China’s manipulation and control of its media is of course well documented. But one topic of some interest in the Chinese media lately has been so-called “media manipulation” by the U.S. government. The pot, obviously, is calling the kettle black, but the occasion is provided by a case that does beg real questions for U.S. media: the out-of-court settlement between major U.S. media and nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee on June 3. [Washington Post coverage here]. Coverage by Chinese media is particularly interesting because it drags in the issue of bilateral relations and the “China Threat” current in U.S. politics. And of course there are now new espionage cases pending against the Mak family in the United States. [China’s response via Xinhua in English].
Chinese media, including the central government’s People’s Daily, have criticized U.S. media for inadequate soul-searching in the aftermath of the Wen Ho Lee settlement. In the simplest sense, they have a point – not much has been written since the June 3 settlement about the media’s role in blowing Lee’s case out of proportion while it was still under investigation. It should be pointed out, though, that there was discussion after Lee’s release from detention in September 2000. The New York Times issued a page-two mea culpa that received a lot of press at the time, and media and j-schools have kept the topic alive [Click here for PBS News Hour on “sensational reporting” 2000 and here for a 2004 discussion of Wen Ho Lee and other stories at PressThink].
Anyhow, without in any way endorsing their views, we’ll let the Chinese media speak for themselves, beginning with People’s Daily, which is predictably snide about the West’s “so-called” news values and makes no pretensions, obviously, to the “impartiality” it ridicules:
A Lesson for American Media
People’s Daily, June 6, 2006
In recent days, nuclear weapons scientist Wen Ho Lee has once again become a news topic. On June 2, two U.S. government offices, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Energy, and five news media groups reached a settlement with Wen Ho Lee, agreeing to pay 1.64 million dollars in compensation for intruding on [Lee’s] right to privacy. This included payments totaling 750 thousand dollars from The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, ABC and the Associated Press. These payments, however, were not made willingly, and [these media] said that although they had agreed to pay compensation, this was to avoid the jailing of their reporters for protecting their sources. It seems that these mainstream American media do not wish to learn the necessary lessons from this event.
Seven years ago, the so-called “Wen Ho Lee Spy Case” was whipped into a frenzy by American media. Wen Ho Lee was accused of passing nuclear secrets to China while working at the Los Alamos National Labs, and for this he was detained for nine months. But the results of the investigation showed that Wen Ho Lee had merely mishandled computer data, and had not in fact been engaged in espionage. What is most surprising is that during the year the case was under investigation, the Department of Energy and the Federal Bureau of Investigation were too impatient to wait and exposed the case to the news media, a serious violation of Wen Ho Lee’s right to privacy and an attack on his reputation.
This case shows people once again the willingness of the U.S. government to manipulate the media. According to reason and the law, these government offices should not have, and had no right to, expose the case to the outside world. But what should not have happened did happen, and clearly these people [in the U.S. government] wished to use the media to whip up the “China Threat” for political ends. This case also lets us once again see clearly the sham of the so-called “independence”, “objectivity” and “impartiality” of the American media. Certainly, on internal questions, American media serve a definite role in checking and examining the power of government. But on international questions, they often toss away and disregard their own “principles”. As soon as the U.S. government points its lance to antagonize some country or leader, the American media rush to the story, add their own condemnation, characterizing this country as the “root of all evil” and its leaders as unpardonable monsters.
In recent years, American media have been singing in harmony with the “China Threat Theory” of the Pentagon. They sing about the “military threat”, the “economic threat”, the “scientific and technological threat”. Upbraiding China has already become a daily routine for many media and politicians – not hearing such vilifications, now that would be news. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said recently at a speech to the Asian leaders in Singapore [Link at Center for Strategic Studies] did not peddle the “China Threat” theory with his usual vehemence … When a reporter asked about this, Rumsfeld answered that had his views and policy on China had not changed. Actually, Rumsfeld’s not harping on the same string was entirely due to the fact that the “China Threat” theory he pitches does not garner interest in Southeast Asia …This is about twisting the facts through ideological prejudice, confusing black and white, and deviating from the professional methods news media should have. In the Wen Ho Lee case American media lost not only American dollars, but also the reputation that is so critical to news media. Does this not deserve a bit of soul-searching from the American media?
And this article comes from Jiangnan City Daily, a commercial newspaper in Jiangxi Province. It is written by Guo Shaobin, a scholar at the China Institutes for Contemporary International Relations. He says the Wen Ho Lee case shows “once again” the American media blowing up the “Chinese military threat”:
American Media Once Again Play Up “Chinese espionage” Cases
Jiangnan City Daily, June 12, 2006
In 2004, the American right’s Washington Times ran a story saying China’s 094 submarine was a threat. It is the relentless playing up of the issue by conservatives that has resulted in the release of “The Military Power of the People’s Republic of China” reports colored with the notion of a “Chinese military threat“ [Read the 2006 report here].
[Editor’s Note: The Department of Defense report says: “China’s leaders have yet to adequately explain the purposes or desired end-states of their military expansion. Estimates place Chinese defense expenditure at two to three times officially disclosed figures. The outside world has little knowledge of Chinese motivations and decision-making or of key capabilities supporting PLA modernization. This lack of transparency prompts others to ask, as Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld did in June 2005: Why this growing investment? Why these continuing large and expanding arms purchases? Why these continuing robust deployments? Absent greater transparency, international reactions to China’s military growth will understandably hedge against these unknowns”.]
Moreover, the details of the cases have not been [properly] scrutinized. Lately, much of the technology and equipment approved for export to China has been exported to foreign enterprises, so is still actually in American hands. As for so-called silencer technologies [NOTE: The article might be referring to “quiet electric-drive propulsion systems” for submarines, involved in the ongoing espionage case against engineer Chi Mak, a naturalized U.S. citizen], China entirely has the capacity to develop [such technologies] on its own … Ni Shixiong, a professor at Fudan University’s American Studies Center, says these spontaneously generated cases actually point to an inevitable conflict lurking in U.S.-China relations. Since 2001, Los Angeles, the city with the second-largest Chinese population in the western U.S., has become in America’s eyes a breeding ground for “Chinese spies”. First there was the investigation of first-generation overseas Chinese Xiong Delong (熊德龙) by U.S. authorities, which eventually forced him to go into exile. Soon after second-generation overseas Chinese Luo Wenzheng (罗文正) was sought by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for “economic” issues, which forced him to leave his country.
Many Chinese in America believe these are people hostile to Chinese deliberately pushing coverage of “Chinese spies” in order to create the sense of a “China Threat”, or people railroading overseas Chinese into becoming so-called “spies” so they can play up these cases in the media … From the Wen Lee Ho case to the Chen Wenying case, all have been whipped into a froth by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. While it looks like there is conclusive evidence, this is just “lightning without rain” and in the end there’s not just no case, there’s a low-key setting free of the accused. Behavior like this from the United States not only puts overseas Chinese under a great deal of pressure, but also impedes regular dialogue and cooperation between the U.S. and China.
[Posted by David Bandurski, June 15, 2006, 3:15pm]