NEW YORK – A media professional from China asks: “Why do the Western media always promote the same ‘China experts’ who preach China doom, over and over again?” The answer is quite simple: The game of ‘expert testimonials’ is rigged.
‘Expert testimonials’ is not a level playing field. Never was. It is no coincidence that you will always see the same China experts and the same Chinese dissidents paraded in the news. Our key media are collusive. It means they act in concert.
If they act in concert, they project power. Here’s a definition of power by Hannah Arendt: “Power corresponds to the human ability not just to act but to act in concert. Power is never the property of an individual; it belongs to a group and remains in existence only so long as the group keeps together.”[i]
Yes, our media are corrupt beyond hope. And society is largely to blame: We often feel intimidated by the manipulative press, and powerless. We condemn cronyism, misconduct, and cheating in business, politics, and sports. But exposing the rampant corruption in the media and education? That remains a taboo.
Nobody knows exactly why they get away with it. Of course, they won’t report their own corruption. Also, journalism is inherently feminine (not the gender, the characteristics!); so manipulative journalism is always defensible, is always right, is always the victim.
Expert testimonials in journalism are witnesses that support the argument or mouth-piece what the journalist wants to say. For example, the New York Times will not directly call for violent riots in Hong Kong; instead it will offer expert testimonials that violence is indeed justified.[ii]
The expert testimonials in journalism are not the same as the ‘expert testimony’ used in the legal system. The press is illegitimate; it is not a governmental institution; it is not under oath, and it is absolutely not required to be neutral.
Most persuasive pieces of journalism have at least two testimonials. There are three kinds of testimonials. The first and most vital one is the ‘expert testimonial’. Without quoting a real expert, the journalist, who is by definition a non-expert on anything except journalism, is simply not credible. The second kind of testimonial is ‘plain folks’. That’s the taxi driver, the man from the corner shop, ordinary people. This creates sympathy. The third kind of testimonial is what this author calls a ‘negative-positive’. It means that someone with an opposing view, negative, is quoted, but in such an manipulative way, that it actually helps the journalist, hence the “positive.”
Plain folks are almost always made-up. Negative-positives are a manner of writing. But the expert testimonials shouldn’t be fake. That “expert” should ideally be consulted by the journalist.
Here’s an example (you may want to skip this exercise, if in hurry, and continue in the main text below) of three testimonials in one article. See, if you can guess which kind of testimonials they are. It’s from a British Guardian propaganda piece,[iii] by a certain Adam Gabbatt. The Guardian rushes to the defense of Chris Buckley from the New York Times, who’s a notorious propagandist. Since this is the global Western media mafia, if one of their guys gets into trouble in China, the others will naturally close ranks:
A: “I regret that Chris Buckley has been forced to relocate outside of China despite our repeated requests to renew his journalist visa,” Abramson said. [Ms. Abraham, a Harvard graduate, is the chief executive editor of the New York Times.]
B: Lawyers for Wen Jiabao’s family denied reports of their riches as untrue in October. “Some of Wen Jiabao’s family members have not engaged in business activities. Some were engaged in business activities, but they did not carry out any illegal business activity. They do not hold shares of any companies,” the statement said.
C: Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the piece “smears China’s name and has ulterior motives”, later insisting that the China’s critics were attempting to destabilize the country and were “doomed to failure”.
As a general rule, for every New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, Guardian, The Diplomat, or Forbes piece (etc.) there should be at least one expert testimonial in it! [Other testimonials are optional.] That said, you can image that there must be, in theory, a huge market for expert testimonials out there. Right?
Now, think: Does it not make perfect strategic sense, since tens of thousands of China articles must be mass-produced every year in the West, for the Western media to have a ‘ready-made’ stall of loyal experts to ask for phony testimonials any time they want? Better still, how about jointly fabricating EXACTLY the experts (and dissidents) we later want to see at the top!
So they fabricate experts. It’s not illegal, see. And not just any experts: Their buddies and friends and mutual benefactors. Those are the David Shambaugh, Ezra Vogel, Minxin Pei, Orville Schell (now out of favor, it seems), and Roderick Macfarquhar, to name a few.
Now, of those five experts mentioned, all of them are associated with Harvard University, and all were prominently featured in the New York Times. So, understandably, many readers get very upset every time they spot such obscene, shameless favoritism. For example when Harvard man and New York Times journalist Michael Forsythe prominently features a fellow Harvard man, Minxin Pei.[iv] Or when Evan Osnos, a Harvard man from The New Yorker, prominently features all of them Harvard experts in his book. So that he can get “conversations”[v] with them. And his buddies promote his book in The New York Times.[vi] Or the Guardian.[vii] Or Mr. Forsythe’s spouse, also Harvard, also New York Times, miraculously gets to promote her own book in the New York Times.[viii] Yes, the New York Times people are not stupid: they try to disguise cronyism. So NY Times Kirsten Didi Tatlow gets to write about NY Times Mr. Forsythe’s wife’s book.[ix] And NY Times Christ Buckley gets to interview David Shambaugh, alright.[x] NY Times Javier C. Hernandez, also Harvard, gets the Ezra Vogel interview.[xi] And NY Times Austin Ramzy interviews Evan Osnos, right![xii]
Journalists are un-elected. They enjoy relative low status in society in exchange for the privilege of fools. Some hang around with politicians and pose as ‘political analysts’. Others pose as ‘intellectuals’ by collaborating, say, with enough “Harvard” scholars: The journalists get artificial respectability, the scholars gets gratuitous media coverage. For them, it’s a win-win situation. The big loser, of course, is the global audiences to whom – not even talking about US colonialism – the vanity and the arrogance of these few privileged men is sold as “correct” information and news about China.
Remember when back in the old days the media set out to expose the corruption of the elites? Well, they didn’t. They joined the corrupt elites.
It gets worse. Think about this: Why would the New York Times EVER change the status quo? They have absolutely no incentives to do so. They would be stupid to reform. In fact, upon reading this, they will probably even tighten the status quo. Out of pure spite.
This all reminds your author of the following story from the Mahabharata: There’s this great guru, Drona, who promised prince Arjuna to make him “the greatest archer in the world.” Then one day they go into the forest and meet Eklavya, who trained all by himself under the idol of Drona. Eklavya is clearly the better archer! But Drona cannot tolerate this, because it would completely ruin the royal narrative. So they politely ask Eklavya to cut off the thumb of his right hand. Which he reluctantly does. To preserve the status quo. Uninterruptedly, Drona now goes on to fulfill his promise and make Arjuna “the greatest archer in the world.”
This is exactly how it is: The New York Times & Co act in concert and are systematically empowering their own buddies and protégées from Harvard as “the greatest China experts in the world.” And to the rest of the world, especially to the 1.3 million Chinese: cut your fucking limbs off, will you!
[i] Hannah Arendt, On Violence (1970), Harcourt Brace & Company, New York
[iii] The Guardian, China forces New York Times reporter Chris Buckley to leave country, Dec 31, 2012, London
[iv] The New York Times, Q. and A.: Minxin Pei on the Future of Communist Rule in China, Feb. 29, 2016, New York
[vi] The New York Times, Q & A: Evan Osnos on the ‘Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China’, May 13, 2014, New York
[vii] The Guardian, Age of Ambition; The New Emperors reviews – two studies on modern China, July 6, 2014, London
[viii] The New York Times, China’s ‘Leftover’ Women, Oct. 11, 2012, New York
[ix] The New York Times, Rejecting the ‘Leftover Women’ label, April 24, 2013, New York
[x] The New York Times, Q. and A.: David Shambaugh on the Risks to Chinese Communist Rule, March 15, 2015, New York
[xi] The New York Times, Q. and A.: Ezra F. Vogel on China’s Shifting Relations With Japan and Taiwan, Nov 12, 2015, New York
[xii] The New York Times, Q & A: Evan Osnos on the ‘Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China’, May 13, 2014, New York
Thor Tukoll is a pen name of Thorsten J. Pattberg, a German writer and cultural critic. He is the author of The East-West Dichotomy, Shengren, and Inside Peking University.
2016 (c) Thor Tukoll