America First Legal Lawsuit Against the Department of State Obtains Documents from the Global Engagement Center Exposing How “Private” Media Organizations Carry Out State Propaganda

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, America First Legal (AFL) released document productions (1, 2, and 3) obtained from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Department of State exposing how the Global Engagement Center (GEC) carries out state propaganda through willing participants from private media organizations.

Although the GEC’s mission supposedly combats foreign disinformation abroad, AFL previously uncovered that the GEC supported the Biden White House National Security Council’s (NSC) effort to share “Lessons Learned from CDC and Census on countering dis/mis information in real time” across the federal government, revealed the GEC used taxpayer dollars to create a video game called “Cat Park” to “Inoculate Youth Against Disinformation,” and filed nine additional FOIA requests to obtain records about GEC grants that outsource government propaganda and censorship to private entities.

AFL has long been committed to fighting the crusade against free speech. On May 2, 2023, AFL filed a landmark lawsuit against private parties that conspired with the federal government to conduct a mass surveillance and censorship operation targeting the political speech of millions of Americans on social media platforms specifically designed to target conservative political speech on questions of great public interest like election integrity, COVID-19 vaccines, and vaccine mandates.

The new documents released today reveal even more about how the Deep State, through the GEC, conducts mass surveillance, censorship, and propaganda to target dissenting views. These documents provide evidence that:

  • The GEC coordinates with a global cartel of Soros-, Gates-, Omidyar-, and Big Tech-funded “fact-checkers” through the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) to control the international media narrative.
  • Mainstream media organizations that were previously respected for critical investigative journalism now serve as mere organs of state media and purveyors of Deep State propaganda.
  • The GEC provides financial support to media organizations, which implicates their supposed “independence” as journalists.

A global cartel of “fact-checkers” coordinated through the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN)

The GEC routinely coordinates with a global cartel of “independent” “fact-checkers” led by the Poynter Institute for Media Studies—which operates Politifact—and members of its IFCN, which received its initial funding from the Department of State-funded National Endowment for Democracy, the Omidyar Network, Google, Facebook, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. Members of this vast cartel range from independent foreign journalists to professional fact-checkers to American mainstream media organizations like the Associated Press and USA Today. Notably, Poynter’s IFCN  received a 2021 Nobel Peace Prize nomination.

The GEC regularly works with IFCN on targeted campaigns. For example, the GEC worked closely with Baybars Orsek, Poynter’s director of international programming, to set up an IFCN partner in Tunisia. The “GEC-funded project” would work on “achieving two main objectives: 

1. Launch a Fact Check platform to provide accurate information to media outlets, government officials, and social influencers to counter the Disinformation on the COVID-19.

2. 240 youth are trained to be social influencers or descramblers promoting accurate information in their local communities to help the Ministry of Health MoH disseminate The Crisis and Risks Communication plan related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The GEC also funded a grant through the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) on “Empowering Fact-Checking in the Global South,” and it enlisted Baybars Orsek and Alanna Dvorak, Poynter’s International Training Manager, for a potential “mentorship through Poynter/IFCN” in Tunisia. In particular, the GEC aimed to ensure that two specific media organizations in Tunisia would “absorb the fact-checking skills” to censor disfavored narratives from the news.

Another email conversation later shows a GEC official thanking the IFCN International Training Manager for “speaking with AfricaCheck about [her] work in Tunisia.” AfricaCheck is a fact-checking organization, substantially funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Google News Initiative, the Open Society Foundation for South Africa, the IFCN, the Omidyar Network, the Department of State, and earned income through Facebook.

Another email shows the IFCN soliciting the GEC to do additional programming in Egypt (and presumably with additional American taxpayer funding).

When threatened, they circle the wagons to protect their mutual interests.

On the other hand, they exclude other media organizations with whom they disagree. 

For example David Mikkelson of attempted to discredit the Daily Caller to kick them out of their Google Groups on “Combating Fake News: The Science of Misinformation,” even though another member raised the point that Daily Caller had the same “source-credibility” score as CNN and MSNBC.

The work of the international fact-checking cartel might be admirable if it actually lived up to its “commitment to Non-partisanship and Fairness,” but their methods appear strongly biased towards the promotion of State-approved talking points. 

For example, a professional fact-checker at PolitiFact, which is operated by the Poynter Institute, appeared to rely on the GEC to debunk a “claim [that] stems from the letter that GOP senators wrote to the Biden Administration,” even though the GEC was under the Biden Administration. 

Mainstream media as State propaganda

News outlets that had been formerly respected for critical investigative journalism are now mere mouthpieces for state media, and their journalists are eagerly willing to spread propaganda on behalf of the GEC.

The Washington Post readily jumped into the conversation to discredit the New York Post’s reporting on Hunter Biden’s laptop.

On October 14, 2020, the New York Post published the now-infamous story based on a laptop detailing how Hunter Biden used the position and influence of his father for personal gain and with the apparent awareness of now-President Biden. On the same day, Ellen Nakashima, a national security reporter with the Washington Post “covering election security,” reached out to the GEC requesting a call on “more declassified Russian disinformation.”

October 15, 2020, Ellen Nakashima published an article stating, “The Washington Post was unable to verify the authenticity of the alleged communications,” while alluding to the likelihood that the Hunter Biden story was the product of a “Russian intelligence operation.” On October 16, 2020, Ellen Nakashima sent another email to the GEC to inquire about “upcoming releases by the GEC.”

On October 21, 2020, less than two weeks before election day, Ellen Nakashima published an article in the Washington Post sounding the alarm on “Russian interference” in the 2020 election cycle and highlighted numerous federal agency lines of effort to combat it, including the GEC’s August 2020 report exposing websites and organizations as Russian sites spreading disinformation. The GEC report referenced in Ellen Nakashima’s article, however, turned out to be “contradictory” according to Matt Taibbi in Twitter Files #17, which detailed how the GEC would send Twitter lists of hundreds of accounts it suspected to be “foreign” disinformation, even though the lists “included multiple Western government accounts and at least three CNN employees based abroad.”

Mainstream media outlets eagerly rely on the GEC as an authoritative source based on its credibility and presumed access to accurate intelligence. As the fact-check by PolitiFact above demonstrates, however, this presents the risk that critical investigative journalists become nothing more than state media mouthpieces.

On January 19, 2021, one day before the Biden Administration officially began, a Global Engagement Center Public Affairs Officer attempted to enlist Michael Gordon of the Wall Street Journal to publish a story promoting the GEC’s talking points on Russian disinformation and COVID-19 vaccines.

Meanwhile, on February 2, 2021, New York Times reporter Julian Barnes obtains an introduction to the GEC through his National Security Agency (NSA) contact for his story on “Russian anti-vax disinformation.”

On February 4, 2021, with another potential outlet seemingly interested in writing a story on the topic of interest, the GEC shared its talking points with the New York Times.

By February 12, 2021, the GEC Deputy Spokesperson, J.T. Ice, warned Michael Gordon that it will pitch the story to another outlet if the Wall Street Journal will not publish the story “imminently.”

Finally, on March 7, 2021, the Wall Street Journal published the story the GEC wanted.

Disappointingly for the New York Times reporter, the Wall Street Journal was finally able to run with the story.

One day later, Deirdre Shesgreen with USA Today eagerly reached out to the GEC to learn more about the Wall Street Journal’s story.

The GEC’s financial support of these media organizations also implicates the supposed “independence” of their reporting.

The GEC “Information Access Fund” appears to pay for the licensing of free New York Times content—in English and Mandarin—in newsrooms across the Pacific Islands.

The Associated Press also appears to rely on funding from the Department of State in the Pacific Islands.

Statement from Gene Hamilton, America First Legal Vice President and General Counsel:

“Over the last two years, we have proven to the American people that there is–in fact–an intricate web of individuals and organizations that influence everything you see presented as objectively ‘true’ or ‘fact’ in the media. While it is undeniably true that all governments throughout history have conducted campaigns to influence foreign audiences, it is now undeniably true that the same tactics and techniques are being used to influence perceptions amongst the American people domestically. We will continue to expose this influence operation to the American people and to bring accountability where we can,“ said Gene Hamilton.

Read the entire production here, here, and here.

View the FOIA Request, case documents, and previous productions here.

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Photo credit: Leonid/Adobe Stock Images

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