Glenn Greenwald
Politics • Writing • Culture
New Law Sought by Brazil's Lula to Ban and Punish "Fake News and Disinformation" Threatens the Free Internet Everywhere
Many nations seem poised to abandon the core lesson of the Enlightenment: no human institution can or should be trusted to decree Absolute Truth and punish dissent from it
February 25, 2023
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Left: Former President Jair Bolsonaro at Alvorada Palace in Brasilia, on November 1, 2022. (Photo by EVARISTO SA/AFP via Getty Images) / Right: President Lula da Silva speaks in Buenos Aires. (Photo by Manuel Cortina/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A major escalation in official online censorship regimes is progressing rapidly in Brazil, with implications for everyone in the democratic world. Under Brazil's new government headed by President Lula da Silva, the country is poised to become the first in the democratic world to implement a law censoring and banning "fake news and disinformation" online, and then punishing those deemed guilty of authoring and spreading it. Such laws already exist throughout the non-democratic world, adopted years ago by the planet's most tyrannical regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey. 

If one wishes to be generous with the phrase "the democratic world" and include Malaysia and Singapore – at best hybrid "democracies" – then one could argue that a couple other "democratic" governments have already seized the power to decree Absolute Truth and then ban any deviation from it. But absent unexpected opposition, Brazil will soon become the first country unambiguously included in the democratic world to outlaw "fake news" and vest government officials with the power to banish it and punish its authors. 

Last May, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was forced to retreat from its attempt to appoint a "disinformation czar" to oversee what would effectively be its Ministry of Truth. That new DHS agency, at least nominally, was to be only advisory: it would declare truth and falsity and then pressure online platforms to comply by banning that which was deemed by the U.S. Security State to be false. The backlash was so great -- the CIA and company are not exactly world-renown for telling the truth -- that DHS finally claimed to cancel it, though secret documents emerged in October describing the agency's plans to continue to shape online censorship decisions of Big Tech. 

Brazil's law would be anything but advisory. Though the details are still yet to be released, it would empower law enforcement officials to take action against citizens deemed to be publishing statements that the government classifies as "false," and to solicit courts to impose punishment on those who do so.

The Brazilian left is almost entirely united with the country's largest corporate media outlets in supporting this censorship regime (sound familiar?). The leading advocates of this new censorship law include pro-government lawyers, famous pro-Lula YouTube influencers, and even journalists(!). They are now being invited to and feted in "fake news" and "disinformation" conferences in glamorous European capitals sponsored by UN agencies, because the EU is eager to obtain such censorship powers for itself, and sees Brazil as the first test case for whether the public will tolerate such an aggressive acquisition of dissent-suppression authorities by the state. (Recall that the EU itself, at the start of the war in Ukraine, escalated online censorship to an all-new level by making it illegal for any online platform to host Russian-state media outlets; Rumble's refusal to obey France's command to remove RT from its platform forced Rumble to cease broadcasting in France).

Last Sunday, Brazil's largest newspaper, Folha of São Paulo, announced that I had become a regular columnist for the paper (I will likely publish columns every other week, and those with international relevance will be published in English as well). Their offer came after months of rather intense controversy in which I have been vocally denouncing as dangerously authoritarian the regime of censorship and other weapons of dissent-suppression imposed by a member of Brazil's Supreme Court, Alexandre de Moraes. 

Even prior to enactment of this newly proposed law, the online censorship attacks of this single Brazilian judge, acting with the support of the a majority of its Supreme Court, has been so extreme that even liberal American news outlets have published critical articles on him and what they suggests are his lawless and wild censorship binges (including three in The New York Times, one in the Associated Press and another in The Washington Post). One New York Times article – published weeks before the first round of the 2022 presidential race that sent Lula and incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro to a run-off – described the judge's conduct this way: 

Mr. Moraes has jailed five people without a trial for posts on social media that he said attacked Brazil’s institutions. He has also ordered social networks to remove thousands of posts and videos with little room for appeal. And this year, 10 of the court’s 11 justices sentenced a congressman to nearly nine years in prison for making what they said were threats against them in a livestream.

 

The power grab by the nation’s highest court, legal experts say, has undermined a key democratic institution in Latin America’s biggest country as voters prepare to pick a president on Oct. 2.. . . In many cases, Mr. Moraes has acted unilaterally, emboldened by new powers the court granted itself in 2019 that allow it to, in effect, act as an investigator, prosecutor and judge all at once in some cases.

As the AP articles notes, we were the first to reveal one of Judge de Moraes' secret censorship orders, which I obtained and then reported on in an episode of SYSTEM UPDATE, which was viewed by more than half a million people:

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Despite also being the journalist who – back in 2019 and 2020 – exposed the grave corruption committed by the once-heroic Brazilian judge and prosecutors who imprisoned Lula in 2017 – reporting that won top journalism awards in Brazil, garnered universal praise from the Brazilian left, resulted in an unsuccessful attempt to prosecute me, and ultimately led to Lula's release from prison and restored his eligibility to run for president in 2022 – both my husband David Miranda (a Congressman until last month) and I have, overnight, become among the most reviled figures by Lula's followers. This has been in part due to my increasingly active opposition to growing censorship efforts led by this judge and his left-wing allies, censorship which the Brazilian left and their corporate-media allies support with great fervor and with something close to lock-step unanimity.

Those left-wing attacks against us began when David announced in January, 2022 that he was leaving his left-wing party PSOL – which had long been opposed to PT and Lula – because he objected to the party's decision to support Lula's presidential candidacy in the first round of voting. He instead joined the center-left party PDT in order to support presidential candidate Ciro Gomes. 

Because David was the first national left-wing political official to publicly refuse to support Lula's candidacy in the first-round of voting, it was necessary for PT to make an example of him (and, by extension, of me). The campaign of vilification was deeply personal. Even as a couple accustomed to being the target of such campaigns, the attacks on us from Lula's followers were unlike anything I had seen in terms of vitriol, unrestrained online mob rage, and the kind of bigoted tropes the left pretends it reviles but instantly unleashes against any member (such as David) of the "marginalized groups" the left believes it owns. 

As is true in the U.S., nothing enrages the left and provokes the lowest and most scurrilous attacks more than when a person they believe they own due to their membership in a "marginalized" group who proclaims their independence and right to think critically (in September, I was forced by David's health crisis to petition the election court to withdraw his re-election candidacy, and the new Congress was inaugurated on February 1 without him).

But those already-lowly attacks escalated severely when I became much more vocal about my increasing concern over the country's growing reliance on censorship and due-process-free persecution of PT's opponents. Unlike in the U.S. – where the liberal-left still pays lip service to their support for free speech while clearly acting to subvert it – the Brazilian left barely bothers with this pretense. Many simply acknowledge that they do not believe in free speech, and equate a defense of free speech with fascism. They do so with no apparent recognition of the irony – that the first thing a fascist regime does is ban books and criminalize dissent – and despite the fact that free speech is a right guaranteed by the Brazilian constitution. 

For the globalist order increasingly petrified of internet freedom - they blame online free speech for everything from Brexit and Hillary's defeat to skepticism of health authorities and growing opposition to U.S. support for the proxy war in Ukraine – Brazil has become the perfect test case for seizing state power to censor the internet in the name of stopping "fake news and disinformation." Nothing fosters support for authoritarianism the way fear does, and much of the Brazilian establishment believes they are fighting a new War on Terror. Even with Bolsonaro vanquished for now in Florida, his party in the last election won the most seats in both houses of Congress as well as key governorships across the country.

Just as the Bush/Cheney government exploited the 9/11 attack, and the Biden administration still exploits the January 6 riot, to justify previously unthinkable assaults on core civil liberties, the Brazilian left – in union with the country's establishment – is now exploiting the January 8 invasion of government buildings by a few thousand Bolsonaro supporters to argue that anything and everything is justified in the name of their "war on terrorism" (unlike the 3,000 deaths on 9/11, and the deaths of four Trump supporters on 1/6, nobody died or was grievously injured on January 8 in Brasilia). And using the same playbook of neocons to support their crisis-justified civil liberties attacks, anyone in Brazil who even questions the need for new censorship powers and other attacks on dissidents demanded by the government is accused of being "pro-Terrorist" or an "apologist for fascism" (I honestly never thought I would live to see the day when one stands accused of being pro-facist for opposing censorship rather than supporting it, but such are the times in which we live).

That is why Europe, and large sectors of the U.S. establishment, see Brazil as the perfect laboratory to test how far censorship powers can go. With many Brazilians believing they just suffered their own 9/11 or January 6, all power centers know that the perfect time to seize new authoritarian powers and abridge core liberties is when the population is in a state of fear and terror, and thus willing to sacrifice liberties in exchange for illusory promises of security.

And recall that polling data in the U.S. shows that very large majorities of Democrats (and a disturbingly robust minority of GOP voters) would support a law similar to the one pending in Brazil to empower the state to restrict internet freedom in the name of stopping "misinformation." As Pew found in 2021, 65% of Democrats "say the government should take steps to restrict false information, even if it means limiting freedom of information." Perhaps the First Amendment would be a barrier to implementation of such a law in the U.S., but there is ample public support, especially on the liberal-left, for state censorship of the internet.

A major reason I accepted the offer to become a Folha columnist is that it gives me a significant platform in Brazil to combat what I regard as these increasingly grave attacks on core liberties, not only because they threaten rights of free speech, due process and a free internet in Brazil, but because they threaten all those values far beyond Brazil's borders as well. My reporting on this new "fake news and disinformation" law sought by Lula's government as set forth below includes parts of my first Folha column published last Sunday on the dangers of this newly proposed law, as well as significant new passages I wrote for an international audience and for publication of this new article here on Locals.


 

Ten days before the run-off voting for the 2018 presidential election which sent Bolsonaro into the presidency, Folha reported that an "illegal practice" was being used to help Jair Bolsonaro win that election. "Companies are purchasing large packages of messaging assailing [Lula's] Workers' Party (PT) for mass dissemination on WhatsApp," Folha explained.

Bolsonaro not only denied the story but accused both Folha and PT of spreading Fake News. As Folha noted at the time, Bolsonaro's party "intended to sue" his election-year rival Fernando Haddad of PT. Bolsonaro accused PT of "spreading false news."

Upon winning the presidency, there was no law available to Bolsonaro – similar to the one which Lula's government is now proposing – that would have empowered his government, or judges sympathetic to him, to ban discussion online of Folha's reporting by claiming it was "fake news." But if he did have that power – if the law which PT hopes to implement to govern "fake news" had been in the hands of Bolsonaro's allies – it is very reasonable to suspect they may have used it to suppress those revelations on the ground that, in the view of Bosonaro's supporters, the allegations were "false."

After all, the new law proposed by Lula's government would empower both the judiciary and the equivalent of Brazil's Solicitor General (AGU) to take more aggressive action to combat "fake news" online. Among other new powers, the proposed law would permit "an action by the AGU, a body that legally represents the government, to file legal cases against those it regards as authors of false content." 

In a January 19 interview with Folha, Lula's chief spokesman, Paulo Pimenta, vowed: "we will start to respond more forcefully, more sharply, to information that distorts the truth and is wrong."

Everyone would love to live in a world in which an omnipotent and benevolent power who rules us allows only truthful statements, while it accurately identifies and then outlaws all false claims. Such a world sounds like paradise: no errors, only truth. Who could possibly be opposed to that? 

Unfortunately, human nature makes such a world impossible. If history teaches any lesson, it is clear that treating human leaders or institutions as capable of god-like infallibility and super-human wisdom is quite dangerous. 

Humans have tried all this before. For a thousand years prior to the Enlightenment, most societies were ruled by omnipotent institutions – monarchies, empires, churches – that claimed to possess absolute truth and therefore outlawed any views that deviated on the ground that they were "false."

The core innovation of the Enlightenment, one of the greatest intellectual advancements of human liberation, was that all human institutions are fallible, that they endorse false claims either due to error or corruption, and that every individual must always retain the right to question and challenge their orthodoxies. 

In sum, there is no such thing as an institution of authority that can be trusted to decree what Truth is. The oldest indigenous societies, far from Europe, had already internalized this lesson, having discarded faith in centralized authorities in favor of decentralized power and dispersed democratic values. And what is now called "the democratic world" is founded in the view that secular truths are ascertained not by decrees of monarchs, clerics and emperors, but by free and open debate driven by human reason and the sacred right to dissent.


 

Since the start of the COVID pandemic, it has been bizarre to hear left-liberals throughout the democratic world proclaim their devotion to science while simultaneously demanding that all "false statements" about science be banned. Science cannot exist if one assumes that permanent truth has already been apprehended. Science requires the acknowledgement that even its most brilliant and accomplished experts may have embraced grave errors and faulty assumptions. Scientific truth is unearthed only by permitting challenges to prevailing orthodoxies, not by prohibiting let alone outlawing them. 

To say that one believes in science while demanding that "falsity" be banned is like saying that one believes in religion while demanding that prayer be banned. Scientific discovery, like all intellectual endeavors, only advances by a process of trial and error, by challenging and objecting to prevailing beliefs so that error can be uncovered. To ban "false claims" is not to honor and strengthen science but to vandalize and kill it. 

From the start of the COVID pandemic, many of the claims made by the world's most prestigious experts and trusted institutions have turned out to be false or uncertain. As just one example, the World Health Organization announced in February and March of 2020 that asymptomatic people should not wear masks and that doing so could make a COVID infection worse by "trapping" the virus. In April, the recommendation was the opposite: everyone should wear masks regardless of one's health condition. 

In 2018, any Brazilian "fact-checker" would have affirmed as true the statement that Lula was a "thief," as he was convicted of multiple corruption felonies, which Brazilian appellate courts affirmed on appeal. By 2022, the situation was reversed as Brazilian courts nullified that conviction (in large part based on the revelations of our reporting regarding the corruption on the part of Lula's judge and prosecutors). As a result, Brazil's election courts in the 2022 campaign banned campaign materials calling Lula a "thief" on the ground that they were false. 

In other words, what was considered Gospel about Lula in 2018 became prohibited Falsity just four years later. That is the unyielding, universal pattern driving human intellectual advancement: what is deemed Truth one minute becomes shameful and discredited the next.

For that reason, at the heart of every censor resides one of the most toxic human traits: hubris. It is astonishing to watch some humans believe that they have managed to liberate themselves from this historical cycle of misperception, misapprehension and error, and instead believe that they have become owners of the Truth. Even with the best of motives, only hubris would lead people to have so much confidence in their truth-finding abilities that they would want the state to make it a crime to question or deny their views of the world. And yet no other mentality than this one can account for someone supporting the kind of law to ban and punish "fake news and disinformation" as the new Brazilian government and its allies in Congress are on the verge of adopting.

Error is the inevitable condition of even the most well-intentioned humans. But most humans do not operate with the purest of motives. Humans with great power are highly likely to abuse that power absent very serious limits. Even if you believe you finally found political leaders with almost god-like virtue, who can be trusted not to abuse such powers when suppressing ideas as "false," it is extremely likely such laws will be transferred in the future to new leaders with different ideologies and who are more human than the deity you have been fortunate enough to have found.

And as has been widely reported, the new industry to define "disinformation" is largely a scam. It is funded by a small handful of liberal billionaires, and employs highly politicized actors who claim a fake expertise – "disinformation experts" – to masquerade their ideological views as science. Any attempts by the state to make "fake news and disinformation" illegal will almost certainly rely on this fraudulent industry to justify their censorship decisions by claiming that their assessment of truth and falsity has been supported by "experts."


 

If Brazil implements this proposed law, it will not be the first time a government is empowered to ban "fake news" on the internet. Other countries live under governments which have been given the power to ban journalism and commentary on the ground that it is judged by the state to be dangerous, to be false, to incite violence, or to foster social instability or even revolutions against the prevailing order. 

Regimes with such laws are the planet's most despotic: Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Singapore and Qatar (whose law, entitled "Crimes against the internal security of the State," allows the state to "impose up to five years imprisonment on anyone who spreads rumors or false news with bad intent"). 

There, the outcome is predictable. All dissent against government orthodoxies and criticism of its leaders are quickly labeled "false" or "dangerous" or designed to incite violence and are censored on that ground. Last May, the UN, warning about a newly proposed "anti-disinformation" law in Turkey, "expressed concern after the vote by the Turkish parliament of a law that could imply the imprisonment of up to three years of journalists and users of 'social media' for the dissemination of 'fake news'."

Those attacks on dissent using these "Fake News" laws are not due to "abuse of a good law." They are, instead, the inevitable, arguably the intended, outcome of such a law. No political faction is immune from believing that any dissent from its core pieties is not just misguided but deliberately false and even dangerous.

The dissent-suppressing persecution where such laws have been allowed to flourish are entirely predictable. Only in authoritarian cultures, or ones that wish to return to the pre-Enlightenment days of full submission to institutions of authority, would citizens trust political, governmental or religious officials with the power to declare absolute truth and then, using the force of law, bar any expression that deviates from it.

These abuses of "fake news" laws happen in those countries where those laws have been adopted not because those countries are different than ours, but because they are the same. All powerful leaders, even well-intentioned ones, will be highly tempted to ban dissent on the grounds that it is dangerous or "false." 

Humans, by our very nature, are incapable of acquiring absolute truth about politics or science even with the best of motives. What one generation believes to be proven Truth (the earth is the center of the universe) is demonstrated by subsequent generations to be gross error, though such truth-tellers often suffer severe persecution when "falsity" is rendered illegal (which is why Socrates, Copernicus, Galileo, Voltaire and many others like them wasted years attempting to avoid prison or worse, often unsuccessfully, due to laws banning ideas deemed "false" by the reigning authorities of their era). The intellectual history of humanity has one indisputable lesson: humans will always err when claiming they have discovered such absolute truth that nobody should be permitted to doubt or challenge their claims.

It is likely for these reasons that "the large portion" of the Brazilian legal specialists consulted by Folha about Lula's proposed law to ban "fake news and disinformation" emphasized "that a legal process of this kind by the government can set a precedent that represents a risk to freedom of expression, given the possibility of being weaponized for judicial harassment against critics and opponents."

Even if you are lucky to have found the most trustworthy and benevolent leaders in history, ones who are somehow capable of decreeing truth without erring and who use such laws only in the most noble ways – something the Brazilian left believes of Lula and his government – at some point other leaders will be elected and they, too, will have such powers. 

When assessing whether one should support a proposed law, the key question is not whether one is comfortable with it in the hands of leaders one likes and trusts, but whether one is comfortable with such powers in the hands of different leaders.

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FAUCI’S COVER-UP ON DOG EXPERIMENTS
How NIAID, with key help from the Washington Post, turned a true story into a “right-wing conspiracy theory”

By Leighton Woodhouse

On the morning of October 25, 2021, Dr. Anthony Fauci dashed off an email to eight of his colleagues, asking them to look into an experiment conducted in Tunisia in 2019. It was urgent. “I want this done right away,” he wrote, “since we are getting bombarded by protests.”

The experiment Fauci was referring to was the one that Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene asked him about this week in a heated Congressional hearing. Holding up a photograph on poster board of two beagles with their heads locked into mesh cages, she said, “As director of the NIH, you did sign off on these so-called ‘scientific experiments,’ and as a dog lover, I want to tell you this is disgusting, and evil.”

 

 

Greene is to liberals what Alexandria Ocasio Cortez is to conservatives: an easy target for partisans to mock. Her questioning of Fauci predictably inspired the usual derision. MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, referring to Greene as “the consistent frontrunner for stupidest member of the House of Representatives in history,” sneered, “No one knew what she was talking about.”

But in fact, Fauci knew exactly what Greene was talking about. Three years ago, the experiment in question was at the center of an entire crisis communications response within NIAID (the institute within NIH run by Dr. Fauci). Fauci claimed that it had provoked so many angry calls that his assistant had to stop answering the phone for two weeks. The day before Fauci sent his email about being “bombarded by protests,” one of his colleagues had advised him, “It might be wise to hold off on TV until we have a handle on this.” The story had become a full-blown publicity crisis for Fauci and NIAID — until the Washington Post came to his rescue, turning a legitimate news story into “right-wing disinformation,” based on flimsy evidence that was literally concocted by Fauci’s team.

In 2019, under the auspices of a microbiologist at the University of Ohio, researchers in Tunisia placed the heads of sedated beagles in mesh bags filled with starved sand flies. This was the image Rep. Greene had held up at this week’s hearing. Later, the beagles were placed in outdoor cages for nine consecutive nights, in an area dense with sand flies infected with a parasite that carries the disease with which the researchers were trying to infect the dogs.

In his paper, the Ohio microbiologist, Abhay Satoskar, along with his research partner, acknowledged funding from NIAID, which added up to about $80,000, alongside the grant number. The grant application read:

“Dogs will be exposed to sand fly bites each night throughout the sand fly season to ensure transmission…Dogs will be anesthetized…and for 2 hours will be placed in a cage containing between 15 and 30 females…”

The description fits the experiments in Tunisia perfectly.

In August of 2021, White Coat Waste Project, a non-profit group that advocates against federal funding of animal experimentation, exposed NIAID’s support for the experiment in a blog post. In October, based on White Coat Waste’s revelations, a bipartisan group of Congressional representatives released a letter expressing concern about cruel NIAID-funded experiments on dogs, drawing particular attention to the fact that some of the dogs had had their vocal cords severed to keep them from barking and howling in pain and distress. The story generated a maelstrom online, leading to the angry phone calls Fauci claimed to have received.  “#ArrestFauci” trended on Twitter.

NIAID staff went into damage control mode. Within hours of Fauci asking his staff to look into the experiment, Satoskar emailed NIAID, following up on a phone call. Satoskar now claimed that the acknowledgment of NIH funding was a mistake. “This grant was mistakenly cited as a funding source in the paper,” he wrote.

Later, NIAID would claim that it only funded an experiment that involved vaccinating the dogs against Leishmaniasis, the disease carried by the parasites in the sand flies. Leishmaniasis is the disease with which Satoskar infected his subject beagles in Tunisia.

There is no way to know what was said on the phone call with Satoskar, but released emails show that this is exactly what NIAID wanted to hear. “Will you forward this to Dr. Fauci or let me know if I should directly forward to him?”, the recipient of the email at NIAID wrote to a colleague (the names in the emails, which were obtained by a FOIA request from White Coat Waste Project, are redacted).

Email obtained by a FOIA request from White Coat Waste Project.Email obtained by a FOIA request from White Coat Waste Project.

Satoskar then hurried to delink the paper from NIAID funding. Less than ten minutes after sending his email to NIAID, Satoskar emailed Shaden Kamhawi, editor of PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, the journal that had published the paper on the experiment. “We would like to request correction of this error,” Satoskar wrote.

He might as well have been asking himself. Kamhawi is a colleague of Satoskar. She is an expert on precisely the subject that Satoskar was studying. “Dr. Kamhawi is a world expert on phlebotomine sand flies,” her curriculum vitae reads, “vectors of the neglected tropical disease leishmaniasis.” Like Satoskar, Kamhawi has conducted research in which she used sand flies to infect beagles with the disease. She has even co-published with him. Indeed, Kamhawi’s own research has been the subject of White Coat Waste Project exposé. On top of that, she is an employee of NIAID: meaning that Anthony Fauci is her boss.

Kamhawi was aware of at least the last of these potential conflicts of interest. “BTW,” she emailed her colleagues at PLOS NTD, “as I am an NIAID employee, “I am not sure if there is a COI [Conflict of Interest] here so please let me know.”

It’s unclear whether the journal took that conflict seriously. In any case, the correction went forward. The journal now read:

“There are errors in the Funding statement. The correct Funding statement is as follows: the authors received no specific funding for this work. The US National Institutes of Health and the Wellcome Trust did not provide any funding for this research and any such claim was made in error.”

This was the exonerating evidence that went out to reporters. On October 27th, a NIAID employee wrote to colleagues that “we can at least share with reporters that the journal has made the correction.” Another NIAID staffer emailed colleagues for help fielding a query from an Associated Press “fact checker,” who asked how NIAID could be sure that their funds weren’t used for the Tunisian beagle experiment. “Our evidence is simply the statement of the PI [Principal Investigator], Dr. Satoskar,” came the reply.

In fact, NIAID had no way to be certain that its funds were not used on the Tunisia experiment. Michael Fenton, Director of NIAID’s Division of Extramural Activities, wrote in an email, “It seems to me that the only way to prove that the grant funds weren’t used for other projects is to do an audit of those grant expenditures and invoices. This would not be something that could be done quickly.”  

The next day, NIAID was still putting out fires. “We are still getting clobbered on this,” one wrote in an email. But three days before, NIAID had scored a huge coup: On October 25, the same day Fauci wrote his “bombarded by protests” note, the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank wrote a column facetiously entitled, “Why is Anthony Fauci trying to kill my puppy?” The article maligned the story as a product of “the right wing disinformation machine and its crusade against Fauci,” and cited the correction in PLOS NTD as evidence that it was all just an innocent mistake.

In an email to a NIAID employee the next day, Milbank offered further assistance. He wrote, “I might do a follow-up column on the reaction, and the imperviousness to facts. Do you have any more info that could further prove that you didn't fund the Tunisia study involving feeding the anesthetized dogs to sand flies?” Forwarding Milbank’s story to colleagues, the NIAID staffer wrote approvingly, “Dana is being extremely helpful.”

From Milbank’s story came a cascade of “fact checks”: from Politifact, Snopes, FactCheck.org, MediaMatters, Mic, and USA Today. Then came a big story in the Washington Post about the “viral and false claim” that NIAID had funded the Tunisia experiment. The reporters who wrote the story had evidently already reached their conclusion before they began reporting on it. Their email to Satoskar and others asking for comment opened, “I am working on a story about a massive disinformation campaign that is being waged against Anthony Fauci.”

The media re-framing of the story had its intended effect. Three years later, following Marjorie Taylor Greene’s questioning, reporters are once again citing PLOS NTD’s correction as the definitive debunking of the beagle experiment story. The Washington Post effectively banished it from mainstream public debate, though today, the paper published a fact check that contradicts much of the Post’s previous reporting.

After the story came out, Beth Reinhard, one of the reporters on the Post story, emailed Satoskar the link. “Thanks Beth. This is a great article clearing up all misinformation and falsehood,” he wrote.

“Thanks!” she replied.

 

 


Leighton Woodhouse is freelance journalist and a documentary filmmaker currently based in Oakland, California. You can support his work at https://leightonwoodhouse.substack.com

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AIPAC's Singular Ability to Remove and Influence Members of Congress; Senator Rand Paul On More COVID Cover-Ups; PLUS: Media Denies Biden's Decline
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Good evening. It's Thursday, June 20. 

Tonight: AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is easily one of the most powerful, feared, and effective lobbying groups in Washington, if not the single most feared. That assertion is so well documented by now that it barely requires debate. But their power lies not only, or even primarily, in their extraordinary ability to foster close to unanimous votes in Congress for every pro-Israel resolution or bill they wish to see implemented. That is extraordinary enough. But even more amazing is their unmatched ability – and it is unmatched – to simply remove incumbent members of the U.S. Congress who are, in their eyes, insufficiently supportive of and dedicated to the foreign government of Israel. 

A perfect example illustrating how this works is the current primary challenge being launched against the two-term Democratic congressman and former middle school principal, Jamaal Bowman, who represents New York's 16th congressional district. Bowman currently faces an extraordinarily well-financed primary challenger from George Latimer, the corruption-plagued county executive in Westchester Country who, polls now show, has built a substantial lead over Bowman. And it's not hard to understand why. It's not because George Latimer is some beloved figure. It's because his campaign is being fueled by a massive amount of money that comes almost entirely from out-of-the-district funding, the vast majority of which comes from a pro-Israel PAC directed and funded by AIPAC. It's an extraordinary, even unprecedented amount that is being spent on this single primary challenge to a congressional House incumbent: $20 million and counting. 

The reason Bowman faces such a powerfully funded primary challenge is simple and obvious. He sometimes criticizes Israel and has been particularly critical of their eight-month U.S.-funded war that has destroyed much of Gaza. Voters in the district, who are being drowned in anti-Bowman ads on radio, TV, online, everywhere, have little idea that the reason for this overwhelmingly funded challenge to their congressman is due to pro-Israel groups, and that's because the ads that run against him rarely, if ever, even mention the issue of Israel, instead pretending that they are angry with Bowman for his failure to be a good Democrat, that he's not sufficiently loyal to President Biden and his agenda. 

This has been a long-standing and extremely effective tactic for punishing and even removing members of Congress for failure to support Israel with unquestioning praise. In an era where bipartisan systems ensure that congressional incumbents have even a higher reelection rate than Soviet-era members of the Russian legislature, AIPAC appears, as we will show you, to have become the one real threat to the ability of Congress members to win reelection, or even to secure their own party's nomination. 

Then: we welcome back to System Update, the three-term Republican Senator from Kentucky and medical doctor, Rand Paul. Senator Paul has been relentlessly attempting to expose the truth about what happened, specifically in the beginning months of the Covid pandemic, when Doctor Fauci and his associates falsely claimed to the world that they had confirmed that Covid originated from nature and not from a lab leak in Wuhan. That false claim of certainty ended up as intended, shaping discourse about that pandemic around the globe for the next two years and also as intended, caused a full-scale online censorship ban of any questioning or doubts about the official story of Covid's origins. Just as importantly, Dr. Paul has been attempting to demonstrate that Fauci deliberately concealed his attempts to fund what is called gain-of-function research, meaning scientific attempts in labs to manipulate viruses and other pathogens to become even more contagious or more deadly to humans, something that, if leaked, could cause a pandemic of the type that we saw with Covid. 

But now, Senator Paul is also warning about what appears to be bipartisan efforts to approve or defund the exact kind of dangerous gain-of-function research that very likely caused the worldwide Covid pandemic in the first place. I am genuinely amazed at how little interest there seems to be in investigating and finding the truth about what is easily one of the most consequential events in our lifetime, the Covid pandemic. Dr. Paul is one of the few in Washington still demanding just basic accountability and we believe that that work is extremely important and deserves as much journalistic attention as we can possibly give to it. So, we'll speak to him in just a little bit. 

And then finally: videos of Joe Biden frequently surface that confirm what Americans already know about him, as polling data demonstrates, namely, that he is aging in a way that has left him with serious cognitive impairment to the point that he sometimes barely knows where he is or what he is saying. The evidence proving that is overwhelming, from reporting to first-hand accounts to simply comparing his conduct now to what it was even five years ago. And it's worth remembering that the very first-time concerns about Biden's cognitive capabilities were expressed not by Republicans or even Bernie Sanders supporters in the 2020 cycle, it was by DNC operatives and DNC media allies, in 2019, who were very concerned that Biden would get the nomination simply because he was the most well-known candidate. They continuously warned that this was not the same Joe Biden, that he was likely not capable of sustaining the full rigors of the campaign. Once Biden got the nomination, those very same people turned around and said it was immoral to raise questions about Biden's cognitive capabilities, even though they were the ones who first cast doubt on it in the first place. 

Nonetheless, despite all that evidence, most of the U.S. corporate media, as we know, will say or do anything to ensure Trump's defeat, even if that means outright lying. They already proved that in 2016, when they spread virtually every day all sorts of false collusion conspiracy theories about Trump and the Trump campaign and Russia, and then did so again in 2021. They claimed that incriminating reporting about Biden and his family in Ukraine and China was the byproduct of what they called fake documents, meaning Russian disinformation. Now, with that same goal in mind, they insist that the video showing Biden's cognitive decline and incapacitation is somehow fake, as they hope to convince Americans to trust the media’s partisan claims, more than they trust their own eyes and their own judgment. We will examine the latest self-humiliation of the media in pursuit of manipulating another presidential election by trying to disseminate claims that are so recognizably false. 

For now, welcome to a new episode of System Update, starting right now. 

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The Pentagon's Secret Disinfo Campaign Discrediting China's COVID Vaccine Unveiled; France's Unprecedented Elections, China, Ukraine, and More with Commentator Arnaud Bertrand
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Good evening. It's Wednesday, June 19.

Tonight: the biggest media story by far in U.S. politics in 2016 was focused on Russia. Not only did they falsely insist that the Trump campaign had colluded with Moscow to hack the email accounts of the DNC and of John Podesta, but even more media indignation was focused on the fact that Russia had engaged in unprecedented and incomparably evil interference with our sacred democracy by using a few Twitter bots and Facebook pages to disseminate what our media called “disinformation.” What made this reaction so mystifying was the obvious belief that the United States and other freedom-loving democracies would never, ever engage in that kind of treachery. Instead, this kind of interference and trickery was the sole provenance of the Kremlin under Vladimir Putin. 

Anyone who knows even the most minimal amount of American history should have instantly scoffed at that claim. It is beyond any reasonable doubt that the U.S. has “interfered” in the internal affairs of countless other countries, including Russia, for decades, and the U.S. has done so with methods that included clandestine disinformation campaigns as well as tactics a bit more extreme and far worse than a few online bots. It was just embarrassing to watch so many corporate media employees express what appears to be earnest rage that Russia would do such a thing. 

Late last week, Reuters published a genuinely good and important piece of investigative journalism – credit where due – the type of journalism that we rarely see anymore. Rather than bravely denouncing the bad acts of America's enemies on the other side of the world, Reuters actually revealed a secret and morally repugnant online disinformation campaign conducted in secret by the Pentagon. That online campaign was designed to spread fears, doubts and resistance to the COVID-19 vaccine that China was offering impoverished countries and impoverished people for free. That was being done at the very same time that the U.S. government was arguing that anyone spreading vaccine skepticism and encouraging vaccine hesitancy was guilty of killing large numbers of people. Indeed, they not only mandated that Americans take the vaccine they were given upon threat of losing their jobs or their freedom of movement, but the government coerced Big Tech outlets to censor and ban anyone expressing doubts about the vaccine's efficacy or its safety, all at the very same time that the same U.S. government was using an army of online bots and fake social media accounts to spread vaccine doubt in the poorest countries, the poorest populations of the world. 

It is worth reviewing these revelations and then putting them in the historical context of American behavior, as well as the claims the government was making about how nobody about Russia does such a thing, as well as the moral calculations that drove this clandestine campaign against China's COVID-19 vaccine. It really is remarkable when one delves into the details of what the U.S. government did here, and therefore, that is exactly what we will do. 

Then: as we reported two weeks ago, with the help of a professor who was a specialist in the EU, the European-wide elections for the EU Parliament provided major shocks and surprises for EU elites everywhere. Many countries saw a decisive rejection of pro-establishment parties, replaced by a mass surge of support for what is called far-right populist parties. That happened in Germany, Holland and elsewhere but especially in France. In response to the devastating defeat of his party at the hands of Marine Le Pen, French President Emmanuel Macron shocked even his own allies by dissolving the French parliament and calling for snap elections, a move that could very well result in the first-ever French prime minister from Le Pen's party. 

All of this has caused extreme chaos in EU politics, especially in French politics. Many of the trends that drove the EU election are, of course, visible and clearly present – if not dominant – in modern-day American politics as well. So, to help us sort out everything happening there, we will speak to the French political analyst and commentator Arnaud Bertrand. While he is French by origin, Bertrand has lived for quite some time in China. He is an expert in Sinology, which is a study of all things Chinese, and he has, in my view, been one of the most informed, enlightened analysts on the Washington-Beijing relationship, along with both wars that the U.S. is currently funding, the one in Ukraine and the one in Gaza. We are excited to talk to him and I think you will enjoy hearing from him as well. 

For now, welcome to a new episode of System Update, starting right now. 

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