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Ai Weiwei petition coverage says more about shoddy journalism

Today, I am writing about an article at the San Francisco Chronicle by Andrew S. Ross on a supposed Chinese government denial of service attack on change.org. The article was dated April 28, 2011, entitled, “Change.org attacked after backing China dissident.” This date is important, so make a note of it.

Because Ai Weiwei is a headline in the Western media, anything related to him makes for ‘good’ news. This is a media trick. Bear in mind, banks or any other millions of web sites are being hacked everyday from everywhere, around the world. And, certainly, given the narrative of an always ‘bad’ China in the Western media makes an ‘attack’ from China a ‘good’ story. So, I understand this fetish.

The problem, though, I have with this Adrew Ross article is that it reported virtually no fact towards the narrative, and it relies entirely on hearsay and innuendo. Before I dive into the details, I would like to tell American journalists that they first need to have some decency and professionalism. Given America has so many chronic problems, I think they should channel their energy at solving America’s real ones; not to get Americans confused and distracted with arbitrary things of no consequence.

Will change.org’s petition amount to anything? Not in China. Vast majority of the Chinese who have even heard of Ai Weiwei know Ai Weiwei is anti-government. When such a person violates a law, I don’t think there is any doubt the government will prosecute him. Not of least him trying to use the Sichuan quake tragedy for his personal cause.

As far as change.org is concerned, it is easy for them to block traffic from China or anywhere. Given their “anti-China” political stance, the chances are their site would eventually be blocked by the Chinese government anyway. IT organizations the world over deal with cyber attacks all the time. Change.org crying over denial of service attacks either shows they are incompetent in IT or they are just making noises for their cause. I wager it is the later.

Furthermore, as much as I see in their self-professed championing for ‘human rights,’ I don’t see them promoting a petition to stop the bombings in Libya. Talking about hypocrisy and the irony of ‘change.’ Petitioning America to stop always bombing foreigners would be a healthy change. Their crusade for ‘human rights’ as a political pretext need to change. Frankly, its tiresome. At least change and become more creative in their politics.

Back to the article, and below, I show why this piece is shoddy journalism:

China’s latest crackdown on dissidents has reached a San Francisco website.

This sentence doesn’t even make sense. China is not that powerful. The Chinese government may block access to such a website from within China. That’s it.

So far, neither the U.S. government nor our local representatives have had much to say about it.

That is because there is no evidence. Just hearsay and innuendos. What else can one expect?

This month, Change.org began a petition drive, initiated by the Guggenheim Foundation, calling for the release of imprisoned Chinese artist and government critic Ai Weiwei.

This is a fact. (Fact #1).

Ai’s detention – current whereabouts unknown, offense unknown – has drawn worldwide condemnation and appeals for his release. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the detention “contrary to the rule of law.”

Did Ross ask the Chinese authorities where Ai Weiwei is held? The Chinese Foreign Ministry said he is being investigated for tax evasion. Worldwide condemnation? Within the ‘human rights’ crusading countries, maybe. Did Japan make a peep? Did Russia?

The Clinton quote is taken a bit out of context. Do you, Ross, mind quoting the whole thing? Apparently, this quote has been echoing around in the U.S. media. She said this originally around April 18, 2011 when the Department of State released the annual report on Human Rights where the BBC reported:

“Such detention is contrary to the rule of law and we urge China to release all of those who have been detained for exercising their internationally recognized right to free expression and to respect the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all of the citizens of China,” she said.

I don’t think Clinton would be silly enough to say China must release Ai Weiwei if he is found guilty of breaking Chinese laws. Internationally recognized right to free expression does not say people can be violating a country’s laws.

There is a HUGE difference in the detention (Ai Weiwei) vs. such detention (over free expression). Clinton is not that stupid.

As of Wednesday night, the petition had drawn more than 124,000 signatures, despite a sustained “distributed denial-of-service” attack, which began 10 days ago, slowing the site down considerably and periodically disrupting access to it altogether ( www.change.org).

“It’s only after the petition went viral that the attacks began,” said Ben Rattray, the site’s founder and CEO. “The IP addresses from where the attacks were launched are in China.

“We heard today the FBI’s cybersecurity people are investigating to see what more they can uncover,” Rattray said.

Fact #2. But, so far, it is all what change.org said. Nothing from the FBI.

The FBI’s involvement seems to be Washington’s first concrete reaction to the case. That and a letter sent Tuesday to Clinton by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., urging Clinton “to condemn this attack on Change.org and call on the Chinese government to take swift action to ensure that this attack and others like it are stopped swiftly and the perpetrators brought to justice.”

Well, this is a big a lie, because in the May 4, 2011 report by the SF Examiner:

The site has also asked the FBI to investigate the attacks, but the agency has not taken any discernible action, according to Rattray.

The article continued:

No response to the letter from Clinton as of Wednesday afternoon, according to DeLauro’s office. Nor from the U.S. State Department, which has a NetFreedom Taskforce charged with implementing Clinton’s Internet freedom policy.

Okay, whatever.

Tweeting in: Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, who has been especially vocal on China human rights issues in the past, offered this tweet on Wednesday morning:

“I join @rosadelauro in denouncing attacks from China on @change because of activism to free Ai Weiwei http://chn.ge/i2hxzq.”

We know U.S. politicians like to do this kind of things. This is news? How can Pelosi know China is attacking a no-name website while the FBI is taking no discernible action? Did the FBI conclude the Chinese government is attacking the website? Isn’t it plausible that some Chinese citizens are doing this? Has change.org followed up with Chinese authorities?

Whether tweeting is now Pelosi’s primary means of communication since she went from speaker to House minority leader, we cannot say. “I’m hoping it’s just the beginning of her support for the issue,” Rattray said.

Rattray is making noises for his website. At ‘China’s’ expense.

Neither of California’s senators has yet been heard from. Sen. Barbara Boxer “has concerns, and has asked for more information from the State Department,” according to her office.

The office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who has also been active in U.S.-China relations, had not returned a request for comment by press time Wednesday.

Rattray said he will be reaching out to both senators and others on Capitol Hill. “With the issue coming more to light, we expect attention to it to accelerate.”

All we hear is this Rattray.

Perhaps we should ask, how was the lunch Rattray treated you to, Mr. Ross?

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