A Lesson In Chinese Propaganda: Rebekah Jones, Covid, and Ron DeSantis

AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

Communists are terrible at governance. The body count is pretty good proof of that. But like that guy you work with who spends most of his day telling everyone what he’s working on rather than actually working on that thing, they’re very good at what they practice: propaganda.

Lately the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has adopted an interesting strategy in their propaganda efforts. They’ve started using leftist talking points originating here and parroting them toward an agenda that will ultimately, presumably, make their system appear superior to the U.S. system.

A recent example is the case of the serial fabulist Rebekah Jones, a COVID dashboard manager from Florida who lied about her duties, access to data, and agenda in an effort to make it look like Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis had botched the state’s COVID response. Charles W. Cooke had the definitive takedown of Ms. Jones in May.

Jones’s central claim is nothing less dramatic than that she has uncovered a massive conspiracy in the third most populous state in the nation, and that, having done so, she has been ruthlessly persecuted by the governor and his “Gestapo.” Specifically, Jones claims that, while she was working at the FDOH last year, she was instructed by her superiors to alter the “raw” data so that Florida’s COVID response would look better, and that, having refused, she was fired. Were this charge true, it would reflect one of the most breathtaking political scandals in all of American history.

But it’s not true. Indeed, it’s nonsense from start to finish. Jones isn’t a martyr; she’s a myth-peddler. She isn’t a scientist; she’s a fabulist. She’s not a whistleblower; she’s a good old-fashioned confidence trickster. And, like any confidence trickster, she understands her marks better than they understand themselves.

The entire article is well worth your time, and it did a fair job of turning the tide against Jones’ claims; although the effort to find fault in DeSantis’ approach remains strong on the left. So much so, in fact, that the CCP has apparently decided to adopt it as their own.

Jerry Dunleavy of The Washington Examiner reports that state run Chinese news outlets are using Jones’ claims to “cast doubt on the origins of COVID-19” and to link the virus to their own propaganda aim of blaming the U.S. military for the virus.

The state-run Global Times published a piece on Saturday focusing on Jones’s accusations and subsequent layoff, claiming Florida “is causing public concern due to its serious epidemic situation and the lack of transparency on its early cases — especially in the case of 171 early patients’ data that was deleted and hidden.” It also claimed Florida cases emerged “even earlier than the virus outbreak in China’s Wuhan.”

A graphic in the piece attempted to link baseless allegations about U.S. military athlete Maatje Benassi and the Wuhan Military World Games to the claims by Jones.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian took aim at DeSantis on Thursday, sharing a CCP-run China Daily video criticizing Florida’s COVID-19 response and captioning it, “While people around the world are doing everything they can to contain the spread of the #DeltaVariant…”

Zhao has repeatedly retweeted efforts by the Global Times to push the U.S. Army conspiracy theory, also tweeting about Fort Detrick.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying also began targeting DeSantis in July, tying claims about Florida’s data to China’s broader effort to cast doubt on COVID’s origins and sharing May 2020 articles about Jones.

This should be a lesson to American leftists — and Americans in general — that when you engage in smear campaigns and political messaging without verifying the credibility of the information, it’s not just American voters who are listening. And if your message is finding common ground with Communists seeking to shirk blame for unleashing a plague on the world, perhaps it’s time to rethink your allegiance to the message. As Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’ press secretary, told Dunleavy, “Believing Rebekah Jones’s conspiracy theory means you believe that thousands of public health employees from all 67 counties, many of whom are Democrats, conspired to manipulate COVID numbers to help DeSantis politically. This is outlandish and nonsensical, but countless Americans believe it, and the CCP benefits.”