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No, Guardian columnist George Monbiot didn’t say he’s had Covid 23 times – fake headline and op-ed

IN SHORT: An odd bit of Britain’s anti-vax politics has spread around the world in a screenshot that seems to have journalist George Monbiot saying, among other things, that “billions of kids are dying from long Covid every day”. But the screenshot doesn’t show an op-ed from the Guardian newspaper – it’s fake.

“I've caught Covid for the 23rd time despite having had dozens of boosters (I've lost count). Thank heavens for the vaccine.”

That’s the headline on a screenshot of what seems to be an opinion piece on the website of the Guardian, an influential left-leaning British newspaper.

The blurb below reads: “Literally billions of kids are dying from long Covid every day but evil anti-vaxxers – e.g. the hated Bridgen – don't care.”

The byline is that of George Monbiot, a Guardian columnist, author and climate activist. The screenshot shows Monbiot’s Guardian headshot.

It’s dated 11 May 2023, when it first appeared online. The screenshot has since spread on social media across the world, including in Nigeria. It can be seen here, here, here and here.

Long Covid is a broad term for a range of debilitating health conditions experienced by people who have had the Covid-19 disease. Long Covid is generally not fatal.

The “hated Bridgen” in the screenshot’s blurb refers to British MP Andrew Bridgen. Bridgen was expelled from the country’s Conservative party in April 2023 for tweeting, in January, that the rollout of Covid vaccines was “the biggest crime against humanity since the Holocaust”.

Bridgen’s tweet appears to have since been deleted. (The Holocaust refers to the killing of more than six million mostly Jewish people by Nazi Germany in the late 1930s and early 1940s.)

The screenshot’s headline suggests that Covid vaccines and boosters don’t work, but that Monbiot wrongly clings to the belief that they do. The blurb suggests that Monbiot is somehow ignorant, for example, of the number of children who “die every day” of long Covid.

But is this a real Guardian headline? We checked.


No evidence of article

There is no record of the article on the Guardian’s website. At time of publication four op-eds by Monbiot had been published on the site in May 2023: on 3 May, 12 May, 18 May and 26 May. None discussed Covid. There was no opinion piece dated 11 May 2023 with the headline given in the screenshot.

A search using established search engines and the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine returned no evidence of the article, on the Guardian site or anywhere else online.

‘Virulent new politics of denial’

To be sure, Africa Check reached out to Monbiot via his blog.

His assistant responded: “Many thanks for writing and for checking this with George. George’s response to the headline is quoted in this article from Reuters.”

The Reuters fact-check, dated 15 May, quotes Monbiot at length. He says:

It might seem incredible that many people believed this was genuine, but there is no pool so shallow that thousands won’t drown in it. The effect of such fake materials is to direct a torrent of abuse at the people they target. Since it began to circulate, I’ve been called any number of things, including an “idiot” for believing what the headline claims I believe. Which is somewhat ironic ...

I think it’s yet another illustration of the way in which a virulent new politics of denial has told people it’s OK to believe whatever they want to believe, regardless of evidence or reason. Coupled with the conspiracy theories surrounding Covid-19 and the vaccines used against it, this politics has become pretty toxic.

Monbiot’s assistant also pointed us to his response to the screenshot, on Twitter.

“.@TheFreds believed this fake image was a real Guardian headline, and tweeted it, with the result that I'm being bombarded with abuse by their followers,” Monbiot tweeted on 11 May.

The Freds are the brothers Fred and Richard Fairbrass, from the 1990s pop duo Right Said Fred. They reportedly support neo-Nazi and anti-vaccination conspiracy theories.



Monbiot continued: “They have now deleted their tweet. I would be grateful if they could explain that the image is false.”

Some have said that the fabricated screenshot is satire. But it’s not clear what is being satirised, given that all the information about Covid in the headline and blurb is false and harmful.

The screenshot is fake.

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