Whenever I see one media outlet go after another, red flags pop up in my mind. The recent spectacle of NBC attacking a conservative newspaper called the Epoch Times is a bizarre head trip in that NBC is pretending to have discovered that the paper was founded by members of the Falun Gong, which originated in China.
“NBC News has exclusively learned that the popular conservative news site The Epoch Times is funded by a Chinese spiritual community called Falun Gong, which hopes to take down the Chinese government,” the network stated on Aug. 20.
Excuse me? Those of us on the religion beat have known about the Epoch Times (ET) for many years. Founded in 2000, it never hid its Falun Gong origins nor its hope that China’s Communist overlords would experience divine retribution.
Why? Ever since 2009, news has been leaking out that the Chinese government is torturing and killing Falun Gong members. I was reporting on this back then, especially after members of Congress began having hearings on Capitol Hill about forced organ “donations.”
Thus, it’s understandable that the ET might be a bit unhappy with the Chinese government and very happy with President Trump who has taken China on. So why has NBC mounted a multi-week campaign against the ET and persuaded Facebook to censor any ET ads, particularly those that support President Trump?
It’s entirely possible that the ET broke Facebook’s rules on transparency and may have deserved its punishment. But NBC’s over-the-top campaign against the Epoch Times goes way beyond whether or not it broke some Facebook rule. No, the newspaper is seen as a dangerous fifth column empowering Trump supporters and for that, it must be taken down.
Let’s start with this NBC newscast that broke the story. The anchor’s opening statement begins as follows:
Exclusive reporting from NBC News linking a Chinese spiritual group footing the bill for some of the biggest pro-Trump advertising on FB. The Epoch Times has spent more than $1.5 million on 11,000 pro-Trump advertisements in the last six months alone. …
The anchor then turns to the two reporters who said they worked five months breaking this story. Ben Collins’ bio says he covers the “dystopia beat;” Brandy Zadronzy is an investigative reporter who also reported for the Daily Beast and worked as a news librarian for ABC and Fox News.
It felt like these folks were taking their talking points from the Chinese embassy. Zadronzy called the Epoch Times “a decades-old media arm of an anti-Chinese government propaganda outfit.”
The Epoch Times has existed for 19 years. Does that equal “decades”?
“We don’t know how they’re getting the money,” Collins said. Hey, they are a religious group with members all over the globe who obviously have deep pockets. Any religion reporter can tell you that contributions to a church or religious organization are not public record. Which is why the religion beat is so challenging. We can’t send FOIA requests to whatever church, synagogue or mosque we have in our sights.
Collins took issue with them being a huge pro-Trump advertiser on Facebook without Facebook asking too many questions until NBC started nosing about.
Lots of organizations pour money into politics. This editorial in USA Today complains that money donated to right-wing causes is always suspect, whereas money from the left is never questioned. If you’re going to complain about the Epoch Times, then complain about Planned Parenthood, which donated $20 million toward likeminded candidates for the 2018 election cycle.
I didn’t see NBC getting upset about that. But its reporters did get upset about $1.5 million spent by the Epoch Times.
NBC really went to town on this story. The same day as the above interview, Zadrozny was on the Rachel Maddow show (see the transcript here) where she linked the Falun Gong to evangelical Christians:
So it makes sense, right, that this moment in which we`re very polarized and evangelicals are very close to Trump why this group, which shares a lot with evangelicals in terms of their worldview, why they would align themselves with Trump in that way. So, they hitched their wagon to Trump`s star and it really paid off. So when Trump was elected, they said, whoa, we`ve got a person in the White House, he`s talking tough on China. Let`s go ahead and go for this.
What exactly is “the lot” that the Falun Gong shares with evangelicals? The Falun Gong incorporates ideas from Buddhism and Taoism and includes slow-motion meditative exercises on the principles of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance. Doctrinally, it has no relation to evangelical Christianity.
As I clicked on several websites with various versions of the story, I didn’t see any serious attempt by NBC to explain what this group is, except for this discourse by Zadrozny who, while expounding on the Epoch Times, said that before 2016, it was known as a Chinese-language newspaper.
Actually, the ET was available in multiple languages before 2016.
The newspaper and its Falun Gong founders, she said, have “an ultra-conservative world view. … They don’t support gay people, they are anti-pop music, they don’t support feminism, they rail against any sort of modernism; part of their motto is traditionalism.”
She finds those beliefs menacing? She had better not visit any red states.
The Falun Gong, she said, also believes in an End Times scenario with Communists pitted against non-Communists in which one side ends up in hell and the other shows up in a Falun Gong-style heaven. These apocalyptic beliefs were brought up several times in various videos by her or Collins as proof of how unsettling the Falun Gong must be.
Let’s see. Where else have we heard of a religion believing in a Judgment Day? Well, Christianity and Islam both have them. Does this make them cults?
NBC’s full-court press against this minor religious group –- and they are a blip compared to other religions, believe me — is disturbing. Where are the spokespeople for Falun Gong on these broadcasts? Were they not worth interviewing? Where are the experts on China, Chinese religion or Falun Gong itself who could have been brought in for quotes?
There weren’t any. Instead, it was NBC interviewing its own reporters who, as far as I could tell, have no background in religion. The print version of this story says the reporters reached out to the ET in June for comment and were rebuffed. Of course the publisher should have responded to them but after he declined, NBC could have gotten a balancing quote from other sources.
Naturally, the Epoch Times is furious about NBC’s crusade and its publisher retaliated with an editorial in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal. Whether or not you agree with the ET, it must be infuriating to see Facebook cave under pressure from NBC and remove all ET ads.
Where have NBC been for the past decade? As stated above, the Falun Gong have been complaining for years about the Chinese government torturing its members and NBC just discovered this group?
In June, several outlets, such as Reuters, reported additional proof that China is practicing genocide against Falun Gong followers by killing them for their organs, which then get transplanted into foreigners willing to pay for them.
NBC itself carried the same story on June 18.
Didn’t anyone in NBC’s vast New York headquarters check around to see if there had been any recent Falun Gong coverage out of China that could have been added to their investigation two months later?
If NBC has a reporter covering the dystopia beat, it can afford to hire a religion specialist who could lend some expertise to such clueless investigations. But I’m not holding my breath. For that, we may need to wait until Falun Gong’s Judgment Day.