Dangerous Rhetoric Reporting Dooms Americans’ Understanding of China
Whether it is reporting about China’s military growth, economic development, human rights record or something else, these mainstream news media stories repeatedly misstate the intentions of the Chinese government.
Rarely does a day go by without at least one major U.S. news organization reminding its audience of what American politicians believe about China. Summarized briefly, American leaders insist China is a threat to the global community and to the safety of the United States.
As just one example of this nonsense, consider the non-stop coverage earlier last year of the flawed United States Innovation and Competition Act, which is littered with rhetoric about China’s supposed “dastardly” intentions. If America’s politicians were to be believed, a new Cold War — which the United States did not want to be involved in, of course — was well underway with America in a battle for its way of life against a behemoth absent any ethics or morals. As a result, billions of taxpayer dollars needed to be spent on various technologies and programs so that America would not become a nation eventually crushed by China.
Whether it is reporting about China’s military growth, economic development, human rights record or something else, these mainstream news media stories repeatedly fabricate the intentions of the Chinese government; the picture that is painted is Beijing eager to see their country become a bully in the region and to topple the U.S. as the world’s global economic power. One must conclude that the purpose of such reporting is to deliberately keep much of the American public misinformed about China and to curry favor with leading U.S. politicians.
There is at least one other factor that cannot be ignored.
In their highly acclaimed book “Manufacturing Consent”, authors Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky outlined how U.S. media cannot perform the function they should because of multiple filters that constrain their work. One of those is flak. According to the authors, American news organizations fear that organized, sustained and intentional criticism of their reporting could scare away advertisers. Appearing to be anything but hostile toward the Communist world leaves these news agencies ripe for such flak, the authors stated, ensuring that a monolithic disdain toward Communism follows.
By the way, that criticism of U.S. media is as true today as it was in 1988, when “Manufacturing Consent” was first published. In reality, almost 35 years later, the story about the Communist world as it appears in U.S. mainstream news media has not changed. Neither has Americans poorly informed opinions.
Throughout 2021, American readers were bombarded with one story after another detailing China’s intentions regarding Taiwan and throughout the South China Sea. If the audience digested what they read without critical examination of the rumor, they were forced to conclude that at any minute China mainland would “invade” their own territory Taiwan. At the same time, China was determined to expand its military position throughout the region in order to silence any nation prepared to criticize it.
As 2021 began to wind down, attention turned to the U.S. effort leading a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Olympics. Voices supporting President Joe Biden were numerous, and they parroted the same message: Western leaders remaining home during the Olympics would send a powerful message to China that its intolerance for Western norms would not go unpunished. Few stories asked the most important question: Will any sports fan watching the Olympics really care if there is no American politician present? You and I know that answer, but because it runs counter to the China-is-bad narrative, it has no place in U.S. media discourse.
American audiences would be wise to take a break from this drumbeat of negative and storytelling and instead examine other opinions about China, its government and its people. One such example is found in the book “The Light That Failed”, written by Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes. The authors dissect why democracy, which successive U.S. presidents insisted was the future of all of humanity, has lost its luster over the past three decades.
The authors pay special attention at the end of their work to why China has offered a powerful alternative to nations big and small throughout the developing world that have grown tired of America’s empty claims to exceptionalism. They argue that Beijing pursues economic and other partnerships around the world without lectures about human rights and other democratic norms. In fact, China does not demand that its partners adopt the Chinese model of economic and political development, Krastev and Holmes state. Content to let other leaders determine how to best govern their countries, China benefits from its message of let’s work together to benefit both of our nations without preconditions.
Americans may continue to embrace their ignorance about China and its often-stated intentions, but by doing so they allow wrong messages and images about the country to frame their thinking. That is not exceptional.
The article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of China Focus.