A full-page advertisement that called for the world to hold the Chinese communist regime to account for the COVID-19 pandemic was pulled at the last moment by The New York Times in March 2020. The paper said the ad didn’t meet its standards, but the ad was pulled after it had already passed the paper’s vetting process. The businessman who paid for the ad suspects the paper’s ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) played a role. He only revealed the details of the incident to The Epoch Times earlier this year.
The ad was scheduled to run on March 22, 2020. It was already approved, paid for, and even printed and distributed in some locations when the paper pulled the plug in the middle of the night, preventing the ad from being published in some of the paper’s main markets, including New York and Florida.
The decision was so abrupt that the sales representative responsible for the ad wasn’t informed, and the client only found out the next morning when he couldn’t find the ad in the paper.
The client, Brett Kingstone, is a real estate developer in Florida. He backed up his story with email threads documenting his correspondence with the newspaper as well as images of the contract he signed, details about the payment and subsequent refund of the $55,000 ad fee, and photos of the ad as it ran in some locales.
New York Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha said the ad ran in “an early edition of Sunday's paper and was removed from all later editions, which account for the vast majority of copies.”
“The ad in question did not meet our standards and should not have appeared in The New York Times,” she told The Epoch Times via email.
She didn’t respond to a question about whether the paper faced any CCP pressure regarding the ad.
“It was removed after being flagged internally by [New York] Times staff,” she said.
Kingstone, a prolific donor to charitable and conservative causes, had contacted The New York Times via email on March 18, 2020, with an advertorial placement request.
He said he placed an advertorial in the paper’s Sunday edition back in 2018 and the staff “did an excellent job in delivering what was promised both in performance and placement.”
“I am interested in doing the same again,” he said, submitting a draft of the ad.
The text urged the U.S. government to organize and initiate investigations and lawsuits regarding the origins and repercussions of the CCP virus pandemic.
“This virus was the direct result of the incompetence and irresponsibility of the Chinese Government. They showed as much disregard for their own population as they have for ours,” the ad stated.
It called for “massive liability lawsuits” against the CCP as well as investigations into two Chinese labs close to the epicenter of the pandemic, including the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Scrutiny of the Wuhan Institute of Virology was treated as a taboo subject by social media and the corporate press at the time. Only earlier this year have establishment actors acknowledged that the inquiries were legitimate and that the virus could have escaped from the lab.
On March 19, 2020, the ad placement representative informed Kingstone that it had been accepted.
“My Ad Acceptability team has approved the message as long as we include the footnotes, your email address, a border around the ad, and advertisement slugs,” the representative said.
The two then exchanged several emails regarding technical edits to the ad as well as proof of payment of the ad fee required before publication.
Everything seemed to go smoothly.
Then, on the morning of March 22, 2020, Kingstone was surprised to learn the ad was nowhere to be found in the Florida edition of the paper.
In his inbox, he found an email from the sales representative:
“I wanted to let you know that I was informed late last night that our production team had pulled the ad from the production run, without my knowledge. I'm investigating this now and I'll get back to you as soon as I can with any updates,” it read.
“I just wanted to assure you that I'm working on this and I will hopefully be able to share additional context on Monday after I speak to the necessary people. I will be in touch on Monday!”
The representative has since left the paper. The Epoch Times is omitting her name for the sake of her privacy.
Kingstone didn’t hide his disappointment.
“I would like to know the reason why they did this,” he said in an email response to the representative, requesting a refund.
He asked whether the paper’s executives concluded that his particular message needed to be silenced.
“I was very pleased with how the NYT treated me on my first advocacy advertisement. They were more than fair. Now my fears about bias are being realized,” he wrote.
After receiving his refund, Kingstone didn’t leave it at that.
As it happened, his website, which was listed on the ad, came under a cyberattack around the same time the copies of the paper that did include the ad landed on people’s doormats, he said.
Kingstone started to inquire with his contacts and eventually reached the conclusion that the CCP must have been involved in the ad's cancellation.
One New York Times executive told him a CCP official called the paper’s leadership, demanding the ad be pulled, he said. The Epoch Times wasn’t able to independently confirm that the phone call took place. Attempts to reach the executive for comment were unsuccessful. The paper’s spokesperson neither confirmed nor denied that such a phone call took place.
In any case, the situation carries “an earmark of how China would operate,” according to Pat Laflin, a former FBI agent who upon retirement led a series of lectures for the bureau to American businesses and research entities on economic espionage by adversarial nations, including China.
It’s “impossible” that the CCP let the ad slide, he told The Epoch Times.
“If there’s anything negative about China, China’s going to scream,” he said in a phone call.
It would just be the question of what form the pressure took, he said.
“Exactly what they said and how subtle it was or how not-so-subtle, that’s all speculation. I don’t know. But did the call come in? Yes.”
The New York Times has over the years repeatedly faced criticism over its relations with the CCP. The controversy reaches back to at least 2001, when the paper’s publisher at the time, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., met with then-CCP leader Jiang Zemin, whose power faction within the communist regime exerts influence even to this day, long after his retirement.
Last year, the paper finally cut ties with the CCP-controlled China Daily and quietly deleted hundreds of paid propaganda pieces from its website, The Washington Free Beacon reported. China Daily disclosed to federal authorities one $50,000 payment to The New York Times in 2018. It's not clear how much total revenue The New York Times drew from CCP advertorials.