Irony: ABC, NBC Tout Michelle Obama’s Internet Freedom Speech In China, Ignore Press Shutout
First Lady Michelle Obama spoke to students at Peking University in China over the weekend and spoke of the need for China to limit its censorship of information and controlling access to the Internet.
Despite both ABC and NBC hyping Mrs. Obama’s “strong message” about the need for an open Internet in China, both networks skipped the irony of the White House not allowing American press to travel with the First Lady to China. Instead, ABC promoted how Obama decided to tackle “hot-button issues” as “she’s making headlines over what she said about the Internet.”
On Saturday March 22, ABC’s David Muir beamed at how Mrs. Obama met China’s “glamorous First Lady” before jumping into pushing how during her trip she was “stressing freedom of speech while talking to students there.” Over on NBC, fill-in Nightly News host David Gregory pushed how Michelle Obama “delivered a strong message about the virtues of free speech in a country that has little room for dissent.”
ABC noted how Mrs. Obama intended to “shy away from hot-button issues” and NBC hyped how the First Lady gave “a rare political statement from a First Lady who has largely stayed away from controversial topics.” The two networks have provided multiple reports hyping the China visit, and Saturday’s reports were no different.
NBC reporter Kristen Welker once again noted how Mrs. Obama played Ping Pong during her trip, before providing glowing coverage of her speech:
From a game of Ping Pong to a presidential greeting, First Lady Michelle Obama and her two daughters are on a weeklong goodwill trip of China, their first visit to the country. It was supposed to be a trip that avoided thorny topics, but while speaking to students at Peking University today Mrs. Obama delivered a clear message on free speech, the U.S. Opposes China's censorship on the Internet and dissident voices.
ABC’s Raddatz expressed similar sentiments during her coverage of Obama’s speech:
The White House had said Mrs. Obama would shy away from political issues but access to the Internet and social media we know is very much a hot button issue particularly among the young people of China. So I suspect some of them David welcomed the comments.
As of today, no network broadcasts have mentioned the press shutout in China, yet they happily promoted Mrs. Obama's call for China to open the Internet to its citizens.
See relevant transcript below.
ABC'S World News w/ David Muir, March 22;
DAVID MUIR: And now to China this evening. It was last night here we told you about that unexpected moment with First Lady Michelle Obama and her daughters visiting that country. China’s president coming out to greet the First Lady and her daughters. It was not on the itinerary. And China's glamorous First Lady a major pop star said of Mrs. Obama it feels like we're old friends. It was believed the First Lady would shy away from hot-button issues during her visit but tonight she's making headlines over what she said about the Internet. I want to bring in our Chief Global Affairs Correspondent. Martha Raddatz tonight. And Martha the First Lady stressing freedom of speech while talking to students there.
MARTHA RADDATZ: She did indeed David. China of course has some of the toughest restrictions on the Internet. No Facebook, no YouTube but the First Lady told a group of Chinese and American students at Peking University that unfettered access to the internet is crucial because quote, that's how we discover the truth. Here's more of what she said.
MICHELLE OBAMA: It’s time and again we have seen that countries are stronger and more prosperous when the voices of -- and opinions of all their citizens can be heard.
RADDATZ: Reporter: Of course, Mrs. Obama is not the first First Lady to take on issues. While in China her two predecessors Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton. Both pressing issues like human rights and democracy during their trips to China. But David this made headlines because the White House had said Mrs. Obama would shy away from political issues but access to the Internet and social media we know is very much a hot button issue particularly among the young people of China. So I suspect some of them David welcomed the comments.
NBC Nightly News:
DAVID GREGORY: In China, First Lady Michelle Obama delivered a strong message about the virtues of free speech in a country that has little room for dissent, NBC's Kristen Welker has our report tonight.
KRISTEN WELKER: From a game of Ping Pong to a presidential greeting, First Lady Michelle Obama and her two daughters are on a weeklong goodwill trip of China, their first visit to the country. It was supposed to be a trip that avoided thorny topics, but while speaking to students at Peking University today Mrs. Obama delivered a clear message on free speech, the U.S. Opposes China's censorship on the Internet and dissident voices.
MICHELLE OBAMA: But when it comes to expressing yourself freely and worshiping as you choose and having open access to information we believe those universal rights, they are universal rights.
WELKER: And she got personal.
OBAMA: My husband and I are on the receiving end of plenty of questioning and criticism from our media and our fellow citizens, and it is not always easy, but we wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.
WELKER: It was a rare political statement from a first lady who has largely stayed away from controversial topics.
DAVID NAKAMURA: Sort of mention in a way that won’t completely offend the Chinese but also gets the message out.
WELKER: Each event, a carefully choreographed attempt to bolster the Obama Administration’s pivot to Asia.
ANITA MCBRIDE: She is talking about issues that fit within a broader framework of foreign policy framework of the administration.
— Jeffrey Meyer is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Jeffrey Meyer on Twitter.