COVID-19: In NYT, US Intelligence Portray Veteran DC Columnist’s Report as Chinese Disinformation Meant to Sow Panic

UPDATED: A sentence from a supposed “fake” Chinese-promoted social media message also appeared word-for-word in a veteran DC reporter’s column, Joe Lauria reports.

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

A supposedly “fake” social media message promoted by Chinese “agents” to sow panic in the U.S. about a “fake” national lockdown over the coronavirus that was cited in The New York Times on Wednesday also appears word-for-word in a March column by a veteran Washington columnist.

Quoting “officials,” the Times reported as plain fact in a front-page story that: “Chinese agents helped spread messages to millions of Americans about a fake lockdown last month, sowing virus panic in the U.S.”

One of the “fake” messages, which the Times said China did not create, but only amplified, said Trump would lock down the entire nation. According to the Times, the message said: “They will announce this as soon as they have troops in place to help prevent looters and rioters.”

This sentence also appears verbatim in a March 20 column in The Washington Examiner by veteran DC columnist Paul Bedard about U.S. officials considering such a national lockdown. Bedard wrote:

President Trump, moving with haste to slow the spread of the coronavirus, is preparing a plan to mobilize the National Guard to help enforce a two-week quarantine of the public if his tough-love efforts so far fail. The unprecedented action would require everyone to ‘stay at home,’ according to a source knowledgeable of the evolving plan.” […]

Senior officials have said that dozens of radical ideas are being considered and that the president and his virus task force are moving quickly to protect the nation.”

Bedard ended his story by reporting: “They will announce this as soon as they have troops in place to help prevent looters and rioters …”

A search of Twitter and Facebook indicates that several people posted this line on March 20 and the days afterward, with some linking to Bedard’s story.

Some of the Facebook posts appeared a day before Bedard’s column. Several of the Facebook messages added that the poster knew of someone in FEMA who was preparing to be put in service.

Five days before Bedard’s column, the U.S. National Security Council tweeted that these “rumors” were fake.


More than a month later, the proposed plan reported by Bedard was replaced by individual states, some that have called out the National Guard, instituting their own lock-downs.

Bedard, a veteran political columnist in the capital, reported that he had drawn on his sources to report on what was being considered at the time.

For a decade Bedard wrote a Washington political column for U.S. News and World Report and was the White House correspondent for The Washington Times. Consortium News has contacted Bedard for comment.

The Times says it spoke with six different anonymous intelligence sources for its story. It reported:

“The origin of the messages remains murky. American officials declined to reveal details of the intelligence linking Chinese agents to the dissemination of the disinformation, citing the need to protect their sources and methods for monitoring Beijing’s activities.”

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston GlobeSunday Times of London and numerous other newspapers. He began his professional career as a stringer for The New York Times.  He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe .

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9 comments for “COVID-19: In NYT, US Intelligence Portray Veteran DC Columnist’s Report as Chinese Disinformation Meant to Sow Panic

  1. DavidH
    April 27, 2020 at 18:07

    It’s errie how much insight’s in this episode. I drifted off last night near the end. On re-hearing, re Tony Kevin you got the right guy. Already I knew with Porter and Lawrence it was a no miss “show.” The athletes in the hotel, along with some other scenarios I come across, to me as a whole are involved and require more cogitating on my part. Thank you!

  2. Rob
    April 24, 2020 at 13:11

    The Times embraces the role it plays in supporting the interests of the political and economic establishments. That is the reason why it is so often used as a conduit for disinformation and outright propaganda. In order to maintain its elevated status as the leading misinformer, the Times must be receptive to false and disingenuous stories that are fed to it by various members of the intelligence agencies and the political elites. Otherwise, it would cease being the news leader and become, instead, just another obedient laggard.

    • April 24, 2020 at 17:29

      Dude. Dead ON, dude, dead ON.

    • jdd
      April 25, 2020 at 09:44

      The obvious danger here is that it is part of a war-drive by neocon factions around Sec. of State Mike Pompeo who are determined to prevent any cooperation between President Trump and Presidents Xi and Putin and may well seek war with China. The Times is once again lending its support to the anti-China hysteria coming from London’s Henry Jackson Society and its American counterpart, the Atlantic Counsel. Let’s not forget the key role of The Times in spreading the lies of the Anglo-American intel agencies regarding WMD, Syrian ‘chemical attacks,” the role US backed neo-Nazis in Ukraine and, of course, the three years of Robert Mueller’s “Russia, Russia, Russia.” The same voices are now incessantly chanting “China. China. China.”

  3. mark stanley
    April 24, 2020 at 11:51

    How many newspapers throughout the US are owned by the New York Times?
    On the opposite side of the country, a little local rag comes in a plastic sleeve that say’s on it something like, “Thanks for subscribing to the New York Times”

  4. PEG
    April 23, 2020 at 15:02

    The New York Times has become one of the registers of the “Mighty Wurlitzer”, which after having played the popular hit piece “Russiagate” for a few years has a new tune, “Chinagate”.
    I now appreciate even more my decision to cancel my NYT subscription a few years ago, around the time I became a regular reader of Consortium News.

  5. jaycee
    April 23, 2020 at 14:49

    The amplification of messages – i.e. the re-transmission of memes and links – is basically how Twitter is designed to work. The interpretation of normal processes as something vaguely dangerous and sinister is itself a sort of psy-op. It seems to me a modern version of old Bircher themes of impurification of fluids – and ultimately just as wacky. The notion that adversaries are intent on “sowing chaos” and division through the transmission of memes seems to have developed from a realization that the Internet Research Agency’s ridiculous click-bait Facebook ads could not rationally be portrayed as a ‘Vote Trump” campaign, and so they were reinterpreted as a “Chaos” campaign based on a pre-determined understanding that it was a deliberate program by an adversary state rather than just simply an online marketing scheme. All the evidence reveals and confirms that it was, in fact, simply an online marketing scheme. The takeaway is that members of Congress and the mainstream media really do take us all for easily manipulated idiots.

    • April 24, 2020 at 17:26

      jaycee could not have said it better. Unfortunately your last line begs the question, “What evidence do they have to the contrary?”

    April 23, 2020 at 13:18

    “U.S. News and World Report”

    A notorious old outlet for disinformation from Langley, Virginia.

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