The Wikipedia Whitewash That Cleared the Way for Trump Tower Moscow

As he was chasing a Trump Tower deal in Moscow, Trump associate Felix Sater — or someone working on behalf of Sater — was working hard to whitewash Trump’s Wikipedia biography.

source

Felix Sater — the Russian-American real estate developer and former adviser to President Donald J. Trump — is back in the news, following a new report by the U.S. Senate Select Committee, published Tuesday.

The report details, in part, Sater’s ill-fated efforts to help Trump build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the 2016 U.S. presidential election — namely, Sater’s “high-level outreach to Russian businessmen and officials that Sater claimed to have undertaken related to the deal.”

From the report:

In September 2015, Trump authorized [former Trump Organization lawyer Michael Cohen] to pursue a deal in Russia through Felix Sater, a longtime business associate of Trump. By early November 2015, Trump and a Russia-based developer signed a Letter of Intent laying out the main terms of a licensing deal that promised to provide the Trump Organization millions of dollars upon the signing of a deal, and hundreds of millions of dollars if the project advanced to completion.

(U) Cohen kept Trump updated on the progress of the deal. While these negotiations were ongoing, Trump made positive public comments about Putin in connection with his presidential campaign. Cohen and Sater sought to leverage Trump’s comments, and subsequent comments about Trump by Putin, to advance the deal.

…the Committee found that Sater did, in fact, have significant senior-level ties to a number of Russian businessmen and former government officials, and was in a position, through intermediaries, to reach individuals close to Putin.

What the report doesn’t mention is that, shortly before Trump gave Cohen the go-ahead on the Moscow deal, Sater — or someone working on behalf of Sater — launched a surreptitious effort to scrub Sater’s convictions for racketeering and assault from Wikipedia.

The eight-month timeline of edits closely correlates with the Trump Tower Moscow timeline and suggests that Sater anticipated and may have sought to preempt any negative responses to his involvement.

Felix Sater (centre) with Donald Trump (source)

As I covered in a previous post (before information about the Moscow deal became widely known), the Wikipedia editing campaign began in August 2015, when someone using the handle “591J” made repeated attempts to edit Trump’s biography to whitewash the aspiring candidate’s business ties to Sater and delete references to Sater’s alleged “mafia and Russian criminal ties.”

591J appeared to reveal their true identity in January 2015, when the user admitted owning three websites that had been registered using Sater’s name, physical address, email address, and phone number.

Sater has not yet replied to any of my requests for comment.

591J’s first three edits to Trump’s biography were made as Sater was busy negotiating the preliminaries of the Moscow deal with Cohen. These edits removed details of a 2013 BBC Panorama interview that Trump cut short after being asked about Sater by British investigative journalist John Sweeney.

Here’s a clip:

And here’s one of 591J’s attempts to remove a reference to the interview:

August 25, 2015 edit of Trump’s Wikipedia entry by user 591J (source)

When that information was later reinstated, 591J created Sater’s current biography, in which 591J described Sater as a “prolific senior advisor” to The Trump Organization, boasted about his various real estate deals, and, inexplicably, claimed that Trump’s mother and father were Sater’s own biological parents.

This first draft also included an explicit warning to other Wikipedia editors atop the page: “DO NOT REMOVE prior to the result of the Presidential election.”

Over the course of three months starting February 2016, 591J obsessively revised the page, adding details of Sater’s “major role” in the development of the Trump SoHo hotel-condominium in Lower Manhattan (since renamed The Dominick) and attempting to roll back what the user claimed were “illegitimate” references to his 1993 assault conviction and 1998 stock fraud conviction.

591J stopped editing in April 2016, shortly before 591J and four associated accounts were banned from Wikipedia following an investigation by the site’s administrators. (In 2018, Sater hired a third-party content writing company to edit his biography to add reporting from BuzzFeed News about his undercover work for the FBI, according to an admission on Wikipedia’s talk pages.)

source

By then, Sater’s Trump Tower Moscow dream was quickly unraveling, with Cohen angrily berating him for failing to find a viable Russian bank to finance the project.

“After almost two months of waiting you send me some bullshit letter from a third-tier bank and you think I’m going to walk into the boss’s office and tell him I’m going there for this?” Cohen wrote in a series of late-2015 text messages. “Tell them no thank you and I will take it from here.”

Cohen later claimed he’d told Trump in January 2016 that the deal was dead, according to BuzzFeed News’ “definitive” reporting on the subject. However, Sater and Cohen continued to message each other about new developments as late as June 2016.

As Sater told BuzzFeed News, he knew the deal was fried on July 26, 2016, when Trump tweeted: “For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia.”

“Fuck me, I thought to myself. All that work for nothing,” Sater told BuzzFeed News.

Facebook Continues to Host Political Ads from Chinese Communist Party Mouthpiece

The ads comprise two videos from the Global Times defending China’s crackdown on political protests and attacking the Trump administration’s botched response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Update, August 28, 2020: The two Global Times ads have been removed from Facebook’s ad library. A message reads: “This ad is no longer available in the library. This can happen when an ad has expired or has been deleted, or when it’s incorrectly categorised as an ad about social issues, elections or politics.” Facebook has not returned a request for comment.

source

In April, the Daily Telegraph reported that the Global Times, an English-language adjunct of the People’s Daily, the official newspaper and mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, had flooded “Facebook and Instagram with undisclosed political adverts whitewashing its role in the coronavirus pandemic and pinning blame on Donald Trump.”

The ads “initially ran without a political disclaimer, allowing them to hide information about who they were targeting and sometimes letting them sidestep Facebook’s strict rules on political advertising,” according to the Telegraph.

Facebook subsequently removed the ads and added a disclaimer, in accordance with the site’s decision to add labels to state-controlled media. But that hasn’t stopped the Global Times from continuing to run political ads on Facebook.

The new ads comprise two August 10 videos from the Global Times’ editor-in-chief Hu Xijin, who hosts an opinionated video series called “Hu Says.” Facebook doesn’t disclose how much money the Global Times paid Facebook for running the ads, or the potential reach of the audience the ads are aimed at.

In the first of the two videos, Hu tries to defend the high-profile arrests of 10 Chinese pro-democracy activists who were detained in Hong Kong on Monday under China’s new national security law, which has been widely denounced as a blatant attempt by the Chinese government to quash ongoing anti-government protests.

The arrests include media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who is accused of colluding with foreign forces, among other charges.

“In my opinion, this arrest sends a strong signal,” Hu says in the video. “The Hong Kong SAR government has not been intimidated by the series of US sanctions, including those against [Chief Executive of Hong Kong] Carrie Lam and other senior officials of the Hong Kong government” (for allegedly “undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy and restricting the freedom of expression or assembly of the citizens of Hong Kong,” according to an August 7 press release by U.S. Treasury Department).

Hong Kong’s protests began last June, against plans that would have allowed the Chinese government to extradite dissidents to mainland China. According to Hu, these protests are actually “violent demonstrations” that “have severely hit the city and endangered China’s national security.”

“China will not allow such rioting to continue,” Hu says in the video. “Let them shift to US cities like Portland.”

Toward the end of the video, Hu complains that “Violent demonstrations in the US are called riots but the ones in Hong Kong are called democratic protests. The Chinese people have already felt sick of this double standard from Washington. We will not put our attention on the attitude of Washington and the West before restoring order in Hong Kong.”

source

Hu’s complaints about Washington continue in the second video, in which he says “that for the Trump administration, the challenge China poses is more serious than the coronavirus,” and that “this absurd practice of Washington seems to work.”

From the video:

Five million people have been infected and 160,00 people have died. The government has done nothing about it and many Americans have accepted it. In addition, the Trump admin said that TikTok poses security risks and China’s actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang threaten the U.S. They are convincing people that these issues are obviously greater threats than the coronavirus and require an emergency response from the U.S.

Other recent ads from the Global Times include a viral video titled “Can’t believe this is a dog!” which shows a fluffy dog balancing on a basketball, riding a children’s scooter, and driving a toy car.

I’ve asked Facebook for comment.

source

The Economist Disappears “Advertisement Feature” Paid for by Chinese State-Backed Paper

Paid content from the Beijing Review included an article attacking western news outlets and defending China’s botched response to the coronavirus outbreak.

source

In April, I bylined a story in BuzzFeed News about how during the pandemic, British newspaper The Daily Telegraph continued to sell advertising space on its site to the People’s Daily Online, the official newspaper and mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), enabling it to publish state propaganda and medical disinformation aimed at a British audience.

As reported in another story I co-bylined with Jim Waterson for The Guardian later that month, The Daily Telegraph subsequently cut ties with the People’s Daily Online and another China-backed newspaper, China Daily, which for more than a decade reportedly paid the Telegraph £750,000 annually to carry a supplement called China Watch.

Now it appears that The Economist, the international weekly newspaper, has disappeared an “advertisement feature” on its site paid for by the CCP-backed Beijing Review.

The section, dubbed “China Focus,” included titles such as “Western Take on Coronavirus: Schadenfreude, Xenophobia and Racism” by Beijing Review associate executive editor Liu Yunyun. Her article claimed that “Accusations [by western news and media outlets] of the [Chinese] government hiding the scope of the disease” are based on “Rumors, misinformation and fears,” and that “Global readers are largely kept in the dark” about how “China is sacrificing its own economy to keep the world safe.”

That article, and others like it, were previously available via the subdomain, chinafocus.economist.com. But now when you click on that link, you’re directed to an HTTP 503 error page, which occurs whenever a server is “unable to handle the request due to a temporary overloading or maintenance of the server,” according to the World Wide Web Consortium, founded in 1994 by Tim Berners-Lee.

Site information for chinafocus.economist.com states that its security certificate expired on July 26. A message reads: “This certificate has expired or is not yet valid.”

source

The 503 error page went up shortly after I emailed The Economist’s global communications SVP Lauren Hackett on April 16 asking her to comment on a petition by British non-profit advocacy group Free Tibet, calling on western media outlets to “STOP SPREADING CCP PROPAGANDA.”

Here’s her April 17 reply email:

Dear Dean – Thank you for reaching out on this. I’ll have to look into it. Can you let me know who you are writing for and the focus of your story. Kind regards, Lauren

Hackett and The Economist did not reply to multiple follow-up emails I sent asking the paper to clarify whether it had cut ties with the Beijing Review. But here’s what Free Tibet’s campaign manager John Jones sent me when I asked him for comment:

We have been following China Watch and its presence in papers like The Telegraph for a couple of years now with a mixture of despair and grim fascination. Some of the articles last year on “60 years of democracy in Tibet” were particularly appalling, with articles titled “Tibet marks 60th anniversary of democratic reform” and “Memorial Hall built to commemorate freed Tibetan slaves” appearing in The Telegraph. This anniversary and alleged freeing of slaves is actually a reference to what Tibetans know as the Tibetan Uprising, when thousands of Tibetans in the capital, Lhasa, gave their lives to protest against the Chinese occupation of their country. Since then, occupied Tibet has become an increasingly repressive place. Freedom House, a think tank that compares the openness of different societies around the world, has for the past five years ranked Tibet as the second worst place in the world for political freedoms and civil rights, ahead of only Syria (some of their analysis is here in their latest report: https://freedomhouse.org/country/tibet/freedom-world/2020). For media outlets in free societies to be running material praising the dire state of affairs in Tibet is truly shocking.

Our hope for this new campaign action is that the editors of The Economist and Wall Street Journal drop content that is nothing more or less than Chinese government backed propaganda from their publications. It does seem that the coronavirus and some of the nonsense reporting on it by Chinese state media has sent a signal to several newspaper editors that these puff pieces can be dangerous in the falsehoods that they spread, not just for the billion people under CCP rule but also for their own readers. There is a backlash against disinformation around the pandemic and neither of these newspapers will want to be associated with that in any way. We hope that this will have set off alarms in their minds that it really is not ethical to run features that ultimately are the product of a dictatorial government and that what we need at the moment is scrutiny of the CCP – scrutiny of their handling of the pandemic and their silencing of whistleblowers, but also scrutiny of their treatment of the Uyghurs and scrutiny of their repressive rule in Tibet. If the readers of The Economist and The Wall Street Journal make it clear that they do not want to see this content then there is a great chance that these two outlets could follow in the footsteps of The Telegraph, The New York Times and The Washington Post and scrap these propaganda sections.

It’s unclear whether the print edition of The Economist is still carrying the Beijing Review material, as U.S. news site the Washington Free Beacon reported in March. To anyone who knows the answer, please get in touch by leaving a comment below, or by clicking here.