A top World Health Organization official used her platform to promote a notoriously pro-authoritarian conspiracy site, and after it supported Chinese propaganda claims about Taiwan. Her move has drawn criticism from the highest levels of the U.S. government.
Gabby Sterne, WHO’s communications director, spread on Twitter Tuesday morning an article claiming Taiwan had never warned the organization about the the virus, and that the United States was involved in a secret plot to “advance the cause of Taiwanese separatism.” This false claim has been a popular talking point in Beijing and on antisemitic conspiracy sites. It was the latter that the top WHO official spread on social media.
'Taiwan never provided any warning to @WHO about the novel coronavirus or its transmissibility. The email, the contents of which have been confirmed by both Taiwan and @WHO, did not contain any new information about the coronavirus… https://t.co/EDRIRCUIFw
— Gabby Stern (@gabbystern) July 20, 2020
The article came from Grayzone, a conspiracy site known for its love for Vladimir Putin, defense of Bashar Assad, and virulent hatred of Israel. Its debunked claims support a backwards version of events wherein China alerted the WHO about the virus, while Taiwan never did. This is just plain false.
Sterne’s share comes just two weeks after the WHO tacitly acknowledged it heard about the virus through the internet — not the Communist Party of China, as both had claimed for months. Taiwan has also since provided evidence of its early warnings.
The WHO has so far refused requests for comment about the claims, and whether any consequences will come for officials which use their position to spread misinformation.
The article in question is hardly out of sorts for Grayzone. The site’s founder and owner, Max Blumenthal, makes appearances on Iranian and Russian state TV, and last year toured Assad’s capital of Damascus while lambasting the dictator’s enemies.
Recently, the site has pumped out numerous conspiracies supporting Chinese interests. The same Grayzone author that Stern retweeted made the extraordinary claim that this March that reports of millions of ethnic minorities were being detained in Chinese concentration camps were “speculation and sensationalism” spread by radical Christian groups. The site has also defended Chinese conspiracy theory propaganda that coronavirus originated in a U.S. lab.
Evidently, these credibility issues weren’t enough to concern the official responsible for all communications from the World Health Organization. Sterne’s actions have drawn attention, and criticism, from the highest levels of government. In a statement to The Federalist, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) stated that the events were a sign of deep set problems in the organization.
“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,” McCaul wrote. “It’s abundantly clear that the WHO needs reform from the top down.”
McCaul is the Republican ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
The WHO is in the midst of the most extreme credibility crisis in its 72-year history over its relationship with China. The once-respected body has been widely criticized since the pandemic left Wuhan, China for its parroting of CCP claims, many of which have turned out to be falsehoods that led to increased deaths and illness. It has simultaneously ignored information from Taiwan, which China was been working to exclude from international recognition for decades.
The decision led to the exclusion of valuable information about the virus at the critical early phase of the pandemic. The virus has since infected 13 million and killed more than 600,000.
The Trump administration has recently made moves to jettison U.S. participation in the WHO. U.S. taxpayers are the primary source of WHO funding.