Anti-CNN Spokesman Shaun Rein

First-off, go see this excellent post over at the excellent blog China Geeks about CNN’s controversial cooperation with actor Christian Bale as he sought to interview blind activist Chen Guangcheng. I happen to agree with Charlie that whether CNN crossed an ethical line or not (and I’m not convinced they did), the ends in this case justified the means: the video was released and the world has learned about this inexcusable crime against humanity. If you want to talk about ethics, talk about the way the CCP has treated this man whose crime was exposing forced abortions in the countryside. And keeping his six-year-old daughter under house arrest, too. How noble.

Two wrongs don’t make a right, and if CNN violated journalistic ethics they deserve to be called on it. But as Charlie says, at the end of the day who cares? The story is Chen Guangcheng and the fact that thugs are holding him, his wife and his daughter under house arrest for his being a whistle-blower. Aside from some indignant Chinese bloggers and microbloggers, CNN hasn’t taken a lot of flak for breaching journalistic ethics, nor should they. (See the China Geeks thread for journalist Adam Minter’s complaints about the story.)

Watch the video and see the “unethical” journalism for yourself. What Bale has to say is pretty spot-on.

Of course, there’s one pundit who is aghast at CNN’s sins, and is getting all Anti-CNN about it. From the Harvard graduate who married into a rich Chinese family and goes fishing with high-ranking CCP officials and runs a marketing company and has written a new book on China, we get the following:

CNN’s China team, in a complete failure of journalistic integrity, decided last week to become the news rather than just report it. The actor Christian Bale called CNN to follow him as he drove for eight hours to confront police to try to see Chen Guangcheng, a blind legal activist being held in his home in the eastern Chinese village of Linyi. Bale was in China to promote his movie about the Rape of Nanking by Japanese troops in 1937.

CNN did Bale one better. It became complicit in Bale’s activism by actually planning the trip and driving him to Linyi. CNN reporter Steven Jiang then translated for Bale as he argued with Chinese police officers and refused to comply with their directives to leave. CNN posted video of the trip on its website, calling it exclusive, showing police forcing Bale to leave while Bale chastised the government, saying its treatment of Chen ”represents the power structure and their attitude towards their own citizens, which is disgusting.”

So they drove him to his destination and translated for him. I understand that this is perhaps (big perhaps) questionable journalism, but only borderline, and like Charlie said, “Who cares?” They didn’t lie or trick anyone, but they followed what sounded like a great story, a celebrity confronting thugs holding a blind man and his family under house arrest. Would it have been okay if they followed him in a taxi and he brought his own translator? Those are very small things. And Bale’s calling the treatment of Chen “disgusting” was, to say the least, justified. An understatement, really.

But Shaun Rein can see only treachery. In Shaun’s eyes, by working with Bale, CNN is facilitating the (false) notion held by many Chinese that the US media works in cahoots with the CIA and the NED and intentionally manipulates the facts they report on.

Shaun gives his cards away pretty early on:

My issue here is not with Bale. In general, I believe one should follow the laws of nations that one visits, and that Bale should do so, but I also generally believe in free speech, no matter how misguided.

Ah. He believes in free speech, no matter how misguided. You see, what Bale was trying to do is misguided. Exposing the inhumane detention of a blind activist is misguided, a publicity stunt. Note the “I generally believe in free speech” as well. That puts him in the clear to decide when to be for it and when not to. A smart thing to do if you’re going to cozy up to the powers that be in China.

In order to get why I bother to write about Shaun Rein’s columns at all, you must think very seriously about his next remark:

I have no idea about Chen’s detention, and if he is being wronged or not, but if there are issues with his case, I am not convinced that calling the entire political class “disgusting,” as Bale does, can help.

He has no idea. Wait. Stop. Fail. Unless you are willfully ignorant there is no way on earth you don’t know about the plight of Chen Guangcheng. Especially if you live in China and write for at least two media organizations. Yes, this speaks volumes. He can banter on about all the good the CCP does and cite example after example of things that prove his point. But here, he knows nothing. Nothing. No idea. And he’s writing a column in Forbes about it.

I made a promise to myself not to go after Shaun Rein any more because I don’t want to hurt his feelings, and I’ve been pretty quiet even though he keeps doling out lots of ammunition. But this is inexcusable. It’s like looking at an MRI of the Anti-CNN mentality. Oh, and note how he plugs his book throughout the column.

More vintage Shaun drivel:

Far too many in the West indict China’s whole governing class and system when a single local official does something stupid or brutish. Yet they criticized only a lone thuggish police officer in New York for pepper-spraying Occupy Wall Street protesters. They didn’t called President Obama evil for what that one officer did, or call for an overthrow of all of America. Yet Bale did that in China’s case, and, worse, CNN helped him.

False. The national outrage over the Oakland pepper-spraying was NOT directed only at one officer. It was directed at the abuse of authority in America. Scroll down a few posts to see my own story about it, where I direct my shame at “my country.” And this wasn’t an isolated incident, we saw just as bad in NYC a few weeks earlier, and the rage has never been solely at the individual sprayer but at the system that allows them to brutalize innocents. Really, this paragraph is among the dumbest yet. As if one lone local official is behind this detention, and the poor little CCP off in Beijing is powerless to take charge, all they can do is watch, knowing it’s atrocious, but, you know, what the hell, it’s just a local official doing it and he’s a few hours away so, like, what can we do? “A single local official.” Think about that. The CCP can be off the hook for anything that doesn’t happen within walking distance of the Great Hall of the People.

And then he puts up another of his signature straw men: “They didn’t called President Obama evil for what that one officer did, or call for an overthrow of all of America. Yet Bale did that in China’s case….” Did Bale call Hu JIntao evil? Did he call anyone evil? Did he call for the overthrow of an evil Chinese government? Did we watch the same video? Shaun, as usual, is simply making things up so he can get on his moral high horse. This is straight out of the Anti-CNN playbook.

He closes sanctimoniously:

The last thing the world needs is increased tension between the world’s two superpowers. CNN should be ashamed for becoming more like a tabloid and inserting itself into the story rather than maintaining journalistic integrity and providing an objective view of its subjects.

So there we have it; calling China to the carpet for its shit threatens fragile global relationships so we should shut the fuck up and keep things status quo so marketing companies can keep making money. Sorry, but I’ll take CNN’s journalism over this any time.

Again, go to China Geeks and see how Charlie replies to the criticisms of CNN one by one. No need for me to repeat them here.

Shaun, do you really have “no idea” they are holding a six-year-old girl under house arrest? Look into your heart and tell us the truth, do you really not know? Really? Whether the answer is yes or no, you are the one who should feel ashamed. Hear no evil, see no evil….

A six-year-old girl.

(Correction. The six-year-old girl is now being allowed to go to school, under police escort, of course. How good of them.)

UPDATE: Please be sure to check out China Geek’s post on the same article. And note the comment below. The commenter dared to ask Shaun if he really had “no idea” about this story — Shaun immediately blocked him on Twitter. The maturity of a five-year-old.

Note: If you are new to this site, you will want to see my other posts about Shaun Rein, most notable this one and this one. Don’t miss those comments. Nothing seems to light up the discussion like this subject.


Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 130 Comments


My comment (original and following) were not in defense of Rein, or his post, but of the core assertion in it. That CNN and Bale crossed a line, and that considerations and story were CGC was lost as a result.

Sure, it popped media interest, and perhaps that (if you assume this pop will result in a sustained wave of international interest/ support) may have some positive impact. But it is my belief, one grounded in my experiences/ work in China, that this stunt will ultimately be seen as nothing more and will have no impact (short term or sustained) in the favor of CGC.

With regard to Richard’s original post, and the comments that followed, I would say that there were certainly some valid concerns raised about Shaun’s post. However much of that was lost on me once it turned to little more than personal attacks on Rein.

The reason why I interjected was to (for a moment) bring the comments back to a discussion of CNN, Bale, and the impact to Bale, and for the last 10-15 comments I think that has been accomplished.


December 27, 2011 @ 11:00 pm | Comment

@Allroads – I think much, but not all of the things said about Rein here are entirely justified. The article is dishonest and misleading. It is a calculated attack on CNN and Bale, one which totally fails to recognise any government wrong-doing in this affair whatsoever whilst blaming CNN for what cannot in truth be called anything more than a very, very minor faux pas(if that). Even this description gives Rein too much credit, as much of what he accuses CNN and Bale of doing (disobeying policemen, breaking the law) is not actually true (they weren’t police, CNN and Bale did not break the law). He even fails to acknowledge that they were attacked by the ‘police’.

Like I said, it’s fair enough to question whether CNN and Bale trying to see CGC benefited CGC. I don’t think Rein made this point in his article though. Instead, this is what he said:

“I have no idea about Chen’s detention, and if he is being wronged or not, but if there are issues with his case, I am not convinced that calling the entire political class “disgusting,” as Bale does, can help.”

Asking whether CNN and Bale helped CGC presumes that CGC needed helping in the first place. Rein, however, did not even acknowledge that CGC is being held under illegal house arrest. He does, however, try to defend the CCP leadership who are ultimately responsible for CGC’s arrest from criticism from people who have just been roughed up by the CCP’s hired goons.

I’m sorry, but I do not think that Rein’s core point, core criticism or what have you was connected to whether CNN or Bale’s actions benefited CGC. Had such concern been clearly reflected in the original piece, the criticism of Rein seen here would likely be much more muted.

December 27, 2011 @ 11:37 pm | Comment

Thank you, Tim.

Allroads, the maddening thing is that if Rein had simply applied some common sense there’d have been no post. If he’d stuck to his conviction that the CNN stunt was unethical and made his case this would have been a very dull post; in fact, there wouldn’t be a post. it’s when he decides to be callow and outrageous with his utter lack of interest in and empathy for CGC and says so with pride that he paints a giant bull’s eye on his back. His “lone official” remark also struck a nerve, as he always seems to want to portray the central party in a glowing light, absolving them of all responsibility for anything that happens outside of Beijing, as if they are powerless, even in a high-profile, internationally known case like this. His frivolous comparison with the Occupy Wall Street crackdowns are simply ridiculous. He is covering, as he’s done before, and all the while pitching his book. The guy needs a little tact. As I’ve said many times,when he writes about marketing he is insightful. When he goes into politics it’s a train wreck, and you’d think he’d know better by now.

December 27, 2011 @ 11:59 pm | Comment

FOARP/ Richard – No disagreement that Shaun could have written his post better, and from a better position. Many of the original issues that Richard brought up were valid, as a critique of Shaun’s post.

I engaged for a different reason, to remove the personal attacks on Shaun and focus on one point. Whether CNN/ Bale went to far, and the fact that I think CGC got lost in the melee.


December 28, 2011 @ 12:35 am | Comment

I agree that some of the attacks on SR were too personal, and several of the more vicious ones never got published. It’s difficult to moderate comments in any thread, and this one especially, figuring out where to draw the line. It was obvious when someone compared him to Goebbels. Is calling him a liar, as I did in a moment of passion, a personal attack if you can show exactly what he’s lying about? Tough call. On the other hand, Shaun sets himself up and makes himself an easy target.

December 28, 2011 @ 1:16 am | Comment

Allroads, I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make. I was only saying that most Americans have not heard of CGC and for many their first exposure to him was the CNN piece, which undoubtedly caught more peoples’ attention because of Bale’s involvement. From that you created a response to an entire chain of argument that I was not making.

As for whatever point it was you were trying to make, that, I don’t know, awareness of an issue alone does not solve the problem? Was that it? Of course awareness alone does not solve a problem, particularly a complex one. But it’s the necessary start. Problems in general do not get solved if people don’t even know the problems exist. Or that there are reasons they should care.

I particularly appreciated Carl’s response above. As a Chinese lawyer operating in that environment, he is speaking from a position of insight and knowledge that the majority of us do not have. I’d love to hear more from him.

As for Shaun Rein? Sheesh. The bottom line is, the guy claims to be a China expert and then claims that he’s never heard of CGC and criticizes CNN for its conduct — saying that he’s never heard of CGC is ridiculous enough. Criticizing a news organization for its conduct in a case he claims to know nothing about is absurdity squared. The news organization most deserving of criticism here is the one employing this know-nothing.

December 28, 2011 @ 3:52 am | Comment

Allroads – The dishonesty in Rein’s article, and his apparent self-interest behind writing as he did warrants criticism of the author himself. In contrast, I appreciate your honest and forthright expression of your views, and do not at all wish to group everyone who had trouble with CNN and Bale’s actions with Rein.

However, I myself do not have a problem with CNN’s actions. My understanding is that it was Bale who came to them. Yes, they did pool resources with Bale, but they in no way enabled him except by providing coverage to something that is definitely newsworthy.

As an example of how stations often run this kind of story, here is an Al-Jazeera piece featuring Melissa Chan trying to see Liu Xia, the wife of Liu Xiaobo:

Melissa Chan states at the start that she knows that she will not be allowed in, and at the end that it was no surprise that she was not allowed to see Liu Xia. Yet she still goes through the steps of trying to enter and then filming the response of the ‘police’ outside the complex where Liu Xia, an innocent woman, is being illegally held under house arrest.

With the exception that CNN’s piece featured a Hollywood star rather an ordinary journalist, and that the aggressive behaviour from the ‘police’ in the CNN piece was much more overt, the CNN piece does not differ from the Al Jareera piece. Yet, because the CNN piece drew much more attention, it has come in for much more opprobrium.

December 28, 2011 @ 7:48 am | Comment

Lisa, I wish I could have expressed that as perfectly as you did. Bravo.

FOARP, agreed that it is fair to call Rein out on his dishonesty, and he has yet to answer the question, did he really have “no idea” about CGC? I regret any harsh comments about him, but hey, this is The Peking Duck, where all sorts of people say what’s on their mind. The evil comments never get published, or are quickly deleted.

December 28, 2011 @ 8:35 am | Comment

To Allroads,

CNN does do some “magazine” style pieces that can probably be equated to op-eds in a newspaper. But like op-eds, while hopefully factually-based, they nonetheless represent the summary viewpoint based on a certain perspective, and motivated by certain underlying opinions.

The CNN piece in question here is news. Not spontaneous as if Bale was happening upon Linyi just as the CNN crew was trucking through town. But it was nonetheless capturing events in real time.

It is a fair point that the story became more about Bale being roughed up than about CGC. But that IS the story at this point. If CGC is under house arrest, but allowed to receive visitors, THEN the story would be about CGC and his plight under house arrest. There is no CGC house arrest television news story right now, because there is no access to him. So this lack of access is the news, and Bale and CNN showed it. And ultimately, why is the lack of access the focus of the news instead of CGC himself? Because of the local authorities illegally detaining him AND unleashing the hounds on visitors. To criticize Bale and CNN rather than criticizing the corrupt local officials is to misplace one’s criticism, in my opinion.

December 28, 2011 @ 8:56 am | Comment

I read of your critique on Custer’s site, and after reading his, I came to read yours. Both are good, but yours pins down the sliminess of Shaun Rein’s smarmy self-important reporting more bluntly. I like it.

I should be shocked that Forbes still buys his words.

Is my suspicion that he’s got guanxi with Forbes unwarranted? Maybe, but I suspect we’ll still see similar pieces from him, printed in the same places.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

December 28, 2011 @ 12:17 pm | Comment

James, I just added some link to the conclusion of the post above that you may want to follow. Yes, when it comes to Shaun things always stay the same.

December 28, 2011 @ 12:37 pm | Comment

Makato — I’ve been a journalist for more than a decade. And, although I comment and blog under my own name as an individual (and not on behalf of my employer) I have worked for the International Herald Tribune / New York Times since 2005.
I’m not saying that adds any weight to my opinion.
But I don’t think you can assume that nobody here has a journalist background. I do, Richard does, and maybe some of the other commenters, too.

As for a breech of journalistic ethics — You can look at my previous comment. (I don’t wish to repeat myself). But giving a guy a lift while following a story is not an ethical breech. Particularly not in the context of a government that uses backhanded ways to punish critics and, God, keep young children under virtual house arrest.

December 28, 2011 @ 8:34 pm | Comment

@SK – CNN’s focus of inability to access CGC is one THEY created. They chose to create this scene, and air it, versus take the time to explain the case. This is just another area where I have a problem with the piece, and why I pointed towards the Slavery / Hero pieces of where CNN has done good work. Work that, in both cases, started with awareness to effectively engage stakeholders to bring about positive impact.

You can look at the websites CNN has set up to see for yourself.

With regard to Other Lisa/ Richard comments, let’s just say that I am of a different opinion. There are lines that exist, and as Adam mentioned on the China Geeks, this crossed the line (and he is a respected journalist).

CNN, just like Rien, could have got this piece right HAD THEY WANTED TO. But they didn’t. They wanted a shot of Bale being prevented from seeing CGC as “the” piece, and simply got more than they bargained for… Some of are the opinion that this was ok, but I see it very differently as I see it as destructive in the greater context, and I think that in addition to failing to push the cause forward, stunts like these only make it more difficult for media outlets with better intentions to do their job. CNN’s little stunt essentially guaranteed that CGC, and other activists, will see even fewer opportunities to meet with the media. It was already bad enough, but now with Barman being “beat” up, it will only result in a tightening down again.


December 28, 2011 @ 10:36 pm | Comment

We’re going to have to agree to disagree. CNN did not create this story, which I think we’ve argued to death already. CNN did nothing wrong or unusual, even if I think they should have had Bale go in a taxi to avoid even the perception of an ethical breach. But taking him and offering a translator is no big deal at all and is not without precedent. Any attempt to interview CGC would have involved an encounter with the thugs holding him, and I truly do not believe if CNN hadn’t done this that it would allow easier access to him and others being held under house arrest. I think it will ultimately be a net plus for CGC. The government’s no-access policy will stay the same, although the publicity from this incident will probably make it more likely CGC will quietly be released after a cooling-off period. I can’t prove that, but you can’t prove what CNN did will make it harder for journalists to meet with activists. But again, even if I concede your point it doesn’t change the thrust of my post, which is Rein’s intellectual dishonesty and willful ignorance.

December 29, 2011 @ 12:09 am | Comment

1. Rein is not a Forbes columnist. He is just a blogger.

2. Rein is a liar. There is no way he could claim ignorance on CGC. Just no way. Holocaust? What Holocaust?

3. Everything Rein says is designed to sell either his company (which is mostly just him and a few interns) or his upcoming book.

The best thing we can do on here is to get the word out to people regarding Rein and his book and to do so on Amazon. I for one can hardly wait and I know I am not alone in this.

December 29, 2011 @ 12:29 am | Comment

Chris, I do not encourage anyone to write reviews of Shaun’s book on Amazon without reading it first, and then writing as fair a review as possible. This means they would have to buy the book, which I am not sure I want to do.

December 29, 2011 @ 12:54 am | Comment

To allroads:
“CNN’s focus of inability to access CGC is one THEY created.”
—that is patently false. IF the thugs hadn’t turned Bale away, THEN the CNN story would have been about Bale visiting CGC, and in turn about CGC’s illegal detention. CNN didn’t create a story about Bale’s lack of access; the action of the sponsored thugs created that story all on their own. And CNN reported on it. If your complaint is that the story wasn’t primarily about CGC, then your disdain should be directed at the thugs (and whoever hired them) for preventing that story from being told.

CNN didn’t “create” this scene, unless by “create” you’re again referring solely to them giving Bale a ride. But the scene would’ve been created just the same had Bale secured an alternate means of transport.

That’s not to say that CNN can’t/shouldn’t/won’t come out with a magazine piece about CGC. But as I said earlier, that would be an op-ed piece, and not news per se.

To me, the only “line” CNN could have possibly perhaps ever so slightly nudged with the untrimmed nail of their big toe is to have offered Bale a ride. If they wanted their story to be completely in-bounds beyond a shadow of doubt, they could’ve said to Bale ‘thanks for the heads-up, we will be there if you do decide to show up, but you’ll have to get yourself there on your own’. I am disappointed they didn’t do so. But to me, it does not materially detract from the story.

December 29, 2011 @ 4:02 am | Comment

@SK – I should have used the word produced. CNN produced the piece, and at any time in that process they could have altered the Bale to CGC content. They chose to make the story about Bale first.

With regards to the rest, I am just going to let it go for now. Everything that I have learned through my time in China says that CNN had a much more active role in this story than just a ride, and that CGC (and his cause) were abused for the benefit of Bale / CNN. Some awareness was raised, but that doesn’t justify their actions (in my view).


December 29, 2011 @ 8:47 am | Comment

To allroads:
I agree, CNN could have made the story more about Chen instead of being more about Bale’s attempt to visit Chen. Too bad they couldn’t get any video footage of Chen, and had to go with canned shots instead. But for the goons and thugs, the story (and video) could’ve been about Chen. Though as Bale says, this is now also (and has been for some time) a story about China’s ass-backwards power structure…which is what entangled Chen in the first place.

Do you have any evidence to substantiate a claim of a more active role on CNN’s part than providing a ride and a translator?

December 29, 2011 @ 9:19 am | Comment

SKC, why don’t we just let it go?

December 29, 2011 @ 10:28 am | Comment

CNN has already done programs on Chen’s activism as well as his detention back in February. This story, was about Bale visiting Chen. There was no other content as Bale could not meet Chen. You may not find that news worthy, and we can argue the value of celebrities taking up a cause, it certainly has caused quite a discussion here; however I am at a loss to understand the controversy here. China’s heavy handed way of obfuscating uncomfortable truths is prêt-à-porter sensationalism for the foreign press. It appears almost staged (it may even appear to be unfair to take advantage of those poor unsuspecting thugs) but that is simply bad management of the press by the government.

What concerns me the most about this article is that there is little critical evaluation outside the China blogosphere of the analysis/opeds that passes as insights into China. Forbes has never appeared to me to be a very sophisticated business magazine but you do not need experience in China to catch the thinly veiled bias that informs this article. Has Forbes’ bar always been kept at mediocrity?

December 29, 2011 @ 10:52 am | Comment

@SK – Like I said, it is an observation based on my experience in China.. and I am not the only one as both Adam M and David Bandurski comments on the piece based on their experience as journalists.

@Tim – Your comments on Forbes, and comments on analysis of China, are valid. I have seen some pieces on the later, but to date I have only seen it taken up by bloggers. Perhaps that could be the subject for a piece here or on China Geeks

@Richard – Consider it dropped.


December 29, 2011 @ 12:46 pm | Comment

[…] getting involved in a long discussion on The Peking Duck about journalism and bias, I realize that we too often miss the point about the role of the media in […]

December 30, 2011 @ 12:32 pm | Pingback

@allroads: With regard to Other Lisa/ Richard comments, let’s just say that I am of a different opinion. There are lines that exist, and as Adam mentioned on the China Geeks, this crossed the line (and he is a respected journalist).

Again, I never commented on the “lines” that may have been crossed, or not, in this case. I was not talking about CNN’s journalistic ethics. You inferred an argument that I didn’t actually make and did not engage with the argument that I did make. Which I’ll just repeat, for expediency:

As for Shaun Rein? Sheesh. The bottom line is, the guy claims to be a China expert and then claims that he’s never heard of CGC and criticizes CNN for its conduct — saying that he’s never heard of CGC is ridiculous enough. Criticizing a news organization for its conduct in a case he claims to know nothing about is absurdity squared. The news organization most deserving of criticism here is the one employing this know-nothing.

December 31, 2011 @ 5:34 pm | Comment

[…] days ago my good friend Lisa left a comment on my last post about Shaun Rein’s lie that “had no idea” about the case of Chen Guangcheng, […]

January 3, 2012 @ 12:30 pm | Pingback

I heard Shaun Rein on the Money for Nothing show on RTHK the other morning….Did he mention his book? Did he what?

January 11, 2012 @ 7:19 pm | Comment

Sorry Sam, I felt this comment went too far and was to personal. Also, the link you included didn’t work.


January 23, 2012 @ 3:17 pm | Comment

It is obvious that this guy has some personal self interest to protect the Communists,this case is truly black and white and no grey are is involvedd.

Anyway,the world is full of such people.

January 28, 2012 @ 6:50 pm | Comment

[…] water for the CCP. If you aren’t familiar with my coverage of Rein you can find the posts here, here and here. I am not alone in calling Rein out as a blatant apologist. China Law Blog, Modern […]

March 29, 2012 @ 10:00 am | Pingback

[…] “a single local official” and the central government couldn’t be blamed for it. I wrote about one such pundit who made the “one local official” argument: “Think about that. The CCP can be off the hook for anything that doesn’t happen within […]

October 6, 2012 @ 4:38 am | Pingback

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.