My disdain and distrust of the corporate media, particularly the New York Times, is such that if they malign a publication as being “white supremacist,” “racist,” or a spreader of “misinformation,” I feel compelled to read it and make my own determination. I learned about Breitbart in the days when I still viewed the Times as credible, and the publication left me with the impression that it was a newsroom staffed by journalists wearing white sheets and had Nazi insignia plastered all over the place.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered Breitbart was founded by two Jewish guys, while on a trip to Israel no less. I was also taken aback to learn that Joel Pollak, one of Breitbart’s top editors, is a Yarmulke-wearing Orthodox Jew with a Harvard law degree and is married to a Black South African woman. John Nolte, one of the publication’s most popular writers, is married to a Hispanic woman.
This nugget was buried in the Breitbart hatchet job the Times published on August, 16, 2017 by Wil Hylton: “The (Breitbart) masthead is more varied and international than most of the news organizations where I’ve worked, and (editor) Alex (Marlow) has a pretty good record of promoting women and minorities, at least by the industry’s abysmal standards — including the lead defense correspondent, the national security editor and the copy chief, all of whom are women of color.”
Reading Breitbart has sometimes given me insights Times readers lacked. For example, in the days leading up to the 2016 election, Breitbart was assuring its readers that the election was tight and Hillary Clinton’s victory was far from assured. Breitbart columnists and readers immediately dismissed allegations by Black actor Jussie Smollett that he was victim of a racist attack as a hoax. They were right, but corporate media hacks like former CNN reporter Brian Stelter then insisted he and his colleagues covered the story responsibly. Here’s what Breitbart had to say about Stelter’s claim. Stelter now teaches at Harvard.
I’m not suggesting that Breibart reports only the truth, only that if one wants to stay informed, it requires reading publications whose politics and views differ from one’s own.
My process of information discovery regarding vaccines and other Covid pandemic information involves reading the Substack blogs of people the media insists aren’t credible. Some of these people have made bold predictions that didn’t prove correct, at least within the timeframe they said events would unfold. But some claims are easily verifiable, as I was reminded last night.
About a half dozen publications, including CNN, reported Friday that the CDC had identified a possible safety issue with the bivalent Covid-19 vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech but the agency insisted that it’s likely a statistical quirk and nothing to worry about. The CDC urged people to keep jabbing themselves with the vaccine.
I was taken aback by the reports given that even the slightest questioning of vaccine safety gets one immediately censored on social media, as Linkedin recently reminded me. I thought disclosing even the slightest hint of risk spoke well of the CDC, and that perhaps the agency was looking to restore the public’s trust in wake of prominent medical authorities like Dr. Marty Makary declaring it had lost its credibility, as had others.
Herein is an example of the dangers of making assumptions, particularly when it involves the CDC and FDA.
One of the people whose newsletters I read is Steve Kirsch, the tech entrepreneur who founded Infoseek, which was the preeminent internet search engine until Google came along. Kirsch, who is in his mid-forties, reportedly has a net worth of about $70 million, a comedown from the $200 million he once had. Among those who have sought to discredit Kirsch is the MIT Technology Review.
Kirsch in a newsletter he published around 11 PST last night alleged that the CDC didn’t disclose the bivalent vaccine risk because the agency prides transparency. Rather, it issued the warning in wake of a FOIA request and pursuit by a professor at Israel’s prestigious Hebrew University named Josh Guetzkow. Kirsch alleged that despite Guetzkow having a following of only “a few hundred paid subscribers,” the FOIA findings he disclosed made it impossible for the CDC to ignore them.
Guetzkow also claimed that his FOIA request led to the CDC’s warning disclosure, and he linked to an earlier commentary he posted about how the CDC jerked him around when he demanded the agency provide the information he requested. Guetzkow’s interest or motive isn’t clear to me. Guetzkow’s bio says he teaches at Hebrew University’s Institute of Criminology in Jerusalem and his various degrees includes a PhD in sociology from Princeton.
Kirsch and Guetzkow made some damning allegations, whose accuracy I lack the expertise to evaluate. I don’t want to be accused a misinformation spreader, so I’m not repeating them. But if Kirsch and Guetzkow are correct that the CDC only disclosed a possible vaccine risk because of information it was forced to make public resulting from a FOIA request, that’s reason for concern.
Kirsch also mentioned that Patricia Cavazzoni, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), previously worked at Pfizer. Cavazzoni’s FDA bio isn’t so transparent, saying only she worked in the pharmaceutical industry for several years and “held senior executive positions in clinical development, regulatory affairs, and safety risk management in large companies across multiple therapeutic areas.”
Read what Dr. David Gortler, a former member of the FDA’s senior executive leadership team, had to say about Cavazzoni in a commentary published in Forbes last year.
Here’s a taste:
Prior to joining FDA in 2019, Cavazzoni spent nearly two decades all over the pharmaceutical industry (Eli Lilly, Pfizer and Sanofi) as an administrator according to her linkedIn bio. Her move to the FDA is a very atypical career move with likely financial penalties. Cavazzoni’s background is in psychiatry, a specialty famous for not following the rules of evidence-based medicine, unlike the specialties of pharmacology, biochemistry, biostatistics or any of the other hard academic sciences.
Cavazzoni was appointed to her position by Janet Woodcock, who later was appointed by President Joe Biden to become Acting Commissioner of the FDA. Biden was forced to drop plans to seek Congressional approval to make Woodcock’s appointment permanent because of widespread opposition that she was too conflicted given her strong pharmaceutical ties and numerous conflicts of interest.
A recent Congressional report into the FDA’s handling of Biogen’s application for approval of its Alzheimer’s drug under Woodcock’s leadership concluded the FDA didn’t adhere to its own guidance and internal practices during the approval process for Aduhelm. The FDA’s inspector general also is investigating.
It was under Woodcock’s leadership that Marion Gruber and Phil Krause, veteran staffers with nearly a combined half century of agency experience, resigned. Trade publications said that Gruber and Krause are among the leading authorities on vaccines in the world.
CNN reported last week that the FDA’s advisors are angry that booster shot data was withheld from them when they were reviewing whether to approve the jab. It was a remarkable story because CNN had the advisors on record expressing their anger. It was also remarkable because CNN broke ranks with its corporate media peers and reported information that undermined public trust in the FDA.
Kirsch also mentioned that Pfizer was responsible for an ad featuring Martha Stewart promoting Pfizer’s booster shot against the so-called omicron variant. Kirsch didn’t mention it but I will: A pharmaceutical company that paid $2.3 billion in fines for fraudulent marketing using a former CEO who went to jail for insider trading involving a biotech company doesn’t provide reassuring ethics optics.
Meanwhile, Vinay Prasad, a hematologist-oncologist and associate professor of medicine at University of California San Francisco, derided the New York Times’ claim of a “viral onslaught” — a combination of Covid-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) — as malarky and said the best available evidence contradicts the narrative from the media and many public health officials.
Prasad said the precautions being recommended are essentially unproven—”akin to burning an incense stick, or wearing garlic to ward off vampires.” Check out Prasad’s bio and then dare argue he isn’t credible.
As I’ve repeatedly disclosed, my interest in writing about vaccine safety is the repeated censorship of those who raise concerns. Prasad last year penned multiple commentaries saying it was misguided to censor scientists and others with unpopular views, even if they are mistaken.
“Censorship doesn’t fix the problems in science, but rather introduces new problems of its own,” Prasad said.