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Aug. 21, 2019, 12:03 p.m.
LINK: www.nbcnews.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Christine Schmidt   |   August 21, 2019

We at Nieman Lab have gotten the question from readers several times: What exactly is The Epoch Times? It publishes in more than 20 languages, including Slovak, Hebrew, and Ukrainian; it’s attached (or not attached?) to the Falun Gong movement and banned in China; it really seems to like Donald Trump. And it has free newspaper boxes on a lot of street corners in major cities — including one a block from our office here in Cambridge.

Well, NBC News’ Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins have done the leg work to get some answers in a remarkable piece about what it describes as a U.S.-based, Chinese-rooted outlet that “usually straddles the line between an ultraconservative news outlet and a conspiracy warehouse” and has been spending some serious money on Facebook ads — but for Donald Trump.

Zadrozny and Collins dug into the organization behind, well, a lot, including the Shen Yun dance troupe, The Epoch Times’ 3 billion video views across platforms, and $1.5 million on 11,000 pro-Trump advertisements in the last six months. That’s second in pro-Trump spending aside from the president’s campaign itself, beating what many Democratic presidential candidates have spent on themselves, NBC News reported:

Before 2016, The Epoch Times generally stayed out of U.S. politics, unless they dovetailed with Chinese interests. The publication’s recent ad strategy, coupled with a broader campaign to embrace social media and conservative U.S. politics — Trump in particular — has doubled The Epoch Times’ revenue, according to the organization’s tax filings, and pushed it to greater prominence in the broader conservative media world….

The president’s Facebook page has posted Epoch Times content at least half a dozen times this year— with several articles written by members of the Trump campaign. Donald Trump Jr. has tweeted several of their stories, too….

[One of the creators of Australia’s English version of The Epoch Times until he left the organization in 2013, Ben] Hurley said Falun Gong practitioners saw communism everywhere: former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, movie star Jackie Chan and former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan were all considered to have sold themselves out to the Chinese government, Hurley said.

This kind of coverage foreshadowed the news organization’s embrace of conspiracy theories like QAnon, the overarching theory that there is an evil cabal of “deep state” operators and child predators out to take down the president.

“It is so rabidly pro-Trump,” Hurley said, referring to The Epoch Times. Devout practitioners of Falun Gong “believe that Trump was sent by heaven to destroy the Communist Party.”

By March 2016, The Epoch Times was trying to be a more traditional — but still on the fringe — news organization with seven new hires. They were introduced to the outlet’s mission with an introductory video about the Chinese government persecuting Falun Gong adherents and were told the outlet was “an answer to the liberal mainstream media.” The new hires were all fired eight days before the general election.

Here’s a screenshot of some of those ads:

The homepage of The Epoch Times today, under its slogan of “truth and tradition,” has a piece calling NBC News’ investigation a “hit piece” repeating “Chinese Communist Party propaganda” after “seeing the success of The Epoch Times as America’s fastest-growing newspaper.” Its other top news right now includes articles on Trump detaining immigrant families indefinitely, Bill Gates and Jeffrey Epstein, and China investing millions of dollars into Zimbabwean agriculture. It also features a “special coverage” section on the QAnon-adjacent “Spygate” theory with “33 Key Questions for Robert Mueller” and a serialized audiobook on “How the Specter of Communism Is Ruling Our World” (including by producing “Degenerate Art” and “Promoting Pornography, Gambling, and Drugs”).

I’d say you can’t make this stuff up, but obviously non-news outlets have made up plenty.

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