Pattern of Western Media Disinformation

Thanks to Web technologies (web archive, images search engine), the Chinese bloggers have once again called the Western media’s bluff on exaggerated reporting of China’s “Jasmine Revolution” non-event. Our prior post has highlighted Roland Soong’s recent article, “Fake Western Media Coverage Of Jasmine Revolution In China.” This has been a pattern.

Roland Soong, a well regarded China blogger, took note of fake photos used to shape the “Jasmine Revolution” news, compiled by Anti-CNN, a Chinese blog originally created to counter the overwhelming negative sensationalist reporting on the Tibet riot and other manufactured news prior to the Beijing Olympics by news outlets like CNN.

ESWN also took note of the lack of correction by our media at large, demonstrated by a “so what” reply he received. Many have defended the Western media misinformation on the grounds that there wasn’t a mean for them to take all reader feedback. Well, we are in the Internet age, and as Soong showed us, there is no desire to correct.

I share Roland’s disappointment that our supposedly objective media never bother to correct their mis-reporting on China. If our objective media is a shinning example for the Chinese to emulate, what lessons are the Chinese learning from us?

Below are just few more instances of this bigger pattern of disinformation that I am familiar with:

– After a year, Ellen Nakashima of Washington Post never bothered to retract the mis-translation she quoted from US government sponsored mouthpiece China Digital Times.

– John Markoff of New York Times, who cited a “China Code” malware claim that was proven false last year, never followed up to correct or develop his story.

– Fabricating negative news about the PLA has no repercussion, as this complaint sent to the Australia Press Council illustrates, where the official reply was facts on the ground were subject to the reporter’s “interpretation”.

I call on those to help discredit the Western media whenever discrediting is due.

31 thoughts on “Pattern of Western Media Disinformation

  1. @Rhan, thanks for the link.

    Bob Woodward was played by Robert Redford in the 1976 award-winning film “All the President’s Men”. He and Carl Bernstein from Washington Post, through their investigative journalism, were credited by many to expose the Watergate scandal and eventually bring down the Nixon Presidency. Some of their techniques were not much different than throwing a lot of you-know-what and seeing what stuck. They were for sure illegal in many countries in the world.

    At times, the aggressive (borderline creative to exclusively creative) journalism backfires, case in point, NBC putting some explosives on a GM truck to make a more explosive TV story in 1993. But overall as a whole, the freedom of speech by the press is pretty much on a pedestal in the West. It relies on the checks and balances among various media outlets to make sure that when one goes overboard into creating faked stories, the competitors will feast on their mischief. For instance, if Washington Post reports a domestic story in the same way it reports “jasmine revolution”, Wall Street Journal will make sure to take WaPo to the cleaners.

    However, what if the checks and balances fail, and all media outlets are going to one side of the boat? An exhibit would be the case of Raymond Davis. Bob Woodward wouldn’t mind bringing down the Nixon presidency because his and his newspaper’s political believes, but he certainly didn’t feel going against what he perceived as the American interest: protecting the true identity of Raymond Davis. Assuming the pure and unmanufactured truths are what people want, you would want the likes of Al Jazeera and Xinhua being available to the public for international news. But who says, the pure and unmanufactured truths are what people want?

    The question is, what if ALL Western media outlets are actually on one side of the boat w.r.t. the reporting on China? Well, actually if you are not that slow as most the commenters of a handful China-centric English blogs who shall remain nameless, the more important question is why they are all on one side of the boat.

  2. Strikes to me as history repeating itself. “How China was lost 2.0”. In 20 or 50 years, western analysts will wonder how china and the chinese “went their own” and didn’t line up alongside the west’s status quo.

  3. The problem with the Western argument for “democracy” is that it is a MORALITY argument wrapping a core of Self interests.

    Morality arguments are fundamentally suspect to begin with.

    For example, US on the surface outlaws Marijuana, but many Americans use marijuana and do not see the harm in doing so. Many moral arguments are made on the evils of marijuana use, and yet, the moral arguments have little effect, and cannot deter people’s nonchalant opinions.

    Afterall, Tobacco is far more harmful (with more direct causation shown linking to cancer), and perhaps equally (or more) addictive, and yet it is legal in US.

    *So it is with most moral arguments, that they ring hollow in the fact of duplicity and self-contradiction. No less for Democracy in the West.

    Moral arguments for Democracy has no grounds to stand in the West, when US has Patriot Act, France outlaws Islamic clothing and deports Gypsies, and Germany outlaws Scientology.

    * In the end, it comes down to practical brass tax. Is the Chinese system overall working and making the lives of Chinese people better?

    If yes, who cares what moral arguments for or against that system? I wouldn’t even care if Chinese government legalized Marijuana in China. (But hopefully, they outlaw tobacco soon, or at least heavily tax it into oblivion. Or both).

  4. @jxie

    Assuming the pure and unmanufactured truths are what people want, you would want the likes of Al Jazeera and Xinhua being available to the public for international news. But who says, the pure and unmanufactured truths are what people want?

    Indeed. Real truth is only sought when it benefits. When manufactured truths bring extra reward, why would they want to give it up. It is a vicious cycle.

  5. Richard at Peking Duck exposes the ridiculous inaccuracy of the anti-cnn thread and, by extension, Soong’s translation of it. If you are so offended by media bias and misleading coverage when other people do it, why not try to get the facts right yourself?

  6. I read that post by Soong. It was quite eye-opening. However, most of those media were small fry. I
    think overall it says more about human duplicity in general than anything specific about the Western media’s approach to China.

    The answer Soong reported in his blog, when the big Western media outlets were asked why they did not seek to correct the false stories, was that it wasn’t their business. I think this is valid, from their point of view at least. That is, it is consistent with their overall approach to other media, and is not something specific to China. I rarely read stories in the paper or online where a big media outlet reports that smaller one’s coverage was fake, unless it is some really big issue, or it results in a lawsuit or some other kind of ruckus. I mean, you have all kinds of “George Clooney is gay” crap on websites, fake porno shots of Jessica Alba’s butt, crazy propaganda websites raving against Jews or claiming global conspiracies, loads of highly dubious stuff on global warming, all kinds of stuff – the list is endless. Are the big media outlets responsible for correcting these falsities? They think not: such a responsibility would be an onerous one. This false use of some photos is definitely immoral and should be condemned, but the actual damage here was pretty minimal. I think it is more of a blog story – and a useful one – than a real news story, given the gazillions of tons of other crap out there.

    As an aside, this doesn’t excuse anything, and the people who posted those fake photos should be fired, but if the CCP made it easier for Western journos to get the real photos, instead of roughing them up, this incident would likely never have happened. They would have been able to get some real pics.

    Kudos to Soong and Anti-CNN for helping break the story. However, I didn’t like the fact that Soong implied that all Western media are guilty as a result, for not reporting on the false photos. I think that smacks of paranoia. Of course, the netizen / blogger media culture of China is different than the West, so I understand how someone based in China might misinterpret the media’s ho-humness as a sign of complicity, especially if they are hearing the PRC nationalist line on the West day in and day out.

    But a smart, highly-educated guy like Soong, who lives in HK and used to live in NYC, and is something of a media expert, should know better.

  7. tater, small media outlet should be more readily corrected, but its not the case, as the other examples from NYT & Wash Post regardless of size they have no interest in correcting or develop their mis-reporting on China.

    The pattern exists large or small outlets alike, seemingly an orchestrated media “echo chamber” that serves no purpose other than to demonize China and delegitimize the chinese government.

  8. “this complaint sent to the Australia Press Council illustrates, where the official reply was facts on the ground were subject to the reporter’s “interpretation”.

    Translation – the reporter was required to tailor the facts to fit the pre-determined (China-bashing) storyline set by the publication.
    Hence, in such cases as Nakashima or Markoff (as Charles Liu) points out, they are possibly unable to make rectification because the lie suits the purpose of their publication and the editors are happy to let it stay that way.
    They do not wish to enlighten their readers who will then start asking their politicians awkward questions about their own system that they can’t fix. Much easier to blame it on Commie China!

  9. Hi guys, thanks for the feedback to my post. Please, could you answer in a more substantive way? I mean, could you make clear points linked to facts, using logical arguments? I find dealing with responses like “read more of our posts” or “the Western media only wish to demonize China” a bit lacking in body, if you know what I mean!

  10. @Charles Liu:

    You said: “tater, small media outlet should be more readily corrected, but its not the case, as the other examples from NYT & Wash Post regardless of size they have no interest in correcting or develop their mis-reporting on China.”

    Readily corrected? By whom? Did you read my post? There is so much garbage on the Internet that the big media outlets can’t possibly respond to it all. You shouldn’t take it so personally.

  11. @raventhorn2000
    “The problem with the Western argument for “democracy” is that it is a MORALITY argument wrapping a core of Self interests”

    exactly.
    The utilitarian argument for democracy is basically shot to peices with so many empiracal examples. so the discussion always became a moral argument***. Which always comes down to the arguer appeals to emotions.
    No one even raise the question of utilitarian value of democracy any more in the mainstream western media. when has freedom of speech and freedom of thought brought so much closed-mindness?

    ***note I am not saying that there is no utilitarian value for “democracy” or democratic institutions. but that the utilitarian value does not come from the way west argues for everyone to use it for.

  12. Tator, I’m talking about garbage by the big media, like NYT and Wash Post. You want substance? I cited them as examples. Feel free to vett them out. I also contact John Markoff and his reply was the typical so what Roland got.

  13. @Otto Kerner: Richard at Peking Duck made a ridiculous mistake in his post. He confused the Chinese words “foreign” with “Western”, which rendered his post all but meaningless.

  14. Given the Norwegian presence on this blog lately, I just want to point out that neither Soong nor the anti-CNN website actually translates what their piece (which is accompanied by a picture of “green” demonstrators on Taiwan) says. I don’t blame them for that but it might be misleading just looking at the picture. The headline means “There will be no revolution in China” and the text below is “Authorities in China assert the unrest and revolutions in the Middle East will not spread to Beijing.” When I saw that my main thought wasn’t that “oh, this is what’s happening in China” since it’s contradicted by the headlines.

    The rest of the criticism seems valid to me.

  15. Sci, Richard was using the translation written by Roland of ESWN and made that clear in his post. He did not translate the post himself and said as much. Do you think Roland’s translation was “ridiculous”?

  16. @Charles Liu
    But the point is that these aren’t the big media! These are small fry. It’s not the business of the big media to correct the small media. At least, they don’t bother to do this on most issues, it’s not a China or rival specific thing.

    The story here is some small media did some sketchy stuff, and got caught. But you guys want to turn this into a critique of the big media!

    Sorry, but it doesn’t make any sense, and it undermines your own credibility.

    If you disagree, could you please address the main point I am making, that the big media seldom bother to correct the small media? Thanks.

  17. ed, I am a little tired of the excuses such as “the translator made a mistake”, or “the computer picked the wrong picture”. Some of the folks at Peking duck do not practice the free speech they are so eagerly preaching to the Chinese. They deleted 2 of my 3 comments, which contained nothing but reasonable arguments and rational opinions. Obviously they have neither the courage to admit mistake, nor the openness to accommodate different views. Their behaviors unfortunately resemble some of those who work for the Western media, which is unmitigated hypocrisy.

    I think Richard and other Westerners underestimate the Chinese sometimes. Richard made the mistake in his post, probably because he did not realize that people at anti-CNN.com were capable of doing the exact same thing he did – checking the background of the websites. Some of the commentators following the post even regarded Chinese diligence as evidence of lack of intellectual capability. The folks at anti-CNN.com was able to catch inaccuracies even in some obscure foreign websites. But a few commentators thought this was evidence that the Chinese were incapable of identifying what major news sites were.

  18. Also, check here on more fake photos relating to the Jasmine Revolution:

    CNN and some media even put a photo with some Chinese holding Chinese signs. They reported that these are protesters with signs of slogans. These media reporters are the biggest liars. In fact, the photo is from another Chinese job fair with Chinese characters of jobs. Most Americans don’t know Chinese language, that’s why they can be easily misled and brainwashed

  19. @YinYang:

    The link you gave me was about the John Huntsman thing.

    If you are implicating Reuters, then give me a direct link (no offense, but I don’t want to go fishing through old blog posts). I’ll take a look.

  20. I have looked for fake photos from Reuters and CNN about the Jasmine revolution, and haven’t seen any. If any of you are alleging that this happened, recently, about the Jasmine revolution ( – NOT!) in China, please provide links or I will assume they do not exist and that my original comments on the media faking those photos were just small fry will stand. If they do exist, please help verify that. Thank you.

  21. Go to the Roland Soong translation cited in this post; 3rd example is Reuters using fake photo.

    If this is too much Carman Sandiego for you, you might consider attending Kindergarten.

  22. YinYang :
    Go to the Roland Soong translation cited in this post; 3rd example is Reuters using fake photo.
    If this is too much Carman Sandiego for you, you might consider attending Kindergarten.

    Thanks for the reference and being an immature twit about it.

  23. OK, checked it out. The photo is cited as being from AP in the caption, but the text in Soong’s translation says that it is from Reuters. The byline at the end of the article says “Press Association”. But it is published by the Independent of Ireland. Now, it is not at all clear from all this exactly who actually matched the photo to the text. I mean, you cannot say from this that Reuters (or AP) actually sold the photo as a Jasmine Revolution shot. With so many sources, it could have been an error. Or, it could have been some stressed-out editor at the Independent thinking that it was hard to get good shots, and figured his readers wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. “Let’s just have a shot of some mean-looking PRC riot cops.” And this would be very unprofessional, and the guy should be fired, if true.

    Regardless of the case, based on the information presented, there is something lacking from your critique of the major news outlets on this, which has been my point all along. These are a smattering of goofball events, prompted in part by the Chinese police frustrating journalists attempts to get a good story. This is not the NYT and Reuters and CNN trying to lie to the world. As far as I can tell, based on your info, at any rate.

    I could make some snide remark about you getting a new pair of glasses or something, in keeping with your immature remark about kindergarten, but I’d rather not sink to such a level.

  24. OK, I’ve spent some time digging into it after your comment #27. Looks like for that particular example, there may be a mistranslation. I don’t see Reuters in Chinese over at Anti-CNN. So I am not sure how “Reuters” came about in ESWN’s translation.

    You are right, it is from The Press Association; doesn’t appear to be Reuters.

    Do a search on Google on the first paragraph’s passage, you will find this article been recycled all over the place, including:

    Google News
    EU’s “News Brief”
    MSN UK
    etc

    I, for one, will concede to your point these are not as “major” as the NYT, BBC, or CNN. But I definitely won’t characterize the outlets echoing this same story “small fry.”

  25. @YinYang

    Fair enough, sir. And I do concede that the Western media is often lazy in its reporting of China, and all too reliant on cliches deriving from Tienanmen.

    I just don’t believe it’s a racist conspiracy, although there may be some racism and “groupthink” involved in some cases.

  26. racist conspiracy vs. racist “groupthink”?

    I think you are spinning words.

    OK, So basically, it’s not some ACTIVE racist agenda, but some SUBCONSCIOUS racist thinking in the Western Media?

    yeah, that makes a huge difference!

    So Western media people are not racists OPENLY, but just thinking racism deep down?

    LOL 🙂

  27. @raventhorn

    Please find a dictionary or foreign English teacher friend and check out the meaning of the phrases, “may be some” and “in some cases”, then see if you’d like to modify your post.

    Thanks!

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