National Security

WHO Official Promotes Conspiracy Theory Website to Bolster China’s Coronavirus Disinformation Campaign

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A top World Health Organization official promoted a report from a website that traffics in conspiracy theories to bolster China's false claim that the communist regime was the first to report the existence of the coronavirus.

WHO communications director Gabby Stern tweeted on Monday false claims that "Taiwan never provided any warning" to the organization "about the novel coronavirus or its transmissibility." Her tweet linked to an article published by the fringe website The Grayzone. The site is run by Max Blumenthal, the son of Hillary Clinton confidante Sidney Blumenthal. Max Blumenthal is known for his pro-Iran, anti-Israel stance, and his website routinely publishes conspiracy theories that adopt China’s false rhetoric about the coronavirus pandemic.

The article, headlined, "With US support, Taiwan planted deception about warning World Health Org of Covid," says Taiwan never informed the WHO about the emerging virus in the early days of the pandemic. This contradicts evidence provided by Taiwan and later the United States showing that the WHO was alerted by colleagues in Taiwan in late December that a new virus was spreading.

The official’s promotion of a fringe website raises fresh questions about the embattled health organization's judgment, particularly given The Grayzone’s pro-China bent. The WHO is already under fire from the United States and other nations for its response to the coronavirus pandemic, which they view as overly deferential to China.

Stern's promotion of the article has drawn outrage in Congress, where China hawks see the international organization as doing damage control on behalf of the Communist Party. The Washington Free Beacon first reported this month that the WHO quietly edited claims on its website that China was first to report the virus, now known to be false. However, the WHO, under the leadership of director general Tedros Adhanom, has continued to promote Chinese propaganda about the pandemic and its response.

"I find it deeply disturbing that a top WHO spokesperson would share a ridiculous conspiracy theory aimed at the US and Taiwan from an outlet that has defended Hezbollah, attempted to rationalize the CCP’s abuses against the Uyghurs, and propagated anti-Semitic content," Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Tex.), lead Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a member of Congress’s China Task Force, told the Free Beacon on Tuesday.

"It’s abundantly clear that the WHO needs reform from the top down. Director general Tedros, and those that help him appease the CCP and parrot their propaganda, should have no place at the WHO," McCaul said.

The Grayzone has emerged as one of China’s top media defenders since the pandemic spread across the globe.

An April 1 article claimed the "U.S. pushes conspiracy theory on China’s coronavirus death toll to deflect from Trump administration failures." The article defends China against accusations it covered up the virus, saying such accusations are part of an "effort to redirect American outrage onto a foreign bogeyman." It further alleges that China never hid its death toll from the world, despite reports from dissidents and others that the Communist Party imprisoned scientists and others who spoke out about the pandemic.

Another Grayzone article from March 30 spread conspiracy theories about the virus originating in the United States. That article claimed "the real origin of the coronavirus" is "political, global, and made in the USA."

"Maybe the virus is some shadowy American warfare program that backfired," the website stated.

Other articles have defended China’s abuse of the minority Uyghur population. One article, for instance, claimed China’s well-documented forced labor camps are a fiction created by the United States to drive a "Cold War PR blitz."

The website also has decried the Trump administration’s tough economic sanctions campaign on Iran and published pieces defending the U.S.-designated terror group Hezbollah.

Max Blumenthal, the site’s editor in chief, is prominent in anti-Israel circles and has lent his support to extremist voices such as Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.