The Daily Mail took down a digital article last week that promoted Project Veritas’ latest sting operation alleging that a Pifizer executive admitted the pharmaceutical giant was making a “more potent” version of COVID in order to create new vaccines for sale.
Following days of anti-vaxxers and right-wing media outlets complaining about the article’s deletion, and hours after The Daily Beast reached out to the British tabloid, the piece was back online—and was completely changed.
Senior reporter Andrea Cavallier, the article’s original author, was originally removed from the byline but has since reappeared. The updated article, which came back online Monday afternoon, now largely focuses on Pfizer’s response to Project Veritas’ video and the far-right activist group’s suggestion that the company is practicing “gain-of-function” research. In addition to Cavallier, the byline now features health editor Connor Boyd and health reporter Caitlin Tilley.
“Our original story did not carry a response from Pfizer. We temporarily took the story down while we vigorously pursued answers,” a Daily Mail spokesperson told Confider. “Now Pfizer has responded, we are able to report that they have confirmed they manipulated the covid virus—although they insist there was no gain of function. This updated story is now fully live again.”
In a video that went viral in right-wing social media circles, a person Project Veritas claims is Pfizer’s director of research and development tells an undercover journalist that the company is “exploring” the possibility of “mutating” viruses in monkeys so as to “preemptively develop new vaccines.”
“You’re not supposed to do gain-of-function research with viruses,” the man, whom Project Veritas claims is named Jordon Trishton Walker, added. “Regularly not. We can do these selected structure mutations to make them more potent. There is research ongoing about that. I don’t know how that is going to work. There better not be any more outbreaks because Jesus Christ.”
The video blew up among conservatives, especially vaccine skeptics. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson fumed about the “near-total media blackout of this story” about how Pfizer was conducting “Frankenstein science.” GOP lawmakers soon began sending letters to the company’s CEO asking him to confirm whether Pfizer was taking part in gain-of-function research, citing Project Veritas’ “investigative report.” (Conservatives have latched onto the theory that Dr. Anthony Fauci funded gain-of-function research in Wuhan, largely blaming the “lab leak theory” for possibly creating COVID-19.)
The Mail’s initial piece on the video essentially gives a play-by-play of Project Veritas’ video while noting the outlet reached out to Pfizer for comment. Shortly after it went up on Thursday, however, the article was nowhere to be found on the website. And its disappearance soon drew notice.
“Hi, @MailOnline can you clarify why you have appeared to remove this story from your website?” British parliament member Andrew Bridgen tweeted on Thursday. Bridgen was recently suspended by his own Conservative Party for peddling conspiracy theories about vaccines and comparing the side effects of COVID shots to the Holocaust.
After the Mail piece was pulled offline, Pfizer released an online statement responding to the allegations made about the company following the publication of Project Veritas’ video.
“In the ongoing development of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, Pfizer has not conducted gain of function or directed evolution research,” the statement, released Friday night, said. “Working with collaborators, we have conducted research where the original SARS-CoV-2 virus has been used to express the spike protein from new variants of concern.”
The statement also added that “in a limited number of cases when a full virus does not contain any known gain of function mutations, such virus may be engineered to enable the assessment of antiviral activity in cells.” The Mail’s updated article, which went back up on Monday afternoon, now largely focuses on Pfizer’s response to the undercover video.
“Pfizer flatly denied conducting gain of function or directed evolution research on monkeys but admitted that ‘in a limited number of cases’ it altered the virus and tested new mutations against its Covid antiviral drug Paxlovid in Petri dishes,” the article now reads.
Additionally, the Mail asked virologists and epidemiologists to react to Pfizer’s press release. One scientist, who is an advocate of the lab leak theory, claimed it shows “Pfizer and its collaborators performed… high-risk gain-of-function research.” Another virologist, however, told the Mail that there was nothing “alarming” about the company’s explanation.
“Pfizer’s response was released at 8pm on Friday, three days after the Project Veritas video was released, unleashing a frenzy on social media.” the article added.
The rest of the piece, meanwhile, noted that it was not able to verify that Walker actually works for Pfizer. It also provided a comprehensive rundown of technical terms featured in both the video and Pfizer’s statement.