Mother Jones’ reporter Kiera Butler accused of “journalistic malpractice” and “serious breach of basic reporting ethics”. Report: Jonathan Matthews
Andrew Kimbrell, the public interest attorney who founded the Center for Food Safety, has accused a reporter for Mother Jones of running what is little more than a hit piece on his organisation while trying to rehabilitate the sullied reputation of Peter Daszak, the scientist at the heart of the campaign to stop people taking the SARS-CoV-2 lab leak hypothesis seriously.
Rehashing Monsanto’s script
Kiera Butler has form. In 2017 under the headline A Scientist Didn’t Disclose Important Data—and Let Everyone Believe a Popular Weedkiller Causes Cancer, she rehashed for Mother Jones a Reuters hit piece on IARC scientist Aaron Blair that was later proven to have been directly fed to the Reuters reporter by Monsanto.
Now Butler has run what Andrew Kimbrell describes – in an excoriating letter to Butler (reproduced below) – as a biased agenda-driven piece that seeks to bash GMO critics for raising concerns over what they, like a good number of leading mainstream scientists, regard as reckless research.
Rehabilitating Peter Daszak
According to Butler, environmentalists in “anti-GMO groups”, who normally “worry about pollinators”, are now getting “drawn into a dark narrative that vilifies vital research” that Butler claims could save us all from another pandemic. Her go-to commentator to support her dubious analysis is someone whom many consider to be one of the most conflicted and unreliable voices on the lab leak issue: Peter Daszak, the President of the New York-based EcoHealth Alliance.
Daszak’s unfitness for the role of objective commentator is abundantly clear from his repeated dismissals of the possibility of SARS-CoV-2 having leaked from a lab as “crackpot” and “pure baloney”. And we showed in a groundbreaking article exactly a year ago how Daszak has backed up such dismissals with outright lies, even claiming “lab accidents are extremely rare”, and that lab escapes “have never led to largescale [disease] outbreaks”, despite lab accidents being common and one having caused a previous pandemic.
Daszak has also claimed, “I have no conflicts of interest” on the lab leak issue, even though his EcoHealth Alliance helped finance the very bat coronavirus research that is a main focus of concern. Butler, though, laps up Daszak’s bizarre self-portraiture as Mr Innocent: “We don’t even have a lab,” she says he told her. “We do things like produce a book on how to live safely with wildlife or educate community leaders.” Butler comments, “Despite the actual nature of his work, over the past year, he and EcoHealth Alliance somehow have become the symbols of gain-of-function research.”
You’d never guess that this is the same Peter Daszak who just before the pandemic took off could be found boasting: “We’ve now found… over a 100 new SARS-related coronaviruses… Some of them get into human cells in the lab, some of them can cause SARS disease in humanized mice models and are untreatable with therapeutic monoclonals, and you cannot vaccinate against them”.
Daszak goes on to say, “You can manipulate them [coronaviruses] in the lab pretty easily. Spike protein drives a lot of what happens with the coronavirus zoonotic risk. So you can get the sequence, you can build the protein... Insert it into the backbone of another virus and do some work in the lab.”
Daszak may not have his own lab in which to carry out this research but everybody, apart from Kiera Butler apparently, now knows that he was funding exactly this kind of research in Shi Zhengli’s lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) – the lab most often identified as the probable source of any lab leak.
Equally extraordinary is the way Butler provides a platform for Daszak to moan about USRTK’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, without mentioning how these exposed, among other things, Daszak’s key role in orchestrating the now infamous Lancet letter that helped shut down discussion of the lab leak hypothesis for so long.
Andrew Kimbrell points outs that at the same time as promoting Daszak's risible narrative unchallenged, Butler completely denies a platform to any of the leading mainstream scientists raising concerns about deliberately increasing the transmissibility and lethality of potential pandemic pathogens.
Who’s the source?
We know that Monsanto was the ultimate originator of Butler’s attack on Aaron Blair and IARC, so it’s worth considering who may have been the source for Butler’s latest attack.
The Gates-funded Alliance for Science was quick to promote Butler’s article. They’re a PR campaign based at Cornell that pushes agrichemical industry views and tries to undermine the industry’s critics, particularly those critics concerned about GMOs.
As part of this effort, the Alliance for Science has been posing as an expert body on myths about the pandemic, even though they have no such myth-busting expertise. An early example of this was a piece they published by their employee Mark Lynas that branded GMWatch, among others, as conspiracy theorists for saying the virus may have accidentally leaked from a lab.
On Twitter, Mary Mangan, who sits on the Alliance’s advisory board, has been carefully tracking and commenting on exactly which “anti-GMO groups” have been calling for the lab leak hypothesis to be taken seriously and branding them #virustruthers – just follow the hashtag to see her stream of tweets. In one tweet Mangan specifically says: “I was tracking #virustruthers yesterday, and found this outfit. Realized they have the exact same list of players as Center for Food Safety. http://icta.org”
Interestingly, a reporter told HuffPost in relation to a court case involving Monsanto that she thought Mangan had tried to “play” her to do a hit job on one of the expert witnesses critical of the company’s Roundup herbicide.
Could it be that Ms Butler wasn’t so resistant to being played?
Andrew Kimbrell’s excoriating letter
I am not sure what your agenda is with this non-objective, “semi-hit” piece on my organization. With all that is going on re this issue, and the growing realization of the possibility/probability of a lab origin of COVID by dozens of scientists and governments around the world, it is very odd that you would think that an inaccurate and misguided attempt to discredit CFS was the most important thing for you to write about. Seems some kind of vague anger that we are in cahoots with anti-vaxxers (which we are not) or a shockingly naive view that scientists all wear white hats and that NGOs who take on misguided and dangerous examples of corporate or government science are somehow anti-science.
But whatever your motivations there is no excuse for you not to have interviewed Lipsitch, Inglesby or Ebright or the dozens of other mainstream scientists who oppose increasing the transmissibility and lethality of potential pandemic viruses. (Ebright calling it “the definition of madness.”) Not doing that for this article was journalistic malpractice and a serious breach of basic reporting ethics. But I guess you needed to hide them, and ignore the material I sent you, in order to use the pejorative, eye catching term “obsession.” You must have figured it was OK to tar CFS with that term but did not have the courage to do that to established scientists.
There is also no excuse for you purposely confusing your readers by muddying up the term “gain of function.” I specifically told you I do not even use that term but call it “gain of threat” research and we limited our lawsuit, our media and all expressions of CFD/ICTA opposition solely to research intended to increase the transmissibility and virulence of Potential Pandemic Viruses (PPVs). You knew that and I expect to see a correction.
Instead you chose to make your article a puff piece for Peter Daszak who supported gain of threat research on SARS with NIH/NIAID funds at the WIV under two contracts available on our ICTA website (or just google them) and just at the time such experiments were halted in the US. Talk about conflict of interest. Yet you give him a platform in your article while silencing the others mentioned above. You even allow Daszak to claim his organization that brings in about 10 – 20 times the funding mine of CFS, including tens of millions of dollars from our Defense Department, cannot handle several dozen FOIAs. Seriously?
You also misrepresented my views at several points. I did note that incredible advances science has made but also noted the dark side. You only included the dark side. On the COVID origin, I said that there was a “preponderance of evidence” for a lab origin. But I went on to say it was of key importance to understand that it did not make any difference whether this could ultimately be proved since it is now generally recognized, except by those who funded the project such as Daszak, that it is either possible or probable that it was of lab origin and based in Gain of Threat research. That possibility is enough I said to call a halt to the creation of Novel Pandemic Viruses (NPVs) in labs. You decided not to include that point. Also what I clearly meant in my comment re “progressive” and the need for humanity to live in a mutually enhancing way with the rest of nature was that it should be the goal for everyone not a “progressive” issue. Your ignoring that clear intent again shows bias and an agenda.
Yes, our nefarious goal at ICTA is to try and stop the next pandemic. We will of course continue on that important work for our collective health security. Sadly, in pursuit of your own agenda, your article and your misrepresentation of the cost benefit of this reckless research certainly does not help the effort to make the world a safer place for future generations.
Center for Food Safety/ICTA
660 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE