Photo taken on April 2, 2020 shows the US Capitol building in Washington D.C., the United States. Photo: Xinhua

US media-NGO-politician institution weaves coronavirus conspiracy: Exclusive with Grayzone founder

Editor's Note:

The Grayzone, a US-based independent news outlet, recently published a story busting the conspiracy theory of COVID-19 escaping from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology, adding that it is “the Trump administration’s Iraqi WMD.”

Apart from digging into stories behind the conspiracy theories, the Grayzone also released many reports related to Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in recent months. For example, it released a report in March that stated “forced labor” stories hyped by some Western and US media and US-based nongovernmental organizations are orchestrated by the “US government, NATO, arms industry to drive Cold War PR blitz.”

To learn more about The Grayzone and its work, the Global Times reporter Liu Xin(GT) spoke to Max Blumenthal(B), an award-winning journalist and founder of the Grayzone.

GT: First, let's talk about your recent work on the stories behind the conspiracy theory. How did you investigate this topic?

B: First of all, no American outlet has invited me to discuss this latest story, where I and my colleague Ajit Singh have exposed a conspiracy theory in one of the biggest newspapers in the US, the Washington Post and Fox News, which is advanced by the president, as completely false.

We haven't been invited to debate the authors. We are not invited to debate people who favor escalating the Cold War with China. We've simply been ignored. And, at the same time, we've seen many stories in the New York Times, and other papers like Politico in the past two days about how China is advancing disinformation, and they are all sourced to US officials who are not named.

I really thank you for bringing me on. This is the only outlet that has asked me to come on board. It also shows that we are unfortunately in a kind of information war where the truth doesn't matter. The American people are not going to be exposed to the truth, and my goal with the Greyzone is to interrupt the drive to war and sanctions and hostility by simply presenting the American people and the English-speaking public with a balance, with the other side. To do so, we exposed, what we call, the lie of the day.

Every day there's a new lie, and it's advanced under the banner of, supposedly, free and independent media. But if you look at the stories, you'll often see, according to US officials, or according to this research scientist, or they'll link to an article. But, we simply go into the sources that expose what they are!

Photo: screenshot of The Grayzone

For example, in our story about how the Washington Post advanced this conspiracy theory about the Wuhan Institute of Virology and how, supposedly, COVID-19 escaped during an experiment at the Wuhan lab. One person stood out in that article, who was quoted, named Xiao Qiang. He was quoted as a research scientist, but I thought that sounds funny. A research scientist, this is not a virologist, someone who studies viruses. This is not an epidemiologist who studies epidemics. I immediately assumed this person is a Chinese dissident.

I was right! I just looked up Xiao Qiang on the National Endowment for Democracy. This is the US government entity that funds, supports, and trains opposition movements from around the world to support regime change. I quickly learned along with my colleague Ajit Singh that Xiao Qiang's whole career has been supported by the NED. This is a dead giveaway and a clear sign that something is strange about this article.

I've done extensive work on the NED. I produced a documentary about it. And, from what we've shown, it was created by the CIA, the Central Intelligence Agency, under the Reagan administration, in order to do what the CIA used to do secretly but to do it openly to support opposition movements, like the movements in Hong Kong.

I'm an American journalist. I've been working for almost 20 years in the US media environment as someone who comes from the left, who opposed the war in Iraq and exposed the Bush administration's lies. And, I know about the neoconservative movement. It is the pro-war movement that moves between both Democratic and Republican parties, and it has a lot of influence in Washington.

I knew that the author of the Washington Post story, Josh Rogan, was a big part of the neoconservative movement. He had actually worked at the Japanese Embassy in the past and is someone predisposed to pushing narratives that advance the new Cold War with China.

I don't present myself as a China expert, nor do I say that I'm a Russia expert. But I'm an America expert, and I know the institutions and the people that have been driving us into endless war for the last 20 years. And in some cases, I know them personally. So that gives me a big advantage to investigate such stories.

File photo: VCG
GT: We have noticed an anti-China campaign there. How did the US politicians and media work together to push this?

B: We've just seen that with the introduction of this Chinese lab theory on how US politicians and the media work together, as well as with NGOs and think tanks. I think this is a perfect example.

On April 14, it appears in the Washington Post, through a very anti-China columnist, in the opinion section. But it is under the banner of a paper that many people trust. The columnist himself admits there is no evidence to prove that COVID-19 escaped from the Wuhan lab, but the piece gets shared widely by Democrats and Republicans.

The following day, a similar piece appears in Fox News, which is the favorite network of President Trump and the Republican Party. This network says officially, US sources say that they believe the virus escaped from Wuhan Institute of Virology. The State Department Secretary Mike Pompeo, who is the most militaristic member of the Trump administration, also said this.

Screenshot from a Fox News report, which say sources believe the disease started in a Chinese lab.

The State Department was behind this story. They had leaked cables from the US Embassy in Beijing to reporters, claiming that there were safety issues at the lab. Actually, the cables, if you read them closely, state that these experiments, which were being done into coronavirus and SARS, were very important.

They're distorting the cables. Fox News reports this in the day. One of the most extreme pro-war Senators, Tom Cotton, appears and says, "China is responsible for every death," "China has to be punished," and "China has to be sanctioned."

Fox News opens up a propaganda blitz with all of its hosts calling for China to be punished. They're cultivating Republican opinion for the new Cold War very successfully.

You can see very clearly that the State Department leaks information to the media. The media spins the story and presents it to the public. Then, politicians issue calls for new policies of militarism and extreme hostility to China. If you look closely, in these stories, various people from the NGO sector are quoted as sort of experts. But as I mentioned before, there are people like Xiao Qiang, who are not, in fact, experts who are activists paid by the US government.

GT: Do you think the US media have objectively reported on China's anti-virus efforts? Did the biased reports prevent the American public from learning more about this epidemic?

B: Absolutely. I have not been to China. I would have to go to Wuhan and see for myself and speak to doctors and speak to people to know the response. But none of the people who present themselves as experts in the US have done this. Many of them have reasons to turn up the heat on China and to escalate with China. Some come from think tanks, which are funded by the arms industry, and some are directly funded by the State Department as well.

Others are ideologically anti-Communist. They want to break the Chinese Communist Party. Many people come to this from different directions. Some resent China because the US moved many jobs to China. And I personally think the US should manufacture goods here. We would have had a much better response to coronavirus if we were manufacturing our own masks.

But now, it is a political campaign to turn up the new Cold War and to advance Donald Trump's national security doctrine that his defense secretary James Mattis introduced in 2018, where the Defense Department declared that the US was moving from the war on terror into great power competition with China and Russia.

Immediately, we started to see more negative coverage of China. We started to see more US interest in advancing kind of human rights narratives about what China was doing to the Uygurs, for example.


The conflict in Xinjiang had been going on for many years. So, why did we all of a sudden start to hear about the "supposed plight of the Uygur people" in 2019? The NED has been supporting the World Uygur Congress for decades, but why is this happening now? People in the media don't ask this question. They simply look for the new Cold War outrage because it brings readers in and it advances their careers.

Starting in 2017, because they were told that Russia had helped Donald Trump steal the election, the US public was brought into the first part of the new Cold War - a great power competition with Russia. This advanced the agenda of the National Security State and helped justify the budgets of all of these different agencies.

Then, that fell apart. It fell apart last year as the Mueller Report came out - there wasn't any proof that Donald Trump had directly colluded with Russia. And now, we have the second part of the new Cold War with China.

There is a kind of 9/11 or Pearl Harbor moment with coronavirus, where the National Security State can work through a political element. In this case, the Trump administration, which is desperate to deflect from its own failure in preventing coronavirus from coming to the US and exploding, and they can advance the second part - turning the American public against China.

US President Donald Trump addresses a news conference at the White House in Washington D.C., the United States, on March 13, 2020. File photo: Xinhua

And, if you look at opinion polls of American opinion - Democrat, Republican, left and right on China - last year compared to this year, it is amazing to see how much it has changed. It is incredibly negative right now. I think 70 percent of Americans see China as the greatest threat to the US. Last year, it was lower than 50 percent. Propaganda works!

While I'm not a cheerleader for China. I'm not claiming I'm an expert on China. I understand what's happening in my country and how dangerous this propaganda is and how dangerous a new Cold War will be to the US.

I'll give you one example because you asked about how this hurts our response to coronavirus. There was an article in the New York Times two days ago, stating that the US government is not sure whether it will allow shipments of N95 masks and other personal protective equipment into the US from China because it will advance China's propaganda efforts. Because of the widespread hatred that they have stirred up against China, we will not have this protective equipment that we need.

The only way out of the epidemic is through cooperation, because, unfortunately, we live in a globalized world where we're all interdependent. And, I don't think the US actually has the ability to completely cut itself from a powerful country like China. It's just impossible.