The New York Times Enrages Netizens, Part II

You may have seen our recent post about how netizens at Anti-CNN have been up in arms about the misleading captions of recent New York Times web slideshows. Yesterday, they dove into the text of an actual article, pulling it apart for its’ so-called unfair coverage.

Sentence by sentence, Anti-CNN questions the Times’s wording by inserting questions into the text. We’re copying a few examples below. The original text will be pasted as-is, Anti-CNN’s comments will be in bold.

1,000 rioters or protesters ? clashed with police and paramilitary troops after days of rising tensions between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese or clashed with police and paramilitary troops in order to provoke police and troops to answer the protest with force and violence? in the largest ethnic clash in China since the Tibetan uprising of March 2008 or the largest mass-mobilization of separatist terrorism to challenge authorities?

While we were accused of being CCP shills in the comments of our last post, this is where we get off the Anti-CNN train (and, probably, get accused of being anti-China). They had a solid point in the captions, but everything they’ve added into the Times’ story here is, at best, unsubstantiated, and, at worst, kind of ridiculous. For example, as far as we’ve seen, there’s still no evidence aside from a few vague Facebook posts to indicate that this was intentionally organized terrorism. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t, but a single “we need to be a little braver” doesn’t prove anything, and it would be misleading for the Times to state the riots were terrorism as though that were already a proven fact. What is proven is that the violence was mostly between Han and Uighur people, thus, the term “ethnic clash” is perfectly accurate.

Of course, some problems clearly arise from a less-than-perfect understanding of the complexities of the English language:

Early Monday, Chinese officials said the latest riots were started by Rebiya Kadeer, a Uighur human rights advocate who had been imprisoned in China and now lives in Washington, Xinhua reported. The Chinese officials didn’t say that the latest riot were started by Rebiya Kadeer and I am sure that Xinhua wouldn’t report Rebiya Kadeer as “a Uighur human rights advocate” ! The author is forcing his own choice of words into Xinhua’s mouth!

It seems fairly clear that the clause between commas is meant to give further background on Rebiya Kadeer rather than be understood as part of Xinhua’s report. The wording could be better, sure, but calling this evidence of anti-China bias is a huge stretch.

Some of their other points are more convincing. For example:

The rioters threw stones at the police and set vehicles on fire, sending plumes of smoke into the sky, while police officers used fire hoses and batons to beat back rioters and detain Uighurs who appeared to be leading the protest, witnesses said.

It is interesting that rioters are doing the violent things, but Uighurs are being arrested for “leading a protest”. Interesting, but not damning.

The clashes on Sunday began when the police confronted a protest march held by Uighurs to demand a full government investigation of a brawl between Uighur and Han workers that erupted in Guangdong Province overnight on June 25 and June 26. The author was shifting the responsibility of the clashes to the police. He was ridiculing [sic] himself by implying that if the police didn’t try to disband these unlawful protesters who demonstrated without applying for a rallying permit, all the brutal activities of these outlaws against innocent unarmed Han civilians & passes-by wouldn’t happen. And the arson, and the looting, and the smashing, and the many more…. all of them were the police’s faults [sic]!

That wording does indeed sort of put the responsibility on the police for beginning the riots by “confronting” protesters. Still, we find this much less damning than their caption manipulation, given that there was no good reason for them to change the captions. This story, though, was written from scratch, probably on an extremely short deadline. While the author’s wording isn’t perfect, one can’t be expected to go through articles with a fine-tooth comb just to satisfy the 50 Cents Party folks on Anti-CNN. In fact, the same author (Edward Wong) has been continually covering the Xinjiang situation for the Times, and his later pieces. This story in particular, rights many of the “wrongs” Wong is accused of in his July 6th piece. For example, he defines the origins of the riot differently, placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of Uighurs:

The rioting broke out when the police tried to stop 1,000 Uighurs from holding a protest march over judicial discrimination. Uighurs went on a rampage, killing many Han civilians while fighting with security forces.

Unnecessary editing of captions is one thing, and it’s hard to excuse that. But not being entirely clear in one’s wording when filing an extremely complex story aimed at a completely ignorant public on a short deadline? That seems like the kind of thing that probably happens all the time. Furthermore, the Anti-CNN folks are, probably intentionally, totally ignoring Wong’s later articles. Even though the Anti-CNN post went up yesterday, they only discuss Wong’s July 6th story (he has filed 17 other stories on the riots since that one).

So, shame again, but this time only on Anti-CNN, for employing the same misleading techniques they’re criticizing in the Western media. They’re only destroying their own credibility here — not that they had a whole lot to begin with — and they even translated it into English to increase the damage. One can’t help but wonder why they didn’t stick to their much more legitimate photo caption complaints.

While we were accused of being CCP shills in the comments of our last post, this is where we get off the Anti-CNN train (and, probably, get accused of being anti-China). They had a solid point in the captions, but everything they’ve added into the Times’ story here is, at best, unsubstantiated, and, at worst, kind of ridiculous.

0 thoughts on “The New York Times Enrages Netizens, Part II”

  1. Someone at the other post said it’s a good thing the NYT is covering China more than any other conutry beside the US. So it’s a good thing anti-cnn is paying this much attention to the NYT as well, because by any measure it beats not reading the NYT at all, which is why apart from moderate sources I also read Daily Kos and Ann Coulter.


  2. Great post, Custer. Don’t mind the people who insist on labeling people as pro or anti this or that, apologists, bashers, shills or whatever. We should all hold ourselves to recognizing truth and reason wherever it is found. I agree with you on the previous post and again agree with you on this one. By extension, I agreed with the Anti-CNN crowd on the previous captions issue, and disagree with them on this article text issue.


  3. It’s disappointing that they’ve based their whole crusade on being “anti-“. Their points the other day show that at least some of them can reasonably make legitimate criticisms, but this kind of ranting shows that others, rather than trying to raise the level of the conversation, simple want the chance to undermine the credibility of the international media and that they’ll throw as much mud as they can to do it. I think a lot of them don’t care if the international media improves; they just want it to go away.

    I think the best comparison is of a guy coming into your house, looking over your shoulder and asking odd questions for a week, and then listing all of the things they think you’re doing right and wrong with your life. They’ll surely misunderstand some things and be wildly off on some of their advice, but they’ll also be strikingly lucid and honest about some things you don’t like to admit to yourself. Americans and Europeans have gotten used to the media having this role and find it valuable, but Chinese people (on the over-generalized whole) have a tendency to take it as an affront. I found in my discussions with students that when I disagreed with them on something about their country, it was often interpreted as my not understanding China “properly,” rather than my coming from a different perspective or set of facts that they hadn’t been given.

    I think good will come of this, though. It often takes a lot of young people ranting and raving to get more level-headed political discussion going.


  4. You are perfectly right, as the comments above –though I wonder if Matthew 7:3 is supposed to be directed at you or the anti-CNN crowd? To my mind it would be more appropriately directed at them, because to gain non-Chinese supporters they should understand that whatever problems the Western media has, they easily equaled by the medias of other countries.
    On the other hand, I don’t think that’s the point: for some people there’s nothing more fun that a great righteous campaign against what they perceive as a hegemonic evil empire.


  5. I think the difference between the two parts of your ‘NYTgate’ is that in the first part netizens were responding to pictorial stimuli and in the second they were having a (poor) shot at the text. The former is pretty easy to tear apart when there’s a mismatch between the caption and what’s represented. In the case of analysing text, however, a lack of coherent reasoning – not to mention a lot of tired party rhetoric – becomes clear.

    “The wording could be better, sure, but calling this evidence of anti-China bias is a huge stretch.”

    Actually, calling the bad caption ‘anti-China bias’ also requires a pretty lopsided view of the world, even if it was worthy of criticism.


  6. “Actually, calling the bad caption ‘anti-China bias’ also requires a pretty lopsided view of the world, even if it was worthy of criticism.”

    Why? It is something that happens often enough to make you wonder. However, I think it’s important to remember that most “anti-China bias” probably stems from the fact that the authoritarian, baby-eating commies are easy targets rather than anyone sitting in their office seething and repeating “fuck those godless yellows.”


  7. There’s something purely ironic about seeing this at the bottom of the thread on anti-cnn:


    I don’t know… just saying.


  8. To actually do anything constructive they would have to drop the “anti” anyways. Its a bit pathetic and disappointing that the only thing that can fuel Chinese netizens is hate. FQ have definitely ruined their netculture.


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