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US govt-funded Coda Story smears American journalists who undermine new Cold War propaganda

With backing from the US government’s regime-change arm, an Operation Mockingbird-style website called Coda Story is attacking American journalists who have punctured Washington’s sensationalist narratives against China.

by Ben Norton

Part 1

A shadowy neoconservative website called Coda Story has launched a smear campaign against American journalists who challenge new cold war propaganda. But what this publication has not disclosed is that it is funded by the US government, backed by the European Union, linked to the NATO war alliance, and part of a larger network of regime-change outfits that are bankrolled by Western governments and corporate oligarchs.

Launched in 2016, Coda Story markets itself as a brave counterweight to Chinese and Russian state-backed “disinformation.” This is quite ironic, because the website is itself financed by the regime-change arms of the US government and the European Union, and peddles disinformation of its own in support of Washington’s new cold war on Beijing and Moscow.

A case study of Coda Story’s deceptive smear tactics came in the form of a malicious hatchet job the site published in July, maligning The Grayzone for exposing the extremely dubious sources and methodology of Western government propaganda against China.

The Coda Story hit piece did not dispute a single fact in The Grayzone’s thoroughly documented reporting. Instead, the diatribe relied on superficial insinuations and misleading guilt-by-association tactics, implying that The Grayzone is “fringe” and untrustworthy because its contributors have given interviews to Russian and Chinese state-backed media outlets, and because foreign government officials have occasionally tweeted links to The Grayzone articles.

Despite the patent lack of facts, the Coda Story smear piece inspired a similarly McCarthyite article by an avowedly anti-China blogger at the corporate-run outlet Axios, which also failed to challenge any of The Grayzone’s factual journalism. Instead, Axios writer Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian quoted the ranking Republican co-chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul, to vilify The Grayzone as “deeply disturbing” and reinforce the Donald Trump administration’s attack on the World Health Organization.

Allen-Ebrahimian also cited the US government-funded Alliance for Securing Democracy, an intelligence agency and State Department cutout, to defame The Grayzone and try to link it to the Chinese government. Not only did she fail to inform readers about the Alliance’s US government backing, Allen-Ebrahimian was unable to point to any data buttressing her dubious claim, despite repeated challenges to do so.

While Coda Story and Axios went to great lengths to imply this outlet is somehow connected to Beijing, the institution attacking The Grayzone is, in fact, sponsored by the same Western governments responsible for igniting a new cold war with China.

Unlike Coda Story, The Grayzone is totally independent; it does not accept funding from any government or any state-backed group.

Coda Story cannot say the same about itself. Although the neoconservative website markets itself as independent and its editor has claimed “we don’t take money from governments,” it is actually financed by the US government’s regime-change arm, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

The NED is a CIA cutout established by the Ronald Reagan administration during the last decade of the first cold war. One of its primary goals, stated clearly on the NED website, is to promote “free markets.” To do so, the putative “democracy promotion” organization finances right-wing opposition groups, NGOs, and media outlets in countries the US government has targeted for regime change.

A co-founder of the NED, Allen Weinstein, gloated in the Washington Post in 1991, “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.

In 2019, the Coda Network that presides over Coda Story reaped a $180,130 grant from the NED. The ostensible mission of the funding was to “bring together journalists and independent media outlets from throughout Eurasia to create high-quality narrative journalism, focusing on a set of key themes related to disinformation.

This June, the NED’s blog Democracy Digest celebrated its grantee Coda Story winning the European Press Prize for its anti-China content.

The National Endowment for Democracy appears to believe it is getting its money’s worth, because the US government regime-change organization followed up with a post on the official NED website a few days later that again praised grantee Coda Story for its work.

Democracy Digest, the NED blog, frequently promotes Coda Story. It cites the neoconservative website’s articles to portray China and Russia as evil “totalitarian” regimes and “threats to democracy” that spread constant “disinformation.

The NED also invited Coda Story’s co-founder and editor-in-chief, Natalia Antelava, on its “Power 3.0 Podcast” to discuss “authoritarian technology and disinformation.

In its description accompanying the podcast episode, the NED misleadingly portrayed Coda Story as an indie underdog operation, selling it as an “award-winning media start-up” — curiously failing to mention that the website was swimming in money from powerful interests like the NED.

Anne Applebaum, a neoconservative pundit and anti-Russian fanatic who frequents hawkish Western think tanks, is also listed as a member of the board of advisers of Coda Story. Applebaum also happens to sit on the board of directors of the NED.

Applebaum’s husband Radoslaw Sikorski is a conservative Polish politician who has filled top roles in Poland’s government, including minister of defense and foreign affairs.

But the NED is not the only Western government regime-change organization that bankrolls Coda Story.

The European Union has a regime-change arm as well, which also funds the website. This EU soft-power organization, founded in 2013, was explicitly modeled after the NED, and shares almost the same name: the European Endowment for Democracy (EED).

Like the NED, the EED uses the cover of “democracy promotion” to destabilize foreign adversaries and advance Brussels’ foreign policy interests.

In the “About” section of its website, Coda Story lists a series of organizations as “partners” and supporters. The first financial sponsor listed is the EED.

The money that the European Endowment for Democracy gives to Coda Story in turn is provided by European countries – making it another form of indirect state sponsorship.

The EED website makes it clear that 23 European governments are responsible for its budget.

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