Round-Up 2020: A Pandemic of False Information

My top stories of 2020, from Kelly Brogan’s coronavirus conspiracies to Charlie Sheen’s unwitting involvement in a bizarre Russian propaganda campaign.

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In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 saw an explosion of false information. On social media, purveyors of pseudoscience like David “Avocado” Wolfe, who claims that gravity is a toxin that can be combated by hanging upside down, peddled baseless conspiracy theories to their millions of followers. Meanwhile, Trump actively sowed distrust of science by pandering to the most irrational impulses of his supporters, even encouraging them to “rise up” against lockdown measures.

In other words, lots to write about.

One of 2020’s loudest coronavirus conspiracists was Dr. Kelly Brogan, a New York State-licensed psychiatrist associated with Goop, the pseudoscience company founded by actor Gwyneth Paltrow. I wrote about Brogan for The Daily Beast in March after she posted a video online falsely claiming, among other things, that the virus potentially does not exist. She is currently being investigated by the New York Department of Health related to those claims.

2020 also saw a widespread effort by the Chinese Communist Party to downplay its initial failure to contain the coronavirus outbreak, including running paid advertorials in the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph that pushed the party line. I scooped the story for BuzzFeed News in April, after which the Telegraph cut ties with the two Chinese state-funded news outlets that ran the ads.

Elsewhere, I co-reported my personal favourite story of the year with Foreign Policy’s Amy Mackinnon, published an exclusive in the Daily Beast, was the target of a Russian disinformation campaign, and saw my reporting cited in a U.S. Senate report on China, a joint Graphika/Stanford Internet Observatory report on Russian disinformation, and an MIT-published book about Wikipedia’s first 20 years.

You can find links to all of the above-mentioned stories (and more) via the round-up below.

A big thank you to everyone who worked hard to make me look good and keep me out of trouble, including (but not limited to): zen master blogger/independent reporter Peter M. Heimlich and his wife Karen Shulman; BuzzFeed News media editor Craig Silverman; BuzzFeed News deputy tech editor Scott Lucas; Foreign Policy global geopolitics correspondent Keith Johnson; Foreign Policy national security and intelligence reporter Amy Mackinnon; Daily Beast senior entertainment editor Marlow Stern; and Guardian media editor Jim Waterson.

1. “How Russia Tried to Weaponize Charlie Sheen,” co-byline with Amy Mackinnon for Foreign Policy, September 23, 2020:

Russian headline touting Sheen’s video (source)

Do not give up, freedom will come,” said one-time sitcom actor Charlie Sheen, standing in what appeared to be his kitchen, jabbing his finger at the camera. “Freedom is, is, is, is in your future, on your horizon,” he stammered.

His audience? Maxim Shugaley, a Russian political consultant and operative who has been imprisoned in Libya for over a year, accused of meddling in the country’s chaotic internal conflict—a fight that Russia is very much in the thick of. Sheen, alongside actors Vinnie Jones and Dolph Lundgren, seems to have been unwittingly recruited to record messages of support for Shugaley through the pay-for-videos website Cameo.

This story was listed in Foreign Policy’s top five Russia stories of 2020 (click here to read), and was cited in a joint report by Graphika/Stanford Internet Observatory, published December 15, 2020 (click here to read).

2. “A British Newspaper Has Given Chinese Coronavirus Propaganda A Direct Line To The UK,” via BuzzFeed News, April 1, 2020:

Now-deleted People’s Daily Online feature via the Telegraph (source)

When medical authorities in China claimed they’d cured more than 750 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, using pseudoscience, one major British newspaper made sure there was space for China’s party line on the story.

“Traditional Chinese medicine ‘helps fight coronavirus,’” declared the March 3 headline, in the online version of the Daily Telegraph. Without any evidence, the article claimed that the National Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine had tested an unidentified “prescription” on 804 patients, and that “by the end of 14 February,” it had proven “effective in 94 per cent of the cases.”

The article was published in a section of the Telegraph’s site called People’s Daily Online […] the official newspaper and mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China.

Shortly after publication, this story was updated to reflect that “the Telegraph appeared to have removed the People’s Daily Online site in its entirety” and “also appeared to have removed China Daily’s China Watch feature.”

3. “Daily Telegraph stops publishing section paid for by China,” co-byline with Jim Waterson for The Guardian, April 14, 2020:

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The Daily Telegraph has stopped publishing paid-for propaganda on behalf of Chinese state media, amid growing scrutiny of how Beijing is using the pandemic to grow its influence in English-language media aimed at western audiences.

The long-running China Watch section, funded by the government-controlled China Daily news outlet, has appeared in the Telegraph for more than a decade. The content, written by Chinese state journalists, presents relentlessly upbeat views on China’s standing in the world in both print supplements and on a branded section of the Telegraph’s website.

However, in recent days the dedicated content has been wiped from the Telegraph’s website along with another section that reproduced material from China’s People’s Daily Online – the official outlet of the country’s ruling communist party.

This story was cited in a U.S. Senate report on China, published November 18, 2020 (click here to read).

4. “The Gwyneth Paltrow-Approved Doctor Pushing Wacky Coronavirus Conspiracies,” via The Daily Beast, March 25, 2020:

Kelly Brogan’s website (source)

Last week, Gwyneth Paltrow’s “modern lifestyle brand” Goop announced it was closing stores in the U.S. and U.K. to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus currently sweeping the globe. Meanwhile, Paltrow’s psychiatrist-associate Kelly Brogan, a high-profile Goop contributor, has racked up tens of thousands of views on social media spreading discredited pseudoscientific claims that the coronavirus might not even exist, and that symptoms attributed to the virus are likely being caused by widespread fear.

The claims were made in a widely shared video posted on Facebook, Instagram (which is owned by Facebook), and Vimeo last week by Brogan, a New York State-licensed psychiatrist, New York Times bestselling author, AIDS denialist, anti-vaxxer, and, according to Goop, a “trusted expert” and recent contributor to its site and live events…

In a March 22 letter shared with The Daily Beast, [medical fraud researcher Peter M. Heimlich] asked the Office of Professional Medical Conduct [OPMC], which is a branch of the New York State Department of Health, to determine whether Brogan misrepresented her board certifications online.

This story made international headlines, with coverage in BBC News, The New York Post, The Independent, the Evening Standard, Business Insider, and more. Shortly after publication, Brogan removed all three claimed board certifications from her site. Goop has since scrubbed all of Brogan’s content from its site and the OPMC has opened an investigation of her psychiatry license.

5. “A Russian Propagandist Ran An Ad In The Washington Post — And Then Ran Victory Laps In Russian Media,” via BuzzFeed News, February 6, 2020:

Malkevich’s ad in the Washington Post (source)

The Washington Post may have violated US government sanctions when it ran an ad online from Russian propagandist Alexander Malkevich — and handed a propaganda coup to a man who appears to have been part of Russia’s interference with the 2018 midterm elections in the United States and has been pushing false information to sow political chaos across the globe.

Malkevich, the chair of the Foundation for National Values Protection (FNVP), a Moscow-based think tank, confirmed to BuzzFeed News that he paid for the ad posted on Jan. 30, an open letter addressed to Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Mustafa al-Sarraj, calling on him to release two Russian nationals…

The United States currently forbids business transactions with Malkevich after he was sanctioned in 2018 for “attempted election interference” while working as the editor of the Russian propaganda site USA Really (he has since left the site).

This story was cited in the above-mentioned Graphika/Stanford report. It was also the subject of controversy in Russia, making headlines on news sites controlled by Russian president Vladimir Putin’s personal chef, Yevgeny Prigozhin. As reported by BBC Monitoring (click here to read), Malkevich falsely accused me of taking orders from the U.S. government. “The death of American journalism,” read one of the Russian headlines.

6. “How a Playboy Model Exposed an Online Child-Porn Scam,” via the Daily Beast, May 6, 2020:

Leng Yein (source)

Earlier this year, Malaysian DJ and Playboy model Leng Yein began receiving messages from young and underage female fans begging her for help. They said they were victims of an elaborate scam orchestrated by users on Facebook, Twitter, WeChat, and other popular social media platforms.

Posing as modeling agents, friends, and ex-lovers, among other fake and stolen identities, the perpetrators falsely promised money and prizes, such as iPhones, in exchange for nude photos and videos, which were later sold and published online without victims’ consent…

Yein’s fans are victims of a massive, highly organized online porn ring, according to Internet Removals, an Australian reputation management and takedown company. Since February, the company has worked with Yein […] to remove more than 136,000 of the offending photos and videos from Mega, the New Zealand hosting site.

This story was picked-up by The Sun and Inside Hook, available to read by clicking here and here.

7. “The Economist Disappears ‘Advertisement Feature’ Paid for by Chinese State-Backed Paper,” via this blog, August 10, 2020:

Now-deleted Beijing Review feature via the Economist (source)

…The Economist, the international weekly newspaper, has disappeared an “advertisement feature” on its site paid for by the CCP-backed Beijing Review.

The section, dubbed “China Focus,” included titles such as “Western Take on Coronavirus: Schadenfreude, Xenophobia and Racism” by Beijing Review associate executive editor Liu Yunyun. Her article claimed that “Accusations [by western news and media outlets] of the [Chinese] government hiding the scope of the disease” are based on “Rumors, misinformation and fears,” and that “Global readers are largely kept in the dark” about how “China is sacrificing its own economy to keep the world safe.”

That article, and others like it, were previously available via the subdomain, chinafocus.economist.com. But now when you click on that link, you’re directed to an HTTP 503 error page…

The 503 error page went up shortly after I emailed The Economist’s global communications SVP Lauren Hackett on April 16 asking her to comment on a petition by British non-profit advocacy group Free Tibet, calling on western media outlets to “STOP SPREADING CCP PROPAGANDA…”

Hackett and The Economist did not reply to multiple follow-up emails I sent asking the paper to clarify whether it had cut ties with the Beijing Review.

This story was covered by Radio Free America’s Tibetan service, which interviewed me for my first-and-only video interview (complete with shaggy coronavirus-lockdown hair):

8. “Rupert Murdoch-Owned Tabloid Retracts Article That Shamed NY Paramedic For Selling Nude Photos During Pandemic,” via this blog, December 14, 2020:

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“HEARTS RACING: Paramedic is ‘making ends meet’ by sharing XXX-rated pics on OnlyFans,” read the now-deleted Dec. 12 headline, published on The Sun’s website.

The article, by reporter Danielle Cinone, detailed the online exploits of 23-year-old Lauren Caitlyn Kwei, a paramedic from New York who began selling nude photos on subscription content website OnlyFans to supplement her income during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Sun deleted its article — a re-reporting of an equally salacious New York Post story — after the Post was accused of shaming Kwei for (her words) “just trying to make ends meet…”

The Post and The Sun are owned by News Corp, a U.S. media conglomerate founded in 2012 by Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

This story was picked-up by The Wrap and Mediaite, available to read by clicking here and here.

New York State Medical Agency Opens Investigation Into Goop’s COVID-Denying “Trusted Expert” Kelly Brogan

The NYS Office of Professional Medical Conduct (a branch of the NY Department of Health) is investigating Dr. Brogan, a licensed psychiatrist, relating to her claims that the coronavirus potentially does not exist, and for potentially misleading about her board certifications.

Kelly Brogan (source)

Via my Atlanta, GA reporter friend Peter M. Heimlich, who requested the investigation:

You can read more about Brogan’s COVID-denialism via “The Gwyneth Paltrow-Approved Doctor Pushing Wacky Coronavirus Conspiracies,” a story I wrote for The Daily Beast in March.

Goop has since cut ties with Brogan, having scrubbed all of her content from its website. Brogan continues to spew disinformation about the virus on “alt-right [social media platform] Telegram,” according to the Beast.

Goop Quietly Deletes Content From COVID-Denier Kelly Brogan

Gwyneth Paltrow has finally had enough of her disinformation-spreading colleague.

Even among the most virulent coronavirus conspiracy mongers, Kelly Brogan stands tall.

A New York State-licensed psychiatrist and “trusted expert,” according to Gwyneth Paltrow’s “modern lifestyle brand” Goop, Brogan routinely spreads false claims that the coronavirus doesn’t exist to her 121k followers on Instagram. She co-founded a website, QuestioningCovid(dot)com, that falsely claims that “masks do more harm than good.” She has even paid for a billboard ad instructing people to “WAKE UP! TAKE OFF THE MASK.”

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And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Via an article I wrote for The Daily Beast in March, she also “doesn’t believe the widely accepted germ theory of disease, encouraged viewers to seek alternative theories, suggested that the news media is being controlled by an unnamed pro-vaccination group, and speculated that the U.S. government is planning” to, quote, “link our passports with our vaccination records” in order to gain “totalitarian governmental control not unlike the divide-and-conquer dehumanization agendas that preceded the Holocaust.”

Various science and medical experts have debunked Brogan’s claims. although the most damning indictment of Brogan may be this endorsement from the website of infamous British conspiracy theorist David Icke, who claims that the Royal family are shape-shifting lizards:

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Goop — itself a proponent of potentially harmful pseudoscience — has been giving Brogan a platform as far back as January 2018, when Brogan was invited to speak at a Goop conference as a “trusted [medical] expert,” despite having claimed that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS.

Interviews with Brogan and a short biography describing her as a ‘holistic psychiatrist’ were also published on Goop’s website.

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Now it appears that Goop has finally had enough of Brogan. Her two interviews, “How we can learn to tolerate emotional pain” and “The roots of mental health — maybe they’re not in our heads,” both containing dubious medical health claims, have been scrubbed from the site. Her biography has also been removed.

It’s unclear when Goop took down Brogan’s content. But that content was still available on Goop’s website as recently as July, according to information gleaned from the Wayback Machine, which archives web pages.

Here’s what you’ll see if you try to visit Brogan’s biography today:

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Facebook Continues to Host Political Ads from Chinese Communist Party Mouthpiece

The ads comprise two videos from the Global Times defending China’s crackdown on political protests and attacking the Trump administration’s botched response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Update, August 28, 2020: The two Global Times ads have been removed from Facebook’s ad library. A message reads: “This ad is no longer available in the library. This can happen when an ad has expired or has been deleted, or when it’s incorrectly categorised as an ad about social issues, elections or politics.” Facebook has not returned a request for comment.

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In April, the Daily Telegraph reported that the Global Times, an English-language adjunct of the People’s Daily, the official newspaper and mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, had flooded “Facebook and Instagram with undisclosed political adverts whitewashing its role in the coronavirus pandemic and pinning blame on Donald Trump.”

The ads “initially ran without a political disclaimer, allowing them to hide information about who they were targeting and sometimes letting them sidestep Facebook’s strict rules on political advertising,” according to the Telegraph.

Facebook subsequently removed the ads and added a disclaimer, in accordance with the site’s decision to add labels to state-controlled media. But that hasn’t stopped the Global Times from continuing to run political ads on Facebook.

The new ads comprise two August 10 videos from the Global Times’ editor-in-chief Hu Xijin, who hosts an opinionated video series called “Hu Says.” Facebook doesn’t disclose how much money the Global Times paid Facebook for running the ads, or the potential reach of the audience the ads are aimed at.

In the first of the two videos, Hu tries to defend the high-profile arrests of 10 Chinese pro-democracy activists who were detained in Hong Kong on Monday under China’s new national security law, which has been widely denounced as a blatant attempt by the Chinese government to quash ongoing anti-government protests.

The arrests include media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who is accused of colluding with foreign forces, among other charges.

“In my opinion, this arrest sends a strong signal,” Hu says in the video. “The Hong Kong SAR government has not been intimidated by the series of US sanctions, including those against [Chief Executive of Hong Kong] Carrie Lam and other senior officials of the Hong Kong government” (for allegedly “undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy and restricting the freedom of expression or assembly of the citizens of Hong Kong,” according to an August 7 press release by U.S. Treasury Department).

Hong Kong’s protests began last June, against plans that would have allowed the Chinese government to extradite dissidents to mainland China. According to Hu, these protests are actually “violent demonstrations” that “have severely hit the city and endangered China’s national security.”

“China will not allow such rioting to continue,” Hu says in the video. “Let them shift to US cities like Portland.”

Toward the end of the video, Hu complains that “Violent demonstrations in the US are called riots but the ones in Hong Kong are called democratic protests. The Chinese people have already felt sick of this double standard from Washington. We will not put our attention on the attitude of Washington and the West before restoring order in Hong Kong.”

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Hu’s complaints about Washington continue in the second video, in which he says “that for the Trump administration, the challenge China poses is more serious than the coronavirus,” and that “this absurd practice of Washington seems to work.”

From the video:

Five million people have been infected and 160,00 people have died. The government has done nothing about it and many Americans have accepted it. In addition, the Trump admin said that TikTok poses security risks and China’s actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang threaten the U.S. They are convincing people that these issues are obviously greater threats than the coronavirus and require an emergency response from the U.S.

Other recent ads from the Global Times include a viral video titled “Can’t believe this is a dog!” which shows a fluffy dog balancing on a basketball, riding a children’s scooter, and driving a toy car.

I’ve asked Facebook for comment.

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The Economist Disappears “Advertisement Feature” Paid for by Chinese State-Backed Paper

Paid content from the Beijing Review included an article attacking western news outlets and defending China’s botched response to the coronavirus outbreak.

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In April, I bylined a story in BuzzFeed News about how during the pandemic, British newspaper The Daily Telegraph continued to sell advertising space on its site to the People’s Daily Online, the official newspaper and mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), enabling it to publish state propaganda and medical disinformation aimed at a British audience.

As reported in another story I co-bylined with Jim Waterson for The Guardian later that month, The Daily Telegraph subsequently cut ties with the People’s Daily Online and another China-backed newspaper, China Daily, which for more than a decade reportedly paid the Telegraph £750,000 annually to carry a supplement called China Watch.

Now it appears that The Economist, the international weekly newspaper, has disappeared an “advertisement feature” on its site paid for by the CCP-backed Beijing Review.

The section, dubbed “China Focus,” included titles such as “Western Take on Coronavirus: Schadenfreude, Xenophobia and Racism” by Beijing Review associate executive editor Liu Yunyun. Her article claimed that “Accusations [by western news and media outlets] of the [Chinese] government hiding the scope of the disease” are based on “Rumors, misinformation and fears,” and that “Global readers are largely kept in the dark” about how “China is sacrificing its own economy to keep the world safe.”

That article, and others like it, were previously available via the subdomain, chinafocus.economist.com. But now when you click on that link, you’re directed to an HTTP 503 error page, which occurs whenever a server is “unable to handle the request due to a temporary overloading or maintenance of the server,” according to the World Wide Web Consortium, founded in 1994 by Tim Berners-Lee.

Site information for chinafocus.economist.com states that its security certificate expired on July 26. A message reads: “This certificate has expired or is not yet valid.”

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The 503 error page went up shortly after I emailed The Economist’s global communications SVP Lauren Hackett on April 16 asking her to comment on a petition by British non-profit advocacy group Free Tibet, calling on western media outlets to “STOP SPREADING CCP PROPAGANDA.”

Here’s her April 17 reply email:

Dear Dean – Thank you for reaching out on this. I’ll have to look into it. Can you let me know who you are writing for and the focus of your story. Kind regards, Lauren

Hackett and The Economist did not reply to multiple follow-up emails I sent asking the paper to clarify whether it had cut ties with the Beijing Review. But here’s what Free Tibet’s campaign manager John Jones sent me when I asked him for comment:

We have been following China Watch and its presence in papers like The Telegraph for a couple of years now with a mixture of despair and grim fascination. Some of the articles last year on “60 years of democracy in Tibet” were particularly appalling, with articles titled “Tibet marks 60th anniversary of democratic reform” and “Memorial Hall built to commemorate freed Tibetan slaves” appearing in The Telegraph. This anniversary and alleged freeing of slaves is actually a reference to what Tibetans know as the Tibetan Uprising, when thousands of Tibetans in the capital, Lhasa, gave their lives to protest against the Chinese occupation of their country. Since then, occupied Tibet has become an increasingly repressive place. Freedom House, a think tank that compares the openness of different societies around the world, has for the past five years ranked Tibet as the second worst place in the world for political freedoms and civil rights, ahead of only Syria (some of their analysis is here in their latest report: https://freedomhouse.org/country/tibet/freedom-world/2020). For media outlets in free societies to be running material praising the dire state of affairs in Tibet is truly shocking.

Our hope for this new campaign action is that the editors of The Economist and Wall Street Journal drop content that is nothing more or less than Chinese government backed propaganda from their publications. It does seem that the coronavirus and some of the nonsense reporting on it by Chinese state media has sent a signal to several newspaper editors that these puff pieces can be dangerous in the falsehoods that they spread, not just for the billion people under CCP rule but also for their own readers. There is a backlash against disinformation around the pandemic and neither of these newspapers will want to be associated with that in any way. We hope that this will have set off alarms in their minds that it really is not ethical to run features that ultimately are the product of a dictatorial government and that what we need at the moment is scrutiny of the CCP – scrutiny of their handling of the pandemic and their silencing of whistleblowers, but also scrutiny of their treatment of the Uyghurs and scrutiny of their repressive rule in Tibet. If the readers of The Economist and The Wall Street Journal make it clear that they do not want to see this content then there is a great chance that these two outlets could follow in the footsteps of The Telegraph, The New York Times and The Washington Post and scrap these propaganda sections.

It’s unclear whether the print edition of The Economist is still carrying the Beijing Review material, as U.S. news site the Washington Free Beacon reported in March. To anyone who knows the answer, please get in touch by leaving a comment below, or by clicking here.

David “Avocado” Wolfe is Hawking Unproven Coronavirus Cures

The NutriBullet spokesman and flat-earth conspiracist is selling colloidal silver, medicinal mushrooms, charcoal, and an air purification system.

Wolfe is known for making out-there claims. For example, he claims salt prevents the oceans from levitating off the earth, and gravity is a toxin that can be combated by hanging upside down (as a cure for arthritis). Here he is ranting about flat earth on the conspiracy-friendly YouTube channel, London Real.

Now Wolfe is hawking unproven cures for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Products include: $137 bottles of colloidal silver, his “#1 recommendation against the corona virus”; $44 tubs of “SuperMushroom” tinctures, purportedly “the most effective way to utilize medicinal mushrooms against corona viruses”; $32 packets of “SuperConcentrate” charcoal fullerenes, which purportedly “neutralize viruses”; and the Air Doctor, a $629 non-FDA-approved Japanese product he claims can “clean our homes and workspaces of airborne viruses like COVID-19.”

All of the above-mentioned products, except the Air Doctor — which he’s helping sell at discount as an affiliate of AIRDOCTOR, LLC, according to a link in an Apr. 18 email newsletter — are currently available to buy from Wolfe’s online shop.

Wolfe made the claims about his products’ healing properties in his newsletter and 15-page “Nourish Your Immunity” protocol, currently available online by joining his free-to-view Immunity Summit, a series of video interviews between Wolfe and various alternative medicine proponents. Interviewees include Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai, an outspoken Donald J. Trump supporter and Massachusetts Senate hopeful who claims that Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is a deep state agent. (If you have two hours to spare and a strong tolerance for pseudoscience, you can view the full Ayyadurai interview by clicking here.)

Wolfe has also been hawking his products and spreading debunked 5G and Bill Gates conspiracy theories to his thousands of followers on Telegram, the Russian social media platform.

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission recently issued warning letters to seven companies for selling fraudulent COVID-19 products, including colloidal silver and tinctures. According to the FDA’s site, “consumers and health care professionals can help by reporting suspected fraud to the FDA’s Health Fraud Program or the Office of Criminal Investigations.”

Daily Telegraph Stops Publishing Propaganda From China Following BuzzFeed News Story

The British broadsheet had been publishing material from People’s Daily and China Daily, propaganda arms of the Chinese Communist Party. ICYMI, here’s my latest in BuzzFeed News and The Guardian.

Via “A British Newspaper Has Given Chinese Coronavirus Propaganda a Direct Line to the UK” by Dean Sterling Jones, BuzzFeed News, April 1, 2020:

BuzzFeed News April 1 2020

When medical authorities in China claimed they’d cured more than 750 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, using pseudoscience, one major British newspaper made sure there was space for China’s party line on the story.

“Traditional Chinese medicine ‘helps fight coronavirus,’” declared the March 3 headline, in the online version of the Daily Telegraph […] The article was published in a section of the Telegraph’s site called People’s Daily Online, a self-contained “advertisement feature” promising “all the latest stories about contemporary China’s dynamic development, diverse culture and world-leading infrastructure,” complete with a home page and sections for news, opinion, business, and sports, among other topics. But beyond a boilerplate disclaimer waiving responsibility, nowhere does the site disclose any information about its sponsor.

People’s Daily is the official newspaper and mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China. Its “advertisement feature” on the Telegraph’s site is part of a global propaganda campaign that positions the country as a leader in fighting the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has now killed more than 44,000 people worldwide.

Click here to read the full story.

Via “Daily Telegraph Stops Publishing Section Paid for by China” by Jim Waterson and Dean Sterling Jones, The Guardian, April 14, 2020:

The Daily Telegraph has stopped publishing paid-for propaganda on behalf of Chinese state media, amid growing scrutiny of how Beijing is using the pandemic to grow its influence in English-language media aimed at western audiences.

The long-running China Watch section, funded by the government-controlled China Daily news outlet, has appeared in the Telegraph for more than a decade. The content, written by Chinese state journalists, presents relentlessly upbeat views on China’s standing in the world in both print supplements and on a branded section of the Telegraph’s website.

However, in recent days the dedicated content has been wiped from the Telegraph’s website along with another section that reproduced material from China’s People’s Daily Online – the official outlet of the country’s ruling communist party.

Click here to read the full story.

Free Tibet, a charity based in London, has started an online petition calling on the Wall Street Journal and The Economist to cut ties with China Daily and Beijing Review.

Via “Free Tibet Launches Petition Calling for the Economist and Wall Street Journal to Drop Chinese Government Material,” FreeTibet.org, April 16, 2020:

Free Tibet has launched a petition calling for The Economist and Wall Street Journal (WSJ) to drop paid-for propaganda sections published on behalf of Chinese state media which have appeared in both publications.

The petition comes two days after The Guardian reported The Daily Telegraph has stopped publishing its China Watch advertising, which consists of content created by Chinese Communist Party media organisation China Daily and is designed to promote the CCP’s image abroad.

Free Tibet’s petition invites the public to send a message to the editors of The Economist and WSJ asking them to follow The Telegraph and confirm they will both stop publishing the material.

Click here for the petition.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Medical Mentor: “God Bless Every Covid Virus”

Goop contributor Dr. Habib Sadeghi is making bizarre coronavirus-themed content.

During a podcast interview last month, Gwyneth Paltrow’s longtime medical mentor and Goop regular Dr. Habib Sadeghi attributed every pandemic from the last 150 years to the “electrification of earth.” Since then, he’s been making increasingly bizarre coronavirus-themed content in a seeming attempt to get people to join his Patreon.

In one video posted on Instagram last Friday, “COVID-19: The Toxin Is The Remedy,” an analysis of the 2012 Ang Lee film Life of Pi, Sadeghi addresses viewers while sitting barefoot at the top of a staircase.

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“God bless every covid virus,” he says in the video, describing the pandemic as an “opportunity to really use this […] instead of really doing the same thing you’ve been doing most of your life, blaming others, attacking others, making them wrong.”

He continues: “I give you my word that that will be the blessing for you because that psychic immunity, that psychological immunity, that psycho-spiritual robustness that you developed for yourself, no one can take away from you. No one. And this is really what you want to gift to your children […] They’ll get it because these understandings literally will bleed through genetically or epigenetically, physically or energetically, to the next generation. You have an opportunity, you’re not couped up, your school is in session.”

There’s no evidence that parents can genetically transfer thoughts to their children.

In another video posted Sunday, “How To Metabolize A Crisis,” Sadeghi eats from a plate of food while watching the 1981 Louis Malle film, My Dinner with André.

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“It’s a movie that’s very rich, just like the food we eat,” Sadeghi says in the video. “If you sit down, bring your attention, and you watch it, slowly, and you hear what it’s telling you, at the end of it, you have found a new friend within yourself. You have found, and moved into, that what we refer to as evolution of consciousness.”

He ends the video by encouraging viewers to “use this time that we have, during this period of self-quarantining, or self-care-cocooning, as a way of learning to metabolise […] our thoughts, feelings, and emotions,” which are “far more important than what we metabolise in our digestive systems.”

Both videos lead with trippy visuals and shrieking horror movie music, followed by a message about “Entelechy Medicine,” a trademarked “evolutionary movement” that appears to draw on the discredited theories of the late Ryke Geerd Hamer, a disgraced German doctor who was stripped of his medical license after allegedly killing his patients.

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According to Sadeghi’s Patreon page, Entelechy Medicine “holds the key to your deeper healing” and “recognizes that the body is the theater of our consciousness.” For $9.99 per month, patrons can access such dubious-sounding content as “Surgical Scarring and Blocked Meridians: The Hidden Implications of Scar Tissue.”

The page also links to a Sadeghi’s “conscious lifestyle brand and health publishing imprint,” BeingClarity.com, where customers can purchase his 2017 Goop press book, “The Clarity Cleanse.” The book includes a glowing foreword by Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow.

Another Goop Contributor is Spreading Discredited Coronavirus Conspiracies

Dr. Habib Sadeghi, an LA-based integrative medicine practitioner and personal mentor to Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow, has linked the virus to the “electrification of earth.”

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Last month, I wrote for The Daily Beast about Goop contributor/holistic psychiatrist Kelly Brogan’s coronavirus conspiracy theories. Now another high-profile Goop contributor is spreading similar theories linking the virus to 5G wireless technology.

Dr. Habib Sadeghi, who frequently writes for Goop’s site, has featured in Goop’s videos online, and, according to Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow, is a “mentor in many capacities to me,” shared his theories last Monday on the What Matters Most podcast (he’s also been sharing his theories on Instagram).

Here’s what Sadeghi had to say about wireless technology:

In 2003, that’s when the 3G technology was introduced, and shortly after, in 2003, that’s when we got SARS. And so, when we look at some of the various things that we’ve been exposed to, and the technologies that they were introduced — like you look at 2009, that’s when we had the 4G introduced to the world, and that’s when we had the, same year, 2009, we had the swine flu outbreak. So it’s not a far-fetched idea that here we are in 2020, where 5G was introduced to the world, and we’re sitting scratching our head, and we’re saying, what are we going to do with the coronavirus?

According to various experts, fact-checkers, news outlets, and other trusted sources, there is no evidence that wireless technology is responsible for the coronavirus or any other virus.

He went on to link every major outbreak from the last 150 years to the “electrification of earth.” For example, he claimed that the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic may have been caused by the “introduction of radio waves around the world” (radio waves are a naturally occurring phenomenon), that an unidentified pandemic from around the time of WW2 may have been caused by “the introduction of radar equipment all over the earth,” and that the 1968 Hong Kong flu may have been caused by orbiting “satellites emitting radioactive frequencies.”

Like Brogan, it appears Sadeghi doesn’t believe in the widely accepted germ theory of disease, claiming that its originator, French microbiologist Louis Pasteur, renounced the theory on his deathbed — a claim for which there is “no evidence,” according to a 2007 blog post by American oncologist David Gorski.

Also like Brogan, Sadeghi appears to be a follower of the late Ryke Geerd Hamer, a disgraced German doctor who had his medical license permanently revoked in Germany after several patients in his care died. On his site, Be Hive of Healing, Sadeghi says he treats “chronic illnesses such as cancer and auto-immune disease” using a “multi-disciplinary approach” including German New Medicine, Hamer’s discredited pseudoscientific theory positing that all illness and disease are caused by psychological trauma.

I’ve asked Goop for comment.

The Daily Beast: Goop-Approved Doctor Pushing Coronavirus Conspiracies

Goop contributor/psychiatrist Kelly Brogan has been spreading junk scientific claims and conspiracy theories about the coronavirus. Here’s my latest for The Daily Beast.

Via “The Gwyneth Paltrow-Approved Doctor Pushing Wacky Coronavirus Conspiracies” by Dean Sterling Jones, The Daily Beast, March 24, 2020:

Last week, Gwyneth Paltrow’s “modern lifestyle brand” Goop announced it was closing stores in the U.S. and U.K. to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus currently sweeping the globe. Meanwhile, Paltrow’s psychiatrist-associate Kelly Brogan, a high-profile Goop contributor, has racked up tens of thousands of views on social media spreading discredited pseudoscientific claims that the coronavirus might not even exist, and that symptoms attributed to the virus are likely being caused by widespread fear…

Click here to read the full story.

The story was subsequently picked up by the New York Post, The Independent, The Evening Standard Insider, Yahoo Style, Los Angeles Magazine, and The A.V. Club, among others.

Via “Goop-approved shrink says there’s ‘no such thing’ as coronavirus” by Melissa Malamut, New York Post, March 24, 2020:

Just when you thought telling women to stick stone eggs up their vaginas was the worst medical advice she could give, a once-Manhattan-based psychiatrist, anti-vaxxer and Goop-approved pusher is going viral again. But this time, it’s for her dangerous social-media posts that call COVID-19 a hoax.

Kelly Brogan (who has an MD from Cornell University and a master’s from MIT, according to her website) said in a video posted on Facebook last week that there is “potentially no such thing as the coronavirus” and that the reported deaths from the virus are “likely being accelerated by fear itself.” Further, she “personally [doesn’t] believe in germ-based contagion…”

[Brogan] has doubled down on her words, calling her message “personal empowerment,” and suggesting that people subscribe to her newsletter if they’d like to hear more of her views. She also then posted a screenshot of the Daily Beast article and a link to the video that is now available on Vimeo.

Via “Goop Expert Says Coronavirus Doesn’t Exist: ‘There is Potentially no Such Thing'” by Chelsea Ritschel, The Independent, March 24, 2020:

…According to The Daily Beast, Facebook and Instagram removed Brogan’s videos after determining that they “violate our policies”.

In a recent post to Instagram, Brogan acknowledged the removal and encouraged her followers to subscribe to her newsletter “rather than just following me here, because, well, you know…”

“Because censorship is real and underway,” she continued in the caption. “Two posts removed and one blocked in the past week. What a purification process this is!”

Via “Goop contributor Kelly Brogan peddles ‘nonsense’ conspiracy theories about coronavirus, cites 5G and vaccine companies as real causes” by Megan C. Hills, Evening Standard Insider, March 25, 2020:

…There is no scientific basis for any of Brogan’s claims. Speaking to the Daily Beast, British pharmacologist David Colquhoun said, “She’s a very, very dangerous fantasist. I wonder whether she takes antibiotics if she gets a bacterial infection?”

The deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer, a publication that critically examines fringe science claims similar to those that Brogan made, also weighed in. Benjamin Radford told the Daily Beast, “There’s always been this sort of populist appeal by people who reject science, and that’s exactly what’s going on here.”

“Unfortunately, outbreaks like this are exactly the wrong time to bring these things up because…they divert people from legitimate evidence-based treatments,” he continued.

Via “‘Very, very dangerous’ Goop ‘expert’ slammed for bizarre coronavirus video” by Elizabeth Di Filippo, Yahoo Canada Style, March 25, 2020:

…To Brogan, this was a form of censorship, which she said could potentially be part of a future government agenda to enact control. She cites the alternative narratives regarding current affairs as the remedy to her fear.

“This level of totalitarian government control that is not unlike the divide and conquer, dehumanization agendas that preceded the Holocaust,” she said. “This is where my mind can go. That is extremely fear inducing for me and probably as fear inducing as those that are washing their hands dry.”

Goop representatives have declined to comment on the video, however they did release a statement.

“We would suggest reaching out to Dr. Brogan directly as she didn’t make those comments on Goop’s platform,” they said.

Via “Please, for the love of god, don’t get your coronavirus advice from the Goop people” by Reid McCarter, The A.V. Club, March 24, 2020:

…The video keeps going and going, becoming more deranged as it rumbles on, but these points are probably enough to sum up why Brogan—an “expert” featured on Goop’s website and at its events—shouldn’t be listened to at all. If you want the total run-down of why Brogan and, by extension Goop, are dangerous horseshit, read the rest of the Daily Beast article.