Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Slants and Angles

In the wake of the unrest in Tibet, and the Dalai Lama's visit to the United States, Chinese students in the US are feeling that the Western (read: American) media has an anti-Chinese bias. Their reasoning for this seems simple enough: That American reporting of these events tends to elevate the Lama and the Tibetans at the direct expense of the Chinese, who often come across as the villains, and it doesn't take into account Chinese and Asian history, as understood by the students.

It is, to a degree, a fair charge. The "Western Media" tends to espouse liberal western values, and "China" doesn't. (Referring to the Western Media as though it were a single monolithic entity makes about as much sense as the idea that all Chinese think alike.) This does make the Chinese government into an easy target for outlets looking to burnish their democracy and human rights credentials. Another easy target is the government of Sudan. There are a lot of countries whose more nationalistic citizens would take exceptions to the portrayals of their nations on CNN, ABC or Fox News. (Russia comes to mind.) And it's a safe bet that when some copy editor for NBC cranks out another story about human rights abuses in China, that they don't stop to consider that Chinese who read these stories might feel hurt by the critical tone. Would it make a difference if they did? I don't know - the answer might well be: "Hey, the truth hurts sometimes." Americans have had enough of their own cherished stories torn down to be familiar with that. There is an entire industry devoted to telling us about the true facts of history. And it does seem that history's become a moving target. Anyone who dares say that the history they learned in school was free of careful revisions, self-serving omissions or even outright inaccuracies (sincere or not) would be laughed out of town. One commonly forgotten aspect of the Culture Wars is over the way American History should be taught - the battle over the right balance between extolling the times when America lived up to the ideals of its founding, and calling out the times that it failed.

Of course, it's not impossible to find more "neutral" news sources. But it does take some looking, as the big players present things they way they do because that's what gets eyeballs.

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