It is illustrative of the remarkable success of the Epoch Times, a weekly newspaper in which I have been a columnist for the last year, that it has been vehemently attacked in a very extensive hit piece starting on page one of the Sunday New York Times on October 25. While the article was nasty, sketchy, and inaccurate in many places, it is a considerable recognition of the Epoch Times.
Given the length, (almost two full pages), and the prominence of the piece, it is a noteworthy milestone in the remarkable progress and influence of the Epoch Times (ET). The article, by Kevin Roose, who spent eight months on it (with pretty thin gruel to show for it), credits the Epoch Times with having become “one of the country’s most powerful digital publishers.” The Times (NYT) reporter also credited the Epoch Times with a very ingenious promotional strategy based on using dozens of Facebook pages and “filling them with feel-good videos and viral click-bait, and using them to sell subscriptions and drive traffic back to its partisan news coverage.”
While acknowledging that the Epoch Times has been a remarkable success, the principal point in the New York Times article was the implication that the ET is an insidious fringe publication propagating dubious religious opinions and falsely disparaging the People’s Republic of China’s authoritarianism, while making itself a partisan shill for President Trump and his administration. Thus, the ET has “become a leading purveyor of right-wing misinformation,” and “an ally in Falun Gong’s scorched earth fight against China’s ruling Communist Party.”
The reference is to the heavily persecuted philosophical religious and exercise group known as Falun Gong. It upholds freedom of conscience and other basic freedoms and appeals to “saving sentient beings,” for which it is brutally suppressed by the communist government of China and rather complacently disparaged by Mr. Roose and his employer. Roose writes of Falun Gong’s “scorched earth fight against China’s ruling Communist Party, which banned the group two decades ago and has persecuted its members ever since.” One can correctly infer from that sentence that it is the government of the People’s Republic and not Falun Gong that is scorching the earth in its antagonism.
The New York Times is correct in stating that the Epoch Times downplays its association with Falun Gong; I was advised when I was engaged to write a column each week that there was such a connection but that it was a loose one and it would have no bearing on me and at no time have I been given a word of advice on what to write or not to write, other than that the paper tries not to be “too critical of anyone.” Roose clearly attempts to discredit the ET by associating it with Falun Gong while never seriously suggesting that that organization asserts any influence on the newspaper. In general, the New York Times appears to attach more credence to the version of events told by the Chinese government than to the irrepressibly free Epoch Times, which from its unparalleled contacts within China breaks a great many stories about the abuses of the Chinese dictatorship, which rarely bear directly on Falun Gong itself.
Roose calls the Epoch Times “a powerhouse,” and illustrates his allegation that the ET pushes “conspiracy theories” and has “created a global scale misinformation machine” by publicizing “claims that Obama administration officials illegally spied on Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign.” There is a great deal of already published evidence that precisely such a thing occurred. Attorney General William Barr has declared that it did and he set up the John Durham special counsel investigation to look into the origins of the Trump-Russia canard. It is not obvious what the basis of the New York Times’ allegation of marginal conspiracism is.
Nor does the charge of wild “claims about voter fraud and Black Lives Matter” hold any water. The New York Times could be on firmer ground in referring to the QAnon conspiracy but it doesn’t specify what the Epoch Times claimed on that subject, and the ET denies that it has covered QAnon at all. The New York Times objects to the ET suggestion that the coronavirus was manufactured deliberately in China and premeditatedly released into the world. That is a widely held view but it is acknowledged in the Epoch Times and elsewhere that it has not been proved.
The New York Times wrote censoriously that an executive associated with the Epoch Times said its owners “wanted more people in Washington to be aware of how the Chinese Communist Party operates, and what it has done to spiritual and ethnic minorities.”
There is no reason to doubt that that is true, but it is difficult to see what exception can be taken to it. After its commendation of the success of the Epoch Times, the New York Times is effectively neutral between the ET and its acknowledged oppressors in the Chinese regime. But the New York Times implicitly sides with Facebook in its ban on Epoch Times advertising and refusal to publish the remarks of a number of organizations Roose claims are associated with the Epoch Times and Falun Gong. The ET denies any such associations.
The general tenor of the Roose piece is to be critical of the Epoch Times because it has any connection with a religious organization and the New York Times expresses no sympathy either for the religions persecuted by the communist Chinese or particularly for the Falun Gong. Even so, Roose does acknowledge that the Falun Gong have suffered brutal treatment at the hands of the Chinese regime, including widespread imprisonment and many executions, followed by the macabre sale of body organs of former Falun Gong loyalists.
In addition to his unbecoming disinterest in the suppression of free religious practice and independent media in China, Kevin Roose involuntarily reveals the contrast between the agility of a small, modestly funded group of Chinese dissenters at the Epoch Times and the gigantic blunderbuss of the mighty New York Times, whose sequence of financial disasters is notorious and which has been driven into seeking expensive financing from the ultra-wealthy Mexican communications magnate, Carlos Slim. As has long been its custom, the New York Times slags off media enterprises with whose viewpoint it does not agree, even as it proclaims and executes its right to construe reporting on the current American administration as a duty to do all it can to defeat the administration.
The Epoch Times has uncovered tweets from Roose revealing his bias against the Epoch Times. This clumsy assault by the New York Times on the Epoch Times, which is chiefly a brave voice of religious freedom and free expression, effectively concedes how powerful are those moral forces. It also shows the palsied, unprofessional partisanship of the New York Times itself, and how inefficient the ramshackle and financially-strained former and longtime newspaper of record has become.