(Minghui.org) A wealthy Chinese businessman linked with making overtures to buy the New York Times held an odd press conference on Tuesday morning. Reporters were invited to hear about his bid for the iconic newspaper, but he turned to slandering Falun Gong as the press conference went on.

Over 20 U.S.-based media outlets picked up the story, with different slants:

Wall Street Journal focused on the business aspect only, and didn't mention Falun Gong or the self-immolation on Tiananmen Square that took place in January 2001.

Forbes ' story took the businessman's story at face value, as of the morning of January 9. Even though the article was mostly about Chen's bid for the New York Times , the last paragraph stated that the two women that Chen was going to donate money to were Falun Gong practitioners involved in the self-immolation. The article claimed that the two women now “denounced” Falun Gong.

Later in the day, the article was updated with an additional sentence: “Erping Zhang, a spokesman at the Falun Dafa Information Center in New York, disputed their story, noting that 'Falun Gong’s teachings explicitly prohibit killing and suicide.'”

Associated Press ran a wire story and focused heavily on the “self-immolation victims,” though it did point out how they were “paraded before reporters by Chinese authorities,” and “The Tiananmen Square incident became the centerpiece of a campaign by Chinese authorities to justify oppression of Falun Gong practitioners.” This wire story was carried by quite a few media such as the Washington Post , philly.com, and Sacramento Bee .

The Sacramento Bee , after running the AP story, carried two releases from the Falun Dafa Information Center: “ Falun Dafa Information Center Comments on Chen Guangbiao Press Conference ” (January 7) and “ Falun Dafa Information Center: Did the Chinese Regime Take New York City Media for a Ride ?” (January 9)

Other media wrote their own stories, reporting on the victims of the self-immolation and balancing the articles with statements from Falun Gong practitioners that the self-immolation was staged and the victims being duped and used by the Chinese government. New York Times didn't report on the story.

A Choice between Two Versions

There are basically two versions of the story: one is that the self-immolation was a staged stunt by the Chinese government to help justify the persecution of Falun Gong in January 2001 and used again over a decade later for the same purpose. The other is the Chinese government's story that Falun Gong encouraged self-immolation to draw attention to itself and as a form of protest. The Associated Press wire story reads closer to the CCP version.

Obviously, only one version of the story can be true. So who had more to gain by lying, Falun Gong practitioners or the CCP?

If the Falun Gong practitioners were lying, the action would be directly violating their own tenets. How come no self-immolation, or any other form of protest that is remotely violent in nature, has been carried out by Falun Gong practitioners in the 14 years since the persecution started, other than this big show on Tiananmen Square?

Falun Gong's appeal and core strength comes from its belief system, which specifically forbids all forms of killing, including suicide. Encouraging, endorsing, or even tacitly allowing such an action would be against everything that a Falun Gong practitioner believes in.

Indeed, if this were a Falun Gong-driven action, wouldn't other practitioners cheer the action and follow suit, like the 120 Tibetan monks that have committed self-immolation since 2011?

But the reality is quite the opposite. This action was immediately denounced by Falun Gong as a government deception to turn public opinion against it.

Make no mistake – the “self-immolation incident” was a very effective propaganda stunt. The ruse succeeded in turning millions of Chinese citizens against Falun Gong. China's state-controlled media broadcast the immolation propaganda over and over and over – for years. And as despots and tyrants have known for centuries, when you repeat a lie over and over often enough, sooner or later people begin to believe it.

Quotes from Independent Observers about the “Self-immolation”

Below are some quotes from scholars and human rights organizations regarding their investigation of the self-immolation:

“Falun Gong representatives from outside of China immediately contested the accuracy of reports coming from the mainland. Over and over again, they insisted – correctly – that there is no sanction for violence in Li Hongzhi's writings or in Falun Gong practice – whether it be violence targeted at someone else, or at oneself.” - Canadian religious studies Professor David Ownby, who has authored several books and articles on Falun Gong

“The government's story about the self-immolations was riddled with inconsistencies. These included the fact that Falun Gong's teachings forbid violence and suicide, video footage of the immolators' incorrect meditation postures, and an investigation by the Washington Post's Philip Pan, who found no evidence that the woman who died on the square had ever practiced Falun Gong.” - Sarah Cook, Senior Research Analyst, Freedom House

“The regime points to a supposed self-immolation incident in Tiananmen Square on January 23, 2001 .... However, we have obtained a video of that incident that in our view proves that this event was staged by the government.” - International Education Development. Statement in the United Nations Sub-Commission on the promotion and Protection of Human Rights Fifty-third session.

“Significantly, one of the CNN producers on the scene, just 50 feet away, says she did not even see a child there [countering the version of events widely broadcast by Chinese state television].” - New York-based media analyst Danny Schecter

We Are All Making a Choice

Every Western media outlet, reporter, and editor, unlike their state-run counterparts in China, has a choice in what version to believe and to provide to their readers. Will you choose to repeat the lies, or help the persecuted by bringing the truth to light?

So many people have been harmed irrevocably by this persecution, and hundreds of thousands of more lives are still at stake. The persecution that has killed thousands, maimed tens of thousands, taken away the physical freedom of hundreds of thousands, and tried to rip away the freedom of belief from one hundred million is predicated on deceiving everyone around it, in and out of China.

The best way to combat this persecution is to expose the deceit at its very core, and who better to do that than the media? We encourage all of you to think through this tragic event, ask questions, decide who is telling the truth, and do your part accordingly.