How the “paper of record” repeatedly failed to cover atrocities against Falun Gong, and amplified Chinese Communist Party propaganda with devastating results

Key Findings

The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) violent campaign to eradicate the Falun Gong spiritual group is one of the most serious human rights crises taking place in China, affecting tens of millions of people and costing billions of dollars. Yet it has been severely underreported and its victims largely discarded and maligned. As the 25th anniversary of this tragedy approaches, the Falun Dafa Information Center examined coverage of Falun Gong in The New York Times, an agenda-setting paper, and found disturbing results.

  • Widespread misrepresentation: The New York Times’ coverage has significantly and irresponsibly distorted the story of Falun Gong, be it in terms of the nature of the practice or the scope of the persecution. This report details these findings—one of the most significant failures in international reporting over the last 25 years, with wide-ranging implications for people in China and around the world.

  • Frequent inaccuracies: The New York Times’ coverage of Falun Gong is riddled with factual errors. These range from relatively benign assertions to more damaging labels that fuel hatred toward the group. The New York Times’ characterization of Falun Gong teachings and beliefs has been predominantly inaccurate and negative, often following the CCP’s framing. The image of Falun Gong that emerges from the coverage is at odds with the lived reality of practitioners and evaluations of experts on Chinese religion.

  • Uncritically following CCP framing on the persecution: The Times’ coverage has favored Chinese government sources when reporting on the violent campaign launched by the regime in July 1999 since its inception. The paper has uncritically repeated and seemingly internalized key aspects of the regime’s framing of the campaign. This has occurred and persisted even when the claims contradicted the Times’ own early reporting and emerging research by human rights groups.

  • Silence on Falun Gong persecution: For the past 20 years, the New York Times has been exceptionally silent on atrocities against Falun Gong practitioners, including the forced organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience. Incredibly, the Times’ has published no news story focused on rights abuses facing Falun Gong practitioners in China since 2016, even as these violations continue on a large scale. The paper ignored major reports by human rights groups and the 2019 London China Tribunal on forced organ harvesting, as well as ongoing high-profile individual cases of prison sentences and deaths in custody. At least one former Times journalist reported being barred by editors from investigating organ transplant abuses against Falun Gong practitioners and other prisoners of conscience.

  • Contrast to competitors: The Times’ coverage of the Falun Gong human rights crisis during its nascent stage, was significantly different from other major papers. While the New York Times was seemingly preoccupied with distorting Falun Gong beliefs and improving ties with the Chinese communist leadership, its peers like the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and others produced ground-breaking investigations and award-winning journalism about the human toll the crackdown was taking, the architecture of the campaign, and inaccuracies in the regime’s propaganda against Falun Gong. Jumping ahead to 2019, outlets like the Guardian and Reuters reported on the findings of the China Tribunal, which the Times ignored.

  • Contrast to coverage of Uyghurs and Tibetans: The Times’ silence on Falun Gong is even more stark when compared with the paper’s coverage of human rights crises facing other religious and ethnic groups in China, namely Uyghurs and Tibetans, whose population size is much smaller than the Falun Gong community in China. Since 2009, the paper has published hundreds of articles, including investigative reports and sympathetic profiles of individual Uyghur and Tibetan prisoners, as well as dozens of op-eds by scholars and members of these communities. By contrast, it published only 7 stories about the persecution of Falun Gong and not a single op-ed by a Falun Gong practitioner.

  • Increasing distortion over time: In recent years, the Times’ coverage has become even more problematic. Alongside complete silence on rights abuses facing Falun Gong practitioners, the few articles it has published on Falun Gong have been openly hostile, targeting organizations founded by practitioners. These negative articles repeat prior inaccuracies, incorporate new ones, and in practice, serve the CCP’s goals of maligning Falun Gong and stymying the party’s critics.

  • Lost lives and information gaps: The impact of the Times’ distorted reporting and irresponsible treatment of Falun Gong practitioners as “unworthy victims” has contributed to the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators and robbed their victims of vital international support, undoubtedly resulting in greater suffering and loss of life throughout Mainland China. Given the strong intersection between the regime’s campaign against Falun Gong and topics central to daily life in China—internet censorship, public surveillance, forced labor, and rule of law deficiencies—the Times’ silence on Falun Gong has deprived policymakers and businesses of critical information for navigating today’s China.

  • Beneficiaries of the Times’ distortions: By contrast, the Chinese regime has benefited immensely from the Times’ coverage, gaining traction for its agenda to marginalize Falun Gong and obscure the crackdown against it, while also providing credibility to anti-Falun Gong propaganda domestically and globally. Meanwhile, the Times has avoided far more severe penalties from the Chinese regime (and perhaps even gained favors) by taking a hands-off approach to reporting on the CCP’s systematic campaign of religious persecution against Falun Gong.