On August 20, NBC and MSNBC published what they called an investigative report and dedicated hours of television screen time, including the Rachel Maddow show, to attacking The Epoch Times. These spread misinformation and outright falsehoods, and led to a series of other media reports that did the same.
What was this, what amounts to a disinformation campaign, all about? How does it egregiously misrepresent The Epoch Times? How does it play to Chinese communist party propaganda talking points about a group that has been severely persecuted by the Chinese regime for the last 20 years?
Today we sit down with Stephen Gregory, Publisher of the U.S. editions of The Epoch Times, to set the record straight.
Jan Jekielek: Stephen Gregory, excellent to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Stephen Gregory: It’s great to be here, Jan.
Mr. Jekielek: So, Stephen, tell me what’s going on here.
Mr. Gregory: What’s going on is that first NBC News and then MSNBC have issued a series of hit pieces attacking The Epoch Times. And we need to get out the facts about this. This is an issue that involves the freedom of the press. And I think everyone in the nation needs to be informed about it and understand what’s happening because it involves not just The Epoch Times and not just the complaints that NBC has reported about us, but it involves issues and trends that go deep in our country—in effect, the possibility of there being a free press in this country.
Mr. Jekielek: That’s a big thing to say, Stephen. Can you break it down for us a little bit?
Mr. Gregory: Well, let’s start with what these reports were about. The NBC headline was that The Epoch Times had bought more pro-Trump ads than anyone else other than the Trump campaign. This is a gross misrepresentation of our, in fact, purchasing subscription ads through Facebook. These ads, typically they’re videos, lively videos that promote our most recent and outstanding articles, not just political but cultural coverage, social coverage.
And because we have been covering Spygate, the attempt by certain Obama administration officials to undo the Trump presidency … Because we’ve been covering Spygate heavily, of course, we’re promoting this. Readers are very interested in our coverage of this because they’re not hearing it from other media. And, of course, this involves President Trump. And so NBC has labeled our subscription ads as pro-Trump ads.
Well, nothing could be further from the truth. These are simply ads that are meant to bring readers to us, and they’ve been very successful. The subscription campaign has been very popular, and that is part of the reason, I believe, why NBC felt they wanted to attack us because of the very success that we’ve been having.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, I noticed that Rachel Maddow actually described Spygate as something … gosh, I can’t even remember exactly what she said, but she basically dismissed it completely as some kind of conspiracy theory and tried to tie it to some other actual conspiracy theory entertainment content.
Mr. Gregory: Right. Well, this again is a false charge by NBC and a gross misrepresentation. NBC for two years pushed the conspiracy theory that President Trump and his aides had conspired with Russia to affect the outcome of the 2016 election. Informed observers knew very quickly there was nothing to this charge. And The Epoch Times has reported, in fact, that what really happened was an actual conspiracy among members of the Obama administration, holdovers that served in the Trump administration, to attempt to tar Trump with this supposed conspiracy to work with Russia.
So what Rachel Maddow said about our coverage stands the truth on its head that we’re reporting the facts. They were reporting a made-up conspiracy theory, and they’ve never acknowledged that they got that story wrong. They’ve lost a huge number of huge number of viewers because once viewers realized that they’d been lied to for two years by NBC, they began turning their TVs off, going to other channels as one might expect.
So, yes, Maddow accuses us of being a conspiracy theory. In fact, they’re the ones who were airing a conspiracy theory.
Mr. Jekielek: And what do you make of this conflation of The Epoch Times content with other unrelated entertainment content?
Mr. Gregory: Well, what MSNBC is doing is they’re reaching for any tool they can use to try to discredit us. There is a YouTube show called Edge of Wonder. It is produced by two former employees of The Epoch Times, and it is a show about the most far out conspiracies. It’s an entertainment show. It has nothing to do with The Epoch Times. They left our employing. They use New Tang Dynasty studios to do their programming. New Tang Dynasty is a sister company of The Epoch Times under Epoch Media Group, but we have no responsibility for what Edge of Wonder produces. We have no connection with it.
But what Maddow did was go through and report on some of the most outrageous conspiracies that Edge of Wonder had aired, and then wanted to represent that as though that was what The Epoch Times reporting was about. This is propaganda. This is low-level propaganda. And of course the intent, as I said, is simply to discredit The Epoch Times.
Mr. Jekielek: Stephen, what is the relationship between Falun Gong and The Epoch Times?
Mr. Gregory: Our founders—which this is in our About Us, it’s in the videos we produced—the founders of The Epoch Time were practitioners of Falun Gong–they are practitioners of Falun Gong. And they were moved to found The Epoch Times in order to respond to the persecution of Falun Gong in China and human rights issues in China generally. They wanted to bring to the Chinese people the benefits of a free press.
Our founder John Tang, was at the time doing a postdoc in theoretical physics at Georgia Tech. He had family and friends in China who were being directly affected by the persecution, and he wanted to do something to help. He’d lived in the United States. He’d experienced what it meant to have a free press. And so he wanted to bring a free press to China. And that was the beginning of The Epoch Times.
Mr. Jekielek: There was a cost to that. The reporters in China, they suffered immediate retribution once they were discovered.
Mr. Gregory: We started in the summer of 2000, and initially we had several bureaus in China, bureaus of reporters operating secretly. But perhaps we were too optimistic about the ability to maintain that. In the fall of 2000, within a matter of a couple of days, all of these bureaus were rolled up. All the reporters were arrested. Several served long prison terms and suffered terribly. I mean, they were very badly mistreated.
One of our senior editors, a young man of 35, when he was arrested, his son was three years old. And part of his torture, he was hung on a cross for days. And when his son came to visit him two years after he had been detained in prison, his hair had turned white. His face was ridden with wrinkles. His son took one look at him and screamed and ran away and said, you’re not my father. So this is just one example of the terrible suffering inflicted on these reporters.
But at the same time, here in the United States and around the world, the Chinese Communist Party was trying everything they could to shut us down. Advertisers received phone calls from the consulate letting them know they shouldn’t be advertising with us. Staff members who are Chinese, who had family in China, they would receive threats in China … the family members in China would receive threats because they had individuals outside who were working for The Epoch Times. We’ve had a number of instances of newspapers being stolen or destroyed, long lists of things. We testified in 2005 to Congress about this.
And so … the incident with NBC News in my mind occurs in this context. It’s the context of the Chinese Communist Party’s attempts to stamp out or to eliminate or restrict, defeat The Epoch Times. I’m not saying that Rachel Maddow or Brandy Zadrozny or Ben Collins, the authors of the NBC reports, sat down with Communist Party officials and said, why don’t you go get The Epoch Times? Of course the Communist Party is much more subtle than that, but they work very hard to affect media in this country. They’re constantly working to spread disinformation in this country and to subvert independent media in this country.
It so happens that NBCUniversal has a multibillion [dollar] project going on in Beijing right now. And Comcast, the parent company of NBC, broadcasts China’s propaganda TV network, CCTV. The way the Communist Party works, when they enter into relations with a company, they then leverage those relations.
And so it would be very surprising to me if the CCP was not at least applauding, if not urging NBC to run attacks on The Epoch Times, because we’ve always been their number one target. We’re the ones who have exposed most deeply and comprehensively the truth about the Chinese communist regime in China and how it’s affecting the United States, how it’s affecting the rest of the world. And so the Chinese Communist Party has good reasons for wanting to see The Epoch Times be attacked.
Mr. Jekielek: Stephen, as a China watcher for many, many years, I was very disturbed by how Rachel Maddow described the relationship between the Chinese Communist Party and Falun Gong as a brawl. Can you speak to that?
Mr. Gregory: Well, the word brawl is loaded, and it puts the relationship between Falun Gong and the Chinese Communist Party in the wrong context. It gives viewers who may not be aware of this the wrong frame of reference for understanding what’s going on. Falun Gong is a spiritual practice, a peaceful spiritual practice. And in 1999, the Chinese Communist Party, which feared how many people were practicing Falun Gong, which feared that its teachings might be more popular than the dogma of the Communist Party, began persecuting it, severely persecuting Falun Gong.
And so what Maddow is describing as a brawl as though we have two contestants fighting each other was in fact a vicious regime trying to eliminate a peaceful spiritual practice. And that she would frame it in this way is very concerning, because it misleads people about one of the greatest human rights catastrophes in the world today and also something that I believe is key to understanding China today. According to news reports in 1999, there were 100 million people practicing Falun Gong. That’s one in 13. When you consider that each of those individuals have family and colleagues, coworkers, that’s a huge proportion of the population of China directly affected by this attempt by the Communist Party to eradicate this practice.
And we have learned over the last 13 years that not only have they been detaining, by the hundreds of thousands, Falun Gong practitioners, torturing them, in many cases torturing them to death, but they have been harvesting their organs. And an international tribunal in June, composed not of Falun Gong practitioners but outside experts, found that this organ harvesting was very significant, was ongoing, huge numbers of Falun Gong practitioners had been killed in order to fuel this industry. And that Maddow would not make any mention of this atrocity, it’s a little incomprehensible.
Mr. Jekielek: Indeed. Actually, U.S. Congress in 2016 unanimously passed a resolution condemning this organ harvesting as well. I mean, it’s a highly documented thing.
Stephen, the thing about all this–and what you’re saying makes a lot of sense to me–the thing about this that always puzzles me is the folks that are doing the writing, Rachel Maddow on her show and some of the other shows that also basically feature these stories and these reporters, they seem to be very convinced, for example, that this Spygate thing is a conspiracy theory. Like I get the sense … I don’t think they’re acting, I think they believe it at a deeper level despite this preponderance of evidence that exists, right? How does this work in your mind?
Mr. Gregory: Well, one thing I should say about Rachel Maddow and the others involved in this, I think that fundamentally, these reporters are misinformed. And we’ll talk about how that could happen in just a second. But our purpose in exposing the errors in these reports, we’re not seeking to fight with NBC. We’re not seeking to fight with MSNBC. We’re not seeking to fight with these individuals. We want in this to deal with these individuals, these institutions with compassion. But at the same time, we have to let people know what the facts are. Very serious things were said that are false about The Epoch Times. And we have to correct the record. So that’s what we’re trying to do.
Now with that as a long preface, you had on American Thought Leaders a few weeks ago, a very interesting interview with Carrie Sheffield [the National Editor and spokesperson for Accuracy In Media]. And according to Sheffield, the elite in this country live in a bubble. They live in the same select zip codes. They go to the same schools. And they have lost connection with the vast swath of Middle America. This is what Charles Murray in a wonderful book, “Coming Apart,” laid out in book length that we have an insulated elite now like we’ve never had before. It has a class consciousness. And these individuals of this group tend to think alike. They tend to have the same views about everything. And they tend to be insulated from what the rest of the country is thinking and feeling. And reporters who may not themselves have grown up in these elite circumstances want to identify with that group. They look up to that group, and they want to be part of it. And this is what Sheffield has noticed in her own reporting on what’s going on with this country.
So it’s possible that the staff at NBC do believe that our reporting, our factually based reporting, is a conspiracy–that it’s something that we made up. And they’ve held very stubbornly and refused to acknowledge that their reporting on Russiagate, which charged President Trump and his aides with conspiring with Russia, was false and there’s no evidence for it.
And so this theory of the bubble I think does more to explain the behavior of a lot of journalists today than anything else that I know of. And I think that it certainly would play a role with NBC’s stance towards Spygate and its stance to us generally. That they’re not prepared in my view based on what Sheffield’s observed, Murray has observed, they’re not prepared to be open to points of view that come outside of their accepted narratives. They’re wedded to those narratives as part of their class consciousness.
Mr. Jekielek: So, Stephen, do the political beliefs of NBC or its staff and executives impact how they report on The Epoch Times in your view?
Mr. Gregory: Yeah, for sure. And there’ve been several studies done of NBC’s content since Trump was elected. And they have consistently shown that over 90 percent of their articles are negative on President Donald Trump. Over 90 percent. I mean, this is not an accident. This is a very firm point of view that they have been reporting consistently that they’re opposed to President Trump.
Sheffield says that the mainstream media are in collusion with the Democratic Party. That the real collusion story is of an outlet like NBC with the Democratic Party advancing the Democratic Party agenda rather than the supposed collusion of Trump with Russia. That the real collusion which has been going on now for some time is a wedding between the Democratic Party and the mainstream media.
Mark Levin, in a wonderful book “Unfreedom of the Press,” lays this out in book length and explains the roots of this, how it differs from the tradition of American journalism and how this is a threat to the possibility of ever having a free republic. And Levin points to progressivism, which is the ideology which lies behind the Democratic Party as being the soul as it were of the Democratic Party and the media that are working with the Democratic Party.
Now, you can get a quick introduction to progressivism by looking at a book by Saul Alinsky called “Rules for Radicals.” His hero was Machiavelli. His book was … the epigraph was dedicated to the devil. I’m sure with some sense of humor, but Machiavelli was interested in using truth as a weapon. He was interested in what he called, the effect of truth of the matter. And Alinsky very clearly lays out that a progressive only uses words and arguments and narratives in order to seize power. They have no fidelity to the truth. Now, I’m not charging these NBC journalists with being these soulless zealots who have no sense of right or wrong or only one power. But I do believe that Levin has an important point that this ideology which points politicians and journalists, scholars to believing in the rightness of their goals, so much so that they can say whatever is needed in order to reach those goals, that this does have an effect on how the media think, how they cover President Trump.
And when The Epoch Times comes along and reports honestly on President Trump, reports the facts about his administration, about its successes, the tremendous economy that it’s achieved. Why the appointment of constitutionally minded judges is an important corrective to a system that was losing the ability to uphold law and order, about the reasons behind Trump’s policies and the border—not a caricature of those policies, which the media have often carried. But the actual problems that we’re dealing with as a country with an open southern border. When we report about these issues factually, we are a great threat to NBC and others who’ve bought into the counternarratives which want to hold Trump, which want to treat Trump as though he’s some kind of criminal, frankly.
So this is, in talking in broad strokes like this, this is a complicated issue, the connection between ideology and what appears on NBC news every day. But I do think that the progressive ideology influences, and not in a good way, what NBC produces, and it has led them to want to attack us.
Mr. Jekielek: So what does The Epoch Times then stand for Stephen?
Mr. Gregory: Well, The Epoch Times seeks to restore traditional journalism, seeks to restore honest journalism. Our motto is “truth and tradition.” We want to provide readers with honest, truthful reporting about the important events of the day.
And we do so from the perspective of healthy traditions. We believe, for instance, that the Founding Fathers of this country gave the world a great gift in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the governing system that they set up. And, we at The Epoch Times support that, want to protect that. We believe in personal responsibility. We believe in the importance of family. And so in our writings, in our reporting, we’re trying to bring out the traditional elements in society that can lead us to have a healthy country and a healthy nation.
Now, what I would say about the attack by NBC on The Epoch Times, if we can be silenced by false attacks that attempt to provide us commercial opportunities, through Facebook and otherwise, to develop our media, then this is an attack on the free press itself. The vindication of the free press, in my view, is the ability to deliver to the people honest, factual reporting. And we offer a clear alternative to many in the media by doing that. If we can be silenced, then the case for the free press in the United States is lost.
I would call upon everyone to first of all contact NBC and ask them to correct the record, to correct the many misrepresentations and falsehoods they broadcast about us, slandered us. And I would also ask them to contact Facebook and ask Facebook to reverse this decision to ban our subscription ads. They’ve never given a clear reason to us for why that decision was reached. And I think people in the United States should contact Facebook and ask them, demand of them that they reverse this decision.
Mr. Jekielek: Stephen Gregory, thank you very much.
Mr. Gregory: Thank you. Okay.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.