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.