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  • Chinese, Russian Propaganda Lurking In Mainstream Media

    Major U.S. newspapers regularly publish what often appears to be editorial content provided to them by Chinese and Russian propaganda outlets without disclosing that they are controlled by foreign governments.

    The Washington Post has distributed in its print editions two paid advertising supplements — China Watch and Russia Beyond The Headlines — that are owned and operated by their respective governments.

    The material is presented in a different format from the regular editorial and news columns, and a disclaimer notes that neither the Post’s editorial nor its news staffs were involved in the content. But nothing specifically is said about the source of the content being from foreign governments.

    The Post refused to disclose how much it’s paid to carry the supplements.

    Russia Beyond The Headlines also appears in other major U.S. publications, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. The Washington Post also hosts a China Watch website.

    Having a presence in these outlets provides credible entry points for Russian and Chinese propaganda into U.S. public policy debates and public opinion formation.

    “The idea is to present the more appealing faces of these countries,” Heritage Foundation Public Diplomacy Senior Fellow Helle Dale told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “That is certainly what the Chinese and Russians are hoping for. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be spending large amounts of money on these supplements.”

    Dale said “both have made a big push to influence public opinion in the U.S.” She is a former editorial page editor of a the Washington Times, a competitor with the Post.

    Washington Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti strongly defended the supplements.

    “These paid supplements have run in the paper semi-regularly for many years, and have always been clearly labeled as advertising,” Coratti told theDCNF. “We give advertisers wide latitude to have their say — generally if the ads are not illegal or advocating illegal actions we try not to place limits on speech or content. We have accepted the China Daily and Russia Beyond the Headlines ads for years under these standards.”

    China Watch hosted by the Washington Post (Screenshot).

    China Watch hosted by the Washington Post (Screenshot).

    “China Watch Daily is slugged at the top of every page as ‘An Advertising Supplement to The Washington Post,’ and the first page of each advertisement states ‘This supplement, prepared by China Daily, People’s Republic of China, did not involve the news or editorial departments of The Washington Post,’” Coratti added. “On top of all that, the layout and format of the supplements differs from our editorial content in a number of ways, including headline style, body font and column width.”

    Coratti declined to comment when asked if Washington Post readers might erroneously assume the China Watch and Russia Beyond The Headlines content represents credible reporting and analyses rather than foreign propaganda.

    The only indication a foreign government is involved with creating China Watch appears just below the masthead: “This supplement, prepared by China Daily, People’s Republic of China, did not involve the news or editorial departments of The Washington Post.”

    That disclaimer is absent on the China Watch website.

    And, while both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have advertising disclaimers similar to the Post, they only denote that Russia Beyond The Headlines content is produced by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

    “Every page says that the section is sponsored by Rossiyskaya Gazeta (pretty widely known to be the government daily paper of record),” New York Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy told theDCNF.

    “This supplement is produced by Rossiyskaya Gazeta (Russia) and did not involve the news or editorial departments of The Wall Street Journal,” WSJ spokeswoman Ashley Huston told theDCNF.

    Murphy and Huston refused to disclose how much China Watch and Russia Beyond The Headlines pay their respective papers, but both provided their standard advertising rate sheets.

    The propaganda content could help shape the public’s opinion of the foreign states in ways that would please their rulers.

    “The Russians are good at muddying the waters” and obscuring “objective truth,” Heritage Foundation Research Associate Daniel Kochis told theDCNF. “It sort of changes the tone of debate in an imperceptible way. It impacts your background thinking.”

    The propaganda may not sway people to a pro-Russia position, Kochis said, but it could move them away from an aggressive stance by obscuring important facts.

    American media outlets also frequently quote Russia Today, another government owned and operated media organization, Kochis said. “They will sort of give it the same weight as a U.S. media outlet. One is an arm of the state and the other is an independent media outlet.”

    In fact, Russia Today offers a downloadable Google Chrome extension with the tagline “Find out what the mainstream media is keeping silent about.” A subtitle says: “We are set to show you how any story can be another story altogether.”

    Nearly 81,000 people use the extension, which is rated four and 1/2 stars out of 5, according to the Google Web Store.

    Kochis noted that the top story Tuesday afternoon on the news aggregator Drudge Report was an article from Russia Today.

    Drudge Report's top story was from Russia Today, government owned and operated propaganda (Screenshot).

    Drudge Report’s top story was from Russia Today, government owned and operated propaganda, on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015 (Screenshot).

    The two publications are parts of wider, aggressive Chinese and Russian propaganda programs aimed at Americans.

    In fact, China controls most content broadcast from 33 radio stations worldwide, including one on Capitol Hill, Reuters reported Monday. And Foreign Policy’s The Middle East Daily was sponsored by Russia Direct, yet another propaganda arm.

    Foreign Policy's Middle East Daily was sponsored by Russia Direct, government owned and operated propaganda, on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015 (Screenshot).

    Foreign Policy’s Middle East Daily was sponsored by Russia Direct, government owned and operated propaganda, on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015 (Screenshot).

    Additionally, the Post’s China Watch supplement and its website have been criticized for not clearly marking the material as government-owned propaganda. “They look real,” Kochis said. “They look like they’re part of the actual newspaper.”

    China Daily, government owned propaganda, in the Oct. 28, 2015 edition of The Washington Post.

    China Daily, government owned propaganda, in the Oct. 28, 2015 edition of The Washington Post.

    But the disclaimers are written in small print, Dale said. “These look very professional. The practice of publishing these supplements is definitely in a gray area.”

    Nonetheless, even major newspapers face financial stress and need sources of revenue. “This is a pretty stable source of income,” she said. “Advertising for newspapers is tough to come by these days. It’s not one that I particularly approve of. I think it is deceptive.”

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    Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.

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