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.
"They will announce this as soon as they have troops in place to help prevent looters and rioters and will announce before the end of the weekend."https://t.co/e0ePKTNR1q
— txSteve (@dsteveiam) March 21, 2020
Five days before Bedard’s column, the U.S. National Security Council tweeted that these “rumors” were fake.
— NSC (@WHNSC) March 16, 2020
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 Globe, Sunday 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @unjoe .
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