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Trolls, The Hobbit World Premiere, Wellington
Trolls at ‘The Hobbit’ world premiere in Wellington, New Zealand. Some also exist online. Photo credit: Tristan Schmurr / Flickr (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

I could see right away that it was some kind of hit piece.

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On Easter Sunday evening, a non-working email address at WhoWhatWhy (the news organization I founded and lead), received what presented as an urgent request. 

It was addressed to an independent writer, Allison Neitzel, a 31-year-old from Wisconsin who has contributed several essays to us — all concerned with the ongoing public debate about deceptive information promoting anti-vaccine positions. This young woman has dedicated years of her life to investigating and clarifying what people need to know about the COVID-19 scourge. 

The email had an arresting subject line: False claims of being a physician. Need response by Monday 5pm EST.

It stated that she had until 5 p.m. the following day, a Monday, to comply with a demand to submit her answer to a question for an article the sender was writing.

The next morning, I personally received a similar note. The deadline was still 5 p.m. that day. 

What was so urgent? Why such a tight deadline? Why reach out with this demand the holiday night before? The man didn’t say. And then came another email: 

Hi Russ, my editor said to remind you that we need a response. 

What editor? What publication? He didn’t say. 

The answer came soon enough. The publication was…. his own personal substack, The Disinformation Chronicle; thus, it would seem, he is his own editor, or at least has final decision-making authority.

I could see right away that it was some kind of hit piece — propaganda, not journalism — and the title of his substack was not actually about “misinformation” in the sense one wants to see it used. 

It was from one Paul D. Thacker. I didn’t recognize the name, so I looked him up and found that, among other things, he had been a lead investigator for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on the US Senate Committee on Finance, examining financial links between physicians and pharmaceutical companies. Afterwards, he joined the Project on Government Oversight. Since then he’s been writing freelance articles and substacks, and currently resides in Spain. His more recent activities, including his blog and social media posts, appear to reflect less mainstream, more radical ideas, many on the subject of vaccines. 

In this brief video, you can watch Thacker in action.

Thacker’s story, dated April 3, had this headline: 

Fake Physician Allison Neitzel Caught Running Real Medical Misinformation Site 

Notice the word “caught” — as if she had been doing something nefarious. As if that weren’t enough, it comes with a picture of a wild-eyed, wild-haired, demented clown, wearing a stethoscope — presumably a caricature of Neitzel.  He used the same image in a tweet.

Paul D. Thacker, tweet, Allison Neitzel.

Paul D. Thacker tweet about Allison Neitzel. Photo credit: Paul D. Thacker / Twitter

Putting a stethoscope on the “clown” is especially misleading since, as a physician-researcher, Neitzel is involved in research, not patient care.  

Allison Neitzel, M.D., is a graduate of an accredited school of medicine. And, according to the American Medical Association, is indeed a physician:

The AMA affirms that a physician is an individual who has received a “Doctor of Medicine” or a “Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine” degree or an equivalent degree following successful completion of a prescribed course of study from a school of medicine or osteopathic medicine.

The term “physician” has different definitions under state regulations, and the AMA avoids the semantic quibble (and trap). But under Wisconsin law, to be considered a “physician,” one must have a license to practice medicine, even non-practicing doctors.

Before we go any further, you might want to see what this “clown” actually looks like:

llison Neitzel

Allison Neitzel. Photo credit: Courtesy of Allison Neitzel

What follows is an intriguing tale, one that will ultimately, I hope, give our readers some sense of how to distinguish between being informed – and being incited. 

Thacker Seizes an Irrelevant Technicality

In a paragraph on how Neitzel “rocketed to fame,” Thacker sort of slips in quickly the fact that Neitzel graduated from a medical college, but then proceeds to make the case throughout his story that she is a “fake physician” and not a real doctor:

And this is where the circus fun begins, because famed medical misinformation expert Allison Neitzel is not now, nor has she ever been, a physician.

Interested, I dug into her background and discovered that all the outlets claiming Neitzel was a physician hadn’t bothered to do a modicum of due diligence before platforming her, because guess what? Allison Neitzel isn’t a physician.

Neitzel’s claims of being a physician also garnered her a column at the nonprofit news organization WhoWhatWhy. “Allison Neitzel, MD, is physician-researcher and founder of the independent research group MisinformationKills…”

“Why have you claimed Allison Neitzel is a physician?” I emailed WhoWhatWhy’s editor-in-chief, Russ Baker. “And do you plan to continue claiming Neitzel is a physician?”

Baker did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Let me respond here by noting something Thacker seems to prefer you not understand: The fact that Allison Neitzel has an medical degree from a credentialed medical school means she is indeed a doctor — a word often correctly used interchangeably with “physician.” 

Thacker — the self-proclaimed enemy of disinformation — has engaged in a form of sophistry. He deploys a technicality to undermine her credibility and suggest that she is exactly the kind of misinformer she has come under fierce attack for calling out. 

In an email he sent to her on Easter Sunday, he wrote,

In several outlets you are listed as a “physician” which is false. Wisconsin law states that physicians have an MD degree and are licensed. You do not appear in the NPI registry of licensed physicians.

Why have you claimed to be a physician, and do you plan to continue claiming to be a physician until you are licensed?

Again, I need your response by 5pm EST on Monday.

As explained above, but worth repeating, Dr. Neitzel chose to do research, rather than provide patient care, and does not need a state license. And, as explained earlier, she is most definitely a physician, according to the American Medical Association.

Nonetheless, the amen chorus surrounding this anti-vaxxer movement immediately and approvingly began sharing and liking Thacker’s “discovery” on social media — and, as a colleague of hers has cataloged, piling on with their own distorting takedowns.

Sticks and Stones

So what put the bee in this fellow’s bonnet? The first paragraph of Thacker’s substack sets the stage:

Promoted to national prominence by a coterie of reporters tackling pandemic misinformation, physician Allison Neitzel took a hard fall last week when she was forced to atone for promoting misinformation and defaming medical experts — by posting an apology…

After speaking with Neitzel for the first time myself this week, I learned a lot about her. She’s gutsy and passionate — and she strikes me as principled and without any sort of artifice.  An authentic spirit. 

Perhaps most relevant to those that insinuate she is somehow a tool of Big Medicine or Big Pharma, is the reality that, in her work, Neitzel has no financial or institutional stake whatsoever. She is about as far from a shill for Big Pharma or Big Medicine as one could get.

But in her anger at those who promoted and politicized what the majority of leading scientists considered faux cures for COVID-19, she used intemperate language. (Her apology appears below as an addendum.)

Two doctors promoting the counter-scenario aggressively pursued her, and a process server even gained access to her apartment building to dramatically serve her at her door.

And — on advice of counsel to avoid a long, drawn-out litigation (though they were certain she would win) — she agreed to a very measured apology of sorts in return for their dropping their action. 

The apology relates to minor mistakes or transgressions — trivial in their impact compared to the consequences of the allegedly bad science that Neitzel was calling out. (The apology appears at the end of the story.)

Paul D. Thacker, disinformation, tweet

Paul D. Thacker disinformation tweet. Photo credit: Paul D. Thacker / Twitter

Possibly her most provocative act was using the words “fraudulent” and “grift” when describing the activities of anti-vax doctors, notably Paul Marik and Pierre Kory.  

However, Neitzel’s concerns didn’t come out of thin air. One of the papers she criticized — then apologized for using perhaps overly strong language in her critique of — was Marik’s 2017 article on his vitamin C-based formula for treating sepsis, a life-threatening infection. Several studies published later — including one published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine — suggest his results are, so far, not reproducible.

(Note: This is not the first time concerns have been raised about data in a paper that Marik co-authored. In November 2021, the Journal of Intensive Care Medicine (JICM) retracted an article by Marik et al. on their protocol for COVID-19.)

In August 2023, the American Board of Internal Medicine informed Marik that his certification was to be revoked for spreading misinformation. (Kory received the same notice.)

The Washington Post analyzed disciplinary records from medical boards in 50 states, and  found that several patients died of COVID-19 — after being given ivermectin (or hydroxychloroquine) instead of proven established treatment. And some of the doctors who prescribed these alternatives said they were following treatment protocols recommended by the FLCCC. 

As for Kory, he is president and co-founder of Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance (FLCCC) — an outfit which does not answer to state medical boards. He is a major promoter of the antiparasitic drug ivermectin as both a preventive and a cure for the disease. 

FLCCC asserts that ivermectin reduces viral load and accelerates recovery in patients — claims not backed up by peer-reviewed studies. And the World Health Organization, US Food and Drug Administration, and European Medicines Agency all advise against the use of ivermectin for COVID-19 outside of clinical trials. 

Nonetheless, Kory boldly testified to the US Senate that ivermectin is a 100 percent cure for COVID-19 — in the absence of any clear evidence. Many studies show ivermectin to be ineffective in treating the disease: Go here, here, here, here, here, here, here.  

And what of those studies that appear to support ivermectin? One investigator explained that “the current body of evidence for ivermectin has been seriously undermined by a lack of good-quality evidence and the rapid dissemination of misleading information on social media.”

Kory himself came down with COVID-19, after taking the drug weekly. Afterward, he advocated taking it twice weekly.

The Washington Post analyzed disciplinary records from medical boards in 50 states, and  found that several patients died of COVID-19 after being given ivermectin (or hydroxychloroquine) instead of proven established treatment. And some of the doctors who prescribed these alternatives said they were following treatment protocols recommended by Kory’s FLCCC.  

A medical journal retracted a paper of Kory’s on ivermectin after discovering it was based on flawed data. Another journal issued an “expression of concern” about a paper he authored, saying there were “suspicions about the underlying data” on which the paper depended to show that ivermectin was a viable treatment. 

In fact, some doctors have been disciplined for prescribing ivermectin to patients who — apparently in the absence of conventional treatment — subsequently died of the disease. While these issues continue to play out in legal cases, the tone and tenor of the personal attack upon Neitzel remains unjustified. 

The Point of Thacker’s Attack

As propounded by Thacker and others who share his views, millions who believe in vaccines are necessarily in league with, or duped by, huge corporations: 

Allison Neitzel’s story encapsulates everything that went wrong during COVID when self-defined “disinformation reporters” glommed onto anyone they tripped over on social media as an “expert” they could deploy to castigate those refusing to bend the knee to Big Pharma.

As if no one could possibly have any other reason for rejecting the claims made by vaccine opponents.

What ultimately comes through — from Thacker’s assertions, from their almost immediate amplification by FLCCC and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Children’s Health Defense (CHD), and from ongoing lawsuits furthering the attack on other individuals and institutions alike — is an apparently coordinated effort to intimidate and silence those who disagree with them. Paradoxically, this is the same accusation they levy against the establishment. 

I would also point out the hypocrisy of these doctors and their allies who blatantly dish it out, but seem unable to take it — assailing virtually the entire scientific establishment but reacting angrily when their own methodologies and motives are challenged. 

This parallels exactly the climate change debate, where the cynical and naive come together to undermine attempts to address this existential matter. 

In addition, US intelligence reports that many of the organizations successfully creating chaos and undermining trust in Western institutions — in the areas of medicine, science, and finance — are getting significant support from foreign agents. That’s not McCarthyism. It is Putinism. It is exactly how he operates. 

Many of the “believers” in these misinformation campaigns are unwitting dupes. Nonetheless, with a growing coalition that purports not to trust anything about the United States, it is plain to see who benefits — and that is most certainly not the American people. 

Coming next: the web of interests behind the anti-vaccine movement. 

Addendum

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Author

  • Russ Baker

    Russ Baker is Editor-in-Chief of WhoWhatWhy. He is an award-winning investigative journalist who specializes in exploring power dynamics behind major events.

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