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'Results are changing quickly': Media, Big Tech take pains to bury Pfizer 'mutate' video

FDA declines to say whether it asked Pfizer for explanation of undercover video. Tucker Carlson producer claims Google staffer "call[ed] us to kill the story." Tabloid quickly erases report with no explanation.

Published: January 27, 2023 4:02pm

Updated: January 27, 2023 11:28pm

Undercover video that purportedly shows a Pfizer executive explaining the company's "directed evolution" plan to keep COVID-19 a "cash cow," then furiously backpedaling when Project Veritas founder James O'Keefe exposes the ruse, has drawn intense curiosity from members of Congress but intermittent Big Tech throttling and a partial media blackout.

Despite the fact that the figure identified as Jordon Walker belatedly called himself a "liar … trying to impress a person on a date," played the race card in requesting police involvement, and physically attacked O'Keefe and the film crew, a prominent tabloid inexplicably removed its article on the sting.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) demanded a congressional investigation of "vaccine manufacturers and the entire COVID vaccine approval process," while Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) asked Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla to explain the company's actual or possible plans to mutate SARS-CoV-2 and any related discussions with industry peers or government officials. 

The FDA declined either to answer whether it was following up with Pfizer for an explanation of the figure's comments or give the agency's interpretation of the video, telling Just the News to contact Pfizer, which has not responded to queries going back to Thursday afternoon.

The figure identified as Walker claimed regulators would not closely scrutinize Pfizer's "exploratory" efforts because of the revolving door between government officials and pharmaceutical companies. Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb joined Pfizer's board two months after leaving the Trump administration.

The sting victim also previewed a potential explanation from Pfizer to Congress by denying to his fraudulent date that "directed evolution" is "gain-of-function" research, the subject of ongoing inquiries from lawmakers. He speculated the initial Wuhan COVID outbreak was the result of insufficiently controlled mutations.

Search engines are giving unexpected results for the controversy. Neither Google nor privacy-focused Brave, which last year poached users upset with DuckDuckGo's pledge to bury Russian "disinformation," returned first-page results from Project Veritas itself in Just the News searches for "project veritas pfizer."

Both surface purported fact-checks of the video and the trickle of mainstream media coverage in The Hill and local media, and both included an October 2021 fact-check of an earlier Project Veritas video about Pfizer.

Newsweek's fact-check begins by aiming to discredit Project Veritas based on previous mainstream media fact-checks and then analyzes it line by line, at one point downplaying the potential problems gain-of-function research can cause.

Several Twitter users shared Google screenshots reading "results are changing quickly" and explaining that "reliable" information was still indexing. The recurring misspelling of Walker's first name in searches didn't prompt Google to suggest his correct name as it typically does with typos.

Google hid primary sources, including Walker's LinkedIn page, which Brave did return in its pre-scrubbed form as of Wednesday night, confirming Walker's role at Pfizer. 

Fox News host Tucker Carlson highlighted Google's then-blackout of the controversy on his Thursday program, saying it illustrates the power of the pharmaceutical industry. Carlson's producer Gregg Re claimed that a Google staffer who used to work for Fox "call[ed] us to kill the story."

Sen. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) told Carlson this was par for the course with Google, which, he alleged, "changed their algorithm to benefit Joe Biden" during the general election campaign, rigs results to promote Google's favored views, and has showered campaign cash on both parties to evade accountability.

Brave Software Head of Communications Catherine Corre told Just the News the old fact-check about Project Veritas showed up high in results because the source, the Poynter Institute, made an "invisible" meta tag update a few days ago, meaning the page "was labeled as 'fresh'" in Brave's search engine. It's fixing the bug, she said.

"Brave Search is an independent search engine and we do not censor results," nor does it apply blocks or rules to disfavor content other than child sexual abuse material, Corre said. "We do not prioritize so-called 'fact checkers' in any way." She didn't answer why Project Veritas itself didn't appear in first-page results, but said its rankings depend on "relevancy to the query, freshness, page popularity, etc."

Google didn't answer Re's claim about trying to kill Carlson's story but told Just the News the "changing quickly" notices have been triggered millions of times since the feature's rollout a year and half ago.

They appear automatically when "a range of sources have not yet weighed in" and they don't block results, a Google spokesperson said. The query "herschel urged woman abortion she says," referring to recent U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker, provoked the notice, for example.

"Political ideology is not a signal our systems understand" and Google does not "manually manipulate web listings" for ranking purposes, the spokesperson said.

The Daily Mail took down its report on the Project Veritas sting apparently within two hours of going live early Thursday morning, according to an archive of the page and baffled social media users. The report said it has asked Pfizer for comment.

MSN republished the Daily Mail report and removed it just as quickly. That version's metadata still shows up in Brave results as of Friday afternoon, but Just the News has not been able to find archives or caches. Google slapped the search with the same "changing quickly" label.

Human Events noted the disappearance of the Daily Mail and MSN reports in a story written by Project Veritas Press Secretary R.C. Maxwell, which said neither website responded to questions.

Carlson and social media users speculated the disappearances and broader media blackout, which includes CNN and MSNBC, were related to Pfizer's heavy advertising spending in mainstream media. The company paused its advertising on Twitter following billionaire Elon Musk's takeover, according to The Wall Street Journal, due to concerns about a pullback on content moderation.

The Daily Mail, however, has recently run other unflattering Pfizer stories. It reported Friday the FDA found a potentially higher risk of stroke in people who get Pfizer's bivalent COVID vaccine and a flu shot the same day. It also emphasized Bourla's pay package and the tripling of Pfizer's revenue since 2019, when the CEO was accosted by critical journalists at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

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