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Manufactured Outrage: The "Crazy" Human Rights Community

10:10 AM, Nov 25, 2009 • By KELLEY CURRIE
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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.  Obama administration officials, echoed by a number of "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.  

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.  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.  For example, Fallows and company 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.  (Now where would they have gotten that from?  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?  Just a guess.)  

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 trip (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.  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?  Why have it come out a week later in a defensive anonymous interview?  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.  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.  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."  From Fallows' anonymous administration source, we have this gem: 

I think some of them wanted us to be rude to the Chinese leadership. That seems to be the standard for effectiveness. Not only is it bad form in general to be rude, and ineffective in Asia, but the last person on the planet who would be rude is Barack Obama. That is part of the reason he got elected.