The Vitamin Wars: Who Pays For Your Media?
This essay seeks to inform you about the importance of building a parallel independent media economy, and to tell you how to do it.
I feel a need to help people become literate about the economics of a free press, at this critical time in history, due to two recent ill-informed attacks on me, and on my news and democracy site DailyClout, by people who are not trained as journalists.
Dr Robert Malone, a molecular biologist, a former government contractor, and, per his bio, an inventor mRNA technology — and Dr Simon Goddek, a former academic specializing in aquaponics, turned Vitamin D entrepreneur – attacked me publicly; Dr Malone also attacked DailyClout.
I try always to be civil, indeed friendly, to all my colleagues. I often see Dr Malone at events, where we are cordial (I adore his talented wife and business partner Jill Glasspool Malone). I was among the first well-known hosts (if not the first) to interview Dr Goddek, when I understood how important was the alarm he was trying then to raise, that the PCR tests had been rushed through peer review in little more than a day:
Dr Goddek later did an interview with me, still up on his own site: “This week I had a fantastic chat with Naomi Wolf.” Indeed, I kept talking to Dr Goddek even as our backyard bear was wandering around outside.
But sadly, in both cases, our collegiality abruptly changed. Dr Goddek recently wrote, referring to the founder of one of DailyClout’s sponsors, The Wellness Company, which also has Dr Peter McCullough and other health freedom heroes on its leadership team:
“From left to right: Foster Coulson, Owner of The Wellness Company, and Blackface Justin. Never before has controlled opposition been as evident as in this case. The fact that they are ‘buying up’ all critical voices from Naomi Wolf, via ‘Vigilant’ Fox, to Rumble says it all. [Italics mine].”
Dr Malone also publicly attacked me and my company, for similar benighted reasons:
“Vigilant Fox News is wholly funded by The Wellness Company (TWC). This recent hit piece is actually clear cut corporate-funded propaganda. TWC is spending massive amounts of money to purchase the services of influencers, alternative media sites, and physicians to support it’s marketing campaigns. [Italics mine]. Gateway Pundit has also accepted TWC funding. [Italics mine] And there are many others. The non-profit Epoch Times corporation did not. […] Others on the TWC payroll include Children’s Health Defense and Daily Clout. [Italics mine]”
Why do I bother to address Dr Goddek’s and Dr Malone’s swipes? Confronting ill-founded criticism is not my usual method. I try to ignore attacks. I try to, yes, “be a lady,” that old-fashioned term that my grandmother rightly held dear.
My usual choice to disregard attacks is also strategic. I study the history of democracy movements. Tyrannical leaders always encourage infighting and mutual sniping among dissident colleagues, so as to weaken the opposition. The global monsters want us in the freedom movement to turn on one another, rather than saving our artillery (it’s a metaphor, don’t arrest me) for the global monsters themselves.
When dissident leaders succumb to this infighting, the chaos and nastiness always degrade freedom movements, and the internal sniping always prepares the way for their collapse.
But in this case, the attacks are materially damaging to me and my staff, and are simply wrong. Worse, they misinform people about the economics of a free press. So they require that I respond.
Both men’s attacks reveal — sorry, I must put it frankly — ignorance about the basics of ethical traditional journalism.
Dr Malone and Dr Goddek can’t be blamed for their lack of knowledge about how independent news businesses operate. They are not from the world of journalism.
A great blessing of this moment is that non-journalists have stepped up to do journalism — at a time when legacy media journalists have failed miserably at their profession’s obligations to be un-bought, unbiased and uncorrupted. The best journalism on Substack, for instance, is now being done by people who are not trained as professional journalists or who have not spent their careers in the news business: Dr Goddek and Dr Malone themselves; Steve Kirsch, founder and chairman of several tech startups; Dr McCullough, a distinguished cardiologist; Alexandra (Sasha) Latypova, whose prior career was in pharmaceutical research. Amy Kelly, a Six Sigma Black Belt project manager with a background in telecommunications, and my COO, broke some of the most important stories of our time. I could go on, and I apologize for not having space to name all the luminaries not trained as journalists, who stepped in to carry on the noble legacy of real investigative reporting, at a time when news outlets such as The New York Times and CNN are completely bought off by those — especially by Pharma interests — who should be the subjects of the most critical reporting.
But this blessing — of the rise of the “new journalists” who are non-journalists — also contains more than a bit of a curse. The fact that this is now the journalistic Wild West — in a good way — also includes the negatives of the Wild West.
Let me walk readers — and I hope, Dr Malone and Dr Goddek as well — through core facts regarding “Media 101.”
First of all, ethical journalism is accurate. Just because you can make a false claim, here in the Wild West of Substack and Rumble and on other social media, does not mean that you should.
It is at times unfortunate, for instance, that all the wonderful independent non-journalist voices out there, no longer have the benefit of editors or publishers, or company lawyers — or newspaper ethics codes.
The reason it is not great is that the traditional role in an ethical news organization of an editor or of the newspaper’s counsel, is to warn a writer when something is wrong, libelous, defamatory, or too inadequately sourced for publication.
As a result of this system having broken down, and the many new voices out there operating outside of traditional news institutions, the “new journalists” such as Dr Goddek and Dr Malone often lack the healthful checks on damaging and/or false statements that “old” traditional ethical journalism used to provide institutionally to writers.
The role of a publisher is to force the editor and writer to make public corrections if something is wrong, libelous, or too inadequately sourced for print.
And the role of the news company’s counsel is to read potentially defamatory articles in advance and highlight if they might expose the writer or news publication to litigation, or make unlawful (i.e. libelous or defamatory) claims. Such articles or statements also constitute bad journalism in themselves, lawsuit or no lawsuit.
In the absence of these traditional ethical-journalism checks, and with no professional training or career experience in the parameters of traditional ethical journalism, a few members of the freedom movement have gone on a spree of libelous, inaccurate, misleading and/or inadequately sourced attacks on one another (“Deep state!” “Controlled opposition!” “Bought the services”).
(In the case of US Freedom Flyers cofounder/activist Josh Yoder, and podcast host Pete Santilli, for instance, the assertions I had to rebut recently were simply made up out of whole cloth, and defamatory. They would never have been allowed out of an ethically run newsroom).
It is very bad indeed for our discourse, to have no traditional journalistic ethics — that require accuracy, evidence, and lawfulness — moderating what we say about one another in public. This means that the only bar to outright character assassination is lawyers’ letters. With no editors or publishers, unfortunately, around us, this leaves only lawyers to restrain reputation-damaging false or unsourced attacks, in the free-for-all that is social media.
This factually-inaccurate-or-else-litigious binary is not good for free speech or for vigorous, principled debate. It is ultimately chilling to free speech. It is expensive and destructive, too. It is bad overall for the freedom movement to have no ethical checks on false statements, no internally driven obligation to provide proper sourcing or evidence, nothing to prevent pure mudslinging, except the fear of legal letters.
There are other basics of ethical traditional journalism that my critics above seem not to understand.
The second basic tenet is the ethic of disclosure.
I am running a news site according to traditional ethical journalistic standards. Almost no one from my profession is left to do this any more — (I can count only a handful of trained journalists on the national stage who are continuing this tradition).
DailyClout — and I personally — thus always engage in disclosure of any conflicts of interest. This is the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics:
- Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it. Use original sources whenever possible.
- Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.
- Provide context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.
- Gather, update and correct information throughout the life of a news story. […]
- Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
- Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility.
- Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; do not pay for access to news. Identify content provided by outside sources, whether paid or not.
- Deny favored treatment to advertisers, donors or any other special interests, and resist internal and external pressure to influence coverage.
- Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two. Prominently label sponsored content. […]”
Traditional ethical journalists must disclose conflicts.
This is what we at DailyClout, and I myself, do, all day every day.
The problem with the Wild West of journalism by non-journalists, as exciting as it can be, is that these writers are often unfamiliar with, or may not feel bound by, traditional journalistic ethics regarding disclosure.
For instance, Dr Goddek launched a company that is a direct market competitor to The Wellness Company. Sunfluencer is a line of Vitamin D and Omega 3 supplements. In traditional journalism and editorial processes, this textbook conflict of interest would be a red flag for anyone reporting on the antagonism Dr Goddek shows to his competitor in “the Vitamin Wars”, The Wellness Company. But Dr Goddek, a non-journalist, does not disclose this conflict of interest when he attacks The Wellness Company, or those news sites who accept TWC’s advertising.
In contrast, I, and DailyClout as a news site, always immediately disclose any conflicts of interest. That is why in interviews I always say, “Dr Harvey Risch of The Wellness Company — disclosure, our sponsors”. Or: “Brian O’Shea of “Unrestricted Invasion” — disclosure, my husband.”
That disclosure is ethically normative in real traditional journalism. It lets the audience know that there is a possible conflict of interest there, so they can make their own decisions about the information provided.
In not disclosing his conflict of interest, Dr Goddek is behaving unethically, per traditional journalism. And since we cannot know what conflicts Dr Malone may have, we can’t assess his sudden attacks on me and on my company. This is true for all independent commentators who are not trained as journalists, in this new Wild West of blogging; if they don’t self-police by disclosing their own conflicts, as I do, again, there is no ombudsman or editor to compel that disclosure to the reader.
The last premise of ethical traditional journalism that Dr Goddek and Dr Malone seem not to understand, is how ethical news sites deal with advertising revenue and advertisers.
We are supposed clearly to distinguish advertising from editorial content.
As you see from the above Code of Ethics, it is entirely appropriate for an ethical traditional news site to accept sponsors or advertisers if the sponsored content is clearly identified so no reader can confuse it with editorial. That is why DailyClout always puts the words “Sponsored” or “Sponsored Content” on every single TWC or other advertiser-sponsored post. This clear distinction between ads or advertiser-sponsored content versus editorial content, is a basis, a fundamental principle, of independent traditional ethical journalism. This clear, unassailable division between ad content and editorial content used to be called, in the news business, a “Chinese wall.”
This basic premise of the news business, which every traditional ethical journalist fully and clearly understands, is what Dr Goddek and Dr Malone in my view blur or obfuscate to unwary readers, when they deploy such inaccurate, misleading terms such as “purchase the services of influencers, alternative media sites,” “‘buying up’ all critical voices,” “accepted TWC funding,” and “on the TWC payroll.”
All that invective sadly shows a lack of basic knowledge of the business of ethical, traditional journalism. I can only speak for myself and my news site, but we follow ethical journalism guidelines about ads versus editorial every minute of every day.
As any real journalist or editor or publisher knows, accepting ads and sponsorship is very different from what is maliciously implied to readers by phrases such as “on the payroll.” Ads should not affect editorial content at all, when you are adhering to journalistic ethics standards, and they should always be clearly marked, as we do.
DailyClout is very careful about our advertisers and sponsors, and we would never accept an advertiser who censored us, or who ever asked us to blur that bright line we set between ads and editorial.
But enough of my pushing back against nonsensical and ill-informed attacks. The issue raises a much bigger and incredibly important question.
Who pays for your media?
For any news site, there is an economy. Someone pays, or is harvesting value. Even if a news site seems to be free, you are likely paying for it in some way that may not be obvious to you.
We are in a time in which we really need to understand the economics of journalism, so we can build up and protect independent news and dissident voices.
It is a truism of the news business that there are only three business models: “eyeballs” — or attention, also measured as “reach” and “engagement”, all of these being metrics sold to advertisers; subscriptions (which figure also usually includes newsstand sales); and, more recently, data: many websites profit by luring you in with fascinating “free” content, but then harvest, without, usually, your full understanding, your personal data, your interests, your location, even data about your age, size and medical issues. Then they package and sell this information to marketers and to others with even less overt agendas.
Of all of these business models, the straightforward ads model, along with paid subscriptions, is the cleanest, the most likely to support independent, unbiased investigative reporting, and the most protective of readers’ privacy.
The postwar period into the 2000s was American newspapers’ Golden Age, in the sense that there were many robust newspapers; there was a standard for journalistic ethics, often if not always followed by such outlets as The New York Times and The Washington Post; and there were countless excellent regional and local newspapers.
How did the Times and the Washington Post and the hundreds of robust local and regional newspapers, afford to give their investigative reporters time and resources to dig into stories and to report their findings without fear or favor?
The lowly answer is: via the classified ads sections of those papers.
Ads for cars, or refrigerators, or “Help Wanted” ads, in the classified sections, paid for most of the costs of running a newspaper. Ads on the front pages of newspapers, or along the sides or top (banner ads) or along the bottom, also paid the bills for independent reporting. In The New York Times, for instance, the most costly ad space is the lower right-hand corner on the Op Ed page.
The other revenue stream for newspapers was, traditionally, paid subscriptions: fulfilled by the paper boy or paper girl on a bike, throwing newspapers onto the lawns of people who had sent in their money every month for that service. Or there was reliable revenue from people who picked up the newspaper along with their coffee and bagels, in the mornings, as they were about to get into the subway to commute to work.
The fact that a newspaper publisher could count on a basic revenue stream every month from these two sources — classified ads and subscriptions (including newsstand sales)— meant that he or she could generally relax about the challenge of paying the bills; and this regular, predictable income set the investigative reporters free to do their worst — that is, their best — in the public interest.
Well, all of that ecosystem that allowed for robust independent reporting, collapsed with the rise of the internet.
By 2010 or so, online ads had killed off many newspapers’ classified sections (and also killed off many physical newspapers).
The rise of Cars.com and similar car sales digital ad platforms, demolished car sales ads in newspapers. The rise of platforms such as Ziprecruiter.com wiped out the need for “Help Wanted” sections in newspapers.
In 2011, Arianna Huffington sold The Huffington Post, with its army of 18000 unpaid bloggers, to the CEO of AOL, for $315 million. Profitability at that point still eluded the website, according to UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media, but it left its mark on the news environment — and terrified other publishers — by habituating news consumers to “free” content.
If you were a journalist, editor or publisher from 2015 to 2020, most of our conversations circled back to an anguished recognition that the internet was ending the existing business model upon which we all had relied for the durations of our careers, to fund independent, rigorous journalism. No one really knew what to do to save journalism or to save newspapers, though publishers tried many desperate experiments in those years.
As if all of these threats to the prior central business model in the news industry were not bad enough, big money rolled out a systematic campaign to buy up regional newspapers, and to mash them into digital sites that soft-pedaled investigative reporting and did away with most tough local coverage, including of political corruption.
That stage of the muting of local news coverage once completed, still more deep-pocketed or partisan entities, no longer local ones, scooped up these platforms in turn. The Alden Capital investment firm took over The Baltimore Sun in 2021 (it just got resold, to the Sinclair broadcasting chain). The venerable Maine Bangor Daily News and its related family-owned news empire was scooped up in 2023, and sold to a national “nonprofit”. Similar purchases, often by opaque entities or large conglomerates with no relationship to local news, chewed up local news outlets across the country. Tech interests also vacuumed up what had been independent legacy media: Jeff Bezos of Amazon bought The Washington Post. Billionaire businesswoman Laurene Powell Jobs, Steve Jobs’ widow, via her group The Emerson Collective, grabbed a majority stake in The Atlantic.
Added to these attacks via purchase on local newspapers, and acquisitions of independent news sites, was the role of Facebook: by 2018, Facebook essentially became the biggest distributor of news content, turning the social media platform into a competitor of news sites, which caused difficulty for publishers trying to make paywalls profitable. Then in 2019 Facebook added insult to injury by downgrading news content in the company’s algorithm.
All of these efforts, by 2020, as if by design, left traditional legacy news outlets without their past reliable revenue streams, or even a decent business model; and completely on the ropes.
So in 2021, when the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the CARES Act offered news outlets and influencers millions of dollars to “overcome vaccine hesitancy,” legacy news sites were in no strong position to refuse this poisoned apple.
Almost all legacy news outlets burned their own ethical bridges, and took the money.
Readers, however, quickly saw through the corruption, via money, of their news sources. By 2022, trust in legacy media was at a near-record low.
What happened then? The rise in independent, or dissident, media.
Bannon’s WarRoom, Substack, X, DailyClout, Brownstone Institute, CHD’s The Defender, Del Bigtree’s The Highwire, and many other sites, that featured uncensored content or un-bought writers, grew in influence and scope. Independent censorship-free publishers such as Skyhorse and Chelsea Green and All Seasons Press (disclosure: my publishers), grew, even as the New York Times ran nasty pieces on Skyhorse and the publishing industry called Chelsea Green “controversial” and the “Into” cultural website accused All Seasons Press of wanting to publish “America’s Grossest Writers.”
Upon what did all of these independent, truth-telling outlets rely?
Book sales, subscriptions, ad revenues and donations.
Who and what revenue streams, then, will sustain the new media ecosystem?
As we seek to build up a robust parallel economy of news media, I will argue in favor of what every publisher and editor knew in American journalism’s Golden Age: that the best way to ensure clean reporting and unbiased information in a new-media ecosystem, is not to attack clear, ethically identified advertising for the new media, but rather to build up and support the advertising revenues for alternative news outlets and for dissident voices; and to encourage readers to be willing to pay for subscriptions again, as well, and to buy the books of dissident writers and publishers.
What kind of funding and revenue streams allow for really independent voices?
A government contract, as Dr Malone surely knows, does not necessarily allow people to speak freely. University lectureships, as Dr Goddek must be aware, no longer guarantee freedom of speech. Nonprofits have their own challenges, as donors too often put pressure on the shape of the content that their funding helps to produce.
In a new-media economy, the time-proven business model of ethically identified ads and of readers’ subscriptions, and of book sales, will guarantee a healthy ecosystem of strong new publications, that can plan from month to month without financial crises or the risks of collapse.
So there you are — you get the news media and the publishing houses that you pay for.
Rather than ignorantly attacking those of us who are bringing fearless journalism and activism to readers, while asking our readers to support our advertisers, or to subscribe, or to buy our books — Dr Malone and Dr Goddek should recognize that the only way to have a strong, resilient ecosystem of independent voices, that can actually resist fascism and propaganda at every turn, is to have millions of people support the publishers and buy the products of the dissidents’ advertisers, and to subscribe, personally, to the dissidents’ platforms or podcasts, as well.
Only thus can we really build a completely parallel economy, with the vital flow of freedom of speech truly protected, in a free America and world.
Stepping back, the last thing for which I wish to call, after the disappointing experience of being assailed so misguidedly by these two men, is community and civility. As Bret Weinstein observed, the health freedom movement is going through a time of internecine warfare. Never before have I been part of a group of adult professionals who behave in some quarters with such irresponsibility and immaturity, in terms of name-calling, territoriality and petty squabbles.
Part of this sad situation is due, I think, to the fact that we have no or few physical gathering-places; we are often all alone at our keyboards. If we were compelled to face one another at the faculty lounge, or, as in Oxford, the “Senior Common Room,” or even at the post office or at the mall or at our friends’ pot lucks or dinner parties, the invective would have to be tempered. People would have the chance to debate face-to- face and perhaps even to find common ground, in contrast to the existing situation of freedom movement activists sniping from safely behind their computer screens, harvesting “likes.”
People in the movement know that I like to have parties, and I invite everyone of whom I can think. (If I haven’t invited you yet, apologies; send me your email, and I will add you to the list).
I invite Dr McCullough. I invite Dr Alexander. I invite the Breggins. I invite the Malones.
I invite all kinds of people — who may or may not be speaking to one another.
Why do I do this, stubbornly, again and again?
This is not because I am a social butterfly. I do like a good party.
But I have these gatherings and I keep sending out these invitations because I have studied the fragile history of dissident movements.
If we are never in a room together, having a glass of wine, debating out our differences; or compelled to stand, in our hostess’ presence, before we are all about to sit down to a lovely dinner, face to face with the very person whom we have called, from behind the barriers of our keyboards, awful names — the movement simply cannot survive.
If there is never a physical, real-life context in which to create bonds of compassion and courtesy, and maybe even friendship where we least expect it — a human context in which we are forced to become more than digital ciphers or abstract bylines to one another; mere pixels that can be hurt or smeared or targeted at will — the movement simply cannot survive.
It will shatter into a thousand tiny pieces. And only the global monsters will be celebrating.
And what we are all doing together, in the freedom movement, in seeking to save bodies, civilization, life, medicine, science, journalism, speech itself, and liberty over all, is too important —
As I seek to persuade you all, including even my critics —
For us ever to let that happen.
One of our country’s most important freedoms is that of free speech.
Agree with this essay? Disagree? Join the debate by writing to DailyClout HERE.