The Trump-supporting co-host of my weekly broadcast for American radio is livid. The Chinese, he said, are selling medical equipment to European countries that was donated to them back in January/February. “I won’t forgive them for this if I live another 70 years!” He exclaimed while banging his desk so hard that I feared he would punch a hole in the woodwork.
I was confused, as well as concerned about Lockwood Phillips’ furniture and blood pressure. I had read reports about China donating supplies to Italy, Spain and the Netherlands. Also that China’s medical manufacturing industry is now at full blast; 110 million facemasks daily. I have also heard that some merchants (Chinese and others) are guilty of price gouging and that a high proportion of the medical equipment coming out of China is defective. And finally, China’s Covid-19 statistics are proving to be extremely dicey and this is creating difficulties for the rest of the world. But I had not heard that the Chinese were cashing in on the charity of other countries.
Lockwood, despite his politics, is usually a very well-informed and reliable news source. So, after the broadcast I set out to learn more. It was an interest bit of detective work.
The main source of the story was the new American darling of conservative American websites—The Western Journal. Forget about Breitbart News. Their user figures are falling through the floor—down from 17.5 million unique monthly visitors to around the 4 million mark. The Western Journal is clocking a staggering 40 million unique users a month.
Actually, the first hint (and it was no more than that) came from a throw away line from the Trump-supporting far-right and often unreliable broadcaster Fox News on 26 February. It was then picked by Amber Abney at the American Spectator on 4 April, another conservative platform. The American Spectator, by the way, has no connection with its British namesake. Ms. Abney, quoted as her source, “A high-ranking Trump Administration source.” The cloak of anonymity means the Trump Administration can easily deny the report if need be.
On 6 April the story took flight when it was reproduced by the Western Journal for the perusal of its 40 million readers. From there it was picked up by Breitbart News and then again by another far-right outlet National File.
The Western Journal, the key link in this chain, has an interesting story. It started life in 2008 as Western Journalism. Its founder was political consultant Floyd Brown who was so conservative that George Bush senior refused to allow him anywhere near his presidential campaign. Western Journalism quickly established itself as a purveyor of alt-right fake news and was regularly blacklisted by Facebook and other social media platforms. Then in 2015 it was sold to Floyd’s son Patrick, owner of Liftable Media. He cleaned up the site and amalgamated it with another conservative website (Conservative Tribune). In 2018, the two platforms were launched as The Western Journal and circulation soared.
All of the shares in the parent company (Liftable) are owned by the Brown family which includes the original founder Floyd. The website has steered away from embarrassing fake news (with a few exceptions) but a cursory glance at its stories reveals that it is as far-right as ever.
The key to the tale above is that the coverage of this China story has so far been confined to suspect far-right media. If it is true than it is a great story and we should ask: why has it been ignored by the mainstream news?
I should add that I am not a fan of the Chinese government. I am wholeheartedly opposed to totalitarian single-party states. But Beijing’s success on the economic front and in combating coronavirus is helping them to win support for their political system. This is damaging to democratic America and Europe. Chinese success cannot be countered by xenophobia, fake news, misinformation or an isolationist America First Policy.
Tom Arms is a regular contributor.