Sunday, November 26, 2006

NYTimes with Spotty Article: Taiwan....

The foreign media once again mailed in an effort on Taiwan as NY Times reporter Jim Yardley turned in a definite "D" effort on the island yesterday (IHT version here):

“In 10 years, when we look back, this could be a turning point for Taiwan’s democracy to become mature,” said Emile C. J. Sheng, a political science professor at Soochow University. “Right now, it is a disgrace, and it is quite humiliating. But once we get past this, I think Taiwan’s politics will get a lot cleaner.”
I have no idea how foreign journalists keep finding Emile Sheng, but I suspect someone at AIT must be steering them. Bottom line, Mr. Yardley -- Sheng is not a neutral analyst. He was the international spokesman for the pro-Blue anti-Chen campaign, and has been anti-Chen for years. You can't cite him without mentioning his position in a partisan political rally, and really, you shouldn't be citing him at all. There are plenty of political analysts in Taiwan who don't have his axes to grind. Later, when Yardley cites Antonio Chiang, he identifies him as a former member of the administration. In other words, anti-Chen types don't get identified, pro-Chen types do (not that Chiang is in fact pro-Chen!). The KMT manages the foreign media much better than the DPP does, and here is an excellent example.

These articles on Chen and corruption make a kind of sense to the reader only because they leave out salient facts. For example, Yardley goes on to cite a PFP politician:
“This is very hard evidence that at last we have a fair and independent-minded judicial branch,” said Hwang Yih-jiau, an opposition legislator with the People First Party and a critic of the president. “The principle of separation of power has taken root in Taiwan.”
Citing PFP legislators as "a critic of the President" without any contextualization is highly misleading. First of all, Hwang is a PFP spokesman, second, and second, he's a right-hand man of PFP Chairman James Soong, dating back to the days when Hwang was spokesperson for the now-dead provincial government. Readers of this blog will be aware that Soong, identified in a French court as the recipient of a US$400 million payoff (among other things!), is probably the most corrupt major politician on the island. The BBC also has the habit of leaving out this salient fact when quoting PFP politicians as if they should be taken seriously when pontificating on politics. Treating the PFP in the context-free manner that Yardley does gives it a weight it should not enjoy. It's also ironic to listen to Hwang, whose private life is a mess, talk about principles.

Then a genuine screw-up follows:
“Only the Taiwanese people and politicians can understand the importance of keeping things completely confidential,” said Hsiao Mei-khim, a Democratic Progressive Party lawmaker who is an ally of Mr. Chen.
Hsaio BI-khim, not MEI-khim (it's Mei-chin in Chinese). *sigh*

Once major improvement in Yardley's article over previous work by other foreign media is an explanation of the receipt issue:

To get the money, they submitted personal receipts gathered from friends and family. Mr. Chen has admitted initially lying to prosecutors about the receipts. But he has since explained on live television that the receipts were a bookkeeping necessity that enabled him to use state money for secret diplomacy — for which there are no receipts.

His defenders note that before Mr. Chen took office in 2000, presidents were not required to submit receipts to use such discretionary funds. They say prosecutors presented no evidence that Mr. Chen had used any of the money for personal gain. They also say Taiwan’s unique international isolation, defined by its tense coexistence with China, makes confidentiality essential when a president wants to engage in diplomacy.

Actually, the prosecutor himself has said he has no evidence the money was pocketed. But on the whole, this is pretty good -- though it would have been better had it dropped the slanted "his defenders note...." since it is of course true that Presidents were not required to submit receipts.

Unfortunately the article then goes on to slander the First Lady in a breathlessly tabloid way:

The scandal has also focused public attention on Mr. Chen’s marriage, as several lawmakers have questioned the scruples of the first lady. She grew up as a doctor’s daughter while Mr. Chen was dirt poor. Early in Mr. Chen’s political career, Ms. Wu was paralyzed after being struck by a car during a political rally. The police ruled it an accident, but many people in the Democratic Progressive Party believe that it was an assassination attempt against Mr. Chen.

As first lady, Ms. Wu has attracted whispers for her penchant for luxury. One of the receipts in the scandal was for a Tiffany diamond ring valued at more than $30,000. Newspapers have reported that a Taiwanese sea cargo company had originally given jeweled watches to Mr. Chen’s son for his wedding. But the family had returned the watches for a ring reportedly fitted for Ms. Wu.

Yardley doesn't say that those "several lawmakers" who have questioned the First Lady are opposition lawmakers whose Party was the one that left her paralyzed. It is absolutely unconscionable that Yardley writes: "The police ruled it an accident..." as if the police in the martial law period were someone independent of the ruling party. Why does the foreign media anger me so much? Presentations like that are pathetic. The whole island knows who left Wu Shu-chen paralyzed. Also left out of the Times article is any mention of Wu Shu-chen's accuser, Chiu Yi, recently convicted of inciting a riot, and long known for making unfounded accusations.

In any case, anyone who has followed the scandal here will recognize that Yardley's portrayal of the First Lady as a luxury-loving tramp is a simple regurgitation of the KMT party line that panders to working-class envy of the wealthy. Shameful.

Yardley then goes on to totally misunderstand the Shih Ming-te anti-Chen protests, not surprising since he does not seem to be aware that Emile Sheng was the international spokesman for the protest:
Public revulsion over the different scandals peaked late this summer when a former chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party organized enormous demonstrations in Taipei calling for Mr. Chen’s resignation. At one level, the protests represented democratic free speech. But some here worried that they might overwhelm Taiwan’s democratic institutions, the way similar protests prompted the recent “soft coup” in Thailand or have toppled presidents in the Philippines.
Left out, of course, is practically everything important -- like the fact that the protests were partisan pro-Blue protests led by Shih, allied to the Blues since 2001, and the people protesting were largely Blues, as Yardley's own NYTimes noted TWO MONTHS AGO. But why print bothersome facts and make the effort to do research, when fact-free, slanted political narrative is so much more interesting?

I have this fantasy that someday I'll read in the foreign media about how Shih failed as Chairman, left the Party in 1999 (or was kicked out in 2000), lost two attempts at public office, ran out of money, vanished into obscurity, and switched sides in 2001, joining a pro-Blue political foundation along with two other DPP turncoats, and going buddy-buddy with one of Taiwan's most notorious embezzlers. At the moment, the foreign media's reporting on this event is pathetically ill-informed, with the exception of Bradsher's excellent article that I referred to above.

After that fact-free presentation of the anti-Chen protests, Yardley then goes on to give a pro-KMT view of the partisan politics of the island:
Mr. Chen’s election in 2000 was historic because it ended more than five decades of rule by the Nationalist Party. But many analysts say that many democratic values have not fully taken hold, and also blame the rival political camps for taking a zero-sum attitude toward politics and governing.

The Nationalists never seemed to accept Mr. Chen’s legitimacy as president, political observers say, even as the Democratic Progressive Party, or D.P.P., remained deeply distrustful of its rivals. Political analysts say that Mr. Chen exacerbated this poisonous partisanship with his different political efforts to push for Taiwanese independence.

Did the DPP initially take a zero-sum attitude toward politics? Anyone remember Chen's first administration, when we had a KMT premier and a KMT EPA head (Hau Lung-bin, now the KMT candidate for Taipei mayor)? Note how Yardley quotes unnamed "political analysts" blaming Chen's "political efforts to push for Taiwan independence" without mentioning the KMT's coordination of policy with China, or its blocking of the arms package and other important bills in the legislature, its refusal to approve the President's candidates for the Control Yuan and other positions, and so on. A presentation that attacks Chen for independence efforts without reference to any KMT activities is obviously pro-KMT. Sad.

An article like this is a case study in how the foreign media is effectively managed by the anti-democracy side. Next time, NYTimes, send us someone who can see through the bullshit, and at least get the names right.

UPDATE: I missed Johnny Neihu this particular week, but he also shredded this article.

These, then, are the people that Yardley relied on to bolster his article's authoritativeness. And the great majority of his readers would have no reason to doubt his words, or theirs. But if each one of the quotes is vague, misleading or compromised, then what is the rest of the piece worth?

Oh, and ... wait, could it be? Yes! The interviewees all speak quotable English. So, it seems one of the world's most prestigious newspapers can't afford a translator to accompany Yardley to Taipei. Is it simply a case of roll out the usual suspects who speak English and who gives a crap about the rest?

Jim Yardley won this year's international reporting Pulitzer Prize (with Joseph Kahn), no less. He knows what good journalism is. So I ask: Where did he get his list of English-speakers from? And how will he know what ordinary people think (and make claims thereto) if he only speaks to the English-speaking upper crust who "give good quote"?

Yardley won a Pulitzer for international reporting? Well, even the great ones have their days off.....

(hat tip to Jason at WTT)


Anonymous said...

Michael, could you give me an explanation why the KMT has better skill to "manage" foreign journalists. Doesn't mean I am partisan. Just wonder the question why it's so hard for foreign journalist to treat Taiwan fair?

Michael Turton said...

There are lots of reasons

1. The government has more KMT supporters than DPP supporters. Thus, when a journalist meets a government official, they are more likely to meet someone pro-KMT than pro-DPP.

2. The KMT has old links to US media and analytical organizations that go back decades.

3. The KMT is more aware of the importance of the outside world than the DPP is. The KMT has long cultivated links to the outside world. The DPP still doesn't get it.

4. The the mainlander elites who run the KMT are a colonial ruling elite that is far more aware of its political identity and status than the individuals who compose the DPP.

5. There are a lot more pro-KMTers who speak English, etc, than DPPers.

etc. I'm sure you can think of some on your own.