Journalists took secret money for critical pieces about Malaysian opposition candidate

The government of Malaysia hired a US PR firm to pay conservative journalists to write articles critical of a opposition leader running on a pro-democracy platform for The Huffington Post, The Guardian, The National Review, The San Francisco Examiner, Red State, and The Washington Times. The writers who took the money then wrote for their usual places, but didn't disclose that they were getting money from a third party to criticize Anwar Ibrahim.

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.

Covert Malaysian Campaign Touched A Wide Range Of American Media


  1. In light of the unknown source of the millions of dollars released into American politics by Citizens United, it’s time for a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute those secretly serving foreign powers.
    At the very least, voters should know who is getting how much and from whom.

    1. That works nicely for those of us among the educated and well-informed, but there are some people out there who don’t understand, and their vote is worth just as much as yours. More, probably, since it can be swayed in favor.

      1.  I agree, but I was thus well-informed at age 7.  That simple sentence prescribing skepticism as a medicament against the torrential rain of propaganda and the influence of fakery strips out 90% of the believers, should they so choose.

    2. Exactly right.  Some conservative pundit got paid to try to sway people who aren’t informed with his opinions, therefore the entire system must be corrupt and worthless.  Far better to operate in this world based on blind ignorance and inherent prejudices.  That’ll show ’em!
      Or we could just, you know, take opinion pieces as attempts to sway us, not fact.

  2. My learned response on reading such articles: find out what conservative think tank the distinguished gentleman is now hiding under.

    In this case, it’s the Texas Public Policy Foundation – he’s VP of External Relations.

    Conservative politics has got to offer better job security than any other career in the Slippery Slope of America. No wonder they’re so shameless.

  3. I don’t know if you can call the disgraced writers in question – some of whom (see Domenech, Ben) are on their second or third round of public disgrace – “journalists”. They are opinionators, perhaps even professional opinionators, but I doubt any of them have ever contributed a new reported fact, preferring instead to get paid to put their preferred spins on the facts others report.

    1. This is the weird thing:
      opinion writers — whose work appeared in outlets from the Huffington Post and San Francisco Examiner to the Washington Times to National Review and RedState

      Why is there such a market in reading other people’s opinions? When I want to hear a stupid opinion, incoherently but vehemently expressed, I go to the pub and tape myself for later.

      1. Why is there such a market in reading other people’s opinions?

         The irony of this comment… on a blog.

  4. So now the MSM will need to go out and show that “both sides do it” because if there is a case of the conservatives doing it on a massive scale they need to “balance” the story with one or two liberals who got some money from George Soros. Of course the story will be a false equivalence but they will need to balance millions of dollars and hundreds of cases against 2 people on the left. 

    I agree with BonzoDog1. we need to know where the money is coming from. And what if it IS not a foreign power, just a multinational power? What do we do then? The resaon companies went through anonymous SuperPACS like Crossroads GPS is so that they could hide who is giving them money. What are they afraid of? I always want to know. When people have asked them about why they are doing something anonymously when it is legal, they have said that “they got threats” 
    Really? Really? Please show us the threats, did you tell the FBI?
    No, the treats they are afraid of is from their shareholders who might not appreciate them company spending millions of dollars backing regressive politicians or from a public that will show their displeasure with the consumer side of the business.

    1. Yes. 
      I am so sick of hearing conservative relatives smugly cite the shibboleth of George Soros.

      1. Well, like just about everything else about the modern conservatives, it’s ALL about projection. They accuse all liberals of being funded by secret, shadowy George Soros because most of their opinionators are funded by secret, shadowy billionaires and organizations…

  5. What”s the big deal? Our right-wing journalists take bribes routinely to oppose Democracy in Muslim countries. Starting with Saudi Arabia…

    1. I think the directness is fairly unusual. There is a whole range of conflicts of interests, such as underwritten think-tank gigs that free an opinionator to write, rarely against the interests of the sponsor; lucrative speaking gigs that reward a speaker for promoting views acceptable to the sponsor and give them a reason to continue to do so; or perhaps the most common sort, the free trip to “see the facts for yourself”, which is usually gifted to sympathetic writers and results in the expected sort of writing. But to actually pay an op-ed writer to sing your praises, directly rather than simply providing incentives for them to have a track record of doing so – that is more unusual. I think.

  6. For those of you who don’t read Malaysian Sodomy Weekly, this is the second time that Mr. Ibrahim has been arrested on sodomy charges with no evidence in order to get him out of politics.

    1. Yeah, all you lefties can call them a bunch of fucking savages for arresting people for sodomy, but it’s really more nuanced than that.

          1. Yup.  The original author said the sodomy charges were “nuanced.” It’s u p at the top of the page.

          2. I missed that. Either a very fucked up perspective or a very inarticulate expression. Two wrongs and all that.

            Yulia Tymoshenko is a great example. On the one hand, she’s probably guilty of any crime that you could imagine. On the other hand, she was railroaded. The fact that both are true doesn’t really make either case ‘nuanced’, just seriously fucked up.

      1. Nuance? There’s nothing nuance-y or subtle-ly about charging a 60+ year old with wife, kids and a bad back for “non consensually” sodomizing a healthy, strong 23-year old who, instead of spending more time with a doctor for a checkup, or a psychologist, went straight to the Prime Minister, who is also the 60+ year old man’s rival for political power.
        The guy says Mr. Ibrahim raped him. And proudly proclaimed the fact, like some nanny who had happy times with David Beckham hoping to make some money from the tabloids. Which traumatized victim does this?

        And the proof besides his word? “A mattress with a sample of Mr. Ibrahim’s semen confiscated from a condo”. Makes no sense. But which was still made admissible by the judge. 

        And Mr. Ibrahim was acquitted. Then they charged him again like Antinous said, with no evidence. So that he could be put in jail away from his family and not run for elections against the current ruling party.

        This is politically-motivated at the most ridiculous. They couldn’t even dream of a more plausible fake charge. 

        The judges, the cops, all rank and file have corrupt elements. 

        They also killed a Mongolian model allegedly related to a submarine deal, blew up her body with military-grade C4 explosives. and deleted immigration records of her ever entering the country. This obviously involved high levels in the government, military and immigration departments.

        Rest in peace, Altantuya Shaariibuu.

        An opposition member, Teoh Beng Hock, was found dead while being interrogated over a trivial matter at the “corruption office”, and they said he committed suicide by jumping off the building. 

        Billions are stolen every year from the public coffers through dubiously-awarded contracts. A large portion of government contracts in Malaysia are not awarded by open tenders, but instead given to cronies. 

        1. To accuse one’s opponent of sodomy once may be regarded as malice; to do it twice looks like the government is decided by who yells, “You’re so gay!!!” most loudly.

  7. The real takeaway from this will be watching who publishes stoff from any of these guys after these revelations.   The reasonable assumption about any news organization that does put its imprimatur on anything from these guys in the future is that everything they publish about anything is a deliberate lie.

  8. They get away with this, they get away with it in 100% of the (civilized) world.

    Because commonwealth.

  9. After the whole Matthew Inman kerfuffle (you know, the one where they made stuff up) why are we treating BuzzFeed like a reputable source? I want to hate on this Trevino character as much as the next guy, but I’d like to know I have a leg to stand on first.

    1. An excellent question, in theory. I propose that rather than sneeringly refusing to believe anything Buzzfeed claims, you actually look at their article. Specifically, you might be interested in a hyperlink there, where it says “The filing”:

      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.

      (other hyperlinks in the piece demonstrate articles praising Malaysia written by people the filing says Trevino paid, using money Trevino received to lobby for Malaysia).
      You might also be interested in the part of the article where Trevino is quoted apologizing for his past lies about this question.

      1. You’re only bolstering my case. Now that BuzzFeed has a little marker next to it that says “Do Not Automatically Treat As Credible” I have to do extra work (which you helpfully did for me; cheers) making sure their article isn’t just a hit piece from somebody with a grudge.

        1. WTF? Demonstrating that there was ample primary evidence readily available hyperlinked from within the Buzzfeed story bolsters your opinion that stories in Buzzfeed are to be considered suspect? In that case, what could possibly fail to bolster your prejudice?

          And the whole point of my comment was that a dismissive “the reporter is probably lying” is a pretty bold claim to make. I did the work you didn’t do, because it’s wrong to call someone presumptively dishonest when two minutes of checking will back their story. You’re awfully comfortable with not having made that effort, and with my having made it for you.

          1.  a) Dude, deep breaths. We’re commenting on an article about an article about journalistic integrity. It’s not important enough to get as worked up as you’re clearly getting.

            b) What I’m saying is that since I’ve been burned once by BuzzFeed, I now treat things they say with skepticism, even when I agree with their premises. I think that’s pretty healthy.

            c) Since BuzzFeed now requires extra vetting work, the threshold for me to care enough to read their stuff is higher. I have plenty of other things I could be doing or reading. I have a limited number of minutes.

          2. As has already been pointed out, there’s a link to the actual filing. Is that not enough for you? Or did you just post here to say, “Wah, I don’t like Buzzfeed”?

  10. I feel both honored and humbled by the respect that this comment thread has given me; I am the first to give the obligatory pop-culture reference demanded by this topic.  Apologies for any disrespect to the serious nature of the topic at hand.


    1. I don’t recognize the pop culture reference you feel is obligatory, and to which you do not link (Google gives some prominence to “We must kill the Batman”, but a connection would seem extremely tenuous). In any case, this seems quite inappropriate.

      1. Oh it is inappropriate   Very.  And I can still taste some lingering shame on my lips, but also the guilty glee for connecting two otherwise unrelated neurons in my brain; from Zoolander to Joshua Trevino.

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