March 14, 2005

Dictatorship? What Dictatorship?: Washington Post Managing Editor Chats With The Peoples' Daily

PHILIP BENNETT, MANAGING EDITOR OF THE WASHINGTON POST, either does not know or does not care that information travels everywhere. That's the impression one gets from his remarkably candid comments in the "Exclusive Interview " he gives to The People's Daily of the People's Republic of China. Perhaps the Washington Post, like The Godfather's "I have business with Mo Green", has business with the PRC and this interview was meant primarily for internal consumption in Beijing. Still, the translation has moved to the internet with People's Daily Online -- "I don't think US should be the leader of the world" and Bennett's attitudes, the attitudes that drive the Washington Post, are illuminating to say the least. The entire interview is worth reading, but here are some choice excerpts.

America according to Bennett and WAPO:

Another source of the resentment is the perception that Bush administration wants to act unilaterally in the world, outside of alliance that traditionally governed the ways Bush made foreign policy decisions. In some ways the core of perception problems is centered on 911 terrorist attacks in 2001 in which the US government and Bush administration reacted by deciding that the country would make decisions in foreign affairs that respond only to US interests. They were not going to consult very widely, and not to compromise in making those decisions. That caused rift even among the US allies. So it is natural to see that the image of America is the lowest in public opinion.
Mr. Bennett seems to have forgotten, or not known of, the six-month run up to the Iraq war, the endless shuttling of diplomats east and west, north and south, the speeches to the UN, the passage of resolutions by the United Nations, the visits by Bush to same, the building of a coalition of nations -- sans the really important France and Germany-- , and the ultimatums an long count-down to war. All of which the Washington Post reported in great detail. He needs to take time out to read his own paper.

America, according to Bennett, is more than its foreign policy. Who knew?

But it is important for Chinese to understand that the image of America is many things, not just the image of the government. American culture, as expressed in Movies and music etc, is still quite popular in the world today. American movies are remarkably popular all over the world to the extent that you can buy them on the streets of all major Chinese cities.
Why you certainly can, Mr. Bennett, the only question is whether they are better bits of piracy than those you can buy on the streets of New York City.

Should America be the leader of the world? To answer in Bennettese is to "complexify" and nuance to the hilt while ignoring the fait accompli.

No, I don't think US should be the leader of the world. My job is helping my readers trying to understand what is happening now. What is happening now is very difficult to understand. The world is very complex. There are various complex forces occurring in it. I don't think you can imagine a world where one country or one group of people could lead everybody else. I can't imagine that could happen.
This just in, world complex, we're from your Washington Post, and we're here to help. Cool Hand Bennett: "What we have here is a failure to imaginate."

Bennett then defines Democracy down....

Democracy means many things. How do you define democracy? As a Chinese journalist, you may have your own definition of democracy which corresponds to your history and your way of seeing the world. I may have another definition. Someone else may have their own definitions. Democracy means a lot of different things.
We were under the impression that, at bottom, Democracy meant the people select their government in free and open elections, something a Chinese journalist would have little experience with.

Politics R'Not Us:

We don't have any political point of view that we are trying to advance. We don't represent any political parties. We are not tied to any political movement. On the news side of the paper we try not to give opinions. So I think the role the Washington Post should play is to hold the government accountable for decisions made by it.
No political point of view at the Washington Post? Stop the presses because that's news.

The Washington Post prints the difficult things, like pictures sent in from just about everywhere.

So it is a big thing for the Washington Post to be the first major newspaper in America to publish the pictures about the Iraqi Abu Ghraib prisoners abuse scandal. To get those pictures is extremely difficult.
I seem to recall that the Post was handed these on a silver digital platter, but perhaps I "misremember." Still, I don't recall a lot of FOIA filings and months of foot dragging. I do recall the media jumping in on a military investigation that had been going on for some months. Bennett's compulsion to make everything into a Watergate moment is understandable. Everyone at the Post wants to relive those thrilling days of yesteryear.

Bush won ergo newspaper endorsements of Kerry were meaningless.

Major American newspapers endorse Democratic candidates every time. I think that endorsement means nothing. I don't think people will vote according to that endorsement. It is just an old tradition which really doesn't have lot of meaning any more today.
This is the "It didn't work so it doesn't matter" argument. Had the election gone the way of "major American newspapers" these endorsements would have been "absolutely key to the victory."

On Getting Nearer My God to Readers and the Non-Bashing of George Bush:

American mainstream media has been slow to appreciate how important the religion is in America. We don't cover it very deeply and extensively. So I think there are areas we are out of touch....

I think there is a perception among some of our readers that we are hostile to the Bush administration or representing our own political point of view in our news coverage. I think it is impossible to make that perception go away. Over the time it could damage the reputation of a newspaper.

Translation: 1) Where are all those religion reporters we fired in the 90s, call them back. 2) We're so deep into hating Bush we can't climb out, so we won't even try.

On circulation:

Our circulation is going down by several thousands of people every year, but we still have a high circulation given the size of the city and the area we serve. We sell over one million newspapers on Sunday. We are seeing a decline only in paid subscriptions.
Hard to understand why you'd see a decline in free subscriptions, but I imagine it would be even more alarming when you can't even give it away.

Bennett on the differences between The People's Republic of China and a dictatorship:

First of all, Neither The Washington Post, nor the New York Times, nor any other big newspapers, refer to China today as a dictatorship regime. We don't use these words on the paper any more. Now we say China is a communist country only because it is a fact. China is ruled by the Communist party.
When is a dictatorship not a dictatorship? When a country is ruled by the Communist Party. Glad we cleared that little misunderstanding up.

At the same time, why get personal when you can be understanding of men with the really big jobs?

Yong Tang: What is your personal impression on Chinese leaders?

Bennett: I don't feel qualified to comment them. I was very impressed by the degree of preparation, engagement, knowledge and vision that they have of China and China's role in the world. There is no more complex job in the world in trying to run and administer a country so big with so many different issues, with people living in good wealth and poverty as well. The job is much more difficult than being an American President though they are different jobs in some ways.

I agree that running a the largest country in the world using one-party and a large army is a "different job" than being President of the United States. Clearly, these are men -- even though Bennett has been the Foreign Editor of the Washington Post and taken three tours in China and interviewed Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao -- that he is not qualified to comment on. We should take him at his word, shouldn't we? After all, if Bennett did comment on them, the status of the Washington Post's reporters in China and future visas to China would become problematical.

Why this all makes me think about Eason Jordan's revelations on how CNN buried stories about Iraq in order to maintain access to Iraq, I don't know. I suppose the future coverage of China by the Washington Post will tell the tales that Bennett leaves out. Or will it?

Posted by Vanderleun at March 14, 2005 4:17 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Interesting! And WAPO is a "moderate" paper?

Another luminary who pulled a "Charles Lindbergh" is Bill Gates, who stated at Davos that "China has developed a new form of Capitalism," which -- according to Gates, and with no sense of irony -- "was very responsive to the customer's needs."

He also enumerated the reasons why this Chinese capitalism was so dynamic. Essentially the list amounted to showing that China was simply retreading the days of the American "Robber Barons." A fact about which Gates was clueless.

Gates and WAPO both need to bone up on history.

Posted by: Roderick Reilly at March 14, 2005 9:52 AM

Why is it that so many liberal elites feel they have to apologize for the uniqueness and success of their country? Why? Why do they feel compelled to extend their own self-hatred to their countries at large, and always in front of foreign audiences? I read yesterday that Gary Hart and George Soros were lecturing in Spain on behalf of the Zapatero government, explaining why the U.S. war on terror was ill-advised and shouldn't be supported. . . no one is arguing that our government shouldn't be criticized, but we're all Americans first.

Posted by: Spear Shaker at March 14, 2005 9:56 AM

So, it is probably safe then to guess that WaPo will not say anything negative about how Communist China is threatening Taiwan?

All the Best,

Martin Lindeskog - American in spirit.
Gothenburg, Sweden.

Full disclosure: I visited Taipei in 1992! ;)

Posted by: Martin Lindeskog at March 14, 2005 10:05 AM
They were not going to consult very widely, and not to compromise in making those decisions.
Presumably he means they didn't consult him personally. Posted by: Dave Schuler at March 14, 2005 10:27 AM

Do we trust the People's Daily to quote anyone accurately on matters such as this? Do we trust them not to insert, shall we say, "nuance" into their translations? I think we do not.

Posted by: jaed at March 14, 2005 2:18 PM

We should trust but verify. I look forward to Bennett releasing his tapes.

Posted by: Gerard Van Der Leun at March 14, 2005 3:16 PM

We don't have any political point of view that we are trying to advance. We don't represent any political parties. We are not tied to any political movement.

He should have said 'today' if he wanted to be accurate (if certainly not truthful). The Washington Post started out as a Democrat-sponsored rag, back in the day when it was commonplace for political parties to do so.

Posted by: P.A. Breault at March 14, 2005 4:27 PM

With all the talk about March Madness and basketball pools, wanna set up a pool to pick the date that this traitorous cretin resigns for "personal" reasons?

Talk about clueless. In the face of the almost mystical real success of the Bush doctrine, Soros and Gary Hart are lecturing Spaniards about why it's a bad idea to stop terrorists.

What a world. Just got an email from an alleged sane acquaintance letting me know that Bush is being run by the Jews following a plan laid down long ago by Rothschild and Rockefeller.

We really do have our work cut out for ourselves.

Posted by: erp at March 15, 2005 4:15 AM

Wow...people who don't trust the MSM in the U.S. taking a Communist rag at face value. Pure genius.

Posted by: Brian Carnell at March 16, 2005 5:53 AM

Why do you trust a Communist news source for this information?

Well, it turns out that--surprise!--the Commies distorted what Bennett actually said:

So, what I want to know, is if Vanderleun is a Communist? Answer the question now, do not wait for the translation!

Posted by: David Peleru at March 16, 2005 10:16 AM

Not a Communist although I admit to been in bed with a few in my youth.

Posted by: Gerard Van Der Leun at March 16, 2005 10:43 AM