IBT Media’s corporate leadership site lists two cofounders: Etienne Uzac, the company’s CEO, and Johnathan Davis, its chief content officer.
But some say that the company is actually controlled by—or at least has very close undisclosed ties to—someone whose name appears nowhere on the site: David Jang, a controversial Korean Christian preacher who has been accused of calling himself “Second Coming Christ.”
A story in The Tennessean about Olivet University, a university founded by Mr. Jang, lists IBT as one of Mr. Jang’s businesses. A deeply reported investigation into Mr. Jang’s church by the magazine Christianity Today also lists IBT as among Mr. Jang’s enterprises. (That investigation, incidentally, was named one of the “Best Long Reads of 2012” by The Daily Beast, which had partnered with Newsweek.)
IBT’s two cofounders seem to have ties to Mr. Jang as well.
Before founding IBT, Mr. Davis was the journalism director at Mr. Jang’s Olivet University. Christianity Today reports that Mr. Davis, IBT’s ostensible cofounder and chief content officer, was invited but declined to take part in a meeting with leaders of Mr. Jang’s other businesses. Mr. Davis reportedly wrote an email stating that he could not take part in the meeting because, “My commission is inherently covert.”
Mr. Uzac, IBT’s other cofounder, is married to Marion Uzac, the former PR director of the World Evangelical Alliance, a Christian group that has become closely associated with Mr. Jang. Ms. Uzac now works as IBT’s finance director. A former IBT staffer told The Observer that the relationship between her and Mr. Uzac was not disclosed to IBT Media employees and the company went to some lengths to hide it. According to the former staffer, the nameplate on Ms. Uzac’s door read “Marion Kim,” rather than “Marion Uzac.”
Mr. Jang has sought to keep Mr. Davis’s (alleged) commission covert. After the Christianity Today articles were published, The Christian Post—a newspaper (allegedly) controlled by Mr. Jang—attacked the magazine and smeared one of its reporters, spuriously linking him to child pornography.
Mr. Jang’s friends also appear to have silenced a reporter who looked into the connection between the church and IBT. Ann Brocklehurst—now an editor at the Toronto Star, but then an independent journalist—investigated IBT’s funding and eventually discovered its close connections to Olivet University. She wrote a series of posts suggesting that Mr. Jang was funding IBT, then abruptly deleted every post referencing IBT, presumably after being pressured. (Fortunately, one post was copied before being deleted.)
After the Newsweek sale was announced, Mr. Uzac and Mr. Davis told Buzzfeed that Mr. Jang had no involvement in IBT and that the two of them alone owned IBT Media. Mr. Uzac did admit, though, that he has met with Mr. Jang on multiple occasions. Mr. Davis acknowledged that IBT recruits heavily from Olivet, but claimed that Olivet’s relationship to IBT Media was no different from the relationship between Stanford and Silicon Valley tech companies.
But if Mr. Jang does control IBT, The Christian Post, and now Newsweek, he seems to be following in the footsteps of another wealthy heterodox Christian leader: the late Reverend Sun Myung Moon. Mr. Moon’s Unification Church (whose followers are known, pejoratively, as “Moonies”) owns The Washington Times and United Press International.
Mr. Jang, by the way, reportedly once taught in a Unification Church seminary.
Update: Shortly after this article was published, Christianity Today posted a new blog post suggesting an even closer connection between IBT Media and Mr. Jang’s network. The magazine reported that Mr. Davis, the IBT cofounder with the covert commission, is married to Tracy McBeal Davis, the president of Olivet University. It also reported that Mr. Uzac, IBT’s other cofounder, was once listed as the treasurer of Olivet University.