WND's Coronavirus Conspiracies: So Many Bad Takes
From encouraging prisoners to be vaccine guinea pigs to dismissing mask-wearing as virtue signaling to James Zumwalt's rantings, WorldNetDaily has been the go-to place for unwise claims about the coronavirus pandemic.
By Terry Krepel
James G. Zumwalt
It's not just conspiracy theories that WND has fed on throughout the pandemic, of course. ConWebWatch has documented how it has promoted its stable of fringe-right-affiliated doctors offering dubious opinions about the virus and its treatment. Its writers have also offered some seriously bad takes.
Let's take a look at some of the worst of these efforts that WND committed to promoting, shall we?
The Zumwalt conspiracies
In a March 20 column, James G. Zumwalt -- who's already prone to believing conspiracy theories -- served up another one, citing an interview with "biological warfare (BW) expert professor Francis Boyle," who purports to have "definitive evidence a biowarfare lab at the University of North Carolina (UNC) was the initial catalyst for the virus," and the lab then worked with "a top Chinese biowarfare expert" to develop "biowarfare DNA genetic capability" for the virus.
Just one problem: No actual scientist believes that the novel coronavirus is a bioweapon.
Zumwalt began his April 8 column with a conspiratorial question: "How did it come that COVID-19, birthing in China, immediately jumped to Italy, which has been among the hardest hit by the virus? This happened as two countries with which Beijing shares borders and maintains good relations Russia and North Korea remain, if those countries' reporting numbers can be trusted, relatively un-impacted by the virus." His answer is that China bought Italian companies, after which " an estimated 300,000 Chinese citizens relocated to Italy, coming and going at will. With some exposed to COVID-19, it was no wonder the country very quickly became a hotspot." He concluded by huffing that "After COVID-19 runs its course, Italians can count their dead as the Chinese count their money."
He did it again in his April 15 column:
But circumstantial evidence now has some wondering whether the virus release was intentional. Supporting this is the fact, while millions of people were on lockdown in Wuhan, there were no reported cases in Beijing where most senior political and military leaders reside nor in Shanghai, the country's financial center. Additional evidence includes China building a 1,000-bed hospital in Wuhan in just 10 days, the stockpiling of masks and ventilators then sold to other countries, the disappearance of medical personnel "whistleblowers" and causing havoc in foreign stock markets with little negative impact to its own. Now, as economic engines around the world remain shutdown, China begins powering up.
Zumwalt went on to complain that criticism of President Trump for pushing a largely unproven drug hydroxychloroquine was "politically motivated," as was the acts of "several Democratic governors" in clamping down on prescribing them until their efficacy can be established.
On April 22, Zumwalt attacked Dr. Anthony Fauci for using a supposedly faulty projection of coronavirus deaths to force shutting down the economy:
The first assumption is the veracity of the projection model Dr. Anthony Fauci relied upon to estimate COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. While several models were designed, Fauci opted to rely upon one created by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) a model estimating 2.2. million deaths. Perhaps because the model was partially funded by billionaire Bill Gates, it became Fauci's model of choice. Trump, presented with a highly projected death toll and at Fauci's urging, decided America had to be quarantined and the economy locked down.
Even the conservative Washington Examiner shut down that conspiracy.
Bad take: Prisoners make great guinea pigs!
In a March 25 WND column, lawyers Richard Kibbey and David Lamos -- who apparently insisted on putting "Esq." after their names in the byline -- not only advocate using prisoners as guinea pigs for prospective coronavirus treatments, they cite World War II Japan and the Nuremberg Trials not as cautionary tales but as guidelines for what you can get away with:
As the clock ticks, the number of new COVID-19 infections rise. While promising theories are emerging over potential vaccines and drug treatments, the stark reality is that without large-scale human experimentation of those new medications, the public will remain at risk. State and federal prisoners may hold the key to finding a cure for this pandemic.
Yep, they went there. Even by WND standards, that a pretty callous column.
The bogus coronavirus prophecy
Larry Tomczak wrote in his April 13 WND column:
I once had the privilege of ministering in a conference alongside of David Wilkerson. In the midst of the corona crisis, I revisited a prophetic warning he gave in 1986.
Just one problem: There's no evidence Wilkerson actually prophesied that, and according to PolitiFact, Wilkerson's own church denies any instance of him saying this in a book or sermon."
The rest of Tomczak's column was dedicated to detailing ways to persuade people to vote for President Trump's re-election, claiming that "No other president in U.S. history has experienced the level of hostility like Donald Trump, with the exception of Lincoln" and adding, "Give thanks to God for how He intervened in our nation and gives us the chance to influence others to reconsider standing with our president in this critical time."
Promoting conspiratorial videos
WND kept up its conspiratorial reputation by coming to the defense of the stars of conspiracy- and misinformation-laden videos about coronavirus that have been heavily criticized on social media.
In an April 27 article, WND touted a video by "two California physicians with advanced degrees in microbiology," Dan Erickson and Artin Massihi, who "contend that their testing of more than 5,200 patients along with public data show the coronavirus is no more deadly than the seasonal flu and that the sheltering-in-place policy in the United States and most of the Western world not only is unnecessary, it's harmful." WND didn't fact-check the video and, thus, tell readers that, as we detailed, actual experts say the doctors' patient sample was not representative of the general population, with one likening it to "estimating the average height of Americans from the players on an NBA court."
The next day, Art Moore wrote about how YouTube removed Erickson and Massihi's video,conspiratorially suggesting that it was removed for going against "World Health Organization recommendations" and failing to mention any of the actual experts who have discredited the video. Michael Brown cited YouTube's removal of the video in his April 29 column, conspiratorially adding that "disputed opinions offered by medical doctors (in this case, emergency room doctors) will be banned." He too failed to mention the experts who discredited the video.
WND then found a new person to play victim: Judy Mikovits, who once worked with Dr. Anthony Fauci and has made a video that was similarly removed by YouTube. An anonymously written May 6 article benignly described Mikovits' video as arguing that "the isolate-everyone policy is a big mistake and claims officials have a financial incentive to implement mass vaccinations."
Because Mikovits seems to be running in the history of video-making charlatans WND has promoted in the past, it's giving her a platform without any of that pesky fact-checking WND isn't exactly known for. The article claimed that "Mikovits claims Fauci was among the top health officials who framed her and destroyed her career because of her contrary views," adding:
She published a "blockbuster" study claiming "the common use of animal and human fetal tissues were unleashing devastating plagues of chronic diseases."
In fact, the "blockbuster" study was retracted by the journal that published it because its results could not be replicated by other researchers and that it appears her samples were contaminated. Further, while theft charges against her were eventually dropped -- not necessarily because they weren't true but, rather, because the institute she worked for was embroiled in other legal difficulties -- a lab employee signed an affidavit that he had removed notebooks from the lab and eventually delivered them to Mikovits.
As per usual, WND couldn't be bothered to fact-check the video, even though it contains numerous false claims.
So ... business as usual for WND. Which is a bad thing for WND, since that kind of business is what drove WND to its current state of barely being in business.
Bad take: Masks as virtue-signaling
Jack Cashill spent his May 6 WND column insisting that wearing masks to help stop the spread of coronavirus "has become a form of virtue signaling":
I have my own office in a hip, youth-oriented entertainment district filled with bars and tattoo parlors and vape shops. I go in every day. Parking is, I must admit, a whole lot easier. I have yet to wear a mask anywhere.
Rachel Alexander echoed the sentiment in her June 8 column, under the headline "The viciousness of the mask-wearing virtue signalers":
There have been some nasty confrontations between people over wearing face masks. One side thinks they're helpful, both at protecting themselves from COVID-19 and protecting others from contracting it if they happen to have it. The other side thinks they don't work. The divide has fallen down party lines, as Republicans learn more about the masks' inefficacy and question the so-called experts, like Dr. Anthony Fauci who has reversed his position on wearing them.
Alexander also served up some bunk about asymptomatic transmission:
The WHO's advice on its website at that time advised, "if you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected 2019-nCoV infection." On March 8, Fauci said on CBS' "60 Minutes," "There's no reason to be walking around with a mask."
The WHO did confuse things by claiming that asymptomatic transmission was rare, a claim that turned out to be misleading, but it's indisputable that people can spread the virus without knowing they have it -- and that's why wearing masks is important, no matter what Alexander thinks.