by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Chuck Ross of the Washington Free Beacon reports disturbing news about a recent addition to the American media landscape.
Semafor, a popular media startup, has interesting new partners in its quest to fix “the crisis of trust in news”: a consortium of Chinese Communist Party front groups, soft-on-China business leaders, and one organization that calls itself a “chamber of commerce led by the Communist Party of China.”
The online news outlet is partnering with the Center for China & Globalization for a “China and Global Business” initiative that will launch in Beijing later this year. The center is part of China’s united front system, which the Communist Party uses to influence “universities, think tanks, scholars, [and] journalists.”
Semafor’s initiative will bring together a number of CCP allies and Americans known for dovish views towards Beijing, among them John Thornton, a prominent Brookings Institution donor with longstanding ties to Chinese government officials.Semafor’s “ambitious” new initiative calls into question its claim to be a global news platform whose goal is “addressing the crisis of trust in news.” Media watchdogs have long been concerned about corporate and foreign influence on American news organizations, particularly with China’s aggressive attempts to influence American news outlets. The New York Times and Washington Post have ended advertisement deals with Chinese state-run media outlets over the optics of those relationships and the potential that foreign influence might shape editorial coverage.
Ben Smith, the cofounder of Semafor and a former Buzzfeed editor, says the China initiative is aimed at counterbalancing “hawkish” views in Washington toward China, with an advisory board that represents a “diversity of opinion” on the topic of U.S.-China relations. But a glance at the advisory board’s members calls that claim into question as well.
Advisory board member Wang Huiyao, the founder of the Center for China & Globalization, is a Chinese government adviser and official at organizations that helped develop China’s controversial “Thousand Talents” program, which the FBI says Beijing uses to steal trade secrets from American companies and create national security risks for the U.S. government.