A mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to advertise in USA Today, which claims it "represents the voice of an entire nation."
China Daily has since October 2021 spent $287,500 advertising in USA Today, according to filings with the Department of Justice. The iconic American newspaper is the latest news outlet to partner with the Beijing-controlled newspaper, which in recent years has paid outlets like Time, the Los Angeles Times, and Foreign Policy magazine millions of dollars to publish articles as part of Beijing's aggressive propaganda campaign in the West.
The USA Today–China Daily partnership comes amid heightened scrutiny over the Chinese Communist Party's efforts to shape Americans' views of Chinese culture and its domestic and foreign policy. Newspapers like the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Washington Post ended advertising deals with China Daily because of foreign influence. Human-rights groups have criticized American news companies for publishing China Daily articles that tout the Chinese Communist Party's policies in Tibet, Hong Kong, and other disputed regions.
The U.S. government has also cracked down on China Daily and other Chinese state-controlled news agencies. The Justice Department in 2020 required China Daily to disclose details of its payments to American companies, showing more than $19 million spent on advertising and printing costs since November 2016.
The influx of advertising revenue is a much-needed boost for USA Today, which last year saw the steepest readership decline of any major newspaper—a 62 percent dropoff in circulation from 2020 to 2021. Time and the Los Angeles Times, two other companies working with China Daily, have also seen declines in subscriptions and advertising revenue. China Daily between November 2021 and April 2022 spent $1,618,143 on advertising. The newspaper paid $649,603 to Time, $315,540 to Financial Times, $306,000 to the Los Angeles Times, and $117,000 to Foreign Policy, according to its filings with the Justice Department.
USA Today did not respond to questions about where it has published China Daily content, but American news companies have typically republished China Daily articles online or in physical copies of their publications. Time, for example, publishes China Daily articles at a "paid content" section of its website, as well as in a printed insert in its magazine called "ChinaWatch." Time has not always disclosed that the Chinese government paid for the printed inserts, which are designed to look like other news articles in the magazine.
USA Today also did not respond to questions about potential conflicts of interest in its China Daily arrangement. But the newspaper insists its advertisers do not influence its news coverage.
"We will not blur the line between advertising and editorial content. We will provide appropriate disclosures, exercise transparency, and avoid actual or implicit commercial endorsements by our journalists," reads USA Today‘s code of ethical conduct.
"When sponsorships of news are appropriate, we will not allow them to determine, change, or restrict content."