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Their Master’s Voice

From The Scrapbook

Jan 30, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 19 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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If anybody doubts that our future will be mixed up with the People’s Republic of China, The Scrapbook invites you to take a stroll along New York Avenue in Washington, D.C., and gape at the big new office building going up within easy walking distance of the White House. It’s the Washington headquarters of China Central Television (CCTV), from which English-language news broadcasts with a Beijing twist will be coming soon to a cable service near you.

Apparently, the Chinese believe that their country doesn’t get favorable coverage in the world’s press because the world’s press is, of course, largely non-Chinese. The Scrapbook isn’t so sure about this (have they not been enjoying Thomas Friedman’s New York Times columns in Beijing?), but if it works for the BBC and Al Jazeera and Voice of America, why shouldn’t it work for the world’s largest Communist dictatorship? 

This sort of news is, of course, catnip to The Scrapbook. The Chinese seem to believe one of the enduring myths of modern democracy: namely, that the only thing a Great Power needs to succeed in the world is (a) power and (b) good public relations. It also proves that countless journalists can be bought, if the price is right. 

According to the Washington Post, CCTV’s new outpost has hired some 60 ink-stained wretches “from NBC, Bloomberg TV, Fox News, and other Western news organizations,” and all are committed to “report without fear or favor, free from government manipulation and second-guessing.”

They insist that the network will have autonomy from Beijing, and that its journalists are seasoned professionals who understand the difference between government propaganda and news.

Well, of course they are “seasoned professionals”​—​would the Chinese hire any other kind?​—​who know the difference between news and propaganda. But the question is: At the salaries CCTV is prepared to pay them, are they likely to act on that knowledge?

We think we know the answer. According to the Post, “CCTV wouldn’t permit any of its officials or journalists to speak on the record,” and after introducing Jim Laurie, the former NBC and ABC reporter who is now CCTV’s top adviser for American news operations, the Post noted that “Laurie referred questions to CCTV’s management.”

The Scrapbook is willing to concede that, with rampant unemployment in journalists’ ranks, it’s hard to blame those 60 new hires for signing on to a regular paycheck. But will CCTV’s Washington headquarters accomplish what Beijing hopes? Al Jazeera has a large, well-funded, and technically sophisticated news operation in Washington, and ostensibly enjoys a form of editorial autonomy from its patron, the government of Qatar. But while Al Jazeera successfully preaches to the choir in the Arab world, is there any evidence that it has had much effect on American public opinion? Not really.

The People’s Republic of China already gets treated generously in the Western media: lots of stories about robust capitalism and graduate students in America and the wonders of the Great Wall, and plenty of academic talking heads eager to defend Beijing’s policies. So are those 60 seasoned CCTV professionals going to mention the other China, the China of political repression, hostility to America, forced abortions, and regional bullying? 

Wake us up when they do.

Remains of the Day

The Scrapbook is a lifelong believer in the law of unintended consequences, and one of our favorite examples is the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990. This measure was intended to protect historic Indian burial grounds from plunder, and to assure that federally recognized tribes retain custody of “cultural items.”

But in the intervening two decades it has become a catastrophe for the scholarly study of prehistoric America. And the reason is simple: Certain tribes, and certain activists, are not so much interested in their cultural history as in being as obnoxious as possible to their fellow (non-Indian) countrymen. So they have laid claim to ancient skeletal remnants which they didn’t discover, don’t understand, and which, at 10,000 years old and older, haven’t the slightest connection to modern-day tribes. 

Yet federal courts and the Department of the Interior have generally sided with the tribes, and universities and other research institutions that have been studying the ethnography of North America for the past two centuries are now forced to surrender artifacts​—​probably for destruction. It is worth asking whether, in the near future, any prehistoric human artifacts on this continent may be legally preserved.

On the one hand, The Scrapbook takes a certain malicious satisfaction in the spectacle of institutions such as Harvard and the University of California​—​cathedrals of political correctness​—​running afoul of their own doctrine. For example, the Kumeyaay Nation of San Diego County, which claims some 10,000-year-old remains found in La Jolla, is no more related to these bones than the anthropologists who study them at UC San Diego. But it seems probable that the stray chips and fragments will be handed over to the Kumeyaay, and lost forever to scientific inquiry.

Meanwhile, Kennewick Man, whose 5,000 to 10,000-year-old remains are the subject of continuing study at the University of Washington, remains in limbo. A half-dozen Pacific Northwest tribes are fighting one another for the privilege of pillaging the university’s collection, and the Umatilla tribe claim that their 10,000-year-old oral history demonstrates ownership.

Which, of course, is nonsense. So, for that matter, is the argument that non-Indians would never subject their own primeval ancestors to such scrutiny. The bones and artifacts of Euro-pean settlers in Virginia and New England are routinely subject to study, and how many museums in the world contain the remains of Egyptian royalty, Danish bog people, or Anglo-Saxon tribesmen? The 5,300-year-old “ice man,” who was discovered not long ago in the Italian Alps, is now on display in his own museum in Bolzano.

Journal-ism

Several of our favorite journals showed up recently in The Scrapbook’s mailbox (no, The Scrapbook hasn’t fully converted to the digital era yet), and they seemed to be even more chock-a-block than usual with interesting articles. The Fall 2011 issue of the New Atlantis features several Weekly Standard contributors: Nick Eberstadt on “The Global War Against Baby Girls,” Wilfred McClay on Nathaniel Hawthorne, Alan -Jacobs on “Christianity and the Future of the Book,” and Algis Valiunas on Abraham Maslow and modern America. All the pieces leave you thinking .  .  . if somewhat depressed. But in a good way​—​intelligently depressed!

The Winter 2012 National Affairs is a little more cheery. Stuart Butler is basically positive on the coming revolution in higher education, and Scott Winship’s “Bogeyman Economics” is a devastating indictment of “politics by horror story.” But The Scrapbook particularly enjoyed William Schambra’s account of the 1912 election. We’d forgotten how fundamental were the issues that were raised, how many of TR’s old associates broke with him when he took Progressivism from a kind of American reformism to an assault on the Constitution, and how thoughtful some of those associates were. We’re eager to read more on the impressive Elihu Root, whom Schambra discusses at some length.

Last but not least, the January New Criterion features one terrific piece after another, including Kevin Williamson on political economy, Keith Windschuttle, John O’Sullivan, and other worthies in a very interesting symposium on American decline, and James Piereson on George Kennan. 

The football season is coming to an end​—​so there’s more time for reading. Start with these three journals.

Thérèse Delpech, 1948-2012

Sad news from Paris: Thérèse Delpech​—​scholar, strategist, and philosopher of history​—​passed away on January 18 at the age of 63. For many years, Delpech had been the director of strategic affairs at the French Atomic Energy Commission. She was a prolific author and policy adviser, and her last two books, Iran and the Bomb: The Abdication of International Responsibility and Savage Century: Back to Barbarism, are exemplars of her erudition, technical knowledge, and fearless scrutiny of fashionable doctrines and policies. 

In Savage Century she wrote: “History does not progress in a continuous fashion, nor does it even move forward in spurts. It seems to have abandoned any intelligible pattern.” Delpech will be missed all the more by her friends, colleagues, and the policymakers she advised for her ability to provide sound guidance in such chaotic times.

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