Flashback: Wacky Network Quotes from 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre
June 4 marks the 20th anniversary of the Chinese army massacre
of pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. Back in 1989, the
big networks provided in-depth coverage of the massive protests that
swelled in mid-May, and harsh coverage of the brutal reaction from the
But, as the Media Research Center noted at the time, the networks also used the occasion for some bizarre comparisons. Two that stand out from our archive: CBS's Eric Engberg comparing the People's Liberation Army's planned assault on students with the Ohio National Guard's panicky shooting into anti-war demonstrators at Kent State University in 1970, killing four; and NBC commentator John Chancellor ruing the heavy focus on the bloodshed in Beijing instead of a then-new Carnegie report found problems with America's middle schools.
First Engberg, who was interviewing William Taylor from the Center for Strategic and International Studies on CBS's overnight program, Nightwatch, early on the morning of June 7, 1989. Engberg proposed:
"Given the traditions and the history of the PLA [People's Liberation Army, the Chinese military], what will be the psychological effect on the troops and on the high command as a result of having been through this bloodbath? I mean, there are - I can think back to instances in history, let's say the Third Reich and the Nazi forces under Hitler, when the fact that you marched in and shot a bunch of unarmed civilians would have been considered a cause for celebration - nobody would have been embarrassed by it. Will the military leaders there be embarrassed by this? Will this be something like Kent State was for our military?"
- CBS reporter Eric Engberg talking about the Tiananmen Square massacre on Nightwatch, June 7, 1989. (Audio here.)
on June 20, Chancellor found a study of middle school students from the
Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development even more troubling than the
"Americans are properly outraged by the massacre of students in China. Thousands may have been gunned down in Beijing, but what about the millions of American kids whose lives are being ruined by an enormous failure of the country's educational system...Other countries are turning out better educated kids, and educated kids are the key to the future. We can and we should agonize about the dead students in Beijing, but we've got a bigger problem right here at home, which is commentary for this evening, Tom."
- John Chancellor's commentary on NBC Nightly News, June 20, 1989. (Video above; audio here.)
Now let's see how the networks cover the 20th anniversary, as the Chinese government moves to shut down public discussion of the blight on their image.
- Rich Noyes is Research Director at the Media Research Center