If you ever spend any time in the Washington D.C. area, there’s a good chance you’ll come across a publication known as China Daily. In appearance, it’s a newspaper. In reality, it is official propaganda from the Chinese government that Communist Party officials deem appropriate for influencing those inside the Beltway. You can find it all over downtown D.C. in newspaper boxes. Large stacks of free copies are also dropped off directly at offices all over the city.
Even better, if you subscribe to the Washington Post, you can get communist propaganda delivered straight to your doorstep for a fee. A few times a year, the Post comes wrapped in a special advertising supplement called China Watch that, again, does its best to approximate a legitimate newspaper. But underneath the masthead in fine print, it reads: “This supplement, prepared by China Daily, People’s Republic of China, did not involve the news or editorial departments of the Washington Post.”
Anyway, you may have recently heard about how two million people out of a population of seven million in Hong Kong recently protested in the streets against the Communist Party’s attempt to further snuff out their little pocket of freedom. Here’s how China Daily is reporting what happened:
Parents in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region took to the streets on Sunday to urge US politicians to not interfere with the SAR’s extradition amendments and its internal affairs.
The protest, organized by several Hong Kong social groups, also condemned foreign entities for misleading young people in the city.
Among these social groups was an alliance of more than 30 local political, business and legal dignitaries who support the proposed amendments to the SAR’s extradition law. They marched outside the US Consulate General in Hong Kong and Macao, calling on the US to stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs.
The whole article is a damnable lie, and yet, as far as I know, the brave truth-tellers at the Washington Post have been taking money to distribute this kind of bilge at least since 2011.
Of course, in recent years we’ve been subject to endless preening from journalists about “fake news” and their renewed commitment as truth tellers. The Washington Post even adopted the slogan “Democracy Dies In Darkness.” We can argue what this metaphorical “darkness” is supposed to be, but democracy literally dies in oppressive communist regimes.
Further, the Post has spent the better part of a year attacking the Trump administration for its inadequate response to Saudi Arabia after the kingdom apparently killed one of the Post’s writers, Jamal Khashoggi. Regardless of the Post’s Pollyanna-ish denial of Khashoggi’s questionable activism masquerading as journalism, his murder was appalling and the Saudis’ general human rights record is terrible.
It’s not hard to see why the paper would be thundering about injustice here. However, that argument is harder to make when a venerable institution such as the Post is so untroubled by the world’s worst human rights abuser that it distributes their propaganda.
Just to wrap your head around the hypocrisy, note that last November 29, the Post published yet another advertising insert from China Watch:
Ohhh boy! The same @WashingtonPost that’s lecturing about press freedom after one of their columnists was murdered by the Saudis is STILL running Chinese propaganda inserts. They’ll claim it’s just an “Advertising Supplement,” but they’d stop if they were serious. pic.twitter.com/hwWXhMYwom
— Curtis Houck (@CurtisHouck) November 29, 2018
Khashoggi was murdered the previous month, and the Post was still in high dudgeon about it. But the timing of it again publishing Chinese propaganda was even more appalling. The day after the Post ran ChiCom propaganda, Time reported on how a “Uighur woman and mother of three told a Congressional committee this week that she was tortured and suffered the loss of a child in a mass internment camp, pressing the U.S. to take punitive action against China’s mass detention of the Muslim minority.”
Time magazine has a video of the woman’s wrenching testimony. The woman sobs as a translator recounts that “I thought that I would rather die than go through this torture.” Do note Time’s use of the genteel descriptor “internment camp” here, given the recent full-throated defense by many in the media of Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez describing illegal immigrant detainment centers on America’s southwest border as “concentration camps.” One of these governments is actually detaining people against their will explicitly because of their religion and ethnicity, and if you’re unclear on which is which, you have a promising career in bartending ahead of you.
Of course, Uighurs are just the tip of the iceberg for a government that executes people on a mass scale, profits from harvesting the organs of political prisoners, sends people to labor camps for tweets it doesn’t like, and lets 1 billion people live in grinding poverty while the politically connected minority that runs the country has become some of the wealthiest people on earth.
The same day as the Time report, the Post, to its credit, ran its own damning coverage of Uighur human rights abuses. One could point to this as evidence that the Post advertising and editorial sections are operating independently, as they should.
But unlike lots of struggling newspapers, the Post is owned by the richest man in the world, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. It seems unlikely that they are going to fold if they refuse to run communist propaganda. If they’ve been running these advertising sections for years because the sum the Chinese government is paying is, in fact, significant enough to affect their bottom line in ways that would harm the paper, then there are legitimate questions about the Chinese buying influence that should be asked.
Of course, China isn’t the only problem here. State-owned publisher Rossiyskaya Gazeta also publishes the English-language propaganda excerpt Russia Beyond — formerly known as Russia Beyond the Headlines — which is published as an advertising section in major newspapers all over the world. The New York Times confirmed it was still distributing Russia Beyond last year, and the Washington Post distributed it as late as 2015. A lengthy RealClearInvestigations report last year detailed how Russia Beyond is also repulsive propaganda:
It serves not only Russian national interests, but also the personal power plays of President Vladimir Putin. According to a study by the Institute of Modern Russia, a New York think tank run by Pavel Khodorkovsky, a Russia Beyond insert in the largest German newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung, featured an article attacking his father, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a onetime oligarch imprisoned and later pardoned by Putin.
‘In the words of Ulrich Schmid of the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the article is reminiscent of the Russian media’s ‘journalistic execution’ of Russia’s number one political prisoner,’ the institute said, referring to the elder Khodorkovsky. ‘In the article, Khodorkovsky is painted in the darkest colors as a Komsomol apparatchik, cynical businessman, and an interpreter of the Bible.’
Go ahead and read the whole thing. The American media’s Trump-Russia hysteria of the last few years gains some real perspective when you consider that they are more than willing to take blood money to distribute publications that whitewash authoritarian crimes. The Mueller investigation indicted 13 Russians involved with The Internet Research Agency, a Russian “troll factory” involved in social media and online misinformation campaigns.
Of course, the efficacy of such internet trolling, even when specifically targeted at influencing an election, is dubious. Nonetheless, if that rises to the level of meriting indictments, shouldn’t printed propaganda that gets implicit credibility from being bundled with major papers be treated as a serious concern?
To the extent that these papers have had to address the issue, the answers have been lackluster at best. When Tucker Carlson asked Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple about the Post publishing paid Russian propaganda when he has been so critical of the Trump administration’s ties to Russia, the response was embarrassing. “That’s a good question. I’ve got a lot to write about. I’m interested in that topic,” he said, before stammering through an unsatisfactory and evasive answer.
Certainly, the media are struggling these days and can be awfully defensive about accusations they are dishonest and grind partisan axes. So here’s a free tip to help them begin to recover their credibility: If you don’t want to be treated like propagandists, stop publishing actual propaganda on behalf of the worst people on earth.