CBC National News Spreads Russiaphobic/Sinophobic Covid-19 Conspiracy Theory

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CBC National News Spreads Russiaphobic/Sinophobic Covid-19 Conspiracy Theory

The CBC National News story central here was linked a month ago in another thread, yet it warrants a thread of its own to look at its claims and look and the issues in context .

In what borders on an Orwellian-timed "two minutes of hate" with flashed on screen visuals, the CBC's lauded investigative reporter Katie Nicholson delivers a piece representative of the New Cold War and the bias and misinformation it thrives on.

It’s not that the CBC is at unusual here in its tactics, unfortunately far from it. Yet as a top trusted news brand in Canada it illustrates that political news from any source, and from any political perspective should be looked at carefully rather than automatically trusted.
The video, as of this post, can still be seen on the CBC site here:

Russia and China are spreading coronavirus misinformation on social media to further their own national agendas, using officials, bots and state-run media.



Part 1: The Russian Plot to Infect Us with Covid-19

Most inflammatory in the video, and certainly a great boost to the growing political censorship campaign against non-US aligned journalism and online media under the guise of “guarding public safety”, is the alleged Russian state conspiracy given by the CBC’s stand-in expert, Ron Nehring, who states that the Russian government is conspiring to use state media "to prolong the coronavirus in non-Russian countries as long as possible".

First, a little background on Ted Cruz’s campaign manager, Nehring, and his organization, The Leadership Institute which the CBC generously describes as “conservative leaning”:

In the latest sign that the U.S. Religious Right increasingly views its anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice activism as part of a global culture war, American activists will be part of the training team at next month’s European Advocacy Academy, which is designed to make European advocates for “traditional views on sex, gender and family more effective”and to make them a part of an international network that transcends country borders.â€? U.S.-based Religious Right groups have actively promoted anti-LGBTQ equality measures in Europe under the banner of protecting the family.

Among the speakers at the November 22-25 training session:

    Ron Nehring, director of international training at the Leadership Institute, a training organization founded in 1979 by right-wing activist Morton Blackwell. The Leadership Institute reported spending $15.8 million in 2016. A longtime right-wing activist, Nehring was national spokesman for Ted Cruz's presidential campaign....


See also:

Admittedly, Nehring does have real world expertise in toxic foreign political interference:

Conservatives poised to take back Alberta

With the left in control in “the Texas of Canada” conservatives in Alberta are gearing up for a comeback.

On Saturday, January 21 the Leadership Institute trained 223 activists, elected officials and future candidates with an intensive program that brought participants from throughout Alberta and as far away as Edmonton.

Leadership Institute Director of International Programs Ron Nehring and expert faculty member Bill Faulk of New York led the program....


Ironically, a major funder of the Leadership institute is the DeVos family which also, from early days, funded covid-19 spreading anti-lockdown protests in the US:


Still, the political activities and orientation of Nehring in themselves do not in themselves invalidate the specific allegations made here by him and the CBC, though it does raise the question of why the CBC selected him as an expert spokesperson.

What, then, is the hard evidence of this Russian media conspiracy for the CBC and Nehring?

[Please Note: My comments here are not a claim of any blanket reliability of the Russian-funded media with its own inherent biases and clickbait advertising. Detailed pros and cons of RT are better elsewhere. Only the specific accusations are addressed here]

To support that core accusation, the CBC flashes an image from RT News as an example of Russian state media plot to infect people by "dissuading them from hand washing". The RT "story" linked below is more of a clickbait ad for a Larry King interview from back in 20 March, 2020 titled:

[/quote]You can wash your hands all day' but Covid-19 still can get you with ONE cough, medical expert tells Larry King

Appearing on RT America's Politicking, Doctor Bob Arnot, former chief medical correspondent for NBC and CBS news, said that the current emphasis on washing hands was perpetuating a myth that has yet to be substantiated by evidence..."Elbow handshake doesn't work because you want to be six feet or more away from other people," he noted. He stressed that self-isolation was by far the most prudent tactic for avoiding the illness, and speculated that if everybody stayed indoors for three weeks, the virus would "burn out" completely.[/quote]


Note that the blurb, and the Bob Arnot interview, emphasize the most effective way of stopping the spread, social distancing, yet the sensationalist ad can be fairly said to be misleading since it echoes Arnot and downplays “the current emphasis” on hand washing.

Even though the CDC concurs that touch has not been proven to be a major source of spread, the CDC, and most  sources, prudently recommend a regime of hand washing:

From the CDC:

The virus may be spread in other ways

It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, but we are still learning more about how this virus spreads....


Dr. Arnot's elaborates on his opinion that there is a false sense of security by depending on handwashing; he said this in April 20 (to the US Nantucket Magazine):

To calm people, New Yorkers were told to wash their hands when they should have started distancing, canceled schools, stayed off the subway and buses instead of believing that handwashing would save them. We ridiculed using masks until the beginning of April. Our own CDC lost an entire month with a badly flawed test...


PBS must also be part of the Russian plot because Arnot was interviewed there in March and says:

"I thought from the very first day it was A little bit of a fraud" "you can wash your hands all you want" "the stuffs airborne, right" "what you need is distancing"....


Putin is everywhere. Check under your bed.

Yet, perhaps that particular RT/Arnot blurb which also emphasizes the prime means of stopping the virus spread, social distancing, is just a rather weak example chosen by the CBC to illustrate a concerted Russian state media conspiracy aimed at the West to get us infected by not hand washing?  

Surely, given the incindiary provocation of the claim, the CBC’s intrepid fact checkers would at least have taken 10 minutes and surveyed both RT and Sputnik News, the main sources of Russian media directed at the West, to verify the accuracy of this treacherous conspiracy?

Apparently not.  
You can do a bit of looking yourself by Googling--[ site:rt.com washing hands.]  Also, since Google has stated it now de-ranks Russian media in its searches, you may want to try the same with Duckduckgo or other search engines such as Qwant or Bing.

If your results are similar to mine you will find an overwhelming predominance of pro-handwashing references, such as:

'Just wash your damn hands!' Golf influencer Tisha Alyn's dance video warns fans to NOT DRINK BLEACH to 'cure' COVID-19 (VIDEO)


A sensible skywriter broadcast their straightforward message, to “wash your hands” in the clouds above Sydney on Thursday...


Clean up your act! Tech’s answers to the hand-washing solution stopping Covid-19
17 Apr, 2020


Show and tell: Cristiano Ronaldo teaches kids to wash hands as star 'set to join fight against Covid-19' (VIDEO)
22 Mar, 2020


...and so forth. Clearly Putin needs to provide more direction for a co-ordinated assault by his evil minions.

Still at it, the CBC's expert Nehring has tweeted a vaccine plot:

Ron Nehring
1/ INSIDE Russia, Putin’s government aggressively promotes vaccination against preventable diseases as an important public health measure.

OUTSIDE Russia, Kremlin-controlled media outlets aggressively spread anti-vaccine hysteria and fear.   Here’s why...


While keeping in mind that RT and Sputnik News are the main Russian media directed at the West, you should do similar site searches as suggested above using the term "vaccine" to see whether or not that the predominant message is an anti-vaccine. The results, for me at least, were similar to the previous searches.

Decide for yourself who is spreading "hysteria and fear".


Part 2: Bots, the Chinese Propaganda Attack, and Conspiracy Theory

The CBC video begins with the claim that bots are highly prevalent and disseminate misinformation on Covid-19.

This is certainly true. The video's initial source for the CBC's claim is Kathleen Carley of the Carnegie Mellon Foundation, an organization which often does good work. Carley expresses surprise at the prevalence of automated and human/automated misinformation postings about Covid on social media.

The major role of money and marketing, both legal and criminal, aside from political targeting, is ignored in the CBC piece though it is massive gold mine for the booming bot industry. There is plenty of information to be easily found on that topic. Yet for those immersed in the new Cold War rhetoric, a misinforming bot is synonymous with nefarious foreign state political interference and very little honest effort is made to distinguish monetary or domestic political generated postings from foreign disseminated misinformation.

From EU justice chief Vera Jourova:

"We still see that the major platforms continue to monetise and incentivise disinformation and harmful content about the pandemic by hosting online ads," Jourova told Reuters in a phone interview, citing the example of one such ad misrepresenting migraines as the cause of the virus.

"This should be stopped. The financial disincentives from clickbait disinformation and profiteering scams also should be stopped," she said....


Covid as an attractant for scam marketing and other forms of fraud need not relate to the Covid-baited false message at all, except to serve as an attractant for marketing to an anxious populace. Though it can exist as part as a direct marketing schemes as well:

Avishay Zawaoznik, Security Research Manager at Imperva, describes the types of spam campaigns designed to spread fake news and the dangers they pose on our understanding of coronavirus

High levels of concern around the Coronavirus are currently being used to increase the online popularity of spam campaigns designed to spread fake news and drive unsuspecting users to dubious online drug stores.

Given the level of anxiety that currently exists globally around the spread of the potentially lethal Coronavirus, it’s perhaps unsurprising that opportunistic spammers are using the term in their campaigns. Indeed, the following two graphs show a very clear correlation between the term’s popularity on Google, and its appearance in bot traffic caught by Imperva over the same period....


The political content of misinformation spread by bots also certainly considerable, but how much of it is part of a Chinese or Russian foreign conspiracy as the CBC claims?

The Carley clip is used by the CBC to implicate China and Russia regimes, yet in a different mention of the same study:

The researchers said they found that among tweets about "reopening America," 66% came from accounts that were possibly humans using bot assistants to spread their tweets more widely, while 34% came from bots.

There are a few possible explanations for the surge in bot activity. People may have more time to set up elaborate bot networks during stay-at-home orders, and the availability of botnets for hire has exploded recently. Carley also said that the global nature of the pandemic meant that countries and interest groups were using it to advance political agendas.

However, the researchers did not determine the origins of the bot activity or narrow down whether it was coming from foreign nation-state actors or from within the US...."


Though evidence to "narrow down whether it was coming from foreign nation-state actors or from within the US" is lacking, Carley, without evidence, suggests a rather monolithic foreign conspiracy "machine" and "playbook" explanation for that data:

"We do know that it looks like it's a propaganda machine, and it definitely matches the Russian and Chinese playbooks, but it would take a tremendous amount of resources to substantiate that".


One can be sure “a tremendous amount of resources” will indeed be marshalled for just that angle. Such politicized speculation guaranteed massive coverage repeated as fact in the by the Cold warriors of the major Western media. Other groups have, and will, continue the amplification of line of attack and add technical trappings to claim; this includes government officials, statements. “leaks” from security agencies and "scientific" propaganda syndicates such as Hamilton 2.0/Hamilton 6/Alliance for Securing Democracy. The latter organization being a source for CBC’s stories, and a security partner of the Canadian government. A different take on that outfit here:

April 9, 2020
US ‘Disinformation’ Claims Do Exactly What Enemies Are Accused of: Distract From Covid-19 Failures
Julianne Tveten
Curiously, none of these articles presented proof of such nefarious online activity, instead relying chiefly on commentary and “unreleased reports” from US intelligence officials and neoconservative projects like the Alliance for Securing Democracy….


It’s common knowledge there was, and continues to be, considerable domestic strife, economic and political, over the bot-pushed demand to “reopen America” vs. safety fears of re-opening too early, much reported and often marked by protests.  But in the New Cold or War the strife is regularly ascribed to being China or Russian instigated, including “sowing discord”, the lens by which the establishment filters much domestic discord.  The reality may be much closer to home, and unless the Leadership Institute major funder, DeVos,is also getting payments from Putin, most of the protest inciting bot activity to reopen early suggests a “playbook” other than Carley’s:

Why the DeVos family's backing of the Michigan protests is no surprise

Another recent study on bot traffic (not reported by the CBC) does show something other than a foreign source for Covid political propaganda:

Misinformation about the origins of Covid-19 is far more likely to be spread by pro-Trump, QAnon or Republican bots on Twitter than any other source, according to a study commissioned by the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology.

In late March, when the coronavirus pandemic was taking hold in the US and across much of the rest of the world, two researchers at Queensland University of Technology, Timothy Graham and Axel Bruns, analysed 2.6m tweets related to coronavirus, and 25.5m retweets of those tweets, over the course of 10 days.
They filtered out legitimate accounts from those accounts most likely to be bots, which can be identified when they retweet identical coronavirus-related content within one second of each other.

The researchers identified 10 prominent bot-like networks that were attempting to push political agendas, separate from those bot networks pushing commercial sites by hitching on to trending topics like coronavirus.

The researchers found a coordinated effort to promote the conspiracy theory that Covid-19 was a bioweapon engineered by China....


and from the Austrailian Tech group’s site:

A new report by The Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology has identified coordinated networks of Pro-Trump and QAnon social media clusters at the centre of coordinated efforts to disseminate disinformation about COVID-19, particularly the conspiracy theory that China engineered the virus as a bioweapon.
The theory that COVID-19 was engineered by China has been embraced by the US President and elements of his administration.
The research, conducted by researchers from Queensland University of Technology (QUT), shows that the spread of the theory on Twitter resembled a coordinated astroturfing campaign, with networks of accounts retweeting identical content repeatedly and within very short timeframes.
The vast majority of coordinated accounts spreading the bioweapon theory identify themselves as Pro-Trump, QAnon and/or Republican partisan.
Politically-focused coordinated retweeting of coronavirus topics almost exclusively promotes the interests of far-right wing parties and governments, including Turkey’s President Erdogan and Saudi Arabia’s regime.
Only one out of thirty clusters of accounts coordinating on the bioweapon conspiracy theory was based on pro-Democrat and broadly left-wing accounts, while another promoted Baloch independence from Pakistan...



Like a virus

The coordinated spread of coronavirus disinformation Analysis of over 25.5million tweets over 10 days identifies 5,752 accounts that coordinated 6,559 times to spread mis-and disinformation regarding the coronavirus for either commercial or political purposes. Almost all politically motivated activity promoted right wing governments or parties. Coordinated spreading of the China bioweapon conspiracy theory is estimated to have made over 5million impressions on Twitter users, spread by mainly pro-Trump, partisan conservative and/or QAnon accounts….


The CBC’s example of the Chinese assault on truth and the innocent West is a flashed twitter remark from China's Foreign Affairs Minister Lijian Zhao:

When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!

That tweet made by Lijian is indeed without evidence and despite using the word “might” which could technically make it “speculation”, it can rightly be seen as propaganda to promote unsubstantiated accusations from a Chinese official.

Yet, there is no contextualizing of it from the CBC as a predictable, if feeble, push-back to the many more provocative statements from the US Government officials, President, the media and the massive US-based bot anti-Chinese campaign cited in the Australian study above.

I suspect (without proof, mind you) that without the relentless Covid related China-bashing on begun in January, I seriously doubt we would have any tit-for-tat Chinese push back from a Chinese government officials, or on Chinese social media where it remains a controversy.

The Weaponization of Language: “Propaganda” “Theory”, “Conspiracy” and  “Conspiracy Theory”:

The CBC has at times referred to the “created in a lab” as “conspiracy theory” but
when political framing, it applies that vilification only to the designated enemies of US/Canada.  

Covid “Conspiracy Theory” when applied to state actors is exclusively ascribed to state propaganda from Iran, China, Russia, etc. and is never associated with a US “government agenda”, or propaganda “Conspiracy Theory”. When western sources of Covid-19 conspiracy theory are referred at all, it is de-politicized as being unscientific failings, not propaganda.

For the CBC, the endlessly promoted from-a-Wuhan-lab conspiracy theory is never mentioned as part of “a campaign”, bot or otherwise, linked to a US government "propaganda machine" or “disinformation to further a national agenda” against China.

The term “Western propaganda” does not exist in the CBC’s News vocabulary the except to mock those who suggests it is ever in play.

Elsewhere, When discussing Trump saying that the virus “might” have been “intentionally” released from the Wuhan Lab, the CBC never adds the transformative adjective "conspiracy" to what it calls Trump's "theory"--Trump merely "suggests" and "speculates" (much like Lijian Zhao does cited above--but without the same CBC contempt and vilification) and, while mentioning scientific claims to the contrary, the CBC leaves it as a viable controversy, not a conspiracy theory:

Trump suggests China may have released COVID-19 from lab by 'mistake'


The Guardian, which is no slouch for the home team in the East-West propaganda game,  reported on Pompeo’s May 3rd interview:

On Sunday, Pompeo said: “There is enormous evidence that that’s where this began,” later adding: “I can tell you that there is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan.”
At one point, the secretary of state appeared confused over whether he was claiming the Sars-CoV-2 virus (which causes the Covid-19 disease) was deliberately engineered or escaped as the result of a lab accident.
“Look, the best experts so far seem to think it was manmade. I have no reason to disbelieve that at this point,” he said....


The CBC,reporting on the same interview with Canada’s foreign policy ally, is treated even more sympathetically as suggesting a faith in Pompeo’s impartial reporting of impartial US spy agencies. Instead of citing scientific counter-claims to the "manmade" virus, the story doubles-down and concludes with additional accusations from Ted Cruz.

China hid severity of the coronavirus to hoard supplies, U.S. intelligence documents allege
Pompeo says China responsible for the spread of disease and must be held accountable


To return to the initial claims of the CBC National News video, there is evidence that at least some of their allegations are true. There is indeed "state-funded media" that supplies "coronavirus misinformation" for "national agendas".| For proof, they only need look in the mirror.

Michael Moriarity Michael Moriarity's picture

Thanks for putting this together, contrarianna. I stopped watching the CBC some years ago, having already given up on all the other channels earlier. So, I would normally never see such a show, but it is clearly pro-U.S. propaganda, and it needs to be debunked. I appreciate your efforts.


Michael Moriarity wrote:

Thanks for putting this together, contrarianna. I stopped watching the CBC some years ago, having already given up on all the other channels earlier. So, I would normally never see such a show, but it is clearly pro-U.S. propaganda, and it needs to be debunked. I appreciate your efforts.

Thanks. On re-reading it I don't think I have said anything untrue, but my lazy lack of proof reading for syntax made me wince a few times.


Yes, terrific posts, thank you!   


contrarianna wrote:
The video, as of this post, can still be seen on the CBC site here:

Russia and China are spreading coronavirus misinformation on social media to further their own national agendas, using officials, bots and state-run media.


It's absolutely true that China and Russia are spreading misinformation about covid. So are Trump and Bolsonaro.

Left Turn Left Turn's picture

Aristotleded wrote:
It's absolutely true that China and Russia are spreading misinformation about covid. So are Trump and Bolsonaro.

As is anyone, including the CBC, who are still claiming that COVID-19 first spread to humans at the market in Wuhan.


Michael Moriarity wrote:

Thanks for putting this together, contrarianna. I stopped watching the CBC some years ago, having already given up on all the other channels earlier. So, I would normally never see such a show, but it is clearly pro-U.S. propaganda, and it needs to be debunked. I appreciate your efforts.

I enjoyed it as well. I stopped listening to the CBC regularly a few years back when I couldn't listen to a whole news clip without screaming about the biased slant to it. Even the "cultural" shows mostly seem to be a Canadian perspective on the exceptional American culture, that they mostly highlight. At the CBC it is all about #US Lives Matter. We are after all just a pale imitation of the states, aren't we?


Russian Group Targeted COVID-19 Vaccine Research in Canada, US and UK, Say Intelligence Agencies


"Hacker group APT29 - also known as Cozy Bear and the Dukes - accused of conducting malicious attacks. The group was accused of hacking the Democratic National Committee before the 2016 election. The group 'almost certainly' operates as part of Russian intelligence services,' the CSE said..."


Beware! Russia Needs Your Vaccine!


"UK, US and Canada say hackers targeting COVID-19 research are 'almost certainly' Kremlin-linked..."


'Almost certainly' after our precious bodily (covid) fluids.


Michael Moriarity Michael Moriarity's picture

I think everybody is probing for vulnerabilities in everybody else's networks. No doubt the five eyes are the most well funded, and they most likely do more offensive hacking than the rest of the world put together. As far as their propaganda is concerned, this is no problem, because it is "good hacking", unlike the "bad hacking" done by Russia, China, and other designated bad guys. I would say that this story, even if accurate, is of the "dog bites man" variety.

Michael Moriarity Michael Moriarity's picture

Here is an analysis of the ethics of this situation by Nathan J. Robinson. I highly recommend it. A small taste:

Nathan J. Robinson wrote:
Nobody has accused Russia of actually doing any damage to the progress of vaccine research. Yet apparently they have behaved “despicably” and “selfishly.” What are the embedded assumptions in what Chichester and Raab say? First, that it is not despicable for someone to lock up information that they know could help someone else produce a life-saving vaccine. It is however, despicable to try to access that information in order to create a life-saving vaccine, if doing so violates a property law. It is not selfish to prioritize the financial interests of your own country over the lives of people in other countries. It is however, selfish for those countries to prioritize the lives of their people over the financial interests of your country.