Deception & Misdirection

NBC News Fails CRC Fact Check: The Epoch Times Is No Pro-Trump Dark Money Operation


This past August, NBC News ran a series of articles attacking the Epoch Times, a right-leaning newspaper founded by anti-Communist Chinese expatriates which has rapidly risen in popularity over the past few years, and asked questions of Facebook that led to the removal of the Epoch Times’ advertisements on the social media platform. NBC claimed the Epoch Times had “obfuscate[d] its connection to some $2 million worth of ads that promoted the president and conspiracy theories about his political enemies.” Our investigation shows this claim to be false. The Epoch Times was clearly connected to the ads, they were not designed to promote the president or conspiracy theories, and much of what the Epoch Times did is regular practice amongst left-wing media outlets, including NBC itself.

NBC News journalists Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins misleadingly wrote,

The growth and legitimacy of The Epoch Times are due in large part to Facebook, where it placed $2 million in pro-Trump ads in the last year, more than any other organization outside Trump’s re-election campaign and more than what most of the Democratic presidential candidates spent on their own campaigns in the same time.

It is true that the Epoch Times reporting is generally favorable to Trump, and that they used their coverage of the administration in many of their ads to drive subscriptions. However, this is commonplace for news outlets looking to draw subscribers, and no less than The New York Times has done the same.

If the New York Times can run ads using anti-Trump stories to bring in subscribers, why shouldn’t a right-leaning paper be able to use pro-Trump stories to do the same? NBC News itself has run ads promoting negative coverage of President Trump, making this line of attack on the Epoch Times directly hypocritical.

Also hypocritical is Zardronzy and Collins’s unsupported criticism that the Epoch Times’ ads included “conspiracy content.” NBC’s article provides no evidence for that assertation. Meanwhile, NBC itself has a history of false reports relating to the Trump-Russia narrative. MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell falsely claimed that tax returns possessed by Deutsch Bank proved that Russian billionaires close to Vladimir Putin co-signed loans for Donald Trump. After Deutsch Bank and Lawrence O’Donnell failed to turn up with the implied record, MSNBC producer Michael Del Moro took to Twitter to backtrack and admit that “NBC has not seen those records and has not been able to verify the reporting.” MSNBC similarly “independently confirmed” that Donald Trump Jr. was given early access to Wikileaks’ email archive stolen from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, a story later proven by false by simply rechecking email dates. NBC News also broke news that Russia attacked U.S. diplomats at the Cuban embassy with a sonic weapon. It was later determined the sound U.S. diplomats reported hearing were “identical to those emitted by a common Caribbean male cricket during mating season.”

Zadrozny and Collins wrote that since the ads “appeared under page names such as ‘Honest Paper’ and ‘Pure American Journalism,’” the Epoch Times was able to “hide its multimillion-dollar spending on dark-money ads, in effect bypassing Facebook’s political advertising transparency rules.”

However, a glance at the Epoch Times’ alleged “dark money” ads in Facebook’s Ad Library reveals full transparency about what the Epoch Times was advertising and who was advertising it. For example, see the following banned ad, typical of those they ran, which mentions the Epoch Times five times and asks people to subscribe to it at the end.

That ad links to “truthandtradition.org”, which is the Epoch Times’ tagline, and others linked to “genuinenewspaper.com,” both of which Zadrozny and Collins refer to as “generic websites.” However, the sites direct to a splash page transparently labeled as being the Epoch Times.

Zardronzy and Collins also claimed that “multiple anonymous patrons now appear on the ‘paid for’ section of each ad. Where Epoch Times ads used to be clearly marked as being paid for by the Epoch Times, ads now claim to have been paid for by groups such as ‘Chronicle Media’ or ‘MarketFuel Subscription Services.’” But these groups are hardly “anonymous.” Chronicle Media is a firm that runs digital advertising and works for other newspapers such as the Augusta Chronicle. MarketFuel is a similar digital advertising firm. While perhaps the ads should have listed the Epoch Times in that “paid for by” slot, Facebook has no explicit rules on who in a funding chain must appear in that slot and contracting a newspaper’s advertising work to a digital ad firm is not unusual. All of the ads still would have undergone a full review, as that is necessary for any ad to be published for Facebook.

NBC’s attack on the Epoch Times under false pretenses puts them in sync with Chinese Communist leadership, which has also attacked the Epoch Times for their critical reporting. The Epoch Times was founded by participants in the Falun Gong spiritual practice, which has been made illegal by China and whose practitioners are regularly selected for organ harvesting. The organ harvesting crisis went unmentioned in NBC’s reporting.

Multiple attempts were made by Capital Research Center to reach Facebook for comment on why the Epoch Times was banned from advertising, but they had not responded by the time of publication. This piece will be updated if or when they respond.

Caleb Sutherlin

Caleb Sutherlin is a proud conservative from southern California. As Social Media Coordinator, Caleb helps CRC expose the left broadly on social media. When he is not working, he regularly…
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Joseph (Jake) Klein

Jake runs CRC’s media operations, producing web videos disseminating our reporting as well as both short and feature films utilizing our hard-hitting investigative style under the Dangerous Documentaries brand. Prior to…
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