WASHINGTON (TND) — Former New York Times reporter, and noted COVID skeptic, Alex Berenson attempted to make an argument Monday that Twitter censored “vaccine debate” in 2021 as part of his first installment in the “Twitter Files.” He follows up Elon Musk’s promise on Dec. 26, 2022 that “Much more to Twitter Files: Covid Edition than this introductory thread,” referring to an information drop and narrative thread put up by journalist David Zweig the same day.
Musk also stated that more on the Covid Edition was to come during the first week of the New Year, but the only Twitter Files drop that week was from Substack writer Matt Taibbi, who continued to make impassioned if hectic claims about Twitter working with the U.S. government to suppress free speech on the platform.
Berenson gained notoriety in the first two years of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic for first routinely downplaying the seriousness of the virus and then the effectiveness of the vaccines. He was banned from Twitter in August 2021 for repeated violations of the platform’s COVID misinformation policy but had his account restored in summer of 2022 following his threat to sue. Furthermore, he inserts his own Twitter battles over vaccine skepticism in the article.
His first installment tackling the Twitter Files in fact relates to qualms over the social media platform’s handling of misinformation around the COVID vaccines.
Berenson’s narrative – laid out mostly in a Substack post rather than the lengthy tweet threads that have been the standard for the series so far – revolves around a single tweet from Aug. 2021 and a member of the board of director for Pfizer.
On Aug 27, 2021, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration appointed by Donald Trump, saw a tweet from a fellow Trump administration alumnus, Dr. Brett Giroir – who served as COVID “testing czar” on the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
“The tweet explained correctly that natural immunity after Covid infection was superior to vaccine protection,” writes Berenson. “It called on the White House to “follow the science” and exempt people with natural immunity from upcoming vaccine mandates.” Berenson’s assertion that Giroir “CORRECTLY” – as he tweeted – pointed out the superiority of natural immunity has some problems.
While neither elaborate or specify the nature of this supposed superiority, and indeed no vaccine is perfect, there is a significant “hair-splitting” – as one doctor told this writer – over the nature of COVID vaccinations. Natural immunity – developing antibodies as a result of a past COVID infection – tends to last for around three to six months (with some cases extending as long as 11 months) but they tend to fade faster than those gained by vaccines. Furthermore, vaccines are designed to ideally prevent infection but also reliably prevent serious cases that could result in hospitalizations or death – two things that could happen if one pursues natural immunity without vaccination or anti-viral treatments (of which there were none at time of the tweet). Giroir himself said at the end of his tweet that those without previous infections should get vaccinated.
Gottlieb emailed Todd O’Boyle, the senior manager of public policy at Twitter, about Giroir’s tweet, saying “This is the kind of stuff that’s corrosive. Here he draws a sweeping conclusion off a single retrospective study in Israel that hasn’t been peer-reviewed.” “But” he adds, “This tweet will end up going viral and driving news coverage.”
In his article, Berenson notes Gottlieb’s concerns over the “corrosive” nature of the tweet and his concerns about it driving news coverage, however he neglects to highlight reasons why the former FDA head is concerned, notably questionable scientific study which also has little comparison to American citizens.
In his “Twitter Files,” David Zweig similarly also highlighted the example of an American doctor citing the results of an Israeli study on COVID vaccines – which Twitter labeled as misleading – as proof of censorship on the platform, despite the misleading nature of such posts.
Berenson notes that O’Boyle forwarded Gottlieb’s complaints to Twitter’s “Strategic Response” team – which, according to the LinkedIn profile of the team’s head Jeff Carlton, works to resolve “the highest-profile Trust & Safety escalations” – also mentioning that O’Boyle failed “to mention that Gottlieb was a Pfizer board member with a financial interest in pushing mRNA shots.” He is also a physician and former public servant interested in ensuring the public health of the American citizenry.
Berenson claims that a Strategic Response team analyst did not violate the company’s misinformation rules, however he fails to cite or provide any evidence to support his claim. He then points out that Twitter still put a “misleading information” label on Giroir’s tweet anyway, which would be “preventing almost anyone from seeing it” and then cites three studies that he believes support his and Giroir’s point of view.
Berenson attempts to further his case by citing more incidents of Gottlieb reporting and pushing for censorship of COVID-skeptic views on Twitter – such as a tweet from known COVID skeptic Justin Hart about school closures – and then regarding criticisms Gottlieb made about Berenson’s own incidents of spreading COVID misinformation.
He claims – which he says he will address in full in a later Substack post – that there was a “larger conspiracy that included the Biden White House and Andrew Slavitt working publicly and privately to pressure Twitter” to ban him.
Berenson lays out this shoddy narrative in order to hammer to readers that Gottlieb, as a Pfizer board member and head of its regulatory and compliance committee, did all of this to look out for the company’s financial interests as a result of its COVID vaccinations and boosters – the biotech company made $37 billion in profits from the mRNA COVID vaccine alone – and as part of alleged larger inherent corruption and non-ethical conduct by the company.