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PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian government paid an array of American mainstream publications to mostly malign opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and to a lesser extend print its propaganda.
Disclosing details of payments made to conservative American opinion writers, a political news website BuzzFeed Politics said much of these reports appeared in publications such as the Huffington Post, San Francisco Examiner, Washington Times, National Review and RedState.
The website reported that details of these payments emerged in a filing earlier this week to the US Department of Justice.
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“The filing under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) 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,” the web-report said.
In the report entitled “Covert Malaysian Campaign Touched A Wide Range Of American”, BuzzFeed said 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 had however denied that he was on any “Malaysian entity’s payroll.
But according to Trevino’s belated federal filing this week, the interests paid to him was in fact the government of Malaysia, “its ruling party, or interests closely aligned with either.”
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)…
“According to the filings, Trevino was also employed to write for websites called MalaysiaMatters and MalaysiaWatcher,” it said.
10 writers on payroll
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). 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.
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.
“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 (Opposition leader), who I think is a particularly dangerous fellow,” BuzzFeed quoted Domenech.
Mandel meanwhile said: “I was blogging about issues relating to Israel and anti-Semitism in 2010, and Josh (Trevino) approached me about a Malaysian opposition figure who had made anti-Semitic comments and was affiliated with anti-Israel organizations.
“I had full editorial freedom — Josh (Trevino) never saw anything I wrote until after it was published — and I had no relationship with the Malaysian government.
“I was paid by Josh (Trevino) for what was probably a handful of blog posts in the fall of 2010, I believe, while working as a freelancer in Washington.”
According to Trevino, he was approached by publicist and social media executive David All in 2008. He never had contact with “the ultimate client,” he said.
“I only had an assumption of who I was working for. I never knew exactly who APCO was dealing with, never knew exactly who FBC was dealing with.”