The Anti-CNN folks are up in arms again, so much so that their webmaster has written a news story about it in English. This time, the target of their displeasure is the New York Times, who apparently edited photo captions for photos of the riots in Xinjiang. The photos came with captions from the Associated Press, Reuters, and the Agence France Presse, but Anti-CNN has discovered that the Times edited those captions, in some cases giving the photos improper context and in other cases making them downright wrong.
For example, the New York Times ran this photo with the caption: “Uighurs injured at a hospital in the city during a media tour by the authorities on Monday.” When Anti-CNN netizens noticed the name tag (as well as the man’s face) clearly indicate that he is of Han ethnicity, they contacted Reuters, where a photo editor explained that the original caption of the photo was “People who were injured during riots in Urumqi, rest in a hospital in the city during an official government tour for the media” and further noted that Reuters cannot control whether clients change their photo captions.
Further accounts of NYT caption editing came to light in another Anti-CNN thread where users posted screengrabs and photos. For example, compare the captions of the following two images. The first is the original photo and caption as released by the AFP/Getty, the second is a screen grab from a New York Times website slide show:
What was originally reported as a Uighur “riot” by the AFP was changed to a “clash between rioters and police” in the New York Times. Other examples in the thread do indicate that the Times appears to have been rewriting captions to play up the police vs. Muslims angle, and to play down the Muslim-rioters-killed-lots-of-innocent-people angle.
The most damning evidence, though, is probably these two photos, where it appears clear the New York Times is trying to use a rather shocking image to drive home the idea that the police beat and killed Uighurs, despite the fact that the original caption doesn’t indicate the photo is related to police violence at all:
Anti-CNN members have also written an open letter to the paper’s editorial staff:
NYT owes the public an explanation as to why its photo editor altered the captions in such a way to fuel the enmity between the Han and the Uighur ethnicities of China and to stigmatize the Chinese law enforcement. The caption manipulation has led the public to believe that NYT did so to deceive its readers. We therefore request that NYT publish this protest letter and withdraw or correct its captions. In light of the insults to the riot victims by NYT’s caption distortion, it is highly appropriate for NYT to apologize to the riot victims or issue a statement to that effect, in order to regain its credibility with its Chinese readers.
Pending any reasonable explanation from the New York Times, the netizens complaints seem entirely legitimate. Intentional or not — and it’s hard to imagine how one could change the caption to an already-captioned photo by accident — these captions are misleading at best, and destructively ignorant at worst. That this seems to happen every time unrest breaks out in China does also seem to indicate an agenda on the parts of some members of the Western media.
With that said, the conspiracy theories that have followed these revelations on Anti-CNN are equally ignorant. One netizen wrote, “I have finally realized why Obama had rushed to a decision of withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. It is a grand strategy to demolish China into pieces by redeploying them to join the NATO forces in Afghanistan adjacent to China!” Another wrote, “The ultimate goal of the West is to render China powerless forever, by fragmenting China, after USSR and the Yugoslavia, to as many small pieces as possible.”
This level of paranoia is — there just isn’t another word for it — stupid, but at least the people espousing these opinions aren’t employed by one of the largest and most respected media sources in the world. They, too, are spreading ignorance — perpetuating the somehow still-extant idea that the rest of the world (1) is basically just one big country called Foreign or The West and (2) cares enough about China to put an awful lot of effort into destroying it — but their stage isn’t as big, and they’re mostly preaching to the choir anyway.
In conclusion, shame on the New York Times, for writing the same old Tiananmen Square stories even when the facts clearly point in another direction, and shame on Chinese netizens for taking the bait and trotting out the same old tired generalizations about the anti-China West. This isn’t the way anything gets resolved, and the longer this crap keeps up the longer everyone in China and in the West is going to be uncomfortable about what remains a tenuous international relationship.
UPDATE: Part 2.