Mike is, it’s replaced its blockbusters like Viagra and Lipitor with what we call biologics. That would be your vaccines and your liquid injectable drugs. That enables them to charge what they’re now charging. Now they’re in the process of trying to defend those charges. Now, the ProPublica report, it reveals the machinery between academia and big pharma, which is not really new.
The ghostwriting and what we used to call conflicts of interests, they now call private-public partnerships and it’s our tax dollars going on. But yeah, the academics are now writing the papers and not only are, pardon my French but not only are the journals pimping for big pharma but pharma will create its own journals to make sure its message gets out there. These academics are part of the whole thing.
Okay, so let me put these parts together. The industry goes out and finds these biostitutes, who will say anything for the right amount of money. I see them in court every single day, up on the witness stand, testifying, lying, knowing they’re lying, absolutely misrepresenting the truth about everything, because they’re getting paid a lot of money. Now what you have is you have them, they find the biostitute, the biostitute writes the story and the next thing you know, mainstream corporate media, like NBC, MSNBC, ABC is reporting that story that was created by the biostitute. Did I get that right?
Absolutely, absolutely. It’s stenography. It’s not reporting, it’s stenography.
As I follow this, of course, this story is going to continue to build because we’re going to start seeing a lot more of these stories coming out, they’re horrendous stories. Last week we saw Bernie Sanders pushing back, the Democrats won’t get behind him because the Democrats are as much part of this as the Republicans are. The pharmaceutical industry, they’re just spreading around a lot of money. I have to tell you something, I appreciate you joining me tonight, okay?
Thank you so much. Thank you for your good work Mike.
Journalists have always been fact-checkers. Now, thanks to the Internet and social media, everyone has a soapbox, and everyone can send truths and untruths to hundreds of people with the push of a button. Spoofs and satires become gospel. Unpopular viewpoints and people are targeted.
To get at the truth, many news organizations now include fact-checking columns, like this one.
But the fact-checkers themselves are not free from criticism. More often than not, the criticism comes from the right because, with a Democrat in the White House, that’s where most of the viral criticism comes from. So most of the fact-checking is of those allegations. Fact-finding sources that appear in the Times-Union, however, pride themselves on being accurate – using original reporting, source-checking, corroborating research and well-documented reports from other fact-finding groups to get at the truth.
So how do we know if we’re getting the straight skinny?
When we use other sources, we corroborate results. If we can’t be certain about something, we say so. But we do rely on some fact-finders that repeatedly have come under fire.
Snopes.com is at the top of that list. An email circulating since 2008 warns not to use Snopes.com because of its political leanings: “I have recently discovered that Snopes.com is owned by a flaming liberal and this man is in the tank for Obama. …”
Snopes.com is the oldest fact-finder on the Internet. It was well-respected for years when it fact-checked urban legends, such as whether more domestic abuse occurs on Super Bowl Sunday than on any other day. But when Snopes.com starting debunking rumors about candidate-then-President Barack Obama, it was roundly criticized.
Snopes.com is owned and run by David and Barbara Mikkelson of California, who have not hidden their identities as one of the viral email claims. Check out the list that shows this at www.snopes.com/info/articles.asp.
As far as being liberal, other fact-checkers, such as Truthorfiction.com; David Emery, who researches urban legends for the information website About.com; and FactCheck.org have researched Snopes.com and none has found any instance where the Mikkelsons have stated a political preference or affiliation.
Barbara Mikkelson is a Canadian citizen, so she can’t contribute to a political campaign or vote in U.S. elections. David Mikkelson provided his voter registration papers to FactCheck.org that show he registered as a Republican in 2000, and had no party affiliation in 2008.
A check of the donor list at the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign contributions (1990-2012), shows no contributions by Mikkelson to any candidate from any party. You can check yourself at www.opensecrets.org.
If there is proof that refutes this, or shows that the Mikkelsons are “flaming liberals,” no one has come up with it.
Truth be told, there are emails that present what they say is verifiable proof that Snopes.com is biased.
One viral email suggested that Elena Kagan was nominated to the Supreme Court because as solicitor general she fended off all the lawsuits challenging Obama’s eligibility to be president. Snopes.com was castigated for debunking the rumor, but all it did was look at the docket items cited by the email and found that not a single one was about Obama’s eligibility. A check of those dockets at www.supremecourt.gov confirms that.
Emery, who said he has looked at the texts about Obama forwarded to Snopes.com, states that he “has found no any evidence of advocacy for or against. To the contrary, I see a consistent effort to provide even-handed analyses. …”
FactCheck.org also fact-checked Snopes.com: “We reviewed a sampling of their political offerings, including some on rumors about George W. Bush, Sarah Palin and Barack Obama, and we found them [Snopes.com] to be utterly poker-faced.”
There have also been viral emails charging that Snopes.com is financed by business magnate and philanthropist George Soros. There have been no verifiable reports of a Soros connection, but Snopes.com’s books are not open for all to see, so we can’t say for absolutely certain.
Some of the emails disparaging Snopes.com cite that TruthorFiction.com is a much more reliable site. TruthorFiction.com lauds Snopes.com as an “excellent” and “authoritative” resource (www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/s/snopes.htm).
Although Snopes.com could do a better job of linking to sources within its stories, it does list its sources, so it is easy to confirm accuracy.
FactCheck.org is a nonpartisan fact-finding project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. It has been attacked as a leftist group in an email that says that Wallis Annenberg, president and CEO of the Annenberg Foundation, contributed $25,000 to the Democratic National Committee.
In March 2007, Wallis Annenberg did personally donate $25,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. This had nothing to do with FactCheck.org. And, according to the Federal Election Commission campaign contribution database (www.fec.gov), she has also given to numerous Republican campaigns.
Brooks Jackson, a journalist who launched FactCheck.org, told the Times-Union that the group’s charter stipulates nonpartisanship.
It is ironic that the viral emails charge FactCheck.org as being a leftist organization when philanthropist Walter Annenberg was a fervid Republican, as was his wife Leonore. But even so, the foundation has never influenced FactCheck.org one way or the other, Jackson said.
TruthorFiction.com was founded in 1999 by the late Rich Buhler, a Christian radio broadcaster, speaker, author and producer who researched and wrote about urban legends for more than 30 years, according to various media reports. Its staff researches the rumors; original sources are usually listed or linked, so it is a good site to corroborate facts.
PolitiFact.com is a fact-finding project of the Tampa Bay Times (formerly The St. Petersburg Times) and has been assailed as a partisan member of the “liberal media.”
PolitiFact.com, which was awarded a Pulitzer Prize, examines statements by politicians and pundits and rates what they say on its Truth-O-Meter. The website also tracks promises by Obama and Republican leaders.
It is true that some of its reporters work for the Tampa Bay Times, a fact not lost on a website called PolitiFactbias.com, which exposes what it calls liberal bias by PolitiFact.com.
But PolitiFact.com uses strict journalistic standards, according to its mandate. Its reporters and researchers use original reports rather than news stories. When possible, PolitiFact.com uses original sources to verify the claims and interviews impartial experts.
These fact-finders all help to arrive at the truth. But we believe that confirming accuracy through multiple sources and original reporting is the best guarantee. And as Emery says:
“In the thorny search for truth, there’s no substitute for doing one’s own research and applying one’s own considered judgment before thinking oneself informed.”