Philip Cunningham – Again??

Danwei has opened the door for Philip Cunningham to reply to commenters who responded to news of his banishment from Chinapol. [If you plan to go there to comment that’s your choice, but I urge you to avoid insults and snark, and keep the conversation relevant to the topic. Ad hominems and anonymous emotional outbursts only give Philip ammunition to position himself as a martyr, and to point to obnoxious commenters as haters.]

In his reply, Cunningham plays tribute to his host, and explains, to his own satisfaction at least, why so many commenters react to him with hostility.

Danwei is not stuck in the old paradigm, it’s open to the public, savvy, self-knowing. But individuals who post on Danwei frequently sound old paradigm in their shouts and screeds. As Philip Roth has noted in his biographical writing, it was his identity as a Jew writing critically and candidly about Jews that invited, mostly from other Jews, fiece and irrational criticism I find that as an American, trying to write critically and candidly about my own kind, at a time when America is riddled with insecurities, with real and percieved, a similar pattern emerges.

Why is this so? Well, Americans have a deep investment in the American identity as it has been constructed over the years and any truthful comment, or attempt at unearthing certain unpalatable truths about America is not just an intellectual exercise, it touches on identity issues. All the more so if you have been “in government” as many Chinapolers have.

For those Americans whose innate sense of pride and comfort is couched in the terms that US president Bush bandies about with such abandon; freedom-loving, democracy-supporting, generous and benevolent in helping foreigners to a fault, what I have to say is going to shake some deeply-held convictions, convictions so deeply-held that the unreflective are not entirely sure what makes them upset; thus the rants, the lame insults, the flames, in and out of Chinapol. Internet discourse is overloaded and burdened by such hate speech, and I credit Danwei’s Jeremy Goldkorn for trying to combat this quietly in his own way.

Cunningham has drawn a line: on the one side are those who criticize him, flame him and rant against him, and do so because they harbor a deep-seeded belief in the myth of a magnanimous America; on the other side are the open-minded, non-hating truth-seekers like himself. The implication is that those who take issue with Cunningham are, in effect, victims of brainwashing from the American government – the exact same argument made by one Jessica Copeland. Never mind that if Cunningham were to do some research on many of the commenters (and it’s not that hard to do) he’d see that many, perhaps most, have a track record of standing up to the Bush doctrine, of rejecting it, and of criticizing America in no uncertain terms. Philip doesn’t get this: that it is possible to be enraged by the CCP without having been hypnotized by US propaganda. (Maybe he should talk to Hao Wu’s sister Nina; maybe she can help explain why everyday people uninfluenced by American propganda can hate the CCP.)

I made my first observation of Cunningham nearly three

and a half years ago, and I have to say I think I saw him for exactly what he is:

CCTV-9 is presenting nightly interviews with a very bright political analyst named Philip Cunningham, a Harvard-educated pundit with excellent credentials. Cunningham is articulate and insightful, and on some topics we even think alike. The only problem is that he’s virulently anti-Bush and anti-the-Iraq-War. That’s his privilege and he at least backs up his points with facts, figures and keen observations. But he goes unchallenged, and his opinions are greeted as universal truths.

Worse — the interviewer leads him on and provokes him to go even further in criticizing America, breaking every rule about the role of the interviewer. Every question is loaded and reeks of the state-sanctioned party line: “Considering the unprecedented disregard the US has shown for international law and its contempt for the rights of its citizens, wouldn’t you say….” (That’s not an exact quote, but trust me, it’s quite close.)

I don’t believe there is a word of hatred there, of prejudice or inanity. I believed then, as I believe now, that it is possible to criticize Cunningham using old-fashioned common sense and critical thinking. I am eager to praise Cunningham for his brilliance and charm, as I am eager to criticize him for allowing himself to serve as CCTV’s marionette. If anything, I believe I was too easy on Cunningham back in 2003. It wasn’t until much later that I realized his loathing of the US was pathological. Again, from today’s Danwei letter:

China has not invaded any sovereign state recently, nor has it had in my memory the temerity to roll its tanks down the streets of someone else’s capital city, shooting and killing foreign civilians with impunity, but the US gets away with such abominations in the name of spreading freedom and democracy. Increasingly, in no small part because of the mean-sprited, divisively-partisan Bush administration, American self-confidence in America’s proud manifest destiny has had cause to be shaken. Yet for the recalcitrants, it’s shaken but not stirred. For many Americans, despite a distaste for Bush, remain mired in a self-perception of unspoken superiority, assuming the American governmental bureaucracy has genuine altruistic intent and presumed democratic benevolence, which if ever was the case, and I’m not entirely sure it was, would have been a cogent argument only for a brief window of time, sometime between the liberation of Nazi death camps and the start of the anti-communist witchhunt and the wars it engendered in Korea and Vietnam.

While I agree the US government hasn’t always been noble and our history is pockmarked with horror stories, to juxtapose it against China in a manner that absolves the Chinese of similar guilt (and that’s exactly what Cunningham’s lead sentence in the above quote cunningly seeks to do) is rather, um, bold. If the Chinese weren’t shooting foreigners, they were shooting their own citizens. And while some Americans were getting drunk on Bush’s BS about liberty and freedom and democracy for the whole world, many more in China were sucking on the teat of the CCP propaganda machine, being force-fed utter crap about the CCP’s glorious achievements while stories about SARS were being covered up. And Americans like me, who saw Bush was giving us a snow job, were free to organize and set up blogs and launch campaigns to change things. Philip can’t credit this, because he would have to face the fact that in China there are no such options.

I don’t want anyone to take my word for it. I believe Cunningham’s own words paint the clearest picture of how his mind works and how he sees the world. Let’s revisit an article he wrote a year ago, An Open Letter to Hu Jintao. (The original article is gone, but luckily it was kept over at this blog, where you’ll find some excellent comments as well.) Attempting to be witty, Cunningham creates a a parody using fictitious human rights group, America Watch. Despite the usual brilliance, there are a couple of surprising typos (don’t they teach at Harvard that there is no such word as “irregardless”?), and the article borders on the unhinged – which is unusual for Cunningham, who usually strives to contain his vitriol. I urge you to read every word of this extraordinary article, and then see his essay today in Danwei in which he accuses those who criticize him of engaging in hate speech. Read the piece below, then talk to me about Cunning Ham’s sense of balance and objective journalism.

From the Bangkok Post, September 3, 2005

The wok calling the kettle black


From: America Watch, Beijing OfficeRe: America needs help now. Your Excellency President Hu Jintao’s upcoming visit to the United States is a welcome development with regards to China-US relations, but is at the same time fraught with political risk, as you will be dealing with a regime that is on one hand deeply in debt to China, but also burdened with natural disaster, a war with no end in sight, massive corruption, government malfeasance and documented human rights abuses.

China should first offer condolences to the Americans dead, displaced and dispossessed by the violent natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina. China, with its long history of battling floods, taming rivers and staging massive relief operations, is in an excellent position to offer money, manpower and engineering advice to the storm-battered American south. Although such humanitarian aid may ultimately be rejected by face-conscious US politicians for reasons of nationalistic pride, the offer should stand as a goodwill gesture between peoples.

China has a long-standing policy of non-interference in the domestic politics of other nations, but at this critical juncture, in dealing with a deeply divided debtor nation struggling to save the sunken city of New Orleans, a gas-guzzling nation facing rising prices and energy shortfalls, a politically divided electorate perhaps on the verge of economic collapse due to profligate spending on military adventures abroad, China can offer a helping hand.
In doing so, it needs to reach gingerly beyond the current narrowly partisan Bush administration to consult with the political opposition and express solidarity with all Americans, regardless of political persuasion.

Honest, hard-working Americans, just beginning to wake up and make themselves heard after four long years of being manipulated and misled in the name of a values revolution and a poorly executed political campaign on terror, are now beset by an unprecedented environmental disaster, a war no one wants and an increasingly fragile economy. Furthermore, the Iraq quagmire and emergency measures at home in the US have caused an unprecedented erosion of human rights and limited free expression. America’s traditional sense of fair play, long an inspiration to others, is less and less evident as a wealthy minority wrap themselves in material comfort while the poor die on the battlefield and before the neglected dykes and levies, bearing the brunt of gratuitous war and mis-governance.

Here in Beijing at America Watch, we understand that state-to-state relations must be preserved according to diplomatic protocol, irregardless of how incompetent the current US administration may be, and we are pleased that China has taken the high road, doing its best to constructively engage America at this during these trying times, in order to keep the peace. We look forward to the day when China and America can again fully engage as constructive Pacific partners committed to peace and justice. Reading the Chinese press, we are pleased to see that China has a profound appreciation for world affairs and has generally shown itself to be on the right side of history with its principled stands on current issues of war and peace, racism and social justice:

– China has consistently opposed the unpopular and unjustified American war of invasion in Iraq.
– China supports the United Nations and a multilateral approach to problem-solving among nations.
– China roundly condemns the shocking use of torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and other US military prisons.
– China is outraged that American religious fundamentalists are permitted to openly promote terror, especially those with close White House ties such as Pat Robertson, who recently called for the assassination of Victor Chavez, the elected president of Venezuela.
– China is dismayed that the US continues to harbour known terrorists such as Luis Posada Carriles, a Venezuelan citizen accused of terrorism by Cuba and Venezuela for bombing a Cuban Airlines flight.
– China notes the increase in US military spending and is concerned that the US has long been engaged in research and development of new nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, biological warfare agents and other weapons of mass destruction.
– China notes that over 50 journalists have been killed in Iraq, many by so-called “friendly fireâ€Â?.
– The Chinese media is following the case of Bunnatine H Greenhouse, the chief overseer of contracts at the Army Corps of Engineers who lost her job for raising legitimate questions about defence industry corruption. Ditto for whistleblowers Joe Wilson and Richard Clark.
– China takes note that America maintains a vast gulag, as documented by Amnesty International, of unauthorised and inhumane detention centres in America and around the world.

If, during the upcoming presidential visit, a meeting with Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld cannot be avoided, it is highly advisable not to permit any photographs of a potentially embarrassing handshake with the architect of the attack on Baghdad. Ditto for Vice President Dick Cheney, a key power behind the throne with deep ties to the bloated war industry.

These men, however controversial, should be treated with the same restrained courtesy that President Hu extended to Japanese Premier Koizumi Junichiro.

Bearing in mind that the American taxpayer pays the bill for environmental neglect, weapons production and war-profiteering that in the end benefit mainly the wealthy political base of President Bush, it would be encouraging if China would avoid doing business with Enron, Halliburton and the rest of the war industry.

According to the precedent established during US presidential visits to Beijing, President Hu’s Yale University speech on peace and cooperation should be carried live in full, without interruption, spin or prejudice by all major US television networks, including Fox TV and the Christian Broadcast Network. The question and answer session at Yale should not be pre-scripted by the American hosts as it was by Harvard during former president Jiang Zemin’s lecture at Sanders Hall in 1997.

Finally, China might consider establishing a short-wave radio programme called Radio Free America, to beam news reports into America around the clock to provide information that is unreported, under-reported or otherwise obscured or obfuscated at home, thus enabling Americans to get a fresh perspective on what is really going on in their country, and to better understand the profound effects current US policy is having on the rest of the world.
The American media, which once held itself to be the gold standard in news reporting, has in recent years lost its fabled objectivity and balance due to the incessant spin and pro-war propaganda disseminated by the White House.
Wishing you a safe and productive journey to my homeland.

Philip J Cunningham,
Chairman of America Watch (a non-existent, non-profit human rights group founded by American citizens in China in exile from the current US regime).

Yeah, we all know America’s sins, particularly under our Codpiece in Chief. But most of our Constitution remains intact. Public outcry and law suits have resulted in most of the Guantanamo prisoners being freed. Once we re-take the House Bush’s crimes will be investigated. We can and will throw the curent group of thugs out of office, a luxury the Chinese people do not share with us. No blogger ever gets put in jail in America. And for all of America’s warts and China’s magnanimity, I know of no Americans hiring snakeheads to get them out of America and into China.

I love America. I love China. I acknowledge the deep and unforgivable faults in each. What I find inexcusable is a brilliant and charming American journalist going on CCTV and ranting against America, while never turning the spotlight onto his hosts. But then, Cunningham knows where his bread is buttered. No one ever accused him of being stupid.

The Discussion: 28 Comments

Sorry for a couple of typos in there – I can’t go in and correct them due to a screw-up in Movable Type. If I try to change anything, I lose the entire post. I’m also worried this comments thread might get messed up. This only happens when I write very long posts – chunks keep disappearing and the comments get corrupted.

July 24, 2006 @ 10:23 pm | Comment

How can anyone avoid making snarky insults when Cunningham works so hard at inviting them? Maybe St Francis of Assisi has that kind of nearly Christlike patience, but most of us sure as hell don’t, and weshouldn’t be expected to.

Some kinds of dishonesty deserve insult, and being “brilliant and charming” is 100 percent irrelevant to deserving scorn.

July 24, 2006 @ 11:11 pm | Comment

Bravo. Just bravo. Reading things like this makes all the MoDo and Robob Herbert postings worth it.

July 24, 2006 @ 11:16 pm | Comment

Hey Richard, watch out! Posting that letter might get you blocked in the USA! 😛

July 25, 2006 @ 12:35 am | Comment

And Richard, do you know how I can become an “exile” like Philip Cunningham?

I mean, evidently just living in a foreign country isn’t enough. To be an “exile” you need a special something. Which, evidently, doesn’t require any kind of suffering or persecution from your own government. No, being an “exile” means….

…well, actually, in Cunningham’s case it means he’s a fatuous self-absorbed brat who insults real exiles whose lives are full of real torment.

July 25, 2006 @ 1:11 am | Comment

If your site gets blocked in the US, I highly recommend that you contact the Beijing offices of America Watch immediately!

July 25, 2006 @ 1:25 am | Comment

Funny, Kevin.

Johnny K, thanks for hanging around despite my liberal rants.

Ivan, if you go to the Matthew Stinson thread I linked to, you’ll find my old friend and co-blogger Martyn wrote the following:

I’ve been here for the best part of 15 years and that gives me more reasons that anyone could know NOT to make such ridiculous comparisons between authoritarian-plus China and liberal democracy America.

That’s sick enough, and shows zero respect or understanding for the lives of ordinary Chinese people. However, he went straight to the bottom of the food chain, IMO, when he described himself as “an American citizen in China in exile from the current US regime”. That is just sick beyond words. Does he have any idea of what a real refugee is? He obviously doesn’t or else he’d never have dared to make such a flippant comparison. He can go back to the US anytime he likes and speak his anti-govt views freely and without fear, the same can’t be said for Mainland Chinese citizens and most refugees, particularly those from China’s ally, North Korea.

Oh, and you can also see what I wrote last year about PC’s Open Letter to Hu Jintao. In a sense, I am really delighted he wrote this. It will follow him wherever he goes, and it saves all of us the trouble of trying to prove he’s obsessed and misguided. He did all the work for us.

July 25, 2006 @ 1:37 am | Comment

And what makes it even more disgustingly dishonest, is that he isn’t even using the word “exile” in a metaphorical way – you know, like the rich American “exiles” in Paris in the 1920s and 30s, who lived there for the good currency exchange rate etc etc – like F Scott Fitzgerald and his crowd.
When THEY called themselves “exiles”, they were clear about meaning it in a metaphorical way.

But THIS fraud, Cunningham, specifically calls himself an “exile FROM THE CURRENT US REGIME”

Jaaaay-sussss-H-f***ing-Chrayst almighty.

I mean, even a privileged and high profile exile like the poet Pablo Neruda, at least had a REAL REASON to call himself an exile from his country’s regime. The threat of prison or death makes you an exile. Cunningham has no personal experience of what those kinds of threats or related torments are like.

July 25, 2006 @ 1:51 am | Comment

Oh no – Madge has joined the new Danwei thread. Lord help us.

I picked out a random sentence and guess what? Some things never change.

July 25, 2006 @ 2:26 am | Comment

The stench of dung attracts flies.

July 25, 2006 @ 2:42 am | Comment

Okay, no more comments about Madge. Let’s stick to real people like Cunningham. 🙂

July 25, 2006 @ 3:04 am | Comment

Geez, this guy is too easy to counter.

Where’s my Panorama grudge-match?! Ivan, would you like to do a double-act? 😀

July 25, 2006 @ 5:49 am | Comment

I’ve been restraining myself from criticising Cunningham because I do want to give him the benefit of the doubt. So in a way I’m glad to read his new postings at Danwei. But I have to admit that every time when I come across Cunningham’s self-defence exegeses, I couldn’t help but want to ask: why the hell did he join Chinapol in the first place. Everyone in the academia worldwide knows that Chinapol is not really well-know for its pro-China position. If Cunningham really thinks that he is going to make a difference by being a member, then he is really kidding himself. He didn’t say anything significant in his new “reply” that will help answer this question either. So unless he is preparing to do that, I don’t intend to take any of his criticism about the Chinapol seriously. As a matter of fact, I am inclined to take Cunningham’s anti-Bush, anti-war high ground as a nothing more than a smoke screen to veil the real intention of a very dishonest CCP apologist.

P.S. I know that I’m not supposed to talk about Madge, but I really do hope that he’ll stop quoting from Colin MacKerras. MacKerras will not be very proud when he knows how his works have been used, misinterpreted and recycled time and time again by this devious non-personality.

July 25, 2006 @ 8:25 am | Comment

Ah, I see that at this point, his self-regarding, narcissitic manifesto at Danwei has received exactly seven comments in reply, one of which came from himself and two from a person who does not exist.

That’s around par for the course for personal manifestos.

July 25, 2006 @ 7:28 pm | Comment

Did you see Phil’s latest reply on Danwei? What’s up with this guy?
I know he’s probably under a lot of pressure as an exile from the USA and all, but, his latest comment made him seem like a four-year-old whose mom wouldn’t buy him the new toy he wanted?

July 26, 2006 @ 8:00 pm | Comment

Did you also notice he never once addressed any of the commenters’ points about his two-faced attitude toward government repression (it’s bad when the US does it, and not worth mentioning when China does it)? His reply to the Chinapol was arrogant, childish and evasive. It was totally lacking his usual charm and brilliance.

July 26, 2006 @ 8:41 pm | Comment

I also tried to post something about it on Danwei and it still hasn’t shown up yet? Hope it’s just a little delay. Otherwise it’ll turn into Phil acting like a baby, dodging questions, and essentially not making any sense, while everyone else has to be “respectful and kind.”

July 26, 2006 @ 8:53 pm | Comment

Well as you know, I never considered him “charming” or “brilliant.” In particular, his writing style is prolix and overly strained. And now he’s acting like a spoiled little bitch.

July 26, 2006 @ 8:56 pm | Comment

Yeah, please explain where the brilliance is.

July 26, 2006 @ 11:05 pm | Comment

I left a comment there a couple of hours ago and it, too, hasn’t appeared – but I’ll attribute that to Jeremy maybe not being around to approve it. All I said was, more or less, “I think we’ve all learned a lot about Mr. Cunningham today.” And I really mean it – his long comment addressing Chinapol’s Rick revealed exactly the kind of person he is.

July 26, 2006 @ 11:16 pm | Comment

Yes, my comment did get posted on Danwei, along with yours, Kevin. As I thought, they’re just busy over there. (Oh, and check out the new comments there from him who shall not be named.)

July 26, 2006 @ 11:18 pm | Comment

“where the brilliance is”: Well he’s more intelligent than the average guy. But that ain’t sayin’ much.
He reminds me of the type of guy (and we all knew at least one) who discovered “dialectics” when he was 16 and then smugly tried to inflict his “dialectical” arguments on everyone in his college dormitory, until they finally put laxatives in chocolate or locked him out of his room while he was in the shower, just to keep him preoccupied for a while….

July 26, 2006 @ 11:30 pm | Comment

…not that any of you could ever imagine ME stooping to such practical jokes (or more inventive ones) back in my college days….

July 26, 2006 @ 11:31 pm | Comment

Damn, actually, another Kevin got his comment up there, not me.
I just sent another and will hope that it appears. I don’t think I said anything too rude at all.

July 26, 2006 @ 11:50 pm | Comment

Dang. I guess I have to look. I’ve pretty much managed to avoid the whole Cunningham of it all, though I do sort of know who he is.

July 27, 2006 @ 12:24 am | Comment

I have seen the light. I repent of my ingnorance. Go and see my enlightenment (thanks to Philip Cunningham, without whom I would have remained in darkness for the rest of my life) in the Duckpond, at:

July 27, 2006 @ 9:15 am | Comment

Too bad Phil wasn’t intelligent and charming enough to provide anything substantial in his final statement. I think that some good points were made in this “dialogue,” particularly about his supposed “exile”-dom and his servitude to his CCTV “friends.” He just responded by talking about a “Cold War mentality.” If I wanted to read something like that, I could have just bought a People’s Daily and saved myself some time!
I’m not a “Cold Warrior.” China is my area of interest, and when I see something wrong, I point out. This differentiates me from Phil, in that when he sees something wrong, he brings up Iraq.
Phil doesn’t experience any of the negative effects of the current situation in China. He hangs out with Yang Rui and attends state dinners. But this is not everyone’s experience. There are people arrested for what they write, people whose homes are torn down without proper compensation, people whose villages are polluted, people abused by officials, and, now matter how important your “friends” are, to ignore all the wrongs that occur is to actually consider the lives of the Chinese people to be of less value that those of other nations.
Anyway, I guess people of this vein can continue to refer to people like me as “Cold warriors,” (labeling: dodging the issue and not providing a real response), and they can enjoy their life in China, removed from the stresses that many of the population face. They can make their comments on Dialogue or on blogs or whatever. But one day, when the shackles are lifted and the Chinese people are able to speak for themselves, there won’t be any more invitations to state dinners and there won’t be anywhere else to peddle their deceptions.

July 27, 2006 @ 7:55 pm | Comment

I wrote a long comment about Phil Cunningham. I am not sure if it got posted.

Most of what he said on the last weekend Dialogue was pretty good. But he is certainly wrong that if American cotton farners quit getting subsidies than all that lost business would go to Africa. I think he is intelligent enought to be able to see it is not a 2 market World. Egyptian cotton is great. Of course Egypt is in Africa but they are not the poor people. India would be in line for growing and selling more cotton and so would China, among others. I am sure he knows this.

Anyway, there was no time even look at that on that dialogue show..

I just found out some died in my family.

So now this is very trivial to me, except that I must seize the moment and apologize. God loves all of us. Most important we must remember that and so this is an apology to Mr. Cunningham

July 30, 2006 @ 1:21 am | Comment

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