Free from fear or favour
No tracking. No cookies

‘The Telegraph’s Last Hurrah? Laundering a Hard-Right Think Tank’s COVID Lockdown Claims’

As the newspaper is put for sale, a widely-publicised report claiming ‘only’ 1,700 lives were saved by lockdown – which was splashed on its front page – is not what it seems

Photo: Guy Bell/Alamy

Newsletter offer

Subscribe to our newsletter for exclusive editorial emails from the Byline Times Team.

One of the greatest scoops of the 20th Century appeared in the Daily Telegraph.

Clare Hollingworth – who died aged 105 in 2017 – was a rookie reporter for the paper when she spotted German forces massing on the Polish border while travelling from Poland to Germany in 1939. The Telegraph splashed with the headline ‘1,000 Tanks Massed On Polish Border’. Hollingworth did not get the byline. Three days later, she got her next big scoop: the Nazis had launched their invasion. 

A mere 84 years later, the Telegraph turns its front pages to far less important things. For years now, it has not been a newspaper but instead a fanzine for fantasists and fanatics, a conduit for Government lines, and spittle-flecked opinion pieces penned by a group of scenery-chewers straight from Central Casting. 

During the Thatcher and Major years, the Telegraph was seen as a really important media outlet. In a retrospective for BBC News in 2004, political correspondent Nick Assinder said it “would be at the top of most politicians’ piles of newspapers and, in the years the Tories were in power, it even came to be regarded as the paper of record over The Times”. Those days are long gone.

Now, the Telegraph records the ravings of the right’s most rabid fringes and encourages them, with columnists like Allison Pearson always keen to amplify and even start conspiracy theories. 

This week, on 5 June, the Telegraph splashed on the headline ‘Lockdown benefits “a drop in the bucket compared to the costs”‘.

The single quote marks there are what I like to think of as load-bearing – while they theoretically indicate that the newspaper is quoting rather than endorsing, it appears clear from how the headline has been written and placed that it is the Telegraph’s company line as well as a quote from a ‘study’. 

‘The Price of Sausages: The Telegraph’s Calculator of Hate’

Attacks on disabled people have all too often dressed themselves in the clothes of good housekeeping – as the newspaper’s tax calculator suggests

The Telegraph story begins: “Lockdown saved as few as 1,700 lives in England and Wales in spring 2020, according to a landmark study which concludes the benefits of the policy were ‘a drop in the bucket compared to the staggering collateral costs’ imposed. Scientists from Johns Hopkins University and Lund University examined almost 20,000 studies on measures taken to protect populations against COVID across the world.”

Who are these ‘scientists’? Prof Steve H. Hanke – an economist; Dr Lars Jonung – an economist; and Jonas Herby – an employee of the opaquely-funded, Charles Koch-aligned American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) think tank, from where the so-called ‘Great Barrington Declaration’ open letter on lockdowns emerged. None of these men could reasonably be described as a scientist, let alone an epidemiologist.  

The Telegraph then added: “Johns Hopkins is one of the most respected medical schools in the world and became known during the pandemic for its COVID dashboard measuring cases and deaths all over the world.”

While Johns Hopkins’ medical school is famous, it is also a very large university with more than 23,000 staff and an endowment of more than $9 billion. The medical school has nothing to do with this ‘research’ – neither does its COVID dashboard. The Telegraph used the association of Hanke with the university in general to suggest that the ‘findings’ it was pushing have been endorsed by the medical school. They have not.

As Herby works for the AIER, it’s not surprising that the study has been published in the UK by its sister think tank – the Liz Truss-influencing Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). It was not until paragraph 12 of the article that the Telegraph noted the IEA’s involvement: “The new study on the impact of lockdowns is published in a report by the Institute of Economic Affairs out on Monday.”

The next paragraph stated: “Across Europe, countries which embarked on lockdowns saw 6,000 fewer deaths than if they had embarked on a less draconian approach, while the US could have seen 4,000 fewer deaths, they conclude.”

The Telegraph did reference other opinions, noting that: “By contrast, modelling by Prof Ferguson and his colleagues from Imperial College London in March 2020 had predicted that, without action, the UK could see 510,000 deaths from COVID, with 2.2 million in the United States.”

Government War on Transparency Threatens COVID Inquiry: What We Learnt from this Week’s Hearing

The Government’s refusal to provide key documents to the inquiry is a blow to the pursuit of truth in the COVID Inquiry – but bereaved families and inquiry chiefs are determined to get answers

However, the entire article appeared designed to cast aspersions on Prof Ferguson – an actual scientist – and the modelling of epidemiologists.

The reader had to get deep into the Telegraph story by the time the credentials of the so-called scientists were discussed. 

However, Jonung and Hanke have no standing at all in this area – they are economists with an ideological alignment to think tanks which describe themselves as “libertarian” but which I would class as hard-right in their instincts and policy positions. 

Despite all this, the Telegraph gave credence to this study on its front page – which then led to outlets including BBC News reporting the claims with far more credulity than they deserve. Others inevitably followed.

Take, for example, Politico’s London Playbook newsletter – read by a large number of MPs, special advisors and other journalists – which wrote: “LOCKDOWN RELITIGATED: The decision to go into lockdown at the height of the first wave of the pandemic in March 2020 saved ‘only’ 1,700 lives, according to research by Johns Hopkins and Lund universities, in contrast to models at the time which warned of upwards of half a million fatalities.” 

The names of Johns Hopkins and Lund universities are used without regard to who the actual ‘researchers’ were on the study or how they did their ‘research’.

News shows and talk radio then spent hours discussing whether lockdown worked.

In my view, the catalyst for all of this was a carefully constructed deception.

Written by

This article was filed under
, , , ,