Conservative Bloggers Paid PR Agents for Malaysia

The conservative media and blogosphere has been hit with a scandal after a federal filing revealed that the government of Malaysia had paid hundred of thousands of dollars out to several of them to write good things about them on major online media outlets like Red State and the National Review Online.

A range of mainstream American publications printed paid propaganda for the government of Malaysia, much of it focused on the campaign against a pro-democracy figure there.

The payments to conservative American opinion writers — whose work appeared in outlets from the Huffington Post and San Francisco Examiner to the Washington Times to National Review and RedState — emerged in a filing this week to the Department of Justice. The filing under the Foreign Agent Registration Act outlines a campaign spanning May 2008 to April 2011 and led by Joshua Trevino, a conservative pundit, who received $389,724.70 under the contract and paid smaller sums to a series of conservative writers.

Trevino lost his column at the Guardian last year after allegations that his relationship with Malaysian business interests wasn’t being disclosed in columns dealing with Malaysia. Trevino told Politico in 2011 that “I was never on any ‘Malaysian entity’s payroll,’ and I resent your assumption that I was.”

According to Trevino’s belated federal filing, the interests paying Trevino were in fact the government of Malaysia, “its ruling party, or interests closely aligned with either.” The Malaysian government has been accused of multiple human rights abuses and restricting the press and personal freedoms. Anwar, the opposition leader, has faced prosecution for sodomy, a prosecution widely denounced in the West, which Trevino defended as more “nuanced” than American observers realized…

Trevino’s subcontractors included conservative writer Ben Domenech, who made $36,000 from the arrangement, and Rachel Ehrenfeld, the director of the American Center for Democracy, who made $30,000. Seth Mandel, an editor at Commentary, made $5,500 (his byline is attached to the National Review item linked to above). Brad Jackson, writing at the time for RedState, made $24,700. Overall, 10 writers were part of the arrangement.

“It was actually a fairly standard PR operation,” Trevino told BuzzFeed Friday.

All too standard, it seems. But PR is not the same thing as journalism and there needs to be a very clear statement when one is being paid to take a particular position on something.

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  • Didaktylos

    Q: What’s the difference between a Right-wing blogger and a prostitute?

    A: There are some things a prostitute won’t do for money.

  • How come I never get contacted to be a paid shill?

  • Freodin

    Ed, you should really consider changing / dropping that newspaper-speak style headlines. At first, I wondered hard what the right-wing bloggers would have to pay malaysian PR agents for.

  • Artor

    Conservative writers hate democracy, and are paid money to undermine it, huh? I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise.

  • Big Malay, eh?

  • See? Obama’s plan to bring jobs back to the US is working. And not a minute too soon either, we gotta compensate for al those customer-service jobs being exported to Bangalore somehow…

  • How come I never get contacted to be a paid shill?

    Not enough previous demonstrated experience at making shit up and ignoring reality on command.

  • eric

    there needs to be a very clear statement when one is being paid to take a particular position on something.

    I know what you mean, but I think your words are narrower than your idea and don’t reflect it well. I think you mean to say: journalists need to disclose that they are being funded by a source whenever they talk about that source, regardless of whether they are being paid to take a position or not. Doesn’t matter if you are talking about their physics program and they merely paid you for your mom’s cookie recipe, you must stil disclose that you received funds from the subject of your story.

    Limiting disclosure to when you are paid to take a position is probably how folks like Trevino justify their unethical actions. “Well, they may have given me money, but it didn’t come with strings about what I was allowed to say about them, so I didn’t think disclosure was necessary.”

  • Look, Ed Brayton, the Malaysian government is a good government, fighting for values that Americans should support, like freedom and liberty. Also, apple pie.*


    * Kah-ching!

  • cjcolucci

    Some years ago, I took three business trips to Malaysia and worked with several Malaysians on the case. A fascinating country with vast potential and serious problems, but it’s hard to follow Malaysian affairs because the country doesn’t show up much on the U.S. media radar.

    So how many of the bought-and-paid-for shills actually had any opinions about Malaysian affairs before they took the money — let alone had any basis for any opinions? And what did the Malaysians think they were getting for their money?

  • iangould

    Somebody tell Pam Geller about this.

    More creeping sharia?

  • IIRC, Ben Domenech had a plagiarism scandal a few years ago.