In a 1989 column for Newsweek, Washington Post editor Meg Greenfield gave away a little secret about how journalists cover foreign affairs: "Every time there is a confrontation in the world, we manage to dub the good guys liberals and the bad guys conservatives and pretty soon that is common currency." Even if that results in an ideological Bizarro-world of terming left-wing authoritarians and their liberal fellow travelers "conservative."
An example was the "Saturday Profile" of China dissident Du Daozheng, by Sharon LaFarnier and Jonathan Ansfield from Beijing, "At 86, a Liberal-Minded Party Elder Is Still Jousting With China's Censors."
The article made the anti-Communist dissenters "liberals" and the left-wing Chinese Communists "conservatives," terms that don't map to American politics, where you have left-wing professors and ignorant liberal students singing the praises of Chairman Mao and wearing t-shirts featuring his icon. They certainly don't call themselves "conservatives."
LaFarnier and Ansfield introduced Du:
For nearly two decades, the Communist Party strove to wipe out the national memory of Zhao Ziyang, the reform-minded party secretary who opposed the use of force against pro-democracy protesters in 1989.
So when a former aide of Mr. Zhao's, Du Daozheng, disclosed in May that he had helped secretly record Mr. Zhao's memoir for posthumous publication, Mr. Du's daughter refused to let him walk outside alone for fear of possible repercussions.
She need not have worried. On June 25, a top official in charge of propaganda showed up at Mr. Du's western Beijing apartment with a reassuring message from Zhongnanhai, the headquarters of the Communist Party and the government. Mr. Du said he was told that, as an old friend of Mr. Zhao's, "Zhongnanhai and party central can understand why you did this."
Mr. Du survives such skirmishes because he is 86, wily and quietly supported by certain party luminaries. He says as many as 100 former party officials back his magazine's attempts to draw lessons from the party's buried past and nudge it toward democratic reforms. Some current officials also sympathize with the effort, he suggests. "Nobody dares close it," he said, lest that provoke a reaction from "old cadres." Last year supporters promised him, "If the magazine closes, we will take to the streets," he said.
They said: "We are old. We are in our 80s. We have heart problems. We will probably die in the streets."
"So the conservatives don't take any action," Mr. Du said, "because they are afraid of that responsibility."
Others suggest the party can afford to be tolerant. Russell Leigh Moses, a Beijing-based analyst of China politics, said that Mr. Du and other liberal-minded party "elders" posed no particular threat to today's Communist Party, so slaps on the wrists sufficed.
"I admire the courage and the conviction, but the conservatives really won this battle some time ago," he said. "I really see him as a tragic figure, still holding the flag after most of the armies have left the field.
The Times could have easily clarified that Du identified China's "conservatives" with "leftists," as displayed in this online batch of longer excerpts from the interview he gave the Times:
Lately we had this grand celebration of Li Xiannian's birthday. Old cadres were opposed to this, Li Xiannian was good during the cultural revolution, but after that, he was anti-Hu Yaobang and Anti-Deng Xiaoping. He has always been leftist and conservative....He was one of those who insisted on shooting the students.
The actual article noted that the Communist Party certainly identified Du as an enemy on the right:
But by April 1959, he could no longer reconcile the discrepancy with reality. In a 4,900-word letter to a superior, he documented widespread famine and disease in the countryside.
Within two months, his letter was turned against him during the campaign against antiparty "rightists." He was publicly condemned 17 times - once before an auditorium filled with 6,000 people - and dismissed from his job and party post.
But the profile of Du concluded (as foreshadowed by the headline) by putting the brave dissenter in the "liberal" camp:
Mr. Du said he believed that the democratic ideals expressed in Mr. Zhao's book and in the pages of his beloved journal would eventually take hold, though not, he predicted, under the current leaders. "If the Communist Party refuses to take political reform, then there must be some other force that rises up to carry it out," he said.
In the meantime, he says, he will defend his journal's role as a liberal windsock. Said his daughter: "My father knows how to fight."