A billboard campaign in southwest Michigan claims the Epoch Times is “#1 trusted news.” Is it?

Your attention is one of the most lucrative commodities. So it’s crucial you recognize the motivations behind each message meant to capture it. NowKalamazoo and WonderMediaLibrary.com help you navigate the vast array of media, to understand how messages are constructed, and how to critically evaluate them– this is Media Literacy.

Media Literacy Project and Now Kalamzoo/March 29, 2024

By Sue Ellen Christian, Macy Force and Ben Lando

Billboards promoting The Epoch Times, an international media outlet affiliated with the Falun Gong religious movement and rooted in opposition to the Chinese Communist Party, are showing up around southwest Michigan, including in Kalamazoo County.

The marketing on these billboards got our attention due to NowKalamazoo’s new project on media literacy and our commitment to guarding our community against mis/disinformation – of which multiple examples were found by external reviews of the Epoch Times.

The billboards claim it is “#1 Trusted News.”

Is the claim true?

The billboard doesn’t offer any sourcing, and Epoch Times was unresponsive to requests for an interview and additional information. At the time of publication, information about the ranking could not be found on the Epoch Times’ website. OUTFRONT, the owner of the billboards, was also unresponsive to requests.

On its website, however, the Epoch Times states: “Our subscribers and followers tell us that our coverage is honest, brave, and uncompromising. We refuse to allow political or ideological bias to tarnish our practice of investigative excellence. That’s why The Epoch Times is the world’s fastest-growing, most dependable media company.”

The Epoch Times is fast growing. The site had 5.1 million visitors in February 2024, according to Similarweb, a digital insights company. More than 17% of the news site’s online traffic came from the United States.

The Epoch Times is also fast growing when it comes to revenues. According to an NBC News report from October, “The Epoch Times now boasts to be the country’s fourth-largest newspaper by subscriber count. (Unlike most major newspapers, The Epoch Times isn’t audited by the two major independent collectors of circulation data.) The nonprofit has amassed a fortune, growing its revenue by a staggering 685% in two years, to $122 million in 2021, according to the group’s most recent tax records.”

Its claim as the “most dependable” media company is not provable, and is highly debatable if the reference is equating dependable with credible, based on The Epoch Times’ coverage.

In a section on its website titled “Why #1 Trusted News Source,” a review found multiple instances that belie its credibility.

  • A “totally independent” organization. In fact, it is affiliated with an overtly political religious movement.
  • “Rated as “Center” in the Allsides Blind Bias Survey.” However, a more recent review found it is classified as leaning right. The review stated that, “Much of The Epoch Times’ reporting is rather balanced; its right-wing bias was mostly displayed via story choice. The publication typically covered stories generally of interest to people on the right and showed conservatives in a positive light, and covered stories that show the left in a more negative light.”
  • “Never endorsed a political candidate for office.” The Epoch Times spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in social media advertising in support of Donald Trump for president in 2019, but did not accurately represent its outlet as sponsor of the ads, leading Facebook to ban it from purchasing advertising.
  • “During the aftermath of the 2020 election, when credible allegations emerged of electoral fraud and were dismissed by media organizations out of hand, The Epoch Times dispatched its reporters across the nation to investigate.” There were no credible allegations of electoral fraud in the 2020 election.

The Elections Integrity Project, a coalition of researchers focused on tracking misinformation during the 2020 election, cited the Epoch Times “in a range of misleading ‘voter fraud’ narratives such as alleging that large numbers of people were voting twice and that discarded ballots were evidence of intentional fraud. The website also promoted content related to three large incidents—the Dominion conspiracy theory, and the Sharpiegate and Stop The Steal narratives.” (p. 251)

Media literacy takeaway: This billboard itself offers the opportunity for critical thinking, and to pause to consider the claim instead of automatically accepting it as true.

The claim of “#1 trusted news source” is an interesting mix of fact and opinion. It’s claim may be fact, if Epoch Times’ users say they view the outlet as their #1 trusted news source. The readers’ view that the outlet is to be trusted is their opinion, however.

Further, without providing evidence, the Epoch Times’ claim of “#1 trusted news source” is merely an assertion until evidence is offered. This sort of #1 claim from an advertisement for a product is not new, and the evidence offered is typically vague. The claim “4 out of 5 dentists recommend” a certain kind of chewing gum offers an illustration; we aren’t told if the dentists were paid by the chewing gum company to participate in this survey, or what the survey response choices were. Apparently, the original study asked not about Trident gum but about sugarless gum vs. sugared gum. That elusive fifth dentist apparently opted for no gum chewing, period. The same vagueness is true of the billboard’s claim: Precisely who said exactly what about which product?

People who see the new billboard may want to check out The Epoch Times. Some news media literacy tips on assessing any news site include:

Look for dates – Of the articles themselves and the studies or reports cited as evidence. Are they current?

Look for authors and sources – Who wrote the story, and are they real? Are they quoting themselves or their own work or projects in a “news story”? Honest journalists don’t insert themselves into the coverage; they stay neutral about the information and present a variety of informed viewpoints about a topic and let news consumers make up their own minds.

Look at images – Is the image actually of the place, person, and time that the caption says it is? News sites often use old photos (such as of a politician) to illustrate an ongoing story, but some dishonest news sites take old images and mislabel them, placing them in a new context to perpetuate a story line.

Look off the site – Any honest news site can stand the test of scrutiny of others, and looking at what other trusted news sources say about a news source is useful in judging its credibility. Look at what other outlets and online sources from across the political and ideological spectrum say about the website you’re evaluating.

Look at labels – Lastly, when reading any news outlet, look closely at whether an article is labeled as a news article or an opinion piece. A news article on an honest news site is reported from a neutral standpoint with a variety of source viewpoints. An editorial is the perspective of the publication on any given topic, person, or event, and an opinion piece is the point of view of the author(s) of the piece. Labels are important so readers don’t take opinion as fact. A fact is provable with evidence, an opinion is a feeling or belief.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.

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