WHO as Arrogant and Blinkered as Ever on #CovidIsAirborne, Tweets by Comms Director Gabby Stern Show

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Gabriella “Gabby” Stern has been the Director of Communications at the World Health Organization (WHO) since 2019. She serves as spokesperson for WHO’s director general. Before that, she worked for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as Director of Media & External Relations starting in 2016. Before moving into public relations, Stern had been a journalist, spending almost 25 years at the Wall Street Journal, rising to Deputy Managing Editor of The Wall Street Journal, and the Editor for Strategic Initiatives.

Such a distinguished biography makes the tweets I am about to unfold all the more remarkable, both for the level of pique displayed, which is unworthy of a public relations professional, and for the fact that they come from a Comms Director for a major international player. Stern’s tweets also show that WHO — arrogant and blinkered — has not (a) fully internalized its resistance to accepting the science on airborne transmission, and (b) resists to this very day. What could Stern have been thinking?

I now present Stern’s tweets.


From March 11, 2023:

First, Sparrow is a highly qualified professional[1], even if Stern treats her like a Twitter rando or troll.

Further, Sparrow’s question is entirely warranted. So far as I can find, @mvankerkhove has not apologized, or even expressed regret, very much unlike quondam WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan:

Q: Was that your biggest mistake as chief scientist—not calling SARS-CoV-2 airborne?

A: We should have done it much earlier, based on the available evidence, and it is something that has cost the organization. You can argue that [the criticism of WHO] is unfair, because when it comes to mitigation, we did talk about all the methods, including ventilation and masking. But at the same time, we were not forcefully saying: “This is an airborne virus.” I regret that we didn’t do this much, much earlier.

Nor has Stern. And WHO should apologize. (Heck, if WHO were the Yakuza, they would have seen fit to sacrifice a few digits.) See “COVID-19 and Airborne Transmission: Science Rejected, Lives Lost. Can Society Do Better?” for what it took, and how long it took, for scientists to get WHO to even admit the possiblity that Covid is airborne. WHO’s molasses-like response mattered, because the pandemic spread exponentially, and each day of delay meant millions more were unable to protect themselves, not having correct guidance on transmission, not to mention government having bad guidance for policy.

Finally, when a public relations professional loses it on the Twitter and tells an MD that their remarks are “unwarranted,” something’s gone very wrong in the comms shop.


From March 12, 2023:

There’s nothing “grotesque” about Sparrow’s tweet whatever. Here’s the episode to which Sparrow refers, from the highly respected atmospheric chemist Kimberly Prather:

In the most charitable interpretation, Tedros butchers the framing completely on transmission. In the least charitable interpretation, Tedros wandered off the reservation and spoke the unspeakable truth — “Covid is airborne” — and Ryan yanked his chain and got him to unsay what he said. In either case, I would have thought WHO’s Director of Communications would have done their job, and made sure Tedros was properly briefed during a presser at a critical moment during a pandemic, but what of that.

Further, when a public relations professional flips out on the Twitter and tells an MD that their remarks are “grotesque,” something’s gone very wrong in the comms shop.

“Naming and shaming”

From March 13, 2023:

Stern’s touching concern for civility in the face of WHO’s policy and communications debacle that surely cost many, many lives is noted. Further, “naming and shaming” is a well-known tactic in the human rights community, and many see the West’s response to the Covid pandemic through a human rights frame (indeed, it’s hard to local at the eugenics-like policy of “Let ‘er rip” and not consider that frame). Discussion can be had about whether naming and shaming is an effective tactic, but there’s no good reason for Stern to rule it out a priori.

Next, when “Group 36” documented how they forced WHO to change course on airborne transmission (“COVID-19 and Airborne Transmission,” above), they included the names and email addresses of every WHO functionary with whom they communicated, with the correspondence. If that’s not “naming and shaming,” I don’t know what is. And if that’s ad hominem, then have at it, say I.

Finally, when a public relations professional gets on their high horse about civility — instead of addressing the issue at hand — something’s gone very wrong in the comms shop.

“All such solutions”

From March 11, 2023:

Readers will at once notice what Stern’s list — “medications/vaccines/tests/treatments” — omits: Ventilation, masking, and indeed all non-pharmaceutical interventions. That seems very odd in the midst of an airborne pandemic. But perhaps it’s not so odd after all. The most parsimonious explanation would be that Stern is simply expressing the unspoken views of WHO’s top management, and WHO’s top management — no matter that they changed the website for the proles — still doesn’t accept transmission (John Conly, “chair of WHO’s Infection Prevention and Control Research and Development Expert Group for COVID-19, which makes key decisions on the research that informs the WHO’s recommendations,” certainly doesn’t). This thesis is supported by the fact that WHO’s infamous tweet of March 28, 2020 is still up. Here is a screen shot that shows[2] how even today, it’s still being read and still doing damage:

If Stern genuinely believed that Covid is airborne, she — and as Comms Director, she surely has the clout — would have already had that tweet taken down, long ago. She hasn’t, so she doesn’t.


One can only wonder what Stern does in the office all day. Once more from the departed and regretful Soumya Swaminathan:

Q: Before you arrived, the role of chief scientist did not exist at WHO. How has your understanding of that role evolved? What would you tell a successor about it?

A: It’s a multifaceted role. During the pandemic I became a spokesperson for WHO, which wasn’t really considered one of the functions of the chief scientist.

It seems a very odd thing for a Chief Scientist to become a “spokesperson.” Isn’t that a job for the Comms people? Stern’s own bio defines her as a “spokesperson” for the Director General, so why is Swaminathan playing such a role at all? Wikipedia (sorry) defines a Director of Communications:

A director of communications is responsible for managing and directing an organization’s internal and external communications. Directors of communications supervise public relations staff, create communication strategies, and may serve as the key spokesperson and media contact for the organization.

A director of communications may also be called a public relations manager,communications director, or press secretary.

This is pure speculation, but it would seem reasonable for Stern to have taken this role, particularly for a topic as important as Covid. Instead, Tedros wasn’t properly briefed, and Swaminathan ended up doing a Comms job that wasn’t really hers to do.

To be fair, perhaps Stern sees her job as slapping down the proles, rather than scientific communication. Or perhaps, to her, slapping down the proles is scientific communication. In any case, she still has it, so she’s well-placed with her superiors, good job.


[1] @annie_sparrow: “MBBS FRACP MRCP MPH MD. Flying doctor. Scientist. Strategist. Aid worker. Activist. Associate Professor Global Health Icahn School Medicine @ Mount Sinai.”

[2] Twitter does not give the dates of likes or retweets, but they are listed in reverse chronological order, so this Like occurred after March 12.


Here is Stern’s profile picture on Twitter, setting an example for the world:

Never mind Stern being unmasked. Let’s just hope Oscar the Cat isn’t infected, because cats can transmit during close contact (CDC; Emerging Infectious Diseases).

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. flora

    Thanks for this. Now imagine the WHO (and its funders) having governing control of the US medical response to any pandemic the WHO declares. Frightening thought.

  2. Samuel Conner

    Thanks, Lambert.

    > To be fair, perhaps Stern sees her job as slapping down the proles, rather than scientific communication.

    Perhaps it’s important to keep the proles slapped down so that the WHO doesn’t lose its ability to tamp down panic, at whatever cost to public health, during the next pandemic.

  3. Verifyfirst

    WSJ reporter to Gates Foundation PR head to WHO PR…..this is exactly what today’s complete lack of any “…personal motives to resist encroachments of the others.” means, within the ecosystem of our rulers. Now she just needs a couple corporate Board seats and everything will be jake. Maybe Barney Frank can put in a word…

  4. JBird4049

    I get that people do not want to admit a mistake. I do like it either and I often go very far to not admit any stupidity. What I do not get is the acceptance of mass suffering and death to hide personal embarrassment especially as with things like this it will out. It is almost a law of reality. Is the paycheck, the bonus, or the prestigious position really worth their soul? (A corny and quaint idea, a soul, but what else is fits?)

    1. Samuel Conner

      The concept of “soul” is not quaint or corny, but there are some biological realities of the diversity of mentalities among the human population.

      About 4% of the population (per Martha Stout’s The Sociopath Next Door) are sociopaths — significantly deficient in both conscience and empathy. With deficient conscience, there is no internal “monitor” to distinguish between “right” and “wrong”. With deficient empathy, there is no internal restraint at the prospect that one’s actions might cause suffering to others.

      This is bad enough but, again per TSND, the upper reaches of hierarchies are enriched in people with this personality type. Power is attractive to them.

      The rest of us poor souls suffer the consequences.

  5. Hayek's Heelbiter

    Do not confuse any soi disante “leaders” with facts. Their minds are already made up.
    Sometime into the pandemic, I sent the London Fire Brigade 12 pages of state-of-the-art Japanese research PROVING that CV was spread as an airborne vector with an infinitesimally small chance of fomite transmission and best and cheapest way to reduce infection was to keep as many doors and windows as open as possible to maximize air flow.
    UK fire regulations for multi occupancy residences required that all fire doors and windows remain shut 24/7/365 to prevent the spread of fires. At that point, 130,000 people had died of Covid vs. 285 fire-related deaths in ALL of 2018.
    It mattered not a whit to the LFB that so many people had died, regulations were and had to be enforced, Today the UK death toll stands at 219,948 based on Death Certificates alone, so who knows any people died with Covid-RELATED deaths and how many people would still be alive if the powers that be hadn’t been obsessed with propagating pseudo-science while declaring real science as “misinformation” and persecuting anyone who even dared question their diktats with a zealotry Torquemada would envy.

  6. some guy

    What if WHO was not/is not sincerely wrong? What if WHO’s secret mission was to get covid to spread as far and wide as possible and to keep it spreading all over the world for as long as WHO could get away with it, in line with The Prime Jackpot Directive?

    What if that is the rearguard action she is still fighting as long as possible? Dropping the “tone policing” cone-of-silence over every ” It’s Airborne!” comment and person as best she can?

    “The Jack must Pot!”

  7. some guy

    If the Democrats can legalize anti Social Media censorship with their Censorship-Industrial Complex, perhaps WHO will be able to give money to Twitter to censor and expunge every last trace of #CovidIsAirborne right off the TwitterWeb.

  8. ChrisRUEcon

    It’s exhausting … and so tragic … I keep thinking of how bad this is going to be when families begin to realize the real toll of immune damage … and that’s just the disease. This country does not have state healthcare – the misery of having to deal with that and the inability of many to treat the consequences of let ‘r rip are horrible to imagine.

    And the beat goes on:

    “The Next Stage Of COVID Is Starting Now” (via The Atlantic)

    I can feel “yellow waders” coming … this thread (via #Twitter) is a deservedly brutal critique.

    I remain defiant in the face of all the BS. I’m not wishing for horrors just to be right … the horrors are already here, but few are collecting data, and fewer still are even talking about this in well watched spaces.

    Keep soldiering on.

  9. The Rev Kev

    The WHO proved themselves hopelessly compromised in the first few months of the pandemic when, with nations demanding that WHO actually declare a Pandemic as all conditions for one had been met, they literally removed the word “Pandemic” from their lexicon and did not allow it to be brought back for at least several weeks. Meanwhile, the pandemic was allowed to spread. The fact that the person that they are using as their WHO spokesperson is a former Director of Media & External Relations for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is just yet another layer showing the corruption had long been in the works.

  10. Ignacio

    Scientists (the true ones) are sidelined by the PR people. Very much the same with diplomats as an Austrian diplomat signalled recently in a video at The Duran. The victims of this are multiple including of course Science and Diplomacy.

  11. Terry Flynn

    My dad questioned my mask usage Saturday. It really messed up my day. I’d endured people “accidentally on purpose” hitting me with shopping trolleys (carts) etc when doing my caring duties helping mum do shopping.

    I’m getting pretty sick of the incorrect mainstream nonsense. I have long covid already :(

    1. Anonymous 2

      Sorry to hear this. There do still seem to be some sensible people around, masking up when appropriate. So, let me offer some moral support.

  12. tevhatch

    Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD not MD and the Dr. Mengle and Mangle of the TPLF, is Director-General of WHO because he supported the CIA using the WHO as a front for USAID financed terrorist activities. That must have an impact on staffing, how good is your neoliberalism speak counts for much more that keeping the needy of the world alive, healthy, and able.

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