“Checking facts” on the taxpayer dime

An anti-Trump media item from Arizona last month wasn’t just deranged, it was imbecilic. Even The Australian Broadcasting Commission’s  Washington team wouldn’t recycle it. But it made the grade for the RMIT (University)-ABC’s shameless Fact Check Unit, run by Russell Skelton.

Above: Fact Check boss Russell Skelton and his ABC celebrity spouse Virginia Trioli

An anti-Trump media item from Arizona last month wasn’t just deranged, it was imbecilic. Even The Australian Broadcasting Commission’s  Washington team wouldn’t recycle it. But it made the grade for the RMIT-ABC’s shameless Fact Check Unit, run by Russell Skelton. For partisan slime on the taxpayer dime the RMIT-ABC unit rivals Paul Barry’s Media Watch.[1]

“RMIT” equals Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

Let me explain. The “news” on March 23-24 involved a woman who I’ll call “Marge”, 61, married to “Homer”, 68. At some time Marge had a pond of koi fish, which are technicolor carp. They are prone to parasites and she bought a bottle of chloroquine phosphate to purge the fish of their infestations. As commonly happens, her koi departed (one way or another) but the bottle stayed on a back shelf in her pantry.



Now pay attention to the word “chloroquine”. On March 19, President Donald Trump began praising the long-standing malaria prescription drug chloroquine for assumed benefits to Wuhan virus sufferers. Marge heard him on TV. When she went to the pantry to stack some dog food, she noticed her fish treatment had a label including “chloroquine phosphate”. As she subsequently said and was quoted as saying, she thought, “‘Hey, isn’t that the stuff they’re talking about on TV?’ And it was.” [No it wasn’t].

To that point Marge and Homer were healthy. They each mixed one teaspoon of chloroquine phosphate with soda water and drank it, hoping to ward off any future Wuhan Virus.

Labels on the sort of tank cleaner ingested by Marge and Homer show a bright warning, “Not for human consumption” and “Toxic to all algae, corals, worms and many inverts.” For fish, the stated dosage is an eighth of a teaspoon per ten gallons, compared with Homer and Marge’s self-medicating on one teaspoon per swig of tonic water each. Says an official chloroquine guide, “Overdose of antimalarial drugs, particularly chloroquine, can be fatal.”

Sure enough, Marge and Homer in half an hour were not feeling well. Both were rushed to hospital where Homer died and Marge went to intensive care. As everyone emotes these days, my heart goes out to Marge. But all the same, the couple behaved like unimaginable idiots.

We now move onto Theme Two: the media incites Marge to bash Donald Trump.

NBC-TV reporter Vaughn Hillyard conducts a phoned exclusive with Marge from her ICU bed. Marge is in public service mode alerting Americans to Trump’s perfidy. She implores media maestro Hillyard to “Educate the people!”, saying it is “the most horrible day of my life” and “this is a heartache I’ll never get over.”

Maestro Hillyard (helpfully): What would be your message to the American public?

Marge: “Oh, my God! Don’t take anything. Don’t believe anything the President says and his people because they don’t know what they’re talking about. And don’t take anything — be so careful and call your doctor.

Hillyard: Did you see the President’s press conference? Where did you hear about–

Marge: Yeah. Yeah, we saw his press conference. It was on a lot, actually … We saw Trump on TV — every channel — and all of his buddies and that this was safe. Trump kept saying it was basically pretty much a cure.

Hillyard: And then did you did you seek out Chloroquine?

Marge: I had it in the house because I used to have koi fish.

Other Marge quotes included: “It feels like, like my heart is broken and it’ll never mend. It’s just broke– dead. Like my husband.”

Hillyard’s story was a splash on NBC news and NBC twitter. Responses included: “Trump killed this man as surely as if he had pulled the trigger on Fifth Avenue. I hope her warning to everybody else is broadcast 24/7 for the next week.”

And, “This is heartbreaking. Donald Trump is 100% responsible for this death. His ignorant ego is going to kill thousands.”

Tweeted another: “And I fear it will only get worse … many more people are going to end up just like this.” [Apparently Americans by the thousand will drink bottles of fish-pond cleaner].

There was some pushback in the Twitter thread, e.g. “People like that are why my hair dryer has a warning not to use it while showering.”

Marge’s laments about the President killing her husband also made it to ABC (US), Buzzfeed, CNN, the Daily Beast, Forbes, NPR, Slate, New York Times, Time, Huffington Post, USA Today, the Hill, Sky News, and CBC News.

Far from Arizona, at RMIT’s bastion of journalism education, Fact Check’s Russell Skelton announced a new newsletter to “snuff out” and “debunk” coronavirus misinformation: “Fake news and misinformation seem to be spreading as fast and as far as the virus itself, infecting our newsfeeds and timelines at this crucial moment.” And those to blame, says Skelton, include “climate change deniers, according to Desmog, a website devoted to spreading accurate climate science.”

Am I paranoid, or is Skelton’s political agenda detectable in the allegedly “nonpartisan collaboration” between RMIT and ABC?[2]  Desmog’s case against “deniers” that Skelton cites is so silly (and irrelevant to the Wuhan virus crisis) that I’ll just cite Desmog’s conclusion:

When so much of the message that there’s nothing to worry about on climate change comes from [skeptic] think tanks like Cato, AEI, and ACSH that made unsupported and flawed calls on COVID-19, it’s worth taking a moment to pause and think about that as well. Because as monumental as the impacts of this pandemic are now, the science tells us that if we fail to dramatically cut carbon and methane emissions, the impacts of climate changemay be even more profound over the long run.[3]

In other words, locking down the global population and destroying the world economy must be a good thing because we’re cutting those emissions that are so really, awfully harmful. Mr and Mrs Skelton — they’re another cuddly ABC couple (pictured above); Mrs Skelton is Virginia Trioli — enjoy combined salaries from the taxpayers of something like $400,000 per annum — a sum many might assume would insulate them for the duration of this virus.[4]    ($1 AUD = $US 0. 62

Skelton then brings us Marge and Homer and their Trump-inspired decision to swig toxic chemicals. “White House Update” is the heading, and here’s the full text (emphasis added):

In tragic news a man is deadand his wife is making a recovery in the US after they ingested a version of chloroquine, a substance Donald Trump falsely claimed had been approved to treat coronavirus.

President Trump claimed at a press conferenceon March 19 that the US would be making chloroquine, used to treat malaria, ‘available almost immediately’ and that it had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

But according to AP Fact CheckCNN’s Facts First, and factcheck.org, the FDA is only investigating whether the drug can be used to treat COVID-19 and has not approved it as a treatment for the disease.[5]

Those fact checks clearly didn’t reach one American couple, who ingested a parasite treatment for pet fish containing chloroquine phosphate after seeing Mr Trump’s comments on TV.

A doctor at the clinic which treated the couple offered some good advice: “You need to listen to the scientists.”

Sure, Trump mis-spoke about the FDA. But I’ve read the 14,000-word transcript of his press conference – Trump runs a commendably open government – and nowhere does he urge his citizens to drink fish-parasite killer. The Trump connection to the woes of Marge and Homer is a construct unworthy of Skelton’s “non-partisan” Fact Check, or for that matter, of homo sapiens.

UPDATE 1: It now appears that the whole “fish tank lady” saga was a Democrat scamming attempt that went wrong. “Marge” was not a Trump fan prepared to follow his alleged advice in chemical quaffing who got disillusioned and spread her dismay about Trump’s perfidy to the wide world. She was a long-time and consistent Democrat donor, according to the brilliant Steve Crowder. Moreover Marge had been formally charged  with assaulting her husband “Homer” and was in the process of divorcing him. When these awkward facts were notified to NBC-TV, which had kick-started the story, the people there refused to take an interest in the facts and refused to say to what extent they were aware of them BEFORE broadcasting the story. In other words, the whole thing was some sort of numbskull Democrat conspiracy to promote fake news. Hat tip to the brilliant Steve Crowder and to our commenter  “Alistair” for alerting us. The RMIT-ABC Fact Check team under Russell Skelton, despite their substantial taxpayer-financed salary bill, failed to do this due diligence in their White House Update quoted in full above.  As of now (10/4/20) RMIT-ABC Fact Check is continuing to promote a fake news story in the course of taking numbskull cheap shots at climate sceptics.  There is much irony in Skelton’s heading, “Coronavirus is providing fertile ground for misinformation. Our new fact-checking newsletter seeks to snuff it out”.


UPDATE 2: Trump’s “mis-speak” about FDA approval of chloroquine was ahead of the pace. The US government is now accepting significant quantities of the drug for potential use and issuing emergency authorisation to prescribe it. I assume RMIT-ABC Fact Check will now add the clarification below to its Trump “gotcha”, assuming its takes seriously its 2019 International Fact-Checking Network seal of approval.

March 29, 2020 — FDA issues emergency use authorization for donated hydroxychloroquine sulfate, chloroquine phosphate

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today accepted 30 million doses of hydroxychloroquine sulfate donated by Sandoz, the Novartis generics and biosimilars division, and one million doses of chloroquine phosphate donated by Bayer Pharmaceuticals, for possible use in treating patients hospitalized with COVID-19 or for use in clinical trials. These and other companies may donate additional doses, and companies have ramped up production to provide additional supplies of the medication to the commercial market.

“President Trump is taking every possible step to protect Americans from the coronavirus and provide them with hope,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “Scientists in America and around the world have identified multiple potential therapeutics for COVID-19, including chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine. The President’s bold leadership and the hard work of FDA and HHS’s Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response have succeeded in securing this large donation of medicine. We’ll continue working around the clock to get American patients access to therapeutics that may help them battle COVID-19, while building the evidence to evaluate which options are effective.”

Tony Thomas new book Come to think of it – essays to tickle the brain, is available here


[1] See the RMIT-ABC unit’s desperate claim last month (March) that Liberal MHR Craig Kelly’s Australian temperature facts were “flawed” even while admitting they were correct. In December 2018 the unit was also forced to admit Kelly was correct that Tuvalu was growing not shrinking, but it blustered that Tuvalu was at risk in the future, which is nothing to do with facts.

[2] The show was also awarded the compliance badge of the International Fact-Checking Network for qualities including “non-partisanship and fairness”.

[3] The impacts, quoted by Desmog, involve the hypothetical consequences of a hypothetical 4degC warming by the year 2100, when Skelton and myself and Desmog writers and current Quadrant readers will be dead and unable to argue the toss about it.

[4] Virginia Trioli’s ABC predecessor Jon Faine got well over $300,000.

[5] Some redundant “fact checking” there: Trump’s health guru Dr Anthony Fauci corrected Trump’s mis-statement within 24 hours


  1. Tony,

    Why is anyone surprised? Skelton’s ‘Fact Check Unit’ is the very model of truth in advertising.

    You just have to check the meaning of ‘check,’ mate.

    – to retard the progress of [sth, esp. sth communicable]

    My dictionary gives this example sentence:

    “Efforts have already begun to check the spread of [the fact] before thousands, if not millions, more are exposed to it”

    I shudder to imagine an Australia where the truth was allowed to go unchecked! $400,000 is meagre recompense indeed for the men and women (or man and wife) who stand vigil between us and such a dystopian scenario.

    (For members of a Hockey Team, like our Untermennnnschlich opponents, it has the additional sense of ‘to strategically assault [sbd].’)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. On the subject of Fact Checking, I was today alerted to the Media Bias/Fact Check.com because I recently reblogged an article I saw referenced on Ice Age Now, where Joe D’Aleo (among others) posts. The comment said Ice Age Now is not a reliable source of scientific information. So I went to see what they had to say. Skipping the gory details, here is a short list of the Fact Checkers evaluations:

    Overall, we rate NoTricksZone a pseudoscience blog based on the publication of climate change disinformation opposing the consensus of science.

    Overall, they are not Friends of Science and we rate them a Strong Pseudoscience site for the promotion of alternative global warming information.

    Overall, we rate Climate Change Dispatch as a Conspiracy and Quackery level Pseudoscience source for the promotion of false or misleading information that is not inline with the consensus of science.

    Overall, we rate the Climate Depot a strong Pseudoscience source based on promotion of human influenced climate denialism propaganda and the use of poor sources who have failed numerous fact checks.

    Overall, we rate Climate Etc as a pseudoscience website due to its promotion of anti-climate science propaganda.

    Overall, we rate Climatism a strong conspiracy and quackery level pseudoscience website based on the promotion of Agenda 21 conspiracies and human influenced climate change denialism as well as a complete lack of transparency.

    Overall, we rate the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) a Quackery level Pseudoscience source based on complete rejection of the scientific consensus on climate change as well as the promotion of anti-climate propaganda that is either false or misleading. This is not a credible source for scientific information.

    Overall, we rate Ice Age Now a strong Conspiracy and quackery level Pseudoscience website that is Low in factual reporting through rejection of the consensus of science as well as the publication of false climate news stories.

    Overall, we rate the ICSC a Quackery level pseudoscience organization based on routinely denying human impact on climate change, which differs from the consensus of climate scientists.

    Overall, Iowa Climate Science Education is a quackery level pseudoscience website that has zero credibility regarding climate science. They also completely lack transparency in regards to ownership and funding.

    Overall, we rate JunkScience.com a quackery level Pseudoscience website and a strong conspiracy website based on improbable coordination of climate scientists, globally coming to the same conclusions and for sinister purposes.

    Overall, we rate Real Climate Science a Quackery level pseudoscience website as well as a moderate conspiracy website based on promoting that the solutions for climate change lead to communism. We also rate them Low for factual reporting due to failed fact checks and a complete rejection of the consensus of science in regards to human influenced climate change.

    Overall, we rate Watts Up with That a strong pseudoscience and conspiracy website based on the promotion of consistent human influenced climate denialism propaganda.

    Overall, we rate Zero Hedge an extreme right biased conspiracy website based on the promotion of false/misleading/debunked information that routinely denigrates the left.

    At least now you know where to go if you are tired of hearing the party line.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ron, has Cliscep been overlooked yet again? What must we do to gain notoriety and the much coveted “Quackery level pseudoscience website” status that we should all aspire to?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The consensus of lazy scientists publish articles in lazy journals that are reported by lazy media and used by lazy politicians and bureaucrats to justify bad legislation. I doubt a majority of the believers realise that “carbon” is not the same thing as “carbon dioxide”, and the consensus are quite happy conflating the two terms.

    Chloroquine phosphate has chloroquine in the name, so if the consensus teaches us anything, it must be the same stuff.

    Homer and Marge’s mistake was perfectly understandable, but it wasn’t Trump’s fault.


  5. @ Ron

    “Overall, we rate the ICSC a Quackery level pseudoscience organization based on routinely denying human impact on climate change, which differs from the consensus of climate scientists.”

    Seldom – no, often – has the English language been so mangled. And in…

    “Overall, we rate Climate Etc as a pseudoscience website due to its promotion of anti-climate science propaganda.”

    … I wonder what “anti-climate” science is? Anyway, to judge Climate Etc as pseudoscience is ludicrous, unless being classed as pseudoscience means having “people smarter than you writing articles your mumma believes you can follow the mathematics of.”


  6. Ron, you’re right. Technically the climate analogue is ‘crank.’ Nice diagram of the Tree of Mann. It would make more sense back to front, though.


  7. “Homer and Marge’s mistake was perfectly understandable”
    Dear Dr. Jekyll:
    My niece was given a chemotherapy drug containing arsenic to treat her leukemia. Should I buy some rat poison to prevent me from ever getting leukemia?


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