When I write critical articles about US politics and politics, I sometimes strike a nerve and receive angry letters from readers who denounce me as a traitor or suggest that I am providing water to the enemies of our country.
For example, I was told that I should move to China because I was anti-American. And when I started talking about the possibility of negotiations to end the war in Ukraine, I was accused of being Vladimir Putin’s lap dog.
I have never taken such accusations seriously because, although I am sure that I am writing something that many readers disagree with, I know that I am not a figurehead, apologist or propagandist for America’s opponents.
So I have to admit that I was brought back when I found out just a few weeks ago that one of my speakers become article topic on the website of China’s official news agency Xinhua, a huge news organization and propaganda site that publishes articles in Chinese, English and other languages for millions of people around the world to view.
The Chinese government used my column, which admittedly painted a bleak, depressing picture of contemporary American politics, as part of its ongoing effort to convince its readers that the United States is less stable, democratic, and egalitarian than they might think, and that it is in fact in a state of malaise, chaos and an incipient crisis.
It is true that my column spoke of a “dangerous” partisanship and a “culture of extreme political polarization” in the US. Xinhua accurately paraphrased my fear of a “dysfunctional government.”
But somehow my words took on a harsher tone as I read them. good site designed to make the United States look bad. “LA Times Columnist Exposes Brawl Between US Democrats and Republicans,” read the headline.
I stand by my critique of DC policy, but it has now been placed in a different and much more hostile context. Here are some of the other headlines on the site: “US Sanctions Deprive Iranians of Breathing Fresh Air Amid High Pollution: Experts.” “China calls on the US to give up hegemony, intimidation.” “World Insights: Washington has money for wars abroad, but not for railroads at home – critics.” “US Needs a Miracle to Avert Recession: American Economist”.
The site contains endless stories about racism in America, police shootings, heat-related deaths, power outages and environmental disasters.
On the other hand, Xinhua’s stories about China have, let’s say, a different tone: “Farmers benefit from the tea industry in southwest China’s Pu’an County.” “Tourists have fun on the Songhua River in Harbin and at the ice snow carnival.”
And my personal favorite: “Xi tells party cadres to make every possible effort to ensure people’s happy lives.”
Xinhua News Agency is not something insignificant, secondary. It is almost 100 years old and has over 180 offices around the world. His one-sided, agenda-driven version of the world reaches an audience that could soon match that of the Associated Press or the BBC. according to Joshua Kurlanczyk in Foreign Policy. Press freedom advocacy group Reporters Without Borders contacted Xinhua. “The world’s largest propaganda agency.”
China is hardly the first or only government to distort or manipulate the news to its advantage. Propaganda is at least as old as the Roman civil wars. It was honed by, among many others, Genghis Khan and his Mongol Empire in the 13th century, the British Empire in India in the 19th century, and Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels in the mid-20th century.
The US does it too. Just one of many examples of American propaganda is Radio Free Europe, a state-funded news organization created during the Cold War to sell America and American values to people behind the so-called Iron Curtain.
But today, Chinese propaganda is a big innovation. Last month the Economist magazine rated that Chinese President Xi Jinping is spending between $7 billion and $10 billion to “tell China’s story well.”
And apparently it works. The Economist pointed to a recent study in which scholars from Yale, Harvard and Groningen Universities in the Netherlands exposed Chinese propaganda and US government messages to 6,000 people in 19 countries. Before and after they were asked about the political models of the two countries. By the end studying, the majority stated that they preferred the form of government of China to the form of government of the United States. The message convinced them that China, while not necessarily more democratic, “provides growth, stability, and competent leadership.”
And now my article is part of this post.
This is of course confusing. But what can I do about it?
I guess I could swear to be less negative about US politics because, well, politics stops at the water’s edge and all that. But that would be stupid.
Let the Chinese do what they want with my articles. I still believe that free debate will ultimately make the country stronger and healthier.
In China, according to Human Rights Watch 2022 reportFreedom of speech is severely restricted. The government censors the news, punishes dissidents and spreads misinformation. People have been harassed, detained or prosecuted for their online posts and personal chat messages critical of the government. They were falsely accused of “provoking unrest” and “insulting the country’s leadership.” Increasingly, Chinese citizens are being punished for statements that are considered “unpatriotic.”
You don’t see it being mentioned on the Xinhua website.
I have criticized the US government extensively in my four decades of journalism, but have never faced intimidation, censorship, or the possibility of official punishment.
Suppression of speech empowers dictators. Free debate allows citizens in a democracy to make informed decisions about how they are governed.
No system is perfect, but if I have to choose, I will choose the last one, thanks. As for the tool of Chinese propaganda, I agree with that.