"Epoch Times": From anti-China tabloid to right-wing influence machine

#StopAsianHate #LiMengYan

For years, the Epoch Times was a low-budget tabloid with an anti-Chinese bias, distributed for free on New York street corners. But in 2016 and 2017, the paper underwent two changes that transformed it into one of this country’s most influential electronic publishers.
These changes also paved the way for the publication, which is affiliated with the secretive and relatively obscure Chinese spiritual group Falun Gong, to become a major provider of right-wing disinformation.
For one thing, it supports Trump as an ally in Falun Gong’s scorched earth battle with the Chinese authorities’ Communist Party, which banned the organization 20 years ago and has persecuted its members ever since. The newspaper’s relatively tame coverage of U.S. politics became more partisan, with more articles beginning to explicitly support Trump and criticize his opponents.
Meanwhile, the Epoch Times bet heavily on another powerful American institution: Facebook. the publication and its affiliates adopted a new strategy that included creating dozens of Facebook pages, posting delightful videos and tantalizing headline party news, then using them to get subscriptions and drive traffic back to its partisan journalism.
In an April 2017 email to staff obtained by The New York Times, the paper’s leadership painted a picture of how the Facebook strategy would help The Epoch Times become “the largest, most authoritative media outlet in the world. It would also allow millions of people to reach Falun Gong, fulfilling the organization’s mission to “save all beings.
Today, the Epoch Times and its affiliates are a force in right-wing media, with tens of millions of social media followers scattered across dozens of pages, and an online audience comparable to that of The Daily Caller and Breitbart News, equally willing to absorb rabid far-right content online. content online.
It has also begun to grow in influence in Trump’s inner circle. The president and his family shared articles from the paper on social media, and Trump administration officials sat down for interviews with its reporters. in August, a reporter from the Epoch Times also got a chance to ask questions at a White House press briefing.
For Falun Gong, this is a remarkable success story. The organization has long struggled to become a real force against Beijing’s demonization of it as a “cult,” in part because its vitriolic descriptions of persecution in China have sometimes been difficult to verify or have become overblown. “The bad guys will die early,” interrupting the then Chinese president’s trip to the White House.
Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist and former director of Breitbart News, said in a July interview that he was impressed by the rapid growth of the Epoch Times.
“They will be the top conservative news site within two years,” said Bannon, who was arrested on fraud charges in August. “They’re striking out with a swagger that far exceeds their size, they have readers, and they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with.”
Falun Gong practitioners at a rally in Taiwan in 2018, where the Epoch Times is funded by Falun Gong.
But a Times investigation found that the organization and its affiliates have grown in part by relying on abbreviated social media tactics that push dangerous conspiracy theories and downplay their ties to Falun Gong. The investigation included interviews with more than a dozen former employees of the Epoch Times, as well as internal documents and tax documents obtained. Many of these individuals have declined to be named for fear of retaliation, or because their families are still members of Falun Gong.
Because of its strong support for Trump and its active Facebook presence, the Epoch Times has become a powerful media force with a bias. But it is also a global disinformation machine that repeatedly pushes fringe narratives into the mainstream.
The paper is one of the foremost propagators of “Spygate,” a baseless conspiracy theory that Obama administration officials illegally spied on Trump during the 2016 presidential election. Publications and programs associated with the Epoch Times have promoted deep government conspiracy theories and stalked distorted claims about voter fraud and the “Black Lives Matter” movement. More recently, they have been promoting the unfounded theory that the New Coronavirus is a biological weapon created in a Chinese military laboratory (the Epoch Times calls the virus the “Chinese Communist virus” in an attempt to link it to the Chinese Communist Party).
The Epoch Times states that it is an independent, non-partisan newspaper and denies claims that it has a formal affiliation with Falun Gong.
Like Falun Gong itself, the newspaper, which circulates in dozens of countries, has a decentralized structure, with a collection of regional chapters operating under it, each of which is an independent nonprofit organization. It is also extremely secretive. The editors of the Epoch Times have repeatedly declined interview requests, and a reporter’s surprise visit to the outlet’s headquarters in Manhattan this year resulted in threats from a lawyer.
Representatives for Falun Gong leader Li Hongzhi did not respond to a reporter’s request for comment. Residents of Falun Gong’s spiritual headquarters, Longquan Temple in upstate New York, also did not respond to requests for comment.
Many employees and Falun Gong practitioners contacted by the Times said they were instructed not to reveal details of the paper’s inner workings. They said they have been given the heads up that saying bad things about the Epoch Times means not listening to Master Li.
Longquan Temple in Otisville, N.Y., which is the base of the Falun Gong organization.
Longquan Temple in Otisville, N.Y., which is the base of the Falun Gong organization. JULIE JACOBSON/ASSOCIATED PRESS
The Epoch Times responded only partially to a long list of questions it received from its media office and declined to answer questions about its finances and editorial strategy. In an unsigned email, the media outlet accused the Times of “defaming and undermining its competitors” and showing “a subtle religious intimidation and even parochialism” by linking the newspaper to Falun Gong.
“The Epoch Times will not be intimidated and will not remain silent,” the paper added. “Based on the number of lies and inaccuracies in the New York Times’ questions, we will consider all legal options in response.”