What We Read This Week: Our Investigative News Roundup
Trump’s Secret Chinese Supporters
By the numbers, there is no bigger advocate of President Donald Trump on Facebook than The Epoch Times, reports NBC News.
The small New York-based nonprofit news outlet has spent more than $1.5 million on about 11,000 pro-Trump advertisements in the last six months, according to data from Facebook’s advertising archive. That’s more than any organization outside of the Trump campaign itself and more than most Democratic presidential candidates have spent on their own campaigns. Those video ads — in which unidentified people thumb through a newspaper to praise Trump, peddle conspiracy theories about the “Deep State,” and criticize “fake news” media strike a familiar tone in the online conservative news ecosystem.
The Epoch Times looks like many of the conservative outlets that have gained followings in recent years. But it isn’t.
Behind the scenes, the media outlet’s ownership and operation is closely tied to Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual community with the stated goal of taking down China’s government. It’s that motivation that helped drive the organization toward Trump, according to interviews with former Epoch Times staffers, a move that has been both lucrative and beneficial for its message. Former practitioners of Falun Gong told NBC News that believers think the world is headed toward a judgment day, where those labeled “communists” will be sent to a kind of hell and those sympathetic to the spiritual community will be spared. Trump is viewed as a key ally in the anti-communist fight, former Epoch Times employees said.
The Old College
Search “pre-college” on GoFundMe.com and you’ll find dozens of campaigns from hopeful students dazzled by the allure of two weeks on an elite campus. “Going to the Summer @ Brown PreCollege Program would give me a preview of what life would be like if I attend the school of my dreams,” reads a 2018 campaign by Benjina, from Newark, N.J. These posts reflect the growing trend of summer “pre-college” programs at the nation’s most prestigious universities, says The Washington Monthly. Of the top 40 schools ranked in U.S. News & World Report, all but one —Dartmouth — offer some sort of summer program for high school students and, in some cases, even middle schoolers. These programs can offer precocious teens an enriching, hands-on preview of college life. But they also exploit both the allure of brand-name universities and families’ anxieties about an increasingly cut-throat college admissions process in which “summer experiences” matter.
West Virginia Has Its Own Trump-Like Problem
West Virginia lawmakers are calling for a thorough re-examination of the state’s ethics rules following a Charleston Gazette-Mail and ProPublica investigation of the conflicts of interest created by Gov. Jim Justice’s ownership of the fabled Greenbrier resort.
One central proposal initiated by state Sen. William Ihlenfeld would make West Virginia the first state to mandate that governors place all of their assets into a blind trust, something Justice, the wealthiest man in the state, has refused to do. Under such an arrangement, business holdings are placed under the control of an independent manager, shielding the public official from at least the appearance of a conflict.
Justice, a billionaire, has faced questions about how his vast business empire intersects with his job running the state, raising stark similarities to the ethical entanglements of Trump. Government agencies paid for more than $106,000 in meals and lodging at the luxury resort since Justice became governor. State officials have also sought — and won — special permission to attend conferences at the hotel and to feature the iconic property in a state advertising campaign.
Bringing the GWOT Home
The suddenly popular idea of launching a domestic version of the Global War on Terror (GWOT) — proposed in the wake of mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton — is one of the worst ever, writes James Risen in The Intercept, challenging an op-ed written by two former high-ranking government officials. This time, they want the war on terror to be at home, focused on white supremacist extremists. That would be the wrong answer to the problem of rising violence by white supremacists. It is a serious issue that will require serious thought and action. But simplistic answers like launching a domestic war on terror would certainly lead to unintended consequences that would cascade for decades, and might be worse than those that stemmed from the original global war on terror. They simply raise the notion of turning America into an anti-terror war zone. That kind of vague rhetoric is exactly how the original war on terror got sold to the American people. Expansive new powers were granted to the government to fight this worldwide war, while old rules and regulations that were supposedly anachronistic and in the way of the fight against terrorism were eliminated — or illegally skirted. Eighteen years later, the results are in. The global war on terror has been a catastrophe.