Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Default Assumption

Consider the irony in the reporting today of several hundred protestors outside the White House jeering Chinese President Hu Jintao upon his visit to this country when these same news organizations, or their sisters, are under attack, or at risk of being under attack, to as egregious a degree as incarcerated members of the press in China. Consider, too, that Bill Gates and Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, and other Fortune 500 behemoths have decided to play ball, all in the name of free enterprise, and censor blogs, as well as spy on, and report "suspicious activity." So it is, then, among the greatest ironies, that the scions of capitalism and communism have finally joined hands and are exposed as flip sides of the same coin, after all.

During today's demonstration in Washington, D.C., when a Chinese woman protestor, a reporter for The Epoch Times, demanded President Hu stop persecuting Falun Gong, a meditation movement that has been banned, persecuted, and treated like a cult in China joined a chorus of others, mostly Chinese, who denounced China's human rights record, she was hauled off by the Secret Service and charged with disorderly conduct. Mr. Hu graciously accepted President Bush's apology terming the woman's outcry only "a momentary blip." This blip, momentary or otherwise, as Reuters reports, might well lead to federal charges of "willing intimidation of a foreign official."

What about charging government officials with "willing intimidation" of a country's press corps? What about the kind of proscriptive self-censorship that results from fear of crossing the line, and losing one's paycheck, or worse? Maybe being sent to jail like Jiang Lijung and other journalists Mr. Hu, and his strong arm regime, has seen fit to silence. What impact will this have not only on journalists today, but on journalism a generation or two down the road? And, most of all, is there a power outage in the American media, and newspaper business, such that outrage over the arrest of one of their colleagues in such a demeaning and demoralizing manner is not seen, heard, or witnessed from every street corner in this hemisphere. Where is a sense of professional dignity which appears to have been replaced instead by intellectual lassitude.

A Chinese official who was present for the arrest of Wang Wenyi, the woman reporter who heckled Mr. Hu wondered why it took so long to restrain her. Consider the irony in our president's urging the Chinese leader to allow his people "the freedom to assemble, to speak freely, and to worship" in light of the fact that it is a member of his own uniformed guard who collected Ms. Wenyi, and escorted her away. Consider, too, how in many respects, the two leaders are similar not merely in their efforts to stifle dissent, suppress the free flow of information, but in their dubious, and tenuous attempts to justify torture and false imprisonment--Mr. Bush and Guantanamo Bay, Mr. Hu with respect to Falun Gong.

When it is a member of the American press reporting Tibetan protestors' response to the visit of a Chinese president, the default assumption is that things are somehow different, and/or better, for our reporters who somehow manage to glean both objectivity and moral superiority. Make no mistake, this is, at best, a dangerous assumption. Indeed, one wonders not if Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein would have the temerity, as they did more than 30 years ago, to report a break-in at the Democratic Party headquarters, but if they'd have the opportunity.