October 11, 2005

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Taishi and the backlash

The Guardian has now confirmed that the stories of Representative Lu Banglie's death were greatly exaggerated. Lu was severely beaten and then carried to a nearby hospital before being driven back to his home city of Zhijiang in Hubei Province. This occurred some time after Benjamin Joffe-Walt, the Guardian's man on the scene, had already been taken away, and was apparently in some panic.

Chinese journalists are already criticizing Joffe-Walt, accusing him of naivete, wilful exaggeration and even outright lies. One blogger/journalist says that "lies cannot create justice", and that the Guardian newspaper is "continuing to back up the fantasies of Benjamin Joffe-Walt".

posted by Running Dog on 10.11.05 at 12:25 PM in the China politics category.


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He's not died. Is this the "great exaggeration"?

Foreign journalist-bashing has started. I told you that Hu and company would shake the story off somehow. Let's not serve this purpose, please.



posted by: Enzo on 10.11.05 at 04:07 PM [permalink]

Actually, at least one of the most outspoken critics is a pro-democracy blogger who correctly points out that inaccurate or exaggerated or fabricated reporting by western media sources only hurts the democracy movement in China. Here's a translation of part of his post courtesy of eastwestnorthsouth.
''Enough already, The Guardian. You are really earning the contempt of your colleagues. For a long time, Xinhua and CCTV were the representatives of shameless media. But your lies today are even more damaging to the Chinese. In most foreign news coverage of China, the professional standard requires two independent sources of information to establish veracity. But when The Guardian reported on China this time, you only used the unverified "first-person" account of a liar. Furthermore, after this has been exposed, you attempted to hide your mistake.
''The Guardian's error obviously has severely affected the Taishi village case and even other rights cases. Whenever a reader hears about another rights activist being beaten, they will automatically think about Joffe-Walt's fantasy. Lies cannot promote fairness; they can only impede fairness.
''I am a democrat and I support the democratic movement in China. But I will express my anger in a professional manner against any exaggerated or fabricated reporting of the pursuit of democracy. I will not permit a crazy reporter, who once was a Baghdad human shield, to destroy the common ideals of media workers in China.''

posted by: Justin on 10.11.05 at 04:17 PM [permalink]

From Rebecca's blog:

"At the same time, I hope this question of a foreign correspondent's responsibility will not become a convenient way of distracting people from the core issue: one of human rights and the suppression of a democracy movement in Taishi.
Will Chinese netizens be successfully manipulated into foreigner-bashing as an acceptable alternative to communist party-bashing?"

It's exactly my position.
The point here is that facts like that one - and worse - happen every day in China. The difference is that this time a foreign witness was present. So the instructions are: fire the witness, not the Party thughs. Déjà vu.
It's this overturning that won't help democracy movements in China, not a reporter's "exaggerated" story. Fire the thugs, not the witness.



posted by: Enzo on 10.11.05 at 04:34 PM [permalink]

No one should be surprised to hear that the "truth" is not so important as the "story" for these so-called journalists and the companies they work for. It has been this way for many many years and it is a common trait shared by Main Stream Media throughout the world - and especially so at the Guardian.

The Guardian and the reporter got what they wanted - a headline grabbing story.
They do not accept any responsbility for the consequences that their shoddy reports will have on others.

If the reporter really wanted to prove something he would have stayed in Iraq and completed the task of being a human shield for those he professed to support.

One good thing that might come out of this is that more Chinese people will think twice before believing what they read in foreign newspapers or hear on foreign television.

posted by: Peter on 10.11.05 at 06:59 PM [permalink]

I wouldn't dream of calling Benjamin Joffe-Walt a liar. Like all foreign journalists, he is human, and in this case he was naively pursuing a story and panicked when he realized he was in over his head. To accuse him of malicious fabrication seems quite inappropriate, and to suggest that he has somehow damaged the cause of Taishi seems to me to be a bad-faith argument.

posted by: Running Dog on 10.11.05 at 09:26 PM [permalink]

Go to Google and enter a search for Benjamin Joffe-Walt.

Read some of the links but take time to read the link to Michelle Malkin.

Now you will begin to have an understanding of the man.

Go a little deeper into his background. How old is he? What is his background? How long has he been a "journalist"? Who has he worked for? What has he done in the past to distinguish himself or discredit himself?

I cannot think of one way this man has helped the "cause" of Taishi. I can think of many ways he has brought discredit to himself and to his employer。 I can also see how his actions are a setback to all those he sought to help. But then I think this is really not any concern of his since he got what he wanted - the story.

It is not the first time for this man.

posted by: Peter on 10.11.05 at 10:23 PM [permalink]

Good call Peter. Before discussing this journalist, people should check his credentials. The picture starts looking a little differently then.

posted by: Micah on 10.11.05 at 10:52 PM [permalink]

There is no question that the journalist made a mistake (if we believe in Anti, but he only talked to the guy, not visited him). The mistake is hurting the cause of Taishi. I also do not like the fact that he didn't try to help poor Mr Lu at the scene (which he regretted in his 1st report).

Precisely because of the importance and sensitivity of this event, we want to hold the Guardian at the highest standard of all media. We demand more from them than from Xinhua.
Everybody makes mistake some time. The fact that they did not admit the mistake and apologize is more detrimental than the original mistake.
They should at least point out the fact that new info contradicts previous reports by BJ-W, and that they are ready to apologize once they have confirmed first hand info from Mr Lu.

posted by: sun bin on 10.12.05 at 03:11 AM [permalink]

All the previous reports on Taishi were credible. In this particular incidence the facts that a mob gang attacked reported with the support of local gov't is not changed.

However, the Guardian should not give the local gov't an excuse to attack the credibility of all external media in the future. To re-establish this credibility it is important to be honest and brave with themselves.

posted by: sunbin on 10.12.05 at 03:21 AM [permalink]

I have written quite a bit about Taishi on my blog, and I suspect that Joffe-Walt really assumed Lu was dead, or likely to die, and so he consciously added a few embellishments to sensationalise his story. I have discussed this already on my blog, as a postscript to my article on "peasant activism".

What really matters more is how we analyse what is happening in Taishi more generally. I have written in detail about this too, in both my "peasant activism" article (in which I name the university in Guangzhou that I visited which has allegedly stolen land from local farmers) and in my latest article, in which I analyse the nature of the Chinese political system. I think it is wrong, as many Western observers claim, to judge the CCP as "totalitarian". Chinese politics is far more complex than that, and what is happening now in Taishi needs to be seen in a wider context. When one broadens the scope of one's analysis, it becomes clear that what is happening in Taishi is positive for China.

Mark Anthony Jones

posted by: Mark Anthony Jones on 10.12.05 at 08:43 PM [permalink]

Sorry, if anybody is interested in reading my articles, then the site is at:

f r e e w e b s . c o m / f l o w i n g w a t e r s

I found that the articles translated into English by East South West North, which I discovered via this site, proved to be very very useful in helping me to formulate my own analysis, incidentally. What a valuable resource ESWN has proven to be, time and time again!

Mark Anthony Jones

posted by: Mark Anthony Jones on 10.12.05 at 08:49 PM [permalink]

Joffe-Walt has now made a name for himself among Guardian readers who don't live in China and, in the process, has made his name mud for many others. He's young, clearly ambitious...and now he's had a baptism of fire. He wasn't ready - but who is ready for anything until they learn from experience?

One of the big criticisms has been the accusation of exaggeration and invention. Lu Banglie clearly is not dead. The ligaments in his neck are clearly not broken. The reference to his neck was probably misguided - but it was one sentence...and we were not there. Joffe-Walt's account leads us to believe that Lu's attackers repeatedly stamped on his head. This does not appear to be consistent with Lu's actual injuries. Another apparent inaccuracy.

But let's remember one fundamental fact - Lu Banglie certainly was attacked. That is not an invention. Joffe-Walt was not the only person in Taishi who believed that Lu might well be dead.

And what about the degradation - the spitting, nose-blowing and urination on his unconscious body. If that is proved to be false, then I will reconsider my opinion, but so far I haven't seen any contradiction of this part of Joffe-Walt's account.

Did he report everything that happened perfectly? No. But how many people ever do - especially in an extremely violent and frightening situation.

Think back just a few months to the South Asian "suspected suicide bomber" who was shot dead on the London Underground. He was wearing a thick winter coat in the middle of summer and behaving suspiciously. He was challenged by the police at the entrance to the station, and promptly ran away - jumping the station turnstiles. He was chased down onto the platform and onto the train where he looked like a terrified animal before being shot five times.

Well, that was the initial account, written by all the experienced journalists based on eye-witness accounts and statements by the police.

Then, finally, the real story came out. The "terrorist" was a Brazilian electrician on his way to work. He was wearing a light-weight denim jacket - entirely normal for the weather in London. He walked casually into the station and passed through the turnstiles using his travel pass, picking up a free newspaper to read during his journey.

He then continued to make his way slowly down the escalator until he saw that his train had already arrived - so he sped up to catch it before it left the station - just like any other normal passenger. On the train, he looked for a free seat, saw one and sat down.

Seconds later he was shot seven or eight times in the head and once in the shoulder. Several other shots were fired, but missed him.

Despite the claims attributed to the police, they did not challenge him at any point until seconds before he was shot dead.

Compare these two stories.

Joffe-Walt was wrong about the extent of Lu Banglie's injuries - and Lu did not die. But he seems to have looked pretty dead at the time and extreme violence did take place. And Joffe-Walt was not the only person in Taishi who believe that Lu was probably dead.

The only thing the reporters in Britain got right about Jean Charles de Menezes was that he really did die. Oh...and they were right about where he died. Everything else, they all got so wrong we may as well be talking about two utterly different events.

Joffe-Walt needs to learn from this experience. But his account of the situation was just as accurate as most reports we read about anything. Despite his mistakes, the people who should be blamed and held to account are the people who committed the violence - and those who sanctioned it.

Let's not lose sight of who committed the crime.

posted by: cat on 10.14.05 at 03:56 AM [permalink]

One final comment on the extent of Lu Banglie's visible injuries. On one occasion, I was repeatedly kicked in the head with steel toe-capped boots and there were very few marks to be seen afterwards because I don't visibly bruise. That didn't stop the pain.

posted by: cat on 10.14.05 at 04:20 AM [permalink]

Well put Cat. I pretty much agree, although I suspect that Mr Joffe-Walt quite consciously added embellishments to sensationalise - the eye hanging out of its socket being the most obvious and vivid of these.

I guess what we should be focussing on is the bigger picture though. Many observers blame the violence and the lack of both accountability and law enforcement on "the" CCP, as if the CCP is some kind of monolithic totalitarian form of governance. It isn't. The policies and behaviours of those officials from local village-township, city district and provincial levels of government are not always supported all the way to the top at all. Those who think so obviously do not understand how China is governed - China is a decentralised federalism, and more often than not, you will find that the central government itself is locked in power struggles with the various other, more local levels of government. Local-level governments operate with huge amounts of autonomy, and this is a problem. They often subvert national laws, and prevent reliable and accurate information from filtering up the chain.

How can the central government enforce its progressive labour laws, village election laws and governance laws, etc., at the local level? This is the real problem, and until that's solved, there will be many more Taishis to come.

Mark Anthony Jones

posted by: Mark Anthony Jones on 10.14.05 at 10:26 AM [permalink]

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