Opinion: Vice Mayor Tammy Kim Cuts Ribbon For Far-Right Disinformation Machine’s New Irvine Office

Social media posts reveal that Irvine City Councilmember and 2024 Irvine Mayoral candidate, Tammy Kim, attended and celebrated conspiracy laden click-bait publisher, The Epoch Times, with the opening of its new Irvine satellite office. In attendance were OC Board of Education (OCBE) Trustee Mari Barke, former CA State Senator, John Moorlach, Greater Irvine Chamber President, Bryan Starr, and a representative on behalf of current OC Board of Supervisors Director, Donald Wagner, among other mainly right-wing Republicans.

Although himself not present, Wagner sent a representative and gushed on social media about The Epoch Times being a “trusted source of information across the nation.” Wagner is no stranger to controversy. In April 2021, he inquired about “tracking devices” in COVID-19 vaccines in response to his many misinformed constituents falsely asserting such. It’s unlikely Wagner believed vaccines contained tracking devices. However, many of his constituents believed it because Wagner, himself, is a current and longtime purveyor of anti-vaccine rhetoric. One must recall that Wagner did not defend, rather, he instigated the anti-mask public attacks against OC Public Health Officer Dr. Nicole Quick, who received multiple death threats for providing science-based medical opinions during the pandemic.

Standing directly next to Vice Mayor Tammy Kim in the ribbon cutting photos is OCBE Trustee Mari Barke. Barke is currently under investigation by the Fair Political Practices Commission for her failure to disclose her and her husband’s income, much of which came from a COVID-19 skeptic book.

Background on The Epoch Times

A quick search on The Epoch Times Southern California chapter Facebook page reveals that they are currently knee-deep in attacking LGBTQ individuals and publishing right wing school board culture war issues. Is this the type of business you want to celebrate and endorse, Vice Mayor Kim? Does The Epoch Times reflect the interests of our highly educated community? To answer that, let’s learn a little more about this shadowy publication.

According to New York Times, “Since 2016, the Falun Gong-backed newspaper has used aggressive Facebook tactics and right-wing misinformation to create an anti-China, pro-Trump media empire. For years, The Epoch Times was a small, low-budget newspaper with an anti-China slant that was handed out free on New York street corners. But in 2016 and 2017, the paper made two changes that transformed it into one of the country’s most powerful digital publishers. The changes also paved the way for the publication, which is affiliated with the secretive and relatively obscure Chinese spiritual movement Falun Gong, to become a leading purveyor of right-wing misinformation.” The NY Times article goes on to describe that it gained influence by embracing and fervently supporting Donald Trump and by spending massive amounts of money on Facebook ads pushing far right causes.

According to OpenDemocracy.net, “Not everything published by The Epoch Times qualifies as disinformation – a lot of its content consists of straightforward reports, often sourced from news agencies. But according to NewsGuard, a journalism and technology tool that rates the credibility of news websites and tracks misinformation, it fails to gather and present information responsibly, rarely corrects or clarifies errors, and remains opaque as to its ownership and funding.”

In August 2023, media outlets discovered a more concerning trend with The Epoch Times and their influence on politics through dark money. In recently disclosed campaign financial disclosures, former California Governor candidate, Larry Elder, received a salary from The Epoch Times ranging from $1 to $5 million dollars.

Locally, it appears The Epoch Times Southern Californian chapter engages with and interviews politicians at the state, county and even city level. It’s unclear at this point how much influence the publication yields on the local level but making inroads with local leaders is likely a way to legitimize their publication and exact political influence.

Siyamak Khorrami is the Chief Editor for The Epoch Times Southern California and host of “California Insider”, another far right media source that was recently demonetized by YouTube for perpetuating falsehoods and violating their terms of service. Based on his social media accounts, he is hyper focused on classroom culture wars ranging from critical race theory, anti-trans parent notification laws in schools, and protecting kids in classrooms from “wokeism”. This is the next culture war battle front, similar to The Epoch Times previous anti-vaccine push and perpetuating voter fraud claims.

Why Was Vice Mayor Kim, a Registered Democrat, at This Event?

It could be the case that Kim was unaware of the far-right slant this publication had. It is known that they publish some non-political news pieces to disguise their bread-and-butter culture war screeds. Kim may claim that she represents all views along the political spectrum and simply underestimated how reprehensible this publication is. Or perhaps the attention and photo-op in the face of an election was too tempting to turn down. Whatever the reasons are, it’s concerning that a registered Democrat and candidate for Mayor would be caught anywhere near a publication as problematic as The Epoch Times.

This political blunder is likely worse than Mayor Khan’s recent celebrity-like welcome at a fringe Korean cult led by a felon. In response to Khan’s appearance at the cult event, Kim responded on social media, “I receive invitations all the time and I do my best to be open to all invitations. It’s hard to vet every single one.”

Pushback by fellow Democrats have been unforgiving and abundant. In response, Kim defended that she “debated about whether or not to attend, but felt it was important to be there to provide a progressive voice. If given the chance, I would also talk to the “newspaper” funded by my democrat colleague (an apparent reference to Irvine Community News and Views) that pays for sponsored ads with fake news.”

However, in the video posted by The Epoch Times, Vice Mayor Kim stated, “This is really where our democracy begins. And this organization [The Epoch Times] is critical to our democracy.”

The article has been updated with the video posted by The Epoch Times.