Fact Check

Did Climate Activist Greta Thunberg Appear as Coronavirus 'Expert' on CNN Panel?

The Swedish teenager and climate activist joined a guest line-up that included Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Published May 19, 2020

Swedish climate and environmental activist Greta Thunberg is seen in video conversation with Swedish Professor and joint director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research Johan Rockstrom, who participates from Germany, during a live broacast from the Nobel Prize Museum in Stockholm, Sweden, on April 22, 2020. - A video conversation about "courage, solidarity and opportunities in times of crisis" among Swedish climate and environmental activist Greta Thunberg and Swedish Professor and joint director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research Johan Rockstrom, participating from Germany, was broadcasted live to a global audience from Nobel Prize Museum in Stockholm, Sweden, on April 22, 2020. (Photo by Jessica GOW / TT News Agency / AFP) / Sweden OUT (Photo by JESSICA GOW/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images) (Getty Images)
Image Via Getty Images
Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg appeared on a CNN "expert panel" in a program about the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
What's True

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg was interviewed on a CNN town hall program about the coronavirus pandemic.

What's False

She did not appear on the show to offer expertise on the virus. Rather, she discussed her work as an activist on such issues as children's welfare and climate change during a pandemic.

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Internet outrage ensued over a CNN advertisement for a town hall program about the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus disease pandemic, which aired on May 14, 2020. The outrage was focused on CNN's booking of 17-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, with criticism falsely characterizing her appearance as being that of an "expert panelist."

Adding to the confusion, a number of news publications ran with the same false narrative. "Greta Thunberg added to CNN’s expert coronavirus panel, Twitter erupts," read a New York Post headline. "Greta Thunberg Isn't a Coronavirus Expert," Reason.com reasoned.

It's true that Thunberg was a guest on the May 14 show, but she wasn't the only non-medical expert interviewed. Other guests interviewed remotely included Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, who talked about ongoing negotiations with players amid a canceled season, and a private citizen, Neal Browning, who volunteered to participate in COVID-19 vaccine testing.

Like the others, Thunberg spoke on a topic she was knowledgeable about, namely her effort to help raise money for the United Nations' Children's Fund (UNICEF), which is working to support children impacted by the pandemic. Her CNN appearance can be viewed below.

On Twitter she addressed the criticism of her appearance on CNN, saying, "It seems some people thought I was going to be on an expert panel, which of course has never been the case."

Town hall co-host Anderson Cooper weighed in on the controversy after Thunberg's appearance, calling it a "surreal, absurd drama." He noted that various promotions aired for both the show Thunberg appeared on and for previous town halls in the coronavirus series, which featured the likes of Manfred, singer Alicia Keys, chef Jose Andres, and film director Spike Lee as individual interviewees, not as panelists. Cooper opined that the Twitter circus was more about producing content "lest you miss out on a cycle of phony outrage" than it was about actual concern over Thunberg's appearance on the show.

Because Thunberg was brought on CNN to discuss her efforts as a children's activist and her support for UNICEF, but was not there to play the role of a medical expert, we rate the claim that Thunberg was an "expert panelist" on CNN's coronavirus town hall as "Mixture."


CNN. "Greta Thunberg Urges Public to Listen to the Experts Amid Pandemic."   YouTube. 14 May 2020.

Sparks, Hannah. "Greta Thunberg Added to CNN’s Expert Coronavirus Panel, Twitter Erupts."   New York Post. 13 May 2020.

Noor, Poppy. "Why Shouldn't Greta Thunberg Speak at CNN's Coronavirus Town Hall?"   The Guardian. 14 May 2020.

Bethania Palma is a journalist from the Los Angeles area who started her career as a daily newspaper reporter and has covered everything from crime to government to national politics. She has written for ... read more

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