NBC faces mass backlash after touting China's coronavirus numbers to contrast with US

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NBC News faced a wave of accusations that it was doing the Chinese government's bidding by tweeting on Tuesday that it had not reported coronavirus deaths while the U.S. saw more than 1,000 overnight.

"U.S. reports 1,264 coronavirus deaths in over 24 hours. Meanwhile in China, where the pandemic broke out, not a single new coronavirus death was reported," the tweet read.

Skepticism about China’s numbers has swirled throughout the crisis, fueled by official efforts to quash bad news in the early days and a general distrust of the government. Long lines of people waiting to collect the ashes of loved ones at funeral homes revived the debate.

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"NBC bought it. Hook, line and sinker. Well done China. Well done," former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer tweeted.

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"NBC goes all-in on communist propaganda," conservative commentator Dan Bongino said. The controversy came after a tense exchange in which MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle pressed Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., on his criticism of journalists using China's numbers.

"Some in our media can’t contain their glee & delight in reporting that the U.S. has more #CoronaVirus cases than #China," Rubio tweeted last week. "Beyond being grotesque, its bad journalism We have NO IDEA how many cases China really has but without any doubt its significantly more than why they admit to." The tweet received plenty of backlash but Rubio stood by his statement during his MSNBC interview.

Ruhle seemed incredulous when she asked Rubio about this tweet. “I need to ask you this, because I’m a journalist. We’re not just some personalities. You called out journalism. And I need to understand why on earth you did this," she said.

Rubio previously tweeted out a series of posts that showed media figures mocking the administration and America's interest in being "Number 1." He also indicated to Ruhle that journalists were threatening U.S. national security by repeating Chinese "propaganda."

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NBC previously faced backlash for an article suggesting that China was emerging as a "global leader" during the pandemic. The article, titled "As U.S. struggles to stem coronavirus, China asserts itself as global leader," starts by highlighting Chinese aid to Italy.

"With Italy in dire need of medical equipment, an economic superpower stepped in to help. No, not the United States," the article read. "It was China."

NBC did not immediately respond to Fox News' request for comment.

There is no smoking gun pointing to a cover-up by China’s ruling Communist Party. But intentional or not, there is reason to believe that more people died of COVID-19 than the official tally. In a classified report released to the White House, three U.S. intelligence officers concluded that China has concealed the extent of the coronavirus outbreak in its country, underreporting both total cases and fatalities from the disease. Bloomberg, which first wrote about the report, cited the officers who said they alerted the White House to Beijing's misleading numbers. Two of the three sources called the numbers flat-out fake.

Fox News' Barnini Chakraborty and The Associated Press contributed to this report.