When an “unnamed U.S. official” was quoted by the Financial Times (FT) as saying that Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential nominee, had left “them”
with distinct doubts about whether she is both willing and able to continue the stability in cross-Strait relations the region has enjoyed in recent years,
Tsai Ing-wen herself – reportedly (and China’s Huanqiu Shibao may not be an ideal source for reliable coverage on Tsai’s U.S. visit) – expressed her hope that the U.S. government would maintain a neutral position in Taiwan’s elections, scheduled for January, during discussions with students at Harvard University’s Yenching Auditorium. She also said that she couldn’t tell if the Financial Times’ report was actually accurate. Tsai, that can probably be said quite safely, retained her composure – she usually does.
Dixteel, a blogger who supports the DPP presidential nominee, suggested that Tsai’s visit to the US looks like a great success. That may actually be true. We don’t even know for sure if the unnamed U.S. official actually exists – and if he spoke on behalf of the U.S. administration, or rather on the behalf of a faction of “old China hands” whose expertise is mostly about “not offending China”*). We do, on the other hand, know who Mark Toner is.
But an outsider who previously read the FT’s article in question, or the media reactions it has triggered, and then wanders over to Dixteel’s blogpost, may wonder if he is reading a blog which advocates democracy, or rather a reverse-version of People’s Daily. In fact, People’s Daily, or certainly Huanqiu Shibao, if faced with a similar situation as is Taiwan’s pan-green camp, would have given even unwelcome news some attention within their articles, even if only to show that their heads aren’t in the sand.
Either way, in his post’s commenter section, Dixteel referred me to Michael Turton, also a blogging Tsai supporter, who had blasted this one (the FT report) quite a bit.
If the unnamed U.S. official doesn’t exist, Turton is right, and the FT’s report was a disgusting hack job. But if the official does exist, and if this doesn’t discard the allegation that the FT’s reporter still did a “hack job”, most mainstream papers do hack jobs. Turton himself, however, doesn’t seem to doubt that such comments had indeed been made by a member of the U.S. administration.
Josh Rogin at The Cable at Foreign Policy noted the Administration’s bad week on Taiwan, another shining example of its ability to alienate its supporters while angering its critics,
writes Turton, and
[t]he ugly ignorant arrogant remarks of the Administration official are worth another look [..]
Which is most probably true. I recommend that you read the articles Turton links to. But calling the FT’s report a “hack job” seems to suggest that Dixteel or Turton would have expected the “hack writer” to keep silent about the story. In which case, probably, the official’s “serious doubts” would have been peddled to another paper.
Now, JR wouldn’t be JR if he left it at that, without offering some helpful advice on how to counter moves like either the FT’s, or the unnamed senior official’s, or Beijing’s, or whosoever’s, more efficiently. After all, JR, too, is a Tsai-supporting blogger.
One may point out that the FT’s correspondent or reporter was in a situation with not too many options available. It is hard to deny that the FT report sells – Tsai’s U.S. visit wouldn’t have garnered nearly as much global attention without the FT’s news article. And if the FT hadn’t published the story, another paper would have been contacted by what may be an official acting on the administration’s behalf, or an official who acts on the behalf of a pro-China faction.
However – and this is crucial when judging the ways mainstream media work -, the FT correspondent could have added some remarks of his own, about the official’s credibility. He could have pointed out that the official may or may not speak for the administration. He could have done exactly the kind of job JR is trying to do here.
But his chances to be contacted by the same or another senior official in the future, in a similar situation, would have been hurt, had he added too many assessments of his own.
Where mainstream news people appear to stop, blogs might get involved and add to the story.
*) When Chris Patten was Hong Kong’s last governor, he faced much criticism from a – probably similar – “sinologist” faction within the British foreign office, for what they considered his bad handling of the crown colony’s relationship with its future rulers in Beijing.
“One Thing almost certain: ['senior official'] had Donilon’s Blessing”, Taipei Times, Sep 20, 2011