Manufactured Outrage: The "Crazy" Human Rights Community
10:10 AM, Nov 25, 2009 • By KELLEY CURRIE
After the initial round of poor reviews for President Obama's recent trip to Asia -- particularly but not exclusively the China portion -- the Empire has been striking back. Â Obama administration officials, echoed by a number ofÂ "China-hands" in academia, think tanks and the media, have been vigorously pushing back on the failed trip narrative being flogged by well-known Obama-haters like the New York Times editorial page and Chris Matthews. Â
Among the most interesting efforts has been a remarkable series of blog posts by James Fallows, the former China correspondent for the Atlantic who has recently returned stateside. His six -- count 'em, six -- long posts in the past week on the topic of how the media got Obama's trip to Asia wrong have been fascinating reading. Â Entitled "Manufactured Failure," the series of posts explain how the media were led astray by their (take your pick) unrealistic expectations, ignorance, biases, excessive attention to score-keeping, and various other defects in their coverage. Â For example, Fallows and companyÂ chastise the press for covering Obama's Asian trip as if it were a campaign swing, and declaring it a failure because everything in Asia was not magically transformed just because Obama showed up. Â (Now where would they have gotten that from? Â Maybe from the White House, which remains in permanent campaign mode and waxes endlessly about the transformational "Obama showing up" effect on US foreign policy? Â Just a guess.) Â
The most curious part of Fallows' multi-part cri de coeur was his lengthy sort-of interview with an anonymous Obama administration official who was on the tripÂ (serialized over several posts here, here, and here). Setting aside the wisdom of providing such a forum to a public official who lacks sufficient confidence in his opinions to be publicly identified with them, this is certainly an interesting choice of venue for trying to re-shape the dominant narrative as defined by most of the mainstream media. Â To paraphrase Adam Minter, a Shanghai-based writer who took issue with the White House spin, if all this great stuff really happened, why didn't the White House say so early and publicly? Â Why have it come out a week later in a defensive anonymous interview? Â An odd White House media strategy at a minimum.
In the overall effort to counter the negative assessment of the trip, there have been untold specious arguments in the various commentaries defending the president's weak performance in China. Â One could spend an eternity writing to address them all, but I'll try and limit myself to just a few of the themes that drive me bat guano crazy. Â First up, the "manufactured outrage" over the wild-eyed demands of the human rights "crazies" and their cousins in the horse-race obsessed media.
The defenders of the "softly softly" approach on human rights in China -- including administration officials on and off the record -- moan about how the president's critics apparently wouldn't be happy with the trip unless Obama had gone to Beijing and pitched a temper tantrum, "punch[ed] Hu Jintao in the nose" or "pulled a Khrushchev and banged his shoe on the table." Â From Fallows' anonymous administration source, we have this gem:Â