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March 11, 2005
Another Example Of The Clueless MSM Filter (Updated)

Please read the update at the bottom...

Michelle Malkin points out an interview of Washington Post Managing Editor Phillip Bennett in the People's Daily, the official news outlet of the Communist government in mainland China. Like Michelle, I wonder how much of this interview got properly transcribed and translated into English, and how much the censors cut out. If it is accurate, then Bennett provides another example of the clueless media filters that effectively regulated news content until the advent of the blogosphere.

For instance, Bennett gets asked about democracy and manages to come out sounding like John Kerry:

Democracy means many things. How do you define democracy? As a Chinese journalist, you may have your own definition of democracy which corresponds to your history and your way of seeing the world. I may have another definition. Someone else may have their own definitions. Democracy means a lot of different things.

Let me give an example. Democracy in one sense means the majority decides, but it also means the rights of the minority are protected. As UK late Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, democracy is the least bad system that we have ever thught of. So democracy is never perfect. It always has problems. Our democracy here in the US has many contradictions, problems and challenges. So democracy is not a cure that could turn everything bad into good. It has its own advantages and its disadvantages.

Bennett appears unable to come up with an objective definition of democracy, claiming that democracy is relative and implying that mainland China could be considered democratic. It certainly could -- if one is inclined to believe that Saddam Hussein was the most popular leader in modern times because he kept getting re-elected with 99% or better of the vote. Never mind, of course, that the options presented to the electorate were "Saddam Hussein" and "The gulag behind Door #2 for you and your family". Democracies may have differing styles, but a common starting point is that they have multiparty elections with secret balloting and some freedom of organized dissent. Pointing that out to People's Daily might have been instructive to Chinese readers, since mainland China offers none of those conditions to its subjects.

For another example, Bennett gives a very distorted history of the Bush administration's foreign policy regarding the run-up to the Iraq invasion in his very first response:

Another source of the resentment is the perception that Bush administration wants to act unilaterally in the world, outside of alliance that traditionally governed the ways Bush made foreign policy decisions. In some ways the core of perception problems is centered on 911 terrorist attacks in 2001 in which the US government and Bush administration reacted by deciding that the country would make decisions in foreign affairs that respond only to US interests. They were not going to consult very widely, and not to compromise in making those decisions. That caused rift even among the US allies. So it is natural to see that the image of America is the lowest in public opinion.

Didn't the Washington Post cover the Bush administration's attempts to build a consensus for action against Saddam Hussein for five months at the UN? We not only consulted, we cajoled, we bargained, we took France at its word that it would support us and continued working with them even when they stabbed us in the back. We endangered the mission by waiting until almost the last possible moment for action in the season to try to get the UN to back up its own threats after twelve years of inaction. Later, we found out that the same "allies" that Bennett accuses us of abandoning to a new unilateralism were, in fact, stuffing billions of cash into Saddam's pockets and millions into their own by undermining the sanctions regime they claimed made our invasion unnecessary.

Bennett also proved he can't count, either. Unilateral means "alone". The US went into Iraq accompanied by the United Kingdom, Australia, Poland, Italy, Spain, Ukraine, South Korea, and supported by dozens of other nations. Perhaps the Post doesn't have a math requirement for its editors.

Bennett also accuses the Bush administration lied about WMDs, despite using the same intelligence presented to Congress by the Clinton administration, which matched the intelligence of almost all the Western nations at the time:

As you said, we are not aggressive enough in challenging and testing the statements the government is making. For me, this episode [the administration's claims that there were weapons of mass destructions in Iraq] is a good example of how difficult it is to independently verify the government's claims when the government is lying to you.

Of course, no interview with a Post editor could go without a mention of their purpose of holding the government's feet to the fire. Bennett here again proves that he probably doesn't read his own paper on a daily basis, as he seems to have missed the news from January 30th:

I think the role the Washington Post should play is to hold the government accountable for decisions made by it.

This goes to foreign policy as well. For example, the Washington Post has a correspondent bureau in Baghdad. One of the jobs of our correspondents in Baghdad is to tell our readers what the Bush administration is trying to hide. Bush says democracy is advancing in Iraq, but our correspondents say the situation there is much more complex than that. Our job is to put that in the public domain and challenge the government and hold them accountable. We do that by having independent reporting about events, by telling our readers what the actual situation is, with as much independence, fairness and accuracy as we can.

This goes back to Bennett's inability to recognize the term "democracy". The managing editor of the Post seems to have missed that big election that drew a higher percentage of voters in Iraq than most presidential elections do here in the United States. This week alone, the factions that used to attack each other with guns and bombs, the Shi'a and the Kurds, reached an agreement to form a parliamentary government among the duly-elected representatives in their Parliament. Bennett's minimization of this historic development plays a bit of hell with his contention that the Post remains politically neutral and an objective observer of events.

Michelle has more to say about this eye-rolling interview. I don't think that Bennett qualifies as an Eason Jordan, given that he doesn't vent any slanderous or unsubstantiated allegations of criminal conspiracies within the government or military, except for the hoary hoax of "lying" about WMD. It does prove that Bennett likes kissing up to official media mouthpieces of dictatorships by telling them what they want to hear, in an Eason Jordan-like way of toadying for better access later on. If nothing else, it proves that the Post has yet to learn about transparency and objectivity.

UPDATED 3/15: Bennett responded to Hugh Hewitt, claiming that he was misquoted -- which certainly is a reasonable explanation, given the journalistic integrity of the Peoples Daily:

"Mr. Hewitt,

You wrote to me about comments attributed to me in an interview with the Peoples Daily of China. I am responding to set the record straight.

The version published in the Peoples Daily includes numerous and important inaccuracies. In many places words and sentences were removed to change the meaning of what I said. In some places words or sentences were invented that I did not say. In one typical example, where I said China is not a democracy the Peoples Daily version quoted me as saying China is not a democracy either by American standards. At the same time, comments critical of China were deleted.

In several key places, my words were rearranged to express a different view than I had clearly intended. This is true of the sentence that produced the headline for the article, I dont think US should be the leader of the world. Below you can compare the way that sentence appeared in Peoples Daily with a transcript based on the actual tape recording.

Peoples Daily version:

Yong Tang: In such sense, do you think America should be the leader of the world?

Bennett: No, I don't think US should be the leader of the world. My job is helping my readers trying to understand what is happening now. What is happening now is very difficult to understand. The world is very complex. There are various complex forces occurring in it. I don't think you can imagine a world where one country or one group of people could lead everybody else. I can't imagine that could happen. I also think it is unhealthy to have one country as the leader of the world. People in other countries don't want to be led by foreign countries. They may want to have good relations with it or they may want to share with what is good in that country. That is also a sort of colonial question. The world has gone through colonialism and imperialism. We have seen the danger and shortcomings of those systems. If we are heading into another period of imperialism where the US thinks itself as the leader of the area and its interest should prevail over all other interests of its neighbors and others, then I think the world will be in an unhappy period.

What was really said:

Yong Tang: Another question is that since the Washington Post is mainstream media in American how does the newspaper deal with the relations between America and the rest of the world? Do you think America should be the leader of the world?

Bennett: You know I don't ask myself that question. Again that would be to express a political view, an editorial view, and I ...

Yong Tang: How about personal opinion.

Bennett:You know, I don't...

Yong Tang:First of all I think that America should be the leader.

Bennett: I don't think in those terms. And I'm not trying to dodge the question. It's just that my job is to help people try to understand what's happening now. And what's happening now is very hard to understand. The world is very complex, there are very complex forces occurring in it. I don't think you can imagine a world - given where we are with technology , culture, with economics - I don't think you could imagine a world where one country, where one group of people, lead everybody else. I just can't imagine that happening. And I think it would be unhealthy if one country - whether or not it was this country or China or France or Great Britain - would describe itself as the leader of the world. People in other countries do not want to be led by a foreign country. They may want to have good relations with them and they may want to share in what's good about that other country. But that's almost sort of a colonial question. I feel like we've been through an era of colonialism, of imperialism, and we've seen the dangers and the shortcomings of those systems. If we are headed into another period of imperialism where either the United States or China, for example, thinks of itself as the leader of its area and where it's interests should prevail over all others interests of its neighbor or others then I think we are headed for an unhappy period. So I guess that's how I would answer that question. Maybe the answer is then no I don't think the United States should be the world leader. But what I really mean to say that I don't think we are headed into a period of history where one country or one set of ideas is going to dominate all others."

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 11, 2005 7:09 AM

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