by Mary Harrington
Friday, 5
February 2021
Response
17:39

The New York Times’ red-tinted glasses

Why is the Grey Lady so strikingly uncritical of China?
by Mary Harrington
Does this woman on a bicycle hate the UK as much as the New York Times does. Credit: Getty

The New York Times has continued its enthusiastic China cheerleading in a long article celebrating the authoritarian, but apparently effective, methods employed by Chinese leader Xi Jinping to contain the coronavirus across China’s vast territories. The article is interesting, detailed, informative — and strikingly uncritical. The authors breathlessly recount:

“In many countries, debates have raged over the balance between protecting public health and keeping the economy running. In China, there is little debate. It did both.”
- Steven Lee Myers et al,The New York Times

There’s no reason to suppose that any of the feats of mobilisation reported in the article are factually untrue. But one wonders whether the house journal for America’s still notionally-liberal East Coast Brahmin class might have made more of the brute coercive power required to effect such mobilisation, than one passing reference to officials tying a man to a tree for sneaking out to buy cigarettes.

Likewise, one might wonder whether in celebrating China’s effective redirection of national manufacturing resources to critical Covid-era infrastructure requirements, the authors could have spared a sentence to note the decades of financialisation and globalisation, under Democrat and Republican administrations alike, that have hollowed out America’s industrial capacity.

The authors seem impressed by the “sense of patriotism, duty and self-sacrifice” that the Chinese government is able to call upon, to drum up popular enthusiasm for Covid mitigation measures. In that celebration, they might have reflected briefly on the New York Times’ attitude to American expressions patriotism, duty and self-sacrifice.

This isn’t the first outing for The New York Times’ emerging post-Trump line in China hagiography. Early in January, for example, the publication’s China correspondent Li Yuan contrasted Western freedoms against an emerging Chinese conception of “freedom” that is short on the political sort — extremely so if you are a member of the Uighur minority — but longer on freedom from disease, recession or restrictions on everyday life. Did we really value those political freedoms so much, when they don’t seem to come with safety or growth?

But perhaps what we’re seeing here is just evolution. As New York magazine notes, the Grey Lady is increasingly torn between its historic legacy as “the paper of record”, and a growing consensus among younger staff and an increasingly politicised readership alike that objectivity both smells and no longer sells.

Taken together, these indications suggest that a new New York Times is pupating inside the old, and will soon burst forth (perhaps from its chest). On these early signs, we can expect the reborn Grey Lady to embrace a coyly but firmly post-democratic politics, alongside a menu of social-activist principles whose exigencies will serve to justify (or at least do nothing to undermine) the implementation of that politics.

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Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

Most of us gave up on the NYT a long time ago. It is disgusting. As Brian Dorsley suggests below, perhaps they are being paid a lot of money to try and turn the US into China. And why not? It’s working for the Bidens.

Another thought that has occurred to me regarding the NYT, Guardian, BBC etc in recent years is that they know that nobody wants to pay for their garbage. Thus they are angling for direct state funding, which is why they have all become partners in authoritarianism. And they don’t really care who is in charge.

A further option is that any interest in, or like for, ‘freedom’ has simply been educated out of those under the age of 40. Or, at least, educated out of those who have gone to college, where they are indoctrinated by academics who believe that everyone else is stupid and that they should be in charge. Thus the younger end of the media class has evolved a belief that the ‘little people’ really shouldn’t be allowed a say in who governs them.

Whatever, a plague on all their houses.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Excellent comment. Your third paragraph is particularly impressive.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Thankfully, as Brexit has shown, the ‘little people’ are much better at freedom than the ‘big’ ones.

Saul D
Saul D
1 year ago

I have run into NYT readers so trapped by the paper that even if you show them that the NYT is burying stories and spinning the truth with actual physical evidence, they will refuse to look at the evidence – even when it’s unimpeachable academic or government reports – preferring to stay in their NYT bubble.

These are intelligent people, you see professors like Richard Dawkins doing it, but seem to lose all critical faculties when it comes to articles in the Times. The NYT says so, so it’s true, and they refuse to allow their beliefs to be questioned or to make any further checks for veracity. Deep, deep levels of confirmation bias.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  Saul D

I know exactly what you mean. About 18 months ago when in Amsterdam I literally overhead an American woman in the street exclaim “But the New York Times says…”. If the NYT told them to take poison I swear they would do so.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Saul D

But everybody does this, even the people on this site. They have a view, the view is immovable, they wait for evidence to support this view, they crow about this new evidence and, finally, ridicule anyone who is slightly different. What is new? This is what the Left and Right do. Of course, the centre is wishy-washy. So you have a choice, the two extremes or wear a sign saying, “I am wishy-washy.”

Jonathan Ellman
Jonathan Ellman
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Not everybody.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

If you believe that, try advocating something like Socialism on UnHerd.

Note that I am not advocating Socialism but it is the test to see if people are really listening. I have said many times (totally ignored) that on UnHerd you can find thousands of posts which blame, say, the government, Boris Johnson, the NHS. Blaming somebody is trivial and pathetic from people who seem to believe they are great thinkers.

I had an answer once when I said this that obviously I thought I was better than everybody else. That is true if I wade through pages and pages of detailed analysis and ‘facts’ which prove something. Unfortunately, these facts are precisely chosen to support the unmoveable belief of the person writing the post.

It is just boring and predictable.

Terry M
Terry M
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Socialism has a long and distinguished record of bringing misery, poverty, and death. It is a fascinating concept, but like perpetual motion, fails every test.

Aidan Collingwood
Aidan Collingwood
1 year ago
Reply to  Terry M

Yes but this time around it’ll be done properly… good socialism… promise it will!

Saul D
Saul D
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I know people get trapped by the media they consume. You can listen to arguments and know exactly what paper or TV station someone gets their news from without even asking. The interesting conversations are with people who read more widely and have more expertise – not just singing the chorus. Unfortunately NYT readers think they are so smart, they can’t be being misled by the paper they read…

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Saul D

OK, I accept this and therefore my rant is mis-aimed.

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
1 year ago
Reply to  Saul D

Definitely a Guardian reader.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago

I am as forthrightly pro-Brexit and anti-woke as anyone, but I think he’s got a point. We should read the Guardian, on the ‘know thine enemy’ principle if for no other reason. We should test our beliefs for soundness and validity.

Mike Boosh
Mike Boosh
1 year ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Just make sure to have your blood pressure pills handy…

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago
Reply to  Mike Boosh

Good advice. Wokeness certainly makes the steam come out of my ears.

George Lake
George Lake
1 year ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

As the late Duke of Wellington put it:
“All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavour to find out what you don’t know by what you do; that’s what I called “guessing what was at the other side of the hill.”

Mike Boosh
Mike Boosh
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

For what it’s worth, I’m pretty right wing and think you’re correct. We all have a view point, and filter, possibly subconsciously, the facts to fit our opinions. I make a point to read the guardian semi regularly, and usually find it reinforces my beliefs by negative example.. I challenge anyone here to read Owen Jones and not find themselves convinced that he’s talking rubbish.

Seb Dakin
Seb Dakin
1 year ago
Reply to  Mike Boosh

I read Owen Jones and come away more conservative that I was before. 🙂

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
1 year ago
Reply to  Seb Dakin

That’s the crux of the problem. My views haven’t changed much since I was at college, but they are now regarded as radically right-wing by the mainstream media even though they were perfectly acceptable just a few years ago. I think the difference lies in those who were able to go out and play when they were kids and those who’ve grown up believing social media is the real world. ‘Back in my day’ SJW/woke behavior would have gotten corrected by your peers.

Andre Lower
Andre Lower
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Or resort to objective, impartial criticism based on real evidence on a case-by-case manner – which some people still do in these comments section and thus keep me interested in reading them in Unherd😉.

Peter Kriens
Peter Kriens
1 year ago
Reply to  Saul D

I was an avid NYT reader until the James Damore affair opened my eyes that not even the NYT was honest. This made me see that their obsession with T. was not only very unhealthy, it had made them unfair and biased. The vicious attacks on Jordan Peterson disgusted me further.

I see in my environment the effect how self reinforcing the bubble of the main stream press is. A friend of mine once asked what my definition of the main stream press was. I told him to pick a controversial topic and search on Google News and pick the top 10 media. I listed some of the newspapers on which he said, quite disdainful, “Ah, just any newspaper that is against T.!” Somehow he totally missed that this was making my point of main stream media bias. If a president that got 74 million votes in the latest election can be universally attacked by the main stream than a very large part of the population is no longer represented.

And to be sure, I would’ve voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 …

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
1 year ago
Reply to  Saul D

Sounds like an everyday Guardian addict. Sorry reader.

Karen Lindquist
Karen Lindquist
1 year ago
Reply to  Saul D

Noam Chomsky had exposed the NYT as censoring all news, openly mocking their tag line “all the news that’s fit to print,” in his Manufacturing Consent over 30 years ago. This didn’t happen suddenly.
There is also a striking visual in the documentary made about that book where they roll out the actual news in the Times Sunday paper alongside the ads. The ads go on and on and on, but the actual content is very short. And Chomsky effectively proved how they edit a piece to remove any real content and print the most meaningless part of an article to sway opinion the way that want.
I can’t think of any publication I trust these days. In the last 20 years everything has fallen. And sadly not many people are able to think or read critically and most people are simply operating on fear so will run to one umbrella or the other.

Jim le Messurier
Jim le Messurier
1 year ago

The NYT clearly has a large number of lefty woke cretins on their payroll who know little about anything outside of their bubble and have probably never met a human being from outside their wealthy metro-graduate circle. There are still a few good writers there, but the direction of travel has been crystal clear for some time.

I believe their top guy was once a director of the BBC. That figures.

It’s why they love China so much. It has the kind of regime they fantasise about having for themselves – one in which all of the politically incorrect could be rounded up and shoved in ‘re-education’ camps. Well what else can you do with these people?

That’s the NYT of 2021. A sh*trag.

johntshea2
johntshea2
1 year ago

It sounds like the ghost of the late and loathed Walter Duranty still haunts the NYT, with the Uighurs replacing the Ukrainians this time around.

stephen f.
stephen f.
1 year ago
Reply to  johntshea2

Perhaps they are angling for another Pulitzer.

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
1 year ago
Reply to  johntshea2

Well said, John. Duranty is in a class by himself, but the Grey Lady has a long and shameful history of misinforming its readers about the international scene. Another NYT journo who quite undeservedly won a Pulitzer prize was John F. Burns, who shared the 1993 Pulitzer for International Reporting for his Serbophobe posts on the war in Bosnia. His numerous lapses are well-documented in Texan journo Peter Brock’s “Media Cleansing: Dirty Reporting”. For example, “The centrepiece of Burns’ Pulitzer entry was a gory, seven-hour ‘interview’ with a captured Bosnian Serb, Borislav Herak, portrayed as a twenty-one-year-old psychopath and crazed member of a local militia. It turned out to be a manipulated confession and interrogation in which Burns was the key participant.” In his report Burns never mentioned Herak’s outrageous allegation that Canadian general Lewis Mackenzie, when he was UNPROFOR commandant, had raped young Bosnian Muslim women, knowing that this would discredit Herak’s account. Herak was never called as a witness by the War Crimes Tribunal, so it obviously disbelieved the testimony that won Burns a Pulitzer prize.

G Matthews
G Matthews
1 year ago

Its no coincidence that the NYT is headed up by Mark Thompson, ex-head of BBC News. Nor that Thompson and Lionel Barber, ex-editor of FT, have invested in the “New European”. You have to distinguish clearly between a “Free Press” and media. Anything carrying advertising is media, and by definition is not free as they all want to be “brand safe” for their advertisers.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  G Matthews

Thompson and Barber. Two of the most repulsive people of our times.

Seb Dakin
Seb Dakin
1 year ago

“In China, there is little debate.”

Well, you can’t say the NYT got that one wrong.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
1 year ago

Follow the money. It may not be true of the NYT per se, but often there is someone paying lots of money to have an agenda carried out.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

Never forget that the NYT fell for, and pushed, the WMD hoax and supported the war in Iraq. As far as I know, it has never apologised for this. (Nor has anyone else ever apologised for Iraq, one of the most wicked geo-political actions of all time).

I have no doubt that the NYT – and the rest of the US media – will fall enthusiastically behind whatever military action Biden, Blinken and co are cooking up. Military action is good for eyeballs and viewers.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I was willing to take a bet that a ‘vote for Biden’ would end up with a military conflict within four years. Ya can just see the powers that be itchin’ for it.

Aidan Collingwood
Aidan Collingwood
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

It’s surprising, the number of people who were decidedly anti-Trump (apparently a fascist and opposed to Chinese power) and thus voted for the other guy, whose supporters in the NYT are great fans of Jinping (definitely a communist and opposed to American power). Search me but it’s almost like these highly educated Liberal types almost think spreading global Communism is better than national Capitalism. Should we be surprised? I think the patriotism the NYT sees in the Chinese people might be more a case of ordinary people blindly following the dictates of very unpleasant leaders who are quite capable of making people disappear for doing or saying the wrong thing. There is no such thing as an optional dictatorship, from which one can pick and choose which parts of the diktats to obey. Perhaps the NYT should be careful what it wishes for, because Jinping’s sly goons might be only too happy to give it to them. But Trump is out of office and that’s all that matters… apparently

Jonathan Ellman
Jonathan Ellman
1 year ago

It seems if you post a link here your post is deleted. But search for ‘NYT Chinese edition’ (undo the auto translate) and you’ll see that the Times has its sights on the market in which nothing critical of China will be permitted.

Kiran Grimm
Kiran Grimm
1 year ago

I did search NYT Chinese edition and it makes for interesting reading (if you can bear with the limitations of Google Translate).

There was a review of Amelia Pang’s investigative book
” Made in China: A Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the Hidden Cost of America’s Cheap Goods”
Very critical of China and its exploitation of labour!

The NYT Chinese edition’s take on the Myanmar coup at least provides an altiernative to the somewhat fawning attitude of Britain’s MSM to Aung San Suu Kyi.

A piece on the epidemic had this line (regarding their lockdown restrictions):
“These regulations reflect the micro-management nature of China’s political system. In this system, the top leader has the control lever to manipulate every street and even every apartment building from the central political decision-making body.”

and, on the government’s handling of the crisis:
“The anger at the government’s inaction and cover-up practices in the early stages of the crisis has subsided, which is the consequence of the system’s suppression of bad news and criticism.”

Nothing critical of China?

M Spahn
M Spahn
1 year ago

I attempted to publish the following comment on the Times website:

“It is dismaying to see such a fawning headline about a regime that is engaged in genocide as we speak.”

Despite the fact that I am a regular commenter in good standing, they apparently would not publish it.

stephen f.
stephen f.
1 year ago

When the NYT staff went on strike decades ago, they (the striking staff) printed a special edition: “Not the New York Times”-it’s motto was: All the News That’s Print to Fit”.

Terry M
Terry M
1 year ago
Reply to  stephen f.

“Pretend news but really sh*t”

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 year ago

One of the benefits of seeing the US become ‘Chinaesque’, is that we wouldn’t have a NYT.

Robert Hochbaum
Robert Hochbaum
1 year ago

Lol

Robert Hochbaum
Robert Hochbaum
1 year ago

Always look on the bright side!

Ess Arr
Ess Arr
1 year ago

The NYT is also extremely anti-India, possibly part of the same mindset. It’s always been the case except under Abe Rosenthal, but pitched to a hysterical level in Modi times. There’s no pretense at objectivity. I still read the NYT but only its “soft”coverage, stories on knitting patterns, dog shows and cooking (Sam Sifton is arguably its best journalist).

greg reaume
greg reaume
1 year ago
Reply to  Ess Arr

The New York Times has a certain bias, no doubt. But it is still a great read. Unherd, with its own bias, is a great read too. Always best to read widely with curiosity, an open mind and a healthy scepticism.

conall boyle
conall boyle
1 year ago

I’ve read the NYT article and it paints a horrific picture of life in Communist China.

Jonathan Ellman
Jonathan Ellman
1 year ago

This is part of the reason: https://cn.nytimes.com/

Tom Krehbiel
Tom Krehbiel
1 year ago

I suspect a lot of the NYT’s attitude can be attributed to the same illiberal source as what made the Rotherham fail to act against Asian Muslims: the fear of being called racists. It’s a very worrisome trend in the West that we think only white people can do ill, despite so much evidence to the contrary.

D Ward
D Ward
1 year ago

How do you tax someone who is paid in freebies? How do these ” influencers” pay their share of schoolsnhospitals?

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
1 year ago

Two reasons – Chinese money and the desire of the Brahmin class to treat their fellow citizens as serfs.

C S
C S
1 year ago

Excellent article.

H STAUTLAND
H STAUTLAND
1 year ago

A case of sour grapes, this article? Having lived through the whole COVID-19 catastrophe in China (I`m still stuck there) I tend to agree more with the NYT than with Ms.Harrington. Comparing what China has achived with the ongoing mess in both Europe & the US, I am perfectly happy to stay here. So are every one of hte foreigners I m in contact with. As for “patriotism,duty and selfsacrifice” it is very much in evidence, with a “we`re in this together”- attitude. I`ve not heard any complaints about the strict arrangements and measures taken by Chinese local and central authorities. On the contrary, people express satisfaction that their health & wellbeing is valued so much.
And in the media of my home country in Europe I see time and again this question from the public: “Why cannot we do like China?” Why indeed !

George Lake
George Lake
1 year ago
Reply to  H STAUTLAND

Read up on “The Great Leap Forward, 1959-62″ and you may modify your obvious adoration of China.

Terry M
Terry M
1 year ago
Reply to  H STAUTLAND

The folks at Auschwitz were ‘all in this together’ as well.

Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
1 year ago
Reply to  H STAUTLAND

Yes I’m sure there are no complaints from Jack Ma. He’ll have gone through corrective re-education and not be so outspoken in future…

Allan Edward Tierney
Allan Edward Tierney
1 year ago

I am happy to read that the New York Times appears to have at least a neutral and perhaps even a somewhat positive stance on China, this in contrast to its all-pervasive and continual attacks on all things Russian. Sadly Robert Parry is not around to bring its editorial staff to book for this latter example of negative partiality. On China, if it is true that a positive partiality exists I would welcome this as some kind of geopolitical balance if of the rather haphazard kind.

As Martin Jacques has eloquently pointed out many times it is impossible to understand China using a western lens. China has a culture steeped in legacies stretching back thousands of years. It is commonly misunderstood and the resulting articles displaying negativity due to these flawed perceptions are themselves deeply misleading. The question of the Uyghurs is a prime and current example. Nothing of the history leading up to the actions of the Chinese on a minority of the Uyghur population is ever mentioned, not even the fact that it is only a certain minority that are involved. Xinjiang was where the Chinese authorities trained Uyghurs to assist in removing the Soviets from Afghanistan. It was from Xinjiang that many Uyghur leaders traveled to Mecca and came back with Wahhabi teachings. It is in Xinjiang that Wahhabi Uyghurs joined with ultra-nationalist Uyghurs to perpetrate some of the worst terrorist outrages never publicized in the West on Chinese citizens. None of this is communicated in the West. We are told stories based on activist reports in similar style to reports by activists in Syria and previous to the attacks upon Iraq from there too. These reports are faithfully channeled by western mass media as fact. But they are simply the usual product of activists who desire certain changes and know how to play western media to play western audiences.

Hopefully the NYT is as yet refraining from the channeling of activists in China and will continue to do so in an attempt to do real journalism as opposed to its active vendetta against Russia.

Terry M
Terry M
1 year ago

” It is in Xinjiang that Wahhabi Uyghurs joined with ultra-nationalist Uyghurs to perpetrate some of the worst terrorist outrages never publicized in the West on Chinese citizens. “

Citation? It seems to me that the Chicoms would be shouting this from the rooftops to justify their barbaric death camps. And if true, does that justify the govt actions? If so, you ought to be in favor of more Gitmo action.

Jeff Bartlett
Jeff Bartlett
1 year ago

I have a certain sympathy with Terry M’s comments. How is it that AE Tierney has such detailed knowledge on the Uyghur situation? His assertions are interesting… Would AET please provide us with signposts to that info so that we can investigate for ourselves? Dates, sources, scale of atrocities, etc., would be much appreciated.

Vilde Chaye
Vilde Chaye
1 year ago

ahhh, the old “we can’t understand the culture” argument, used by French Marxist historians to reject any alternative history of the French Revolution coming from Britain or anywhere else not French; now it’s being used to excuse horrific human rights abuses, not only of Uighurs, but also of Falun Dafa, other religious minorities, and, of course, anybody who steps out of line and criticizes the regime. Not to mention the threats against Taiwan (only part of China since 1683 after being seized by the Qing (Manchu) dynasty) and the bullying of other nations on the South China Sea.

Short version: Buddy, human rights abuses are human rights abuses. Cruelty is a universal human condition, unfortunately. China isn’t exempt from criticism for these, whatever its history. (Many high-ranking Chinese also believe their evolutionary pathway differs from all other humans; ie, that they aren’t descended from Africans who left Africa. A Chinese anthropology professor told me this; he knows the archeological evidence proves otherwise.)