The pro-Trump, conspiracy-laden Epoch Times is now the 4th-most subscribed to newspaper in America according to a new NBC report. It claims the January 6th terrorist attack and climate change are both hoaxes. While most news sites are struggling to keep the doors open, The Epoch Times’ revenue grew 685% in two years to $122 million.
“Funded through aggressive online and real-world marketing campaigns and big-money conservative donors, The Epoch Times now boasts to be the country’s fourth-largest newspaper by subscriber count. (Unlike most major newspapers, The Epoch Times isn’t audited by the two major independent collectors of circulation data.) The nonprofit has amassed a fortune, growing its revenue by a staggering 685% in two years, to $122 million in 2021, according to the group’s most recent tax records,” a new report from NBC’s Brandy Zadrozny says.
The Epoch Times achieved this by riding the wave of Trump’s election lies and supporting his 2020 campaign. “The Epoch Times directed millions of dollars in advertising toward supporting President Donald Trump’s campaign and published dozens of articles parroting his lies about the election — resulting in huge growth to its audience and its coffers,” according to the report. “By 2019, it had gone mostly digital and was spending millions of dollars on creating a network of Facebook pages and groups and running aggressive pro-Trump ad campaigns.”
This swing to parroting Trump’s election lies included refusing to acknowledge who won the election for months, becoming known as a repeat offender of election lies, including the Dominion voting machines lies, which opened the coffers of a conservative “Christian” organization, libertarians, anti-vaxxers, evangelical Christian organizations and more.
After being banned from advertising on Facebook after being busted by an NBC News report for posing as Americans and using fake accounts, they spent millions advertising on YouTube, where they publish tons of videos including the misnamed, “Facts Matter.”
Screengrab of Epoch Times’ Facts Matter YouTube platform:
While they didn’t respond to NBC’s request for comment, in the past they have denied reports of their conservative mission and “penchant for misinformation,” though NBC points out, “Epoch Times representatives also an deny affiliation with Falun Gong, despite the two groups’ clear financial and organizational ties: The Epoch Times board members and most staff are Falun Gong practitioners. The nonprofits behind The Epoch Times and Friends of Falun Gong, the movement’s advocacy organization, share executives and provide grants and services to each other, according to tax filings. And the newspaper, along with a digital production company and the heavily advertised dance troupe Shen Yun, make up a nonprofit network that the leader of the religious movement calls ‘our media.’”
The Epoch Times has been marching toward this goal since they instituted two changes in 2016, according to a 2020 New York Times piece by Kevin Roose:
First, it embraced President Trump… Around the same time, The Epoch Times bet big on another powerful American institution: Facebook. The publication and its affiliates employed a novel strategy that involved creating dozens of Facebook pages, filling them with feel-good videos and viral clickbait, and using them to sell subscriptions and drive traffic back to its partisan news coverage.
In an April 2017 email to the staff obtained by The New York Times, the paper’s leadership envisioned that the Facebook strategy could help turn The Epoch Times into “the world’s largest and most authoritative media.” It could also introduce millions of people to the teachings of Falun Gong, fulfilling the group’s mission of “saving sentient beings.”
“Saving sentient beings” via right-wing lies and propaganda that elevate an authoritarian incited of terrorism seems oddly familiar — it echoes the claims of Elon Musk, who also amplifies right wing lies and allowed terrorists to fill Twitter/X with lies during and after the Hamas attack on Israel. Musk likes to claim he’s saving humanity by lining his own pockets and his ardent followers eat it up, so conditioned to worship billionaires and anyone who makes money by taking advantage of other people.
Here’s an all-too familiar kicker: “As a nonprofit, The Epoch Times is exempt from most federal taxes. Its mission, according to tax filings, is independent journalism, “outside of political interests and the pursuit of profit, for the public benefit and to be truly responsible to society.”
Yep. Right wing grift and we are funding it, thanks to absurd IRS rules that have long benefited right wing lies passing themselves off as non-profits. While there are plenty of left-wing grifts out there, this game has been going on for a long time on the Right. They’ve perfected it, perhaps because they also attract huge donations from right wing donors.
All of the current disinformation that’s flooding the zone and destroying global democracy comes to us via unaccountable tech giants aka, social media. Things are so precarious out there for news that Zuckerberg wants to dampen news on Threads and definitely does not want it to be the next Twitter. Twitter and Faceboook, and prior to that Reddit, were all used as organic grassroots organizing places to get real time information, before they were taken over by well funded right-wing propaganda, and in the case of Reddit, downplayed news and decentralized.
There is no easy answer to how to handle this issue, but one thing is clear: What we’re doing right now isn’t working. The EU doesn’t tolerate disinformation floods. They know exactly where it can lead. But here in the U.S., we are still run by the naive belief that all forms of “free speech” must be tolerated even when they are destroying democracy and inciting terrorism.
We are unable to discuss the very real limits of free speech due to being run by the loudest squeaky wheels, whose juvenile tantrums of unfairness harken back to Junior High Atlas Shrugged types who didn’t know what they didn’t know and were all the more unbearable for it.
It’s unfortunate, but we have a Congress that refuses to deal with the problem of social media on both sides of the aisle, because it means taking on tech giants.
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Sarah has been credentialed to cover President Barack Obama, then VP Joe Biden, 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and exclusively interviewed Speaker Nancy Pelosi multiple times and exclusively covered her first home appearance after the first impeachment of then President Donald Trump.
Sarah is two-time Telly award winning video producer and a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.