Blogshow: Tsai’s Unknown Critic, the Financial Times, Reactions, and a bit of Advice

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.

Turton has established a label for the British paper’s report: it is, in his view, a hack job, or a propaganda hack job, and a disgusting one at that.

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.



» Reports: no Fighter Jet Sales to Taiwan, VoA, Sep 17, 2011
» Needed Virtues, March 1, 2011



“One Thing almost certain: [‘senior official’] had Donilon’s Blessing”, Taipei Times, Sep 20, 2011


6 Comments to “Blogshow: Tsai’s Unknown Critic, the Financial Times, Reactions, and a bit of Advice”

  1. Nobody loves your blogpost, JR. See what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass?

    Nobody writes a comment. 😈


  2. This is an ugly world, Tai De – after all, this is meant to be a helpful post. That said, nobody has expressed some gratitude yet, neither per comment, nor per e-mail. Am I being misunderstood?

    For something lighter, Mr. Turton has removed those nice automatic linkbacks which originally pointed to this post. So, even if my post wasn’t deemed helpful, I arguably had a point with what I wrote.

    Writing about Tsai Ing-wen generates a lot of traffic, btw. Coverage of her U.S. visit was meager, just as was German coverage of her visit to our country, earlier this summer.

    Oh, and, Tai De? Thanks for commenting anyway! 😉


  3. @JR – Want to see something ironic? Check out Turton’s castigation of the anonymous US official and compare with his criticism of Wikileaks (“secrecy is necessary for diplomacy”) and his criticism of the Ma administrations efforts to contact those writing group letters. It seems allowing a US official to speak anonymously is “a hack job” (apparently Turton doesn’t know what this term means – he seems to think it means the same as “hatchet job”, but we’ll let that one slide) but secrecy is necessary in diplomacy, that Turton has a right to know which official spoke, but that Ma’s administration has no right to contact the people writing against it to see whether they really did write the letter.


  4. @Foarp – yes, I realized that the FT‘s hack job became a hatchet job in his following post. I think the main inconsistency in his general rationale is that he seems to advocate pluralism, but can’t put up with dissent. That may be so because of Taiwan’s awkward situation vis-a-vis China, but I’m sometimes wondering if it isn’t really Taiwanese nationalism which drives him. If it’s the latter, one may argue with him for fun, but not to get somewhere.


  5. Did I cut off the automatic linkbacks? I didn’t even know such things existed?!

    You two are hilarious echoes of each other. The reason it is a hachet job is because its goal was to discredit Tsai and her trip. I excoriated FT, as justrecently points out, could have surrounded the comments with more robust views, and linked to Greenwald on the problems of media granting of anonymity.

    Sorry, but the equation of anonymity granted by FT and FT’s utter lack of balance with Wikileaks and US diplomacy is absolutely ridiculous. Two completely different situations. The issue with the FT is the abuse of anonymity by FT and its cooperation with the Administration in taking a partisan political stance on a foreign election when the official US position is neutrality. That is completely different from the much thornier issue of Wikileaks and US diplomacy. Indeed, what Wikileaks highlighted, with its reporting that was so utterly stronger and more important than anything in the mainstream media, was the servility of that media to power — exactly the problem in the FT case.



  6. Sure they exist, Michael. This is what they look like.

    I don’t think that the FT is particularly servile to power. My explanation for their approach is that they believe that the DPP in government would be “bad for business”, as most big papers seem to believe. If anything, they are “servile” to their readership. But you can excoriate them as much as you like – I believe that to criticize them works better, and I see no need to attach all kinds of unfriendly adjectives to them every time they “disappoint” me. I explained why I didn’t find their article convincing, but that’s all I can – or should – do.
    Calling foarp or me hilarious, or echoes, doesn’t look efficient to me either – few people will believe that you laughed when you wrote that. Therefore, your approach doesn’t look efficient to me.

    Neither you nor I can change the Financial Times – nor any other big paper – by ourselves. We can only contribute to forming opinions, or “teach” what they like to call media competence over here. Only an audience and readership that demands better journalism will get better journalism.

    I won’t interfere into your “internal American affairs” this time. An American administration’s ability or willingness to be transparent, or water-tight – in accordance with the people’s demands – has global effects, on European countries, too. But it’s an American affair first of all. My view of Wikileaks is here.

    Only a patient approach will generate sustainable policies. I believe that the DPP presidential candidate sees that – and I hope that her current supporters will see that, too. Otherwise, I find it hard to foresee a fortunate Tsai presidency.


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