The New York Times
Early Reporting, Front Page Coverage
In 1999, Falun Gong was featured on the cover of the New York Times on six separate occasions, including a top story about a secret press conference held by Falun Gong practitioners on the outskirts of Beijing. This early coverage was not in-depth, perhaps due to the fact that the spiritual practice was unfamiliar to most Western journalists. Additionally, the coverage often featured Chinese regime propaganda talking points without a meaningful challenge to their validity. Still, the story was covered frequently.
The first few reports on Falun Gong disclosed it’s widespread popularity throughout China.
April 27, 1999: The New York Times publishes “In Beijing: A Roar of Silent Protestors,” by Seth Faison, which states: “…the Government’s estimate of 70 million adherents represents a large group in a nation of 1.2 billion.”
April 27, 1999: The New York Times publishes “Notoriety Now for Movement’s Leader,” by Joseph Kahn, which states: “Despite that elusiveness, or maybe because of it, Mr. Li has become a guru of a movement that even by Chinese Government estimates has more members that the Communist Party. Beijing puts the tally of his followers at 70 million. Practitioners say they do not dispute those numbers, but they say they have no way of knowing for sure, in part because they have no central membership lists.”
Changing the Narrative
Shortly after the launch of the persecution in July, 1999, however, the Chinese regime changed their estimate dramatically to 2 million as part of its propaganda campaign to downplay the scale of violations. Unfortunately, most media, including the New York Times began using the false number without questioning the radical and unexplained change in estimate. Western media reports also increasingly featured Chinese regime talking points in their Falun Gong coverage, often without any significant inquiry into the validity of the accusations made by the CCP.
Suspicious Silence Amid Atrocities
In 2001, New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger traveled to China to meet with then-CCP leader Jiang Zemin. Within days, nytimes.com was unblocked in China (and remained so for some time), and a team was established to build a Chinese-language edition of the New York Times. And for the next two decades, the Times was suspiciously quiet on Falun Gong, even as rival media, including the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal continued to cover the story in-depth for at least another year or two.
Quality Reporting in Aftermath of 2008 Olympics
Breaking an almost decade-long silence on the persecution of Falun Gong, the New York Times‘ Andrew Jacobs filed a report in 2009, covering reports from inside China as well as analysis from prominent China human rights observers. Prompted by the 10th anniversary of the start to the persecution of Falun Gong in China, Jacobs’ report, China Still Presses Crusade Against Falun Gong, also detailed the story of Yu Zhou, a well-known Beijing musician who died in police custody ten days after being arrested merely for carrying a Falun Gong book.
Killed the Organ Harvesting Story?
The reality of Falun Gong practitioners being killed for their organs in China is now widely accepted among human rights organizations, policy makers, and academic circles. In 2019, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, a former prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, who led the prosecution of Slobodan Milosevic, convened an independent tribunal of medical, legal, and China experts in London. After assessing all the evidence, the panel concluded that Falun Gong practitioners were and continue to be killed for their organs “on a significant scale.” This story was covered by the BBC, Forbes, The Guardian, Newsweek, The Telegraph, The Wall Street Journal, and NBC.
The New York Times failed to report on this story. Why?
Former New York Times Beijing correspondent Didi Kirsten Tatlow’s testimony to the China Tribunal suggests not only that forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience did take place in China, and that it was an open secret among transplant surgeons, but notably, that the New York Times actively discouraged her from reporting on this fact.
Disturbing New Trend
Beginning in 2018, more news coverage of Falun Gong has emerged in Western media outlets, but often these reports dramatically downplay the scale of the persecution and grossly distort the teachings and beliefs of Falun Gong. In fact, some of these articles mimic with shocking similarity the hate-filled propaganda prominent in communist China.