Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak (R) talks to Foreign Minister Anifah Aman outside Razak's office in Putrajaya, near Kuala Lumpur on February 28
(Buzzfeed Politics) - Outlets from Huffington Post to National Review carried pieces financed by the Malaysian government. An international campaign against Anwar Ibrahim.
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. The government for which Trevino worked also attacked Anwar for saying positive things about Israel; Trevino has argued that Anwar is not the pro-democracy figure he appears.
The federal filing specified that Trevino was engaged through the lobbying firm APCO Worldwide and the David All Group, an American online consulting firm. The contract also involved a firm called FBC (short for Fact-Based Communications), whose involvement in covert propaganda prompted a related scandal and forcedan executive at The Atlantic to resign from its board.
According to the filings, Trevino was also employed to write for websites called MalaysiaMatters and MalaysiaWatcher.
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. "To be blunt with you, and I think the filing is clear about this, it was a lot looser than a typical PR operation. I wanted to respect these guys' independence and not have them be placement machines."
Trevino said neither he nor the client knew what the writers were going to write before it went up.
"I provided a stipend to support their work in this area and they would just ping me whenever something went up," he said.
Domenech, a former Washington Post blogger who runs a daily morning newsletter called The Transom, said he "was retained by Josh's Trevino Strategies and Media PR firm in 2010 with the general guidance to write about Malaysia, particularly the political scene there."
"I did not ever have anyone looking over my shoulder for what I wrote, and the guidance really was just to write about the political fray there and give my own opinion," Domenech said. "Of course, Josh picked me knowing what my opinion was — I stand by what I wrote at the time and I continue to be critical of Anwar Ibrahim, who I think is a particularly dangerous fellow."
Domenech attached two pieces he'd written about Malaysia for the San Francisco Examiner as well as one for the Huffington Post in his email to BuzzFeed.
Chuck DeVore, the Vice President for Policy at the Texas Public Policy Foundation (where Trevino now works), said he was unaware of the arrangement in an email.
"He knew of my expertise and suggested I write some pieces," DeVore said. "As I've seen over the years, it's not uncommon for freelancers to be paid for their work from various sources. I frankly didn't think much of it, having been paid by papers in a few nations abroad and by PR firms, such as the one Mr. Trevino was running at the time."
"He never told me who his client was," DeVore said. "I wonder if they did the same via him? Interesting that he filed the paperwork, given it appears he was working for someone else."
Read more at: http://www.buzzfeed.com/rosiegray/covert-malaysian-campaign-touched-a-wide-range-of-american-m