The Media Kowtow
Why is the coverage of China’s government so obsequious?
Nov 11, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 09 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
Of course, there’s a cottage industry of commentators dedicated to complaining about Friedman. And it’s tempting to dismiss him as a lone bloviator, but he’s not exactly a voice in the wilderness. Last year the Times published a baffling op-ed from a self-described “overeducated” Ivy Leaguer who left a dead-end job to move to Beijing and teach English and, bizarrely, used the experience to appeal to the supporters of the then-popular Occupy Wall Street movement:
Maybe this was a humor column. It’s certainly grimly amusing to picture Occupy Wall Street sympathizers packing up en masse and heading to China. There they could express disgust with income inequality in America by watching Chinese peasants do things such as collect and save their own excrement to use as fertilizer in their gardens, lest they go hungry.
Of course, one of the reasons for the kid-gloves treatment of China by the American punditry is that Western visitors are largely confined to the modern cities, and never see how the vast majority of the Chinese population scrapes by. That’s not really a worry, though, because if you want to know how the other 99 percent live—or at least the 95 percent or so that do not belong to the Communist party—the Chinese government is eager to tell our Times-approved tour guide from Bejing what to think:
Saying “There are problems here, of course” in describing a country that has a brisk market in organs harvested from executed political prisoners might be understating things a bit.
Perhaps the overeducated columnist was unaware that, outside of whatever’s being pumped into televisions in Bejing’s English classrooms, the Chinese journalistic establishment has a unique feature known as “internal reference publications.” In China, the state media pump out so much propaganda that the country’s rulers found it impossible to govern effectively without accurate information. So the party set up its own shadow news media that are held to much more rigorous standards, and the reports they produce are not available to the general public. Perhaps a similar arrangement would benefit the readers of the New York Times opinion pages.
Credit where credit is due: Times readers do have an internal reference publication—it’s called the news section. On Christmas Day 2011, a few weeks before the Times op-ed columnist suggested that economically frustrated Americans should regard China as a giant temp agency with exotic food, the following story appeared in the news pages:
Indeed, once you venture away from the opinion pages, the Times’s reporting on China is pretty good. This is not just the situation at the Times, either. It’s generally true that while oppression and human rights abuses remain undercovered by pundits and talking heads, the correspondents concerned with who, what, where, and when are giving a far more reliable and accurate assessment of China.
This disconnect reflects the fact that the pundits at the top of the media food chain regurgitate a consensus among political elites who are either in denial or actively covering up the human rights horrors of modern-day China.
Recent Blog Posts