What really happens in Holt Street?

Has Sharri Markson slipped up again, with a Chinese conspiracy exclusive neatly timed to coincide with the announcement of pre-sales of her first book?

10 May 2021 | Marcus Reubenstein

It appears the “drums of war” have been temporarily silenced at Rupert Murdoch’s Australian HQ in Holt Street, Surry Hills. Instead, someone has lobbed a smoke grenade into the newsroom at The Australian and it has landed on the desk of investigative newshound Sharri Markson.  

Months after the COVID-19 “Wuhan Lab Conspiracy” had seemingly been put to rest, Australia’s most enthusiastic Wuhan sceptic, Markson has come up with an explosive front page exclusive.

On Saturday, Murdoch’s national masthead proclaimed:

“Chinese military scientists discussed the weaponisation of SARS coronaviruses five years before the COVID-19 pandemic, outlining their ideas in a document that predicted a third world war would be fought with biological weapons.

“The document, written by People’s Liberation Army scientists and senior Chinese public health officials in 2015, was obtained by the US State Department as it conducted an investigation into the origins of COVID-19, The Weekend Australian has confirmed.”

And what was Markson’s source for this claim?

According to her copy: “The revelation features in an upcoming investigative book on the origins of COVID-19, titled What Really Happened In Wuhan, to be published by Harper­Collins.”

That was the source, and Markson gave HarperCollins a wrap for publishing it, but the text of her story negates the important fact that Sharri is the author of this yet to be published book.

In fairness to The Australian’s editors an image of the book’s cover appeared in the story. However, in fairness to journalistic ‘ethics’ the fact that Markson was relying upon herself as the main source for a front-page exclusive surely warranted mention in the story itself.

Straight to the discount bin

On Monday The Australian ‘fessed-up’ that Sharri was the author, giving the book a glowing write-up in the “Media” section of the paper. Oddly enough, the self-congratulatory piece went as far as making the point it was a work of non-fiction—lest there might be confusion in the minds of people actually familiar with her work as a journalist.

In an ever-prescient Markson fashion, according to fellow Murdoch scribe James Madden, her decision to write this book came, “following the release in February of the World Health Organisation’s report into the origins of COVID-19.”

The burning question is how she managed to produce a definitive volume, due for release in September, on the origins of one of the world’s greatest ever pandemics in less than 12 weeks?

A clearance bin special at 21 percent off!

There is an even more obvious question: How, as The Australian contends, was Markson prompted to write a book in February based on a WHO investigation the findings of which were released, more than a month later, on the 30th of March?  

And why was HarperCollins so keen to jump on board? That may forever remain a mystery—the fact that, Sharri’s boss, Rupert Murdoch owns HarperCollins is not.

Needless to say, there was no disclosure by the Australian that it was plugging a book ultimately published by its parent company but there was the obligatory helpful online sales link to potential buyers.

The kicker, is even before its release, the book is being offered at a 21 percent discount to its cover price. Not something that would usually instil a sense of pride in a first time author.

What about the other book?

Perhaps the real kicker can be found in Markson’s Weekend Australian exclusive itself, which relied on a document she claims the US State Department uncovered in 2020.

Within a couple of hours of the “Wuhan Exclusive” hitting breakfast tables across Australia, a cub journalist from Chinese state media outlet CGTN took the brave step of exposing the actual source of the document… from deep within the dark heart of Communist China.

Shen Shiwei took to Twitter announcing the origin was not a US State Department dossier but a book written by Chinese academic Xu De-zhong in 2015 and freely available on Amazon.

Even more embarrassingly for Markson, De-Zhong’s tired volume is selling for eight bucks more than her own Wuhan thriller.

Not a good look for HarperCollins, The Australian or Markson. It’s an especially bad look for the US State Department which has a A$66 billion annual budget to play around with, yet took five years to find a book sold on Amazon.

US State Department dossiers selling on Amazon? Not a good look.

Chinese journalist, Shen responded to Markson and The Australian, via Twitter, with: “Can you find someone who can read Chinese before reporting?

“This embarrassing story is totally based on a conspiracy theory book that actually says SARS was made by the US military. And you can buy the book on Amazon, it’s not a leaked document.”      

Markson rolls out ASPI and the usual suspects for expert comment

Markson, who last year produced a string of debunked reports linking Australian academics to the Chinese military and Communist Party relied on ASPI (Australian Strategic Policy Institute) to support her latest work.

ASPI Executive Director, Peter Jennings was quoted in the story, but these were general quotes about the capabilities of the Chinese military, he did not comment on the bio-warfare conspiracy being advanced in the story.

In fact, Jennings’s comments were so general in nature, it’s hard to imagine that even the most strident opponents of ASPI would take issue with them.   

Markson made reference to the China-sceptic think tank’s China Defence Universities Tracker, however there was one important extract from the second page of the report she chose not to quote.  

“ASPI is grateful to the US State Department for providing funding for this research project.”

The US State Department happens to be ASPI’s second largest financial contributor after the Australian Defence Department.  

Markson’s piece was also supported by quotes from security expert Robert Potter. Earlier this month he leapt to the defence of ASPI after, former foreign minister, Bob Carr accused the weapons maker-funded think tank of being “hardliners” on the “eve of a war over Taiwan.”

There was no mention in The Australian that ASPI maintains a page on its website devoted to articles written by Potter. Nor was there any mention that the company Potter runs, and co-founded, Internet 2.0 counts the US State Department as one of its clients.

Whilst Potter and Markson may share similar views on the rise of China, the security expert took to Twitter quite explicitly stating, “From a digital forensics point of view there wasn’t actually much for us to do. But it was an interesting project. The document exists.”

In light of, Chinese journalist, Shen’s revelations one might question exactly what Potter’s cyber security firm classifies as “an interesting project.”   

He further qualified his input to The Australian stating (with misappropriation of the apostrophe), “We were able research the background of the document. We will let experts in the field and journalists now judge it’s content.”  

In fairness to Potter, one might characterize his contribution as being limited to a fairly responsible comment in an otherwise irresponsible Murdoch exclusive.