Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., accused CBS News of pushing Chinese Communist Party “propaganda” Wednesday in a strongly worded letter to the network’s top executive on the heels of a “puff piece” about Xinjiang.
CBS News reporter Elizabeth Palmer told viewers during the Jan. 7 edition of “CBS Sunday Morning” that Xinjiang is “being marketed” by the Chinese government for its beauty and newfound business opportunities. The CBS News reporter then took viewers on a tour that she noted was fully arranged by the Chinese Information Office.
“This tour was arranged by the Chinese Information Office. It rented the buses, it set the itinerary, and it also provided the translators and the staff that has accompanied us every step of the way. They showed us everything from agricultural machinery to ancient ruins, to e-sales of local plums on TikTok,” Palmer said.
Palmer then noted the Chinese officials failed to show “evidence of the detention centers and prisons that turned Xinjiang into an international scandal” where human rights groups have said Uyghur people have long been imprisoned. “CBS Sunday Morning” spoke with Babur Ilchi from the Uyghur Human Rights Project who said the “Chinese government perceived us as a potential threat to their complete supremacy over China.”
The segment quickly turned back to the government’s talking points about Xinjiang.
“Meanwhile, the government has been investing heavily in Xinjiang, for example, it’s multi-billion dollar high-speed train. Everywhere we saw evidence of the eye-watering money China is spending on infrastructure, like wind farms, and tourist development. The message: forget human rights abuses, take in the sights,” Palmer said.
One of the translators selected by the Chinese Information Office then praised Xinjiang, admitting he hoped CBS News “could change some of the ideas or impressions which has been spread by some Western media about Xinjiang.”
Palmer then noted he was referring to the Uyghur detention centers that China long denied existed until they turned up in satellite images.
“One official, who would not go on camera, did confirm we had driven by one [Uyghur detention center], which he said wasn’t worth pointing out because it was shut down. Instead, we saw ethnic dancing, local wine production, and a village remodeled and beautified especially for tourists,” Palmer said.
Palmer then noted the CBS News crew was allowed to see Xinjiang’s Extremist Museum, which details “attacks by Uyghur extremists going back to the 1990s.” CBS News also published an online companion piece headlined, “The rebranding of Xinjiang.”
Sen. Rubio was outraged and sent a scathing letter to CBS News president and CEO Wendy McMahon.
“In participating in this Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda trip, your organization may have violated U.S. sanctions and/or supported the evasion of such sanctions by a designated entity. As such, your company owes answers to its viewers, and the American people, as to why you would allow your journalists to partake in the CCP’s attempt to cover up its genocide against the Uyghurs,” the letter, which was obtained by Fox News Digital, stated.
“As you know, the United States government, under both the current and previous administration, has determined that the People’s Republic of China, under the direction and control of the CCP, is committing crimes against humanity and genocide against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious groups in Xinjiang. The U.S. Department of Treasury has sanctioned the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), and the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau (XPSB) for serious human rights abuses against ethnic groups in the XUAR,” Rubio continued.
“As such, it is unlawful for any U.S. person or company to enter into transactions with either XPCC or XPSB, including ‘making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any blocked person or the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods or services from any such person,” he added.
Rubio then accused CBS News of “egregious reporting” that will help the CCP “cover up their crimes” against Uyghurs.
“Despite ostensibly seeking to provide a balanced perspective of life in Xinjiang, the story is filled with gratuitous pictures of formerly Uyghur cities it describes as ‘Disneyfied’ rather than ‘ethnically cleansed’ which would be factually accurate. I am further dismayed that while the article discloses the trip was made possible by the ‘Chinese Information Office,’ it fails to note that this is the external name of the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. This egregious reporting fails to expose the reality of what is happening in Xinjiang and will instead be used by the Chinese Communist Party to continue to cover up their crimes,” Rubio wrote.
“In addition to being puppets of the CCP, there is also the question as to whether this trip was carried out in violation of U.S. sanctions or assisted in the evasion of sanctions by the XPCC or XPSB,” he continued, noting that Palmer told viewers the Chinese government set the whole thing up.
Rubio then asked the CBS News boss a series of questions, including “under what terms did the CCP allow CBS News to film, interview local residents, and cover logistics and other expenses?” and “was CBS News aware of the China Information Office’s role as the Central Propaganda Department of the CCP before accepting the invitation to travel to Xinjiang?”
Rubio also wanted to know if CBS News or its employees received any goods or services from US-sanctioned XPCC or any security or related services for the trip from the US-sanctioned XPSB, whether CNS News or its employees applied for and received a license from the Treasury Department and if CBS News employees purchased products or goods from XPCC-controlled companies or any other company in Xinjiang?
“The world has the right to know what the CCP is undertaking in Xinjiang. There are brave Uyghur, Kazakh and Kyrgyz reporters, many of whose families face official repercussions in Xinjiang, working to reveal the atrocities committed against their peoples by the CCP. CBS News had the opportunity to work in cooperation with these journalists and improve the world’s understanding of this part of the world. Instead, CBS News chose to work with the Propaganda Department of a genocidal political party by publishing a puff piece that does more to obscure the truth rather than expose it and could have been in violation of U.S. sanctions in the process,” Rubio wrote.
CBS News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Fox News’ Nikolas Lanum contributed to this report.