Did you receive this newspaper in your mail box this week? Congratulations, you’ve just received the latest issue of a misinformation juggernaut that was once the voice for a small Chinese spiritual movement that has since pasted itself to the far-right disinformation movement and pro-Trump media sphere. Given the events this week in Washington D.C. there are some things you should now about the Epoch Times.
The Epoch Times was launched in 2000, a few months after their founding organization, Falun Gong, was banned in China. Falun Gong was one of a number of groups to emerge in China in the 90s as part of a new spiritual movement that combined meditation, energy exercises, and a relatively Taoist moral philosophy. For a while the Chinese government was cool with Falun Gong and it’s activities, but the group’s size and its independence from the state prompted China’s Communist government to bring the hammer down in 1999.
Initially, Falun Gong used its new paper as a form of outreach, it told American readers about the group and their philosophy and offer tips to help Chinese immigrants integrate into American society. It was small, Chinese-focused, and thoroughly disinterested in taking a side in American politics. Then, you-know-who went down a golden escalator and entered the 2016 Presidential race.
In an NBC News article, former Falun Gong practitioner and Epoch Times writer Ben Hurley said that the paper started out as “a giant PR campaign”, but the severe anti-Chine stance of Donald Trump drew they’re attention and made the paper “rabidly pro-Trump.” In fact, Hurley said that the most devout followers of Falun Gong “believe that Trump was sent by heaven to destroy the Communist Party.”
Here in Canada, the CBC reported on a mailing of the Epoch Times in the Greater Toronto Area, Vancouver, and Winnipeg last spring. When asked about the mailings, publisher Cindy Gu said that copies had been delivered to “specific neighbourhoods” but didn’t expand on how they were “specific.”
“The Epoch Times has recently been ‘sampling’ copies of a special edition on Beijing’s coverup that led to a global pandemic in select areas because we consider that information to be important to Canadians. We regard this sampling as an act of good citizenship,” she wrote to the CBC in an email. “This is a standard way of raising brand awareness and recruiting new subscribers.”
That brand included calling the COVID-19 virus the “CCP virus” and promoting the false conspiracy that the Chinese government created COVID-19 and released it as a biological weapon.
Disinformation about the origins of COVID-19 seems to have become passé because this new sample issue of the Epoch Times making the rounds has new allegations. One article “reports” that China is covering up the fact that they had patients with COVID-like symptoms months before the world was made aware of an outbreak in Wuhan in December 2019. Epoch Times credits a “trusted source who has access to government documents” with the disclosure.
Many scientists agree that the December 2019 outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan was unlikely the first instance of the virus, and global health authorities have been highly critical of China’s unwillingness to collaborate and share information at the start of the pandemic. There have also been reports that people with COVID-related symptoms were apparent as early as August in China, but data has also suggested there could have been COVID cases in Italy as early as October 2019.
Disinformation about the virus and its origins have been a major area for the Epoch Times, and according the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, the Epoch Times is also one of a small number or groups and publications that promoted the recently launched COVID conspiracy publication Druthers, which is being produced with the support of anti-vaxx group Vaccine Choice Canada.
Canadaland also provided an in-depth look at the Epoch Times in an episode last summer.