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News Media Protects Bad Guys

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The Chinese democracy movement is well described as a "highly nuanced situation." That means it's a head scratcher and a challenge for distanced observers, e.g. American news reporters, bloggers, analysts, etc.

I am reminded of the story of multiple blind men encountering an elephant. Each gets a different idea about the elephant by encountering a different part of it. For example, one man checks out the elephant's leg, and says, "It's like a tree!" Another man checks out the elephant's tail, and says "It's like a rope!" Likewise, the Chinese democracy movement has many different people who experienced things from many different parts of the story. I can't tell you what it was like to be a Chinese student in Tiananmen Square. I can't tell you what it's like to be a political prisoner. But, I can tell you things witnessed from the top of CSN, where I've been throughout its history. My view includes matters both inside the organization, and out my window, where I've seen some of the nuanced history, in the overseas / exile Chinese democracy movement.

So for example, when I read the Wikipedia entry on the Chinese democracy movement, I was able to spot some flaws and inaccuracies, about some matters where I flatly know it better than whomever turned in the previous draft of that article. The whole idea of Wikipedia is to invite community editing, so I clicked 'Edit.'

The (reported) history of the democracy movement has thus changed, and yet not fancifully nor radically. My edits were a tune-up to the pre-existing article and preponderance of information.

I feel like I have clocked (hit) the MSM (mainstream news media) with a rhetorical brick.

That was not my original purpose for peforming the edit. (The earlier piece made it seem like CSN was Chinese-founded, and riven by the same internecine fights as other Chinese democracy groups. To the contrary, CSN was American-founded, and we never fought internally like as reported for other groups.) I guess that my editing expanded from there. As long as I had the piece open for surgery, I added two paragraphs into the History section.

One can imagine that when working with the news media, sometimes you would want to have a meeting behind closed doors, and to say things 'off the record.' Does today's state of affairs reflect a massive exception, and gulf of distance, between CSN and the MSM? Yes. Media people who review CSN material would notice that we have a brick for the media all the time around here. At one time or another, I've decried the "corrupt cabal" that slants the news, spins the issues, and flacks for the Chinese Communist regime. I've indicated that the American spin class has been bent, craven, and depraved on a routine basis (with the trade issue). I've referred to "ersatz journalists."

Why all those bricks, and could this be resolved in a closed-door meeting? Well, I don't see this as a person-to-person issue, nor as an org-to-org issue. On the one side, I see the movement. On the other side, I see the media. Each side is hundreds of groups or organizations. Because the issue is of that nature, it is unlikely that much can be done in a closed-door meeting. Simply to get the parties into one place, it would be more like a convention.

It therefore becomes fitting and appropriate that CSN escalates its concerns into public advocacy. The media criticism is justified, based on the two paragraphs that I put into Wikipedia's history of the Chinese democracy movement. Let me excerpt the prior paragraph, and then lay out the two paragraphs here:
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[T]he Tiananmen Square protests...were put down by government troops on June 4, 1989. In response, a number of pro-democracy organizations were formed by overseas Chinese student activists, and there was considerable sympathy for the movement among Westerners, who formed the China Support Network (CSN).

While the CSN was initially a go-to organization for U.S. news media (MSM) to cite, CSN and MSM parted company in a dispute over the casualty count from the June 4 massacre. MSM originally reported 3,000 dead. Here is a citation from the Agence France Press newswire. On June 22, 1989, AFP referred to "the Chinese army's assault on the demonstrators in and around Beijing's Tiananmen Square, an operation in which U.S. intelligence sources estimated 3,000 people were killed..." That casualty count, originally reported as above, was subsequently changed by the news media. CSN repoorted that it was the interest of China's propaganda minister to reduce the casualty count by an order of magnitude, resulting in later reports that "hundreds" were killed at Tiananmen Square. Here is a citation from the November, 1989 CSN news. Editor James W. Hawkins MD wrote, "It appears as if Mr. Yuan Mu [propaganda minister] has gotten his way and when we read reports on the AP wire we are told exactly what Mr. Mu wants us to read."

The rift between CSN and MSM plays into the history of the movement. The principle of estoppel was violated by the MSM, which changed its story. Meanwhile, the CSN held its estimate steady at 3,000, not violating estoppel and maintaining the credibility of consistency. (In January, 2005 upon the death of ousted Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang, CSN raised its estimate to 3,001 dead in the Tiananmen crackdown.) CSN proceeded to be critical of the MSM, and MSM proceeded to minimize, downplay, ignore, or underreport movement news and China's human rights abuse.
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What we have above is two things: (1.) dispute; (2.) upshot.

In the dispute, we see that there's MSM on the one hand, and CSN on the other hand. In that paragraph above, "CSN held its estimate steady...maintaining the credibility of consistency." That's laudable on the part of CSN, but what did MSM forget to do? MSM forgot to maintain its own credibility of consistency. The climb down (on the casualty count) was shenanigans on the part of MSM, not CSN.

And then there's the upshot. As it says, "MSM proceeded to minimize, downplay, ignore, or underreport movement news and China's human rights abuse."

To be fair, that is the upshot on the side of MSM. On the CSN side, it also says "CSN proceeded to be critical of the MSM," and indeed we see that here and now--18 years later--today's state of affairs still supports my reference to "ersatz journalists." In this light, it's not even a wisecrack -- it's a justified, if cutting, remark.

CSN is standing with better credibility on the casualty count, for having not violated estoppel, which the MSM actually did. (Our web site has more documentation of the AP's climb down on the casualty numbers. They really did change their story, at a time when the propaganda minister in China was pulling strings to "spin down" an atrocity and crime against humanity.) I can look at the MSM, or consider the network anchor men, and I can say that ever since then, "you have been wrong, and you have been wrong, and you have been wrong."

The thing is that the news media didn't stop at verb (1.), lowering the casualty count. As my paragraph notes, we can refer to verbs (2.) minimize; (3.) downplay; (4.) ignore; and, (5.) underreport. It's a pattern where the media generally fell into line with "flacking for the Chinese Communist regime."

I believe that a REAL journalist exposes the truth. Meanwhile, an ersatz journalist may shrug off the truth, and play along with "keeping the regime happy." So, which job is your job? The China Support Network could fill you in on a lot of pro-democracy movement news in the past 18 years, and that's about how far behind the MSM is, on this issue. Also, the whole point of the cause is FREEDOM and DEMOCRACY. In the land of the free, this should be mainstream. That this cause "went dark" to the public was not because Westerners lost their considerable sympathy -- I sure saw American enthusiasm for this, when we first started CSN. I don't think that audiences lost sympathy; rather instead, it was MEDIA that "lost sympathy," through a process that I have now chronicled, above.

 

www.chinasupport.net

The author was once the 18-year-old candidate for U.S. President ('84) and later the founder of the China Support Network, post-Tiananmen Square.

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