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The Media Kowtow

Why is the coverage of China’s government so obsequious?

Nov 11, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 09 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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For about a decade now, Jeff Bezos has been swallowing an ever larger percentage of my household’s income. In addition to our buying everything from dish soap to movies online, the billionaire founder of Amazon.com will no doubt be pleased to learn that my wife and I recently started receiving the Washington Post—the first newspaper subscription we’ve ordered in six years. When Bezos bought the Post this past summer, there was the usual handwringing over whether he harbored some surreptitious agenda, but I was optimistic. The flailing newspaper industry presents unique challenges, and if there’s one thing Bezos knows how to do, it’s deliver a good product at the right price.

Gary Locke

Gary Locke

Besides, the Washington Post desperately needs to make some changes. On the morning of September 25, en route to dropping my kids off at school, I grabbed the Post off the front steps. I pulled it out of the bag only to find it wrapped in the latest edition of China Watch. Apparently the Post has been carrying China Watch as a special advertising section for some time now. Underneath the masthead, in barely legible letters, it reads: “This supplement, prepared by China Daily, People’s Republic of China, did not involve the news or editorial departments of the Washington Post.” If you are blessedly unfamiliar with China Daily, it disseminates the news that the Communist government of China thinks is vital for Thought Leaders Inside the Beltway. The editors of this publication believe that life in contemporary China is full of sunshine and, better yet, business opportunities. This is far from an accurate portrayal, but if running headlines such as “From China with Love” is wrong, China Daily doesn’t want to be right.

For the last several years, a hugely influential portion of the American media has vacillated between openly admiring the Chinese government and providing a forum for its apologists. The Washington Post isn’t the worst offender, but they deserve at least a dishonorable mention for cutting out the middleman and delivering Communist Chinese propaganda straight to one’s doorstep.

As a measure of how bad the kowtowing has gotten, recall that in March 2011, the New York Times reported that President Obama had been telling those around him that “it would be so much easier to be the president of China. As one official put it, ‘No one is scrutinizing Hu Jintao’s words in Tahrir Square.’ ”

In the bowels of China’s propaganda-industrial complex, the apparatchiks must have read this and smiled: Not only did America’s decadent leader fail to speak critically of the Chinese government, he was openly envious of it. It seems not to have occurred to Obama that no one scrutinizes the president of China because he’s the leader of a Communist party that rules over a country of 1.3 billion people. In China, the government scrutinizes its critics, sometimes brutally, not the other way round.

So how could we arrive at a point where Chinese propaganda is so pervasive that even the president of the United States gets taken in? Well, maybe he reads the New York Times. Thomas Friedman, the Times’s noted purveyor of mixed metaphors and Third World taxi-driver anecdotes, is generally acknowledged as the head cheerleader for the People’s Republic in the Western media. Friedman had previously expressed a fantasy similar to Obama’s: for the United States “to be China for a day,” so that American leaders could “authorize the right solutions.” He’s gone so far as to argue that China is “led by a reasonably enlightened group of people” (even though the ruling party slaughtered as many as 50 million people in living memory and atrocities continue to this day). While praising Chinese autocracy, Friedman bemoans the supposed inability of U.S. democracy to do anything “serious to fix its structural problems: a ballooning deficit, declining educational performance, crumbling infrastructure and diminished immigration of new talent.” In a column suggesting that the Chinese government views the American people as gullible and stupid, Friedman mocked U.S. citizens for complaining about the invasive fondling of the Transportation Security Administration. Never mind that China dragoons people into labor camps for making sarcastic jokes about the government on the Chinese version of Twitter. Friedman has claimed that China has better phone service than the United States (vast expanses of the country don’t have electricity or running water). And as sure as the sun rises through the smog in the Far East, Friedman has praised China’s clean energy efforts time and again. Meanwhile, only about 1 percent of China’s 560 million city dwellers breathe air that would be deemed safe according to EU pollution standards.

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