The New York Times and The Epoch Times are in a bit of a public fight.
It started on Oct. 24 when the New York Times published an article about The Epoch Times titled, "How the Epoch Times Created a Giant Influence Machine."
The New York Times’ story may bring up some points and criticisms worth considering about The Epoch Times, but its report is also biased and problematic on multiple counts. Overall, the piece, which is not labeled as opinion or analysis but is presented as a news report, is part useful information and part smear.
In the piece, the New York Times accuses The Epoch Times of "anti-China and pro-Trump" bias, which others — like NBC (Lean Left) and in our own AllSides media bias rating report — have also noted with some evidence. (AllSides rates the media bias of the New York Times as Lean Left and rates The Epoch Times as Lean Right.)
Having a bias is not necessarily a bad thing. It might be fair to say that the New York Times and others have a pro-China and pro-Biden bias. But bias should be transparent (which is why AllSides rates the bias of over 800 media outlets), and because it often isn't, news consumers must accept the responsibility of getting different and opposing perspectives elsewhere.
But things get more serious as The New York Times goes further by calling Epoch Times a "leading purveyor of right-wing misinformation," implying or making unsupported claims that The Epoch Times spread conspiracy theories and false information about QAnon, voter fraud and Black Lives Matter."
The Epoch Times responded with its own piece, "New York Times’ 8-Month-Long ‘Investigation’ of The Epoch Times: Light on Facts, Heavy on Bias." It accuses The New York Times of "severe bias," arguing the piece includes "factual errors, innuendo, and misrepresentations in an attempt to smear a competing media outlet."
Here at AllSides, we are glad that both of these news publications exist and provide Americans with varying perspectives. But we do caution against blindly accepting the criticisms or conclusions of one news organization against another. Don’t be fooled into thinking either of them are not biased in their own ways (or us, for that matter, which is why you’ll find the bias of our staff and writers revealed on our team page and at the end of every blog post). Always keep a critical eye toward what is written.
Let’s explore the original piece that started this feud, starting with the headline.
Who’s the Giant Influence Machine?
First, note that The New York Times (NYT) is itself a "giant influence machine." It is among the top three newspapers in the U.S. by circulation, and in 2017, it enjoyed 89 million unique visitors per month across mobile and desktop combined. It ranks number 130 in terms of web traffic worldwide; the Epoch Times ranks 5,376. In its piece, the NYT raises questions about how ET’s influence was earned.
NYT stated the Epoch Times (ET) used Facebook to drive traffic to their site, claiming dozens of Facebook accounts were set up linking to ET. They cite an email from the former head of The Epoch Times’s Vietnamese edition as evidence that the Epoch Times used this tactic, and describe its purported tactics as "sketchy."
Would it be "sketchy" for a new media outlet to build an audience using social media? There are many different ways to use social media, some of which may be sketchy, while others accept them as legitimate. Generating social media traffic with multiple accounts might be considered reasonable by some, but NBC (another ET competitor) also accused the The Epoch Times of buying a large amount of pro-Trump ads on Facebook without being transparent about who was running them. NBC questioned Facebook about it, and Facebook in turn banned ads from ET, saying ET was "trying to get around our review system," according to a FB spokesperson.
By comparison, The New York Times has inherited much of its influence and traffic from its past and from delivering perspectives that its more left-leaning audience wants. It has recently expanded its influence by pledging to edge out local competitors and "operate the leading news and advertising media in each of the markets in which we compete—both nationally and locally."
While NYT may be offering valid criticism of ET’s purported tactics, is this also an example of old money and old power looking down on the methods of younger upstarts who threaten the current elite’s dominance?
Tracking Bias in The New York Times Article
We identified numerous instances of media bias in the New York Times article. (The Epoch Times response was labeled as its own "Media Statement" defense so bias is expected, normal, and definitely present. But the New York Times article was presented as a factual news report, and therefore expected to meet a different standard.)
Failure to disclose conflicts of interest. The Epoch Times is a competitor to the NYT’s sales and to their dominance of the national political narrative. At minimum, to avoid manipulating or deceiving readers, the Times should have proactively noted this conflict of interest in their story; they did not. The Epoch Times did mention that the two are competitors in their refutation article. It’s worth noting virtually no other media outlets add disclaimers about conflicts of interest when writing about competing media outlets; this ought to be standard.
There is also a potential conflict of interest when it comes to competing factions in China. While The Epoch Times is clearly and transparently against the ruling Chinese Communist Party and its actions, the New York Times appears to have historically supported the current ruling party.
The NYT only recently stopped publishing and deleted advertorials from state-run media China Daily after creating a new policy against it. In addition, one of NYT’s largest shareholders, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, is reportedly involved in numerous business dealings with Chinese companies that have ties to the CCP (this is according to The Federalist, which AllSides rates as having a Right media bias and is another competitor to NYT).
Sensationalist language. Sensationalism is a type of media bias in which information is presented in a way that gives a shock or makes a deep impression. The Times article features numerous sensationalist words and phrases throughout: "scorched-earth fight against China’s ruling Communist Party," "audacious experiment," "willingness to feed the online fever swamps of the far right." Sensationalism often warps reality to mislead or provoke a strong reaction in the reader.
Flawed Logic. Flawed logic is a type of media bias in which faulty reasoning is used to misrepresent people or arrive at conclusions that are not justified by the given evidence. In this case, the New York Times implies The Epoch Times is linked to right-wing politics website America Daily because John Nania, a former Epoch Times editor, was reportedly involved in later starting America Daily. But a former employee’s involvement with another project doesn’t mean the Epoch Times itself is linked to that project — this constitutes flawed logic.
Unsubstantiated claims and spin. NYT claims that "publications and shows linked to The Epoch Times have promoted the QAnon conspiracy theory and spread distorted claims about voter fraud and the Black Lives Matter movement." The author doesn’t say what those shows and publications are, how they are linked to The Epoch Times, what "distorted claims" these third parties made, or why ET would be responsible for them. The claim lacks evidence to back it up.
Remember, everyone is biased one way or the other, and media bias is common and not necessarily a bad thing when it is transparent. The Epoch Times does have a Lean Right bias and The New York Times does have a Lean Left bias. Their work reflects competing values systems, so a squabble perhaps makes sense. And they both have been at least partially open about that: The Epoch Times has been clear about their anti-CCP bias, and The New York Times has admitted to being liberal.
It is important for news consumers to be aware of those biases as a first step, and to remember that awareness of it is not enough. Even when aware of bias, or even of a publication’s history of being untruthful, we are persuaded by what we read and hear. That is why we must remember to read across the political spectrum and to listen to people with different perspectives to get a more complete view.
John Gable is the CEO and co-founder of AllSides. He has a Lean Right bias. This piece was reviewed and given lots of suggestions, contributions and edits by a number of people at AllSides, including Managing Editor Henry A. Brechter (Center), Daily News Specialist Joseph Ratliff (Lean Left), Director of Product Samantha Shireman (Lean Left) and Content and Research Intern Rick Wytmar (Lean Left).
Julie Mastrine is the Director of Marketing at AllSides. She has a Lean Right bias.
John Gable is the CEO and co-founder of AllSides. He has a Lean Right bias.
This piece was reviewed and given lots of suggestions, contributions and edits by a number of people at AllSides, including Managing Editor Henry A. Brechter (Center), Daily News Specialist Joseph Ratliff (Lean Left), Director of Product Samantha Shireman (Lean Left) and Content and Research Intern Rick Wytmar (Lean Left).