China Prompts Tiresome Dances of Detente
by L. Brent Bozell III
October 30, 1997
News is not just a sterile formula of W's - who, what, where, when, why. Ask Hillary Clinton, who told her staff it must present reporters with a storyline with heroes and villains, action and conflict. During campaigns, it was the Republican Party agenda of cruelty and avarice versus the Man from Hope. For the health-care fight, it was greedy drug and insurance companies. This year, it was the evil tobacco industry and its nicotine manipulators. The administration knew it could count on the media to follow the sheet music.
But when Jiang Zemin, maximum leader of the world's largest and most brutal communist dictatorship, arrived in America, it was time to switch tunes. The morality soundtrack stopped, replaced by a few tiresome old dances of detente:
1. The Minuet of Moral Equivalence. CNN Beijing reporter Andrea Koppel decried the rise of eating disorders in China's "increasingly beauty-obsessed society," concluding: "But much as the Communist Party used to use its propaganda to promote unisex uniformity, today's message is equally mind-numbing and potentially misleading, because beauty sells." New York Times reporter Seth Faison shared Koppel's critique, explaining why China has no modern innovations to export: "Its culture is conservative, glorifying virtues like patience, social grace, and education. These are hard sells in an age more interested in youth and sex appeal." Faison generously omitted a few of those social graces, like cannibalism and organ selling.
2. The Ted Turner Turkey Trot. But there's a problem with this business: It's too, well, ethnocentric. Solution: Challenge America to rise to China's moral standards. Ted Turner knows exactly how this should be done. He recently told an Arizona audience that America ought to emulate China's one-child policy. "Voluntary, of course," Ted was quick to add, as if this caveat means anything. So why didn't he voluntarily destroy four of his own five children? "I had five kids, but I had them 30 years ago - I didn't know." (Why he didn't then call for us to emulate Tienanmen Square and have those four overpopulating nuisances shot - voluntarily, of course - I can't say.)
3. The Poetic Persecutor Polka. Washington Post reporter Steven Mufson chronicled Jiang's artistic immersion: "He reads novels by Mark Twain as well as Leo Tolstoy. He plays Chinese folk tunes on a Chinese string instrument called an erhu and American show tunes on the piano. He sang 'Love Me Tender' with Phillipine President Fidel Ramos and warbles Chinese opera for guests. He likes American films of the late 1940s and early 1950s." New York Times reporter Seth Faison insisted the Chinese despot's "penchant for unexpectedly displaying his artistic talents - Mr. Jiang also likes to play piano and recite poetry - points to an unpredictable, wacky side as well." On the Slate Web site, Scott Shuger puts this practice in perspective: "Homework assignment: find a single front-page piece in the entire history of the NYT emphasizing Hitler's fondness for animals and children."
4. The Schieffer Sermonizing Soft Shoe. This is the classic reproach to undignified hotheads who undiplomatically criticize communist tyrants' human-rights records. At the end of "Face the Nation," CBS's Bob Schieffer sermonized: "As the Chinese president heads to Washington, it seems to me that those in this country who still want to build a wall around China mainly because of what Tiananmen stood for should also remember that it is no more feasible today to fence off China than it was when Nixon warned against it...It is not America, but it is more open than it has ever been, and in a country where millions died during such ill-fated economic experiments as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese will tell you what they are proudest of is that their country has remained stable in the process. Of course, we want China to adopt a more open political system, but we can't force that by walling off 1.2 billion people." Earth to Schieffer: this country has done nothing but welcome millions of Chinese students and immigrants. The country doing the walling off is China. Just ask Chinese dissidents - you can't, since every single one is behind prison walls.
5. The Memory-Loss Mambo. Of the TV savants, only NBC's David Bloom remembered that Clinton's China strategy clashes utterly with his 1992 campaign rhetoric: "Five years ago then candidate Clinton accused President Bush of quote 'coddling China's dictators.' But today, as he prepared for next week's summit, the President said the United States wants cooperation not conflict with China's 1.2 billion people." Bloom's dissident report aside, that cooperation is just what the pro-Clinton press corps is trumpeting, 1.2 million victims be damned.