“If you had told us just four days ago that the Biden administration was funding secret bio labs in Ukraine of all places, we would not have believed you,” Carlson said earlier in the week as the prelude to a long monologue asserting, based on Nuland’s reference to “biological research facilities,” that “the Russian disinformation they’ve been telling us for days is a lie and a conspiracy theory and crazy and immoral to believe is, in fact, totally and completely true.” (Spoiler: It’s not.)
Carlson also attacked, at length, unnamed reporters definitely including a Fox News national security correspondent. “You know that the Pentagon talking points you saw reported as fact on television today — and last night — were an utter lie,” he said. “Did the reporters who repeated those talking points verbatim know that they were a lie? Maybe they did. On the other hand, how would they know? They didn’t bother to do any reporting what. So. Ever.” Unlike Tucker, whose own network’s lawyers once responded to a slander lawsuit by arguing that—as a judge wrote in accepting the argument—the “‘general tenor’ of the show should then inform a viewer that [Carlson] is not ‘stating actual facts’ about the topics he discusses and is instead engaging in ‘exaggeration’ and ‘non-literal commentary.’”
So the guy whose own lawyers say no reasonable person could believe he’s stating actual facts is getting all of this from the words “biological research facilities.” Oh, and years of Russian disinformation, along with more recent QAnon disinformation.
Carlson did ask one good question, though: “Why would we fund something like that in Ukraine, and why didn’t you secure the contents of these bio labs before the Russians arrived as you knew they would?
Gosh, I don’t know, it sure sounds like that question offers two good reasons the “Ukraine has bioweapons thanks to the US” claims are false. 1) Why would the US fund something like that in Ukraine, rather than any of a dozen other countries with less risk of invasion? (It probably wouldn’t.) And 2) Why doesn’t the Biden administration seems fully panicked about these labs, rather than merely concerned? (Because the realistic assessment is that the labs are one of many concerns, not a massive threat to human life.)
As Mark Sumner has explained, the labs the US helped support in Ukraine are biosafety level two. Here’s information about what BSL-2 labs can do at Stanford University. And George Washington University. And the University of Rochester. And the University of Arizona. Go on, Google a research university and “BSL-2.” The US is working with Ukraine on the kind of labs that are commonplace in this country, labs in which lab coats and gloves are considered appropriate personal protective equipment, along with, maybe, if the circumstances warrant, eye protection and face shields.
The effort was both to reduce the risk of former Soviet labs that actually might have been able to produce bioweapons and to improve”Ukraine’s biological safety, security and surveillance for both human and animal health,” according to a Defense Department fact sheet. That includes surveillance like the kind that has helped public health authorities know what is going on with the COVID-19 pandemic. The animal health part of that sentence is important, too, though: a biosafety level three facility the US helped establish in Georgia monitored a disease that hundreds of thousands of pigs in the region—and yes, Russia tried to blame that outbreak on the lab, despite the outbreak predating the lab by several years. One of the reasons continuing for concern about the labs is that they have been used to research pathogens that could pose a significant danger to animals, and to agriculture. That could be biowarfare fodder, but not of the kind Carlson and Greenwald and Putin want us to imagine.
But now, if Russia uses chemical weapons—as it has before in targeting individuals like opposition leader Alexei Navalny and former spy Sergei Skripal—the groundwork has been laid among Fox News viewers to buy into Russian claims that Ukraine or the US was responsible for the attack. And, Marcy Wheeler points out, there’s another benefit to this specific piece of disinformation:
And that right there explains a lot of the glee as Carlson and Greenwald have latched on to this issue: It’s relief at having something, anything, to use to distract from what’s really going on in Ukraine.