Couple of days ago, I was listening to this NPR segment where Bill Adair of PolitiFact.com was asked to weigh in on the recently CNN hosted 2012 Republican debate. PoliticFact.com specializes in fact-checking assertions made by American politicians. For example, on the following attack on Obama’s stimulus from Texas governor Rick Perry:
“He had $800 billion worth of stimulus in the first round of stimulus. It created zero jobs.”
Adair tells NPR:
Yeah, we rated it Pants On Fire. It’s just ridiculously false. Even if you look at the most conservative estimates from independent groups, the estimates range somewhere from 1.6 million to 3.6 million jobs. So there’s no question there have been many jobs created by the stimulus.
Opposite to “Pants On Fire” on PolitiFact.com’s Truth-O-Meter is “TRUE.” I have just visited the site and saw Alan Grayson’s comment that “$360 million of our tax dollars went straight to … the Taliban” where it was rated “MOSTLY TRUE.” Another rating after that showed “MOSTLY FALSE.” “MOSTLY FALSE” again. That followed by “MOSTLY TRUE,” “HALF TRUE,” and so on. You get the idea.
First, allow me to digress a bit here. I find it interesting that American politicians are getting away with “Pants On Fire” type of statements though. Where is the public outrage? Credits to NPR and PolitiFact.com for bringing this to light. PolitiFact.com also won a Pulitzer Prize in 2009, so its work is indeed valued. Perhaps Americans have become accustomed to not expecting always truth from their public speakers. Perhaps their politicians know in this democracy, the public only hears short sound bites, and nothing else matters. (For more on this, make sure to read Allen‘s “Understanding Democracy” article.)
As Janet Carmosky recently wrote, “China Bashing Season Officially Kicks Off,” I know we are in for another year of “Pants on Fire.” Perry and other politicians are capable of outright lies against their own President, what would spare ‘China’ or anyone else?
In this post, I’d like to take a moment looking at what former U.S. ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, said while campaigning in Milford, New Hampshire in early August 2011:
There are 500 million Internet users “and 80 million bloggers who are driving discussions in China. … So you’ve got a lot of people voicing frustration and discontent.”
In fact, PolitiFact.com weighed in on it too and rated it “MOSTLY TRUE.”
I encourage you to follow the above link to see PolitiFact.com’s analysis. In summary, it said:
He’s right about the 500 million and his estimate on bloggers is low, but his underlying point is valid. But it’s worth noting that experts say the vast majority of bloggers are writing about social rather than political topics. On balance, we rate his claim Mostly True.
I would say, that Jon Huntsman comment is mostly a “Pants on Fire.” As the site said, most of the chatter in China is social rather than political. Politics is a niche just as is in the U.S. and anywhere else on this planet. People are idolizing pop stars. People are discussing movies, sporting events, video games, fashion, and so on. Certainly, people go online to complain about all sorts of ills about society. Those and pop culture dominate.
Given the typical aversion to politics in China, I’d say political discussions are even less popular compared to the U.S.. At least for China, there aren’t so many foreign invasions like the U.S. to speak of. In the U.S., there is an army of dissidents speaking against them. For example Glenn Greenwald and Noam Chomsky
If you’d followed the link above, you would have noticed Jon Huntsman’s campaign team provided PolitiFact.com Reuters and Epoch Times articles as sources for the numbers. Epoch Times?! So much for a candidate who supposedly has a nuanced understanding about China. His team is digging in the wrong place!
At least PolitiFact.com had the senses to get to the real source, the Chinese Internet Network Information Center.
Yes, there were suicides at Foxconn. There are migrant workers who are struggling. China is going through an industrial revolution right now. We have hundreds of millions of people moving from rural areas to cities. The whole country is in transition, and with it comes tremendous stress.
I can personally attest to the fact that most of my friends and relatives in China are forward-looking and optimistic about their future. This is definitely in alignment with PEW Poll results showing high government approval ratings by Chinese citizens.
In fact, PEW also finds increasingly around the world, people think China is a growing power.
Jon Huntsman is of course insinuating the Chinese are dissatisfied with their government politically. That is false. Absolutely not in a way such that they would want a “jasmine revolution.” (See my prior article, “U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman caught on video teased by Chinese at ‘Jasmine Revolution’ rally at Wangfujing.”)
A last hint: read the essay by Ai Weiwei in Newsweek where he was saying Beijing is like a ‘prison.’ Even he complained about Chinese are generally not interested in what he had to say about the Chinese government.