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Matthew Sweet Highlights GB News’s Anti-Vax Conspiracy Culture

“It’s not the BBC, you know, you actually get your facts right!” – Liz Truss on GB News, 20 August

Journalist and cultural historian Matthew Sweet writes an open letter to GB News’s Mark Steyn, declining an invitation to appear on his show:

When I agree to make a media appearance, I need to be reassured that the host and the show meet proper journalistic standards. I do not believe that you or GB News are currently meeting these standards. Moreover, I think that GB News is becoming a space though which conspiracy theories are being introduced into the British media.

As an example he cites Naomi Wolf, whose 2019 book Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalisation of Love was withdrawn by the publisher after a disastrous Radio 3 interview in which Sweet raised issues of accuracy that destroyed her entire argument. In his letter, Sweet describes her as

as person who believes, among other things, that the Pfizer vaccine is a Chinese bioweapon with which the CCP is assassinating community leaders across America.

Further, in conversation with Steyn she

made false claims about the rise in neonatal deaths in Ontario. She suggested that Bill Gates had bribed the BBC into suppressing the facts about this. Then she made similar false claims about neonatal deaths in Scotland. You might have challenged her on these matters, but instead you nodded them through and congratated her.

Steyn wanted Sweet to come on his show for a debate after Sweet had criticised him on a Twitter thread (here), which Sweet summarises thus:

I said that you had insinuated that several young atheles had died from the effects of the Covid vaccine. On your sarcastically-titled “Nothing to See Here” segment you made these insinuations about the recent tragic deaths of the cyclist Rab Wardell, the rugby player Ben Benn, the footballer Molly White and the boxer Dominic Oscar. There is no reported evidence that vaccines had any bearing on their deaths… I would suggest that material like this is beneath serious notice.

Sweet goes on to note how Steyn had misinterpreted mortality data [1], citing a fact-check by Iria Carballo-Carbajal of Health Feedback here.

Sweet has now expanded his case on Twitter, judging

that it is reasonable to conclude that @GBNews is engaged in the promotion of anti-vax conspiracy theories, and perhaps ought to be considered part of that culture itself.

I dislike quoting too much of someone else’s content simply to for its own sake, but given the ephemeral nature of Twitter and its inaccessibility to non-users I think a record outside the platform might be useful to some. Readers should preferably view the original. I also prefer treating Tweets as normal quotes rather than as embedded text, although links are included below.

Sweet starts with a discussion of another Steyn guest, a certain Dr Guy Hatchard [here]. Hatchard was brought on to discuss mortality statistics; Sweet points out that he is not an epidemiologist or statistician, but that he instead “has a PhD in Psychology from Maharishi University of Management, Fairfield, Iowa – a private college founded by the yoga guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi” [here – be sure to check out the “Yogic flying” gif] and is a member of Voices for Freedom, a New Zealand anti-vax group “recently censured for handing out misleading leaflets about Covid” [here, citing source here].

Hatchard also claims that the Covid vaccine “isn’t really a vaccine” [here], a view “shared by other people on your show. People like your fellow @GBNews stalwarts Matt LeTissier and Neil Oliver” [here]. Sweet then turns to Oliver on LeTissier’s Gettr channel as “a good study for anyone interested in how people can be radicalised by online conspiracy theories” [here]:

Here, @thecoastguy [Neil Oliver] says he’s not an anti-vaxxer because he doesn’t think the vaccine is really a vaccine. It’s a “procedure” and part of a plot to create a one-world government. These beliefs, I’d suggest, are the unfiltered versions of views he expresses on @GBNews. [here]

Sweet could have added that Oliver’s quest for confirmatory views recently led to him interviewing Peter Sweden, in a segment that GB News has deleted after Sweden’s history of far-right comments was highlighted.

Next up: Leilani Dowding [2]:

And here, I think, is the weirdest of them all. Actually, I think a stronger kind of language must be used in the case of your @GBNews colleague @leilanidowding. Here she is on your show in April. [here]

And here, on an an online show by the conspiracy theorist Gareth Icke . She is laughing and doing air quotes as she says that she doesn’t believe that her friend’s mother died of covid, because she thinks covid isn’t real. [here]

@Leilanidowding is an enthusiast for 9/11 conspiracy theories. She appears to think the Moon landings were faked. She tweets extracts from a book that claims the vaccine is a hoax and that NHS ambulance crews were only pretending to be on emergency calls during the pandemic. [here – includes screenshots]

I look at this stuff and I feel I’m seeing into a very dark place. She is often featured on @GBNews. [here]

So I wonder, did you and your producers book guests like this in spite of their being conspiracy theorists, or because of it? [here]

In the case of @thecoastguy and @mattletissier, we might be generous. They have histories in legitimate broadcasting. As for @LeilaniDowding – she seems a much more worrying example. [here]

I wonder how you know of her, without being engaged with the sphere of anti-vax conspiracist websites and youtube channels where she seems to do her work? To me this suggests you may be actively recruiting commentators from that culture. [here]

Finally:

As for the bigger problem of the sympathy between @GBNews and online conspiracy culture, that is a matter for the regulator, and, I’d suggest, requires the urgent attention of the @CommonsDCMS. [here]

UPDATE: GB News has responded to Sweet by letter. The text, which is attributed to “GB News” rather than a specific individual, frames his complaint as being that “GB News should have been more supportive of government policy”. It states that Steyn’s programme has “featured families how have lost a loved on to Covid vaccination”, and draws attention to an article in the BMJ from June 2022 about the government’s vaccine damage payment scheme. It adds that there “would appear to be several thousand” vaccine deaths.

Sweet has posted the letter to Twitter, noting that it “fails to answer any of my substantive points about inaccurate reporting and the use of conspiracy theorists and crackpots to comment on gravely serious matters”.

UPDATE 2 (19 September 2022): On the day of Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, Sweet notes a Twitter exchange between Dowding and another user:

Dowding: Wow the nurse who gave the 1st vaccine out is walking with the queens coffin. This is mad. They will never admit it… . This is doubling down.

Reply: At least we’ll have their name for future reprisals.

The reply has been “Liked” by Dowding, which amounts to approval.

UPDATE 3 (27 Septmber): Sweet has responded to GB News, in a letter that he has also partly posted as a Twitter thread. He writes:

In a statement you seem to imply that I have argued that it is impossible for the vaccine to cause harm or death. Clearly that is not true and I have never expressed such a belief… I think most reasonable people would agree with your assertion that there should be proper reporting on deaths caused by the Covid-19 vaccines.

In your statement you insist that @GBNews does not disseminate vaccine misinformation. Unfortunately, there would seem to be vaccine misinformation in the paragraph in which you assert this.

The most recent @ONS figures suggest that your assertion of “several thousand” is inaccurate. In the UK 43 deaths have been caused by the Covid vaccine. Each one a tragic loss [link added].

I suspect your figure of “several thousand” comes from raw data relating to numbers of people who died after receiving the vaccine. This includes death from any cause, so those succumbing to any illness, or hit by a bus, would be included.

Now, I am no expert on these matters. Nobody should be booking me to talk about vaccine side effects or mortality statistics. But I did what journalists do: I asked several reputable experts in this field and took advice.

He then contrasts reputable experts with with GB News guests:

Naomi Wolf, who thinks that the Chinese Communist Party is using the Pfizer vaccine to assassinate community leaders in her Hudson Valley neighbourhood… Guy Hatchard, who asserts that meditation groups can lower the crime rate with psychic energy and that the Covid vaccine is not really a vaccine… Tony Hinton, who says that the vaccine rollout was a plot to introduce a digital ID system and a “world government”… @leilanadowding [Leilana Dowding], who spent part of the day of the Queen’s funeral agreeing with one of her followers that the vaccine nurse who accompanied the royal coffin should be subject to “reprisals”… former Emmerdale actor John Bowne [John Bowe], who said on @GBNews that “close to 3% of all people that have been vaccinated have been badly adversely affected by the vaccines or dying” @MarkSteynonline agreed that the NHS was “trying to suppress the story.”… Robert Kennedy Jnr, whose book – endorsed by @MarkSteynonline on your channel, claims a “powerful vaccination cartel” have exaggerated the seriousness of the virus for financial gain. He’s also the source of the Bill Gates vaccine microchip conspiracy theory… suspended NHS doctor Sam White, who says that the vaccine is like “a toxin … a bioweapon” and now works for Robert Kennedy… @GBNews presenter @thecoastguy [Neil Oliver], who says that the vaccine is not a vaccine, that it has killed “uncounted numbers” and that through it, Bill Gates and the CCP have a plan for “nothing less than global governance through the WHO.”… @marksteynonline [Mark Steyn], who has said on @GBNews that the Covid vaccine does not “meet the definition of a vaccine” and that the vaccine “does not work”.

Notes:

1. A good thread on cardiac risks to atheletes by a molecular cardiologist named Glen Pyle can be seen here. He points out that “sudden cardiac death is a leading cause of non-traumatic death in athletes”.

2. I previously discussed Dowding in March. She is also part of a crowd associated with the conspiracy influencer James Melville, having apparently made up with him after criticising Melville’s interview with Matt Hancock. Melville in turn has moved even closer to the Icke milieu, appearing on a show co-hosted by Dowding and Gareth Icke and downplaying David Icke’s claims about transdimensional lizards as “previous opinions”. He writes: