Tag Archives: The New York Times

How to Fool the NYT? Cloak Self-Promotion in 'Odd Japanese' Story

Are Japanese people so afraid of street crime that they’d try to blend in as a vending machine? Well, an artist with an ironic streak and a good sense for reporter manipulation convinced The New York Times last month that they are. Ampontan responds in kind.

The Times article reported on work by the artist Tsukioka Aya (月岡彩): a set of collapsible vending machine suits, in case you want to blend in on the street. Aside from considering a 2003 work of art a contemporary trend, the Times‘ Martin Fackler swallows Tsukioka’s bait and prints her artist’s narrative verbatim.

To get the reader’s attention, Fackler declares that the suits “are greeted here with straight faces” (doubtful) and includes a truly indefensible “nut graf” full of classic tropes about “the Japanese”:

These elaborate defenses are coming at a time when crime rates are actually declining in Japan. But the Japanese, sensitive to the slightest signs of social fraying, say they feel growing anxiety about safety, fanned by sensationalist news media. Instead of pepper spray, though, they are devising a variety of novel solutions, some high-tech, others quirky, but all reflecting a peculiarly Japanese sensibility.

Let’s be fair to Fackler. The article later does acknowledge that these pieces are examples of chindōgu (珍道具, “strange tools”), a movement of odd-ball inventions that Ampontan points out has both Japanese– and English-language websites. (I’ll also allow for the possibility that Fackler submitted a less credulous story that editors changed to emphasize the crime angle.)

It’s the truly credulous tone at the top of the article that leads Ampontan to declare the Times deceased, its present operations being merely postmortem spasms. Read it.

NYT Forgets to Look Past Hollywood in China-Sudan Story

Helene Cooper writes in The New York Times:

[I]n the past week, strange things have happened. A senior Chinese official, Zhai Jun, traveled to Sudan to push the Sudanese government to accept a United Nations peacekeeping force. Mr. Zhai even went all the way to Darfur and toured three refugee camps, a rare event for a high-ranking official from China, which has extensive business and oil ties to Sudan and generally avoids telling other countries how to conduct their internal affairs.

So what gives? Credit goes to Hollywood — Mia Farrow and Steven Spielberg in particular.

The article proceeds from there, actually giving the impression that a couple of people from the U.S. movie scene convinced the Chinese government to change its stance. Sure, the two have done some effective advocacy on the issue. Farrow started a campaign to brand the Beijing Olympics as the “Genocide Olympics.” And she pressured Spielberg, who’s advising the Chinese government on something or another related to the games, to pressure Chinese officials by saying he might compare to a Nazi propagandist if he didn’t speak up. (He did—in a letter to President Hu.)

The trouble is that the article doesn’t mention the dozens of campaigns and websites from elsewhere on Earth devoted to the same thing. Besides, the article says Farrow got on board last month. What about the Washington Post editorial from December that suggested that U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson bring up what the headline called the “genocide olympics” issue? Oh, and then there are the French presidential candidates calling for their country to boycott.

Abe Apologizes, Xinhua Seems Satisfied, Reuters More Skeptical

Surrounding Australian Prime Minister John Howard’s trip to Japan this weekend, Japanese PM Abe Shinzo “expressed an unfeigned apology to ‘comfort women.'” Or did was the headline that he “trie[d] damage control over WW2 sex slaves”?

If you ask the Chinese official news agency, which often serves as an outlet for the Chinese government’s scoldings of Japanese leaders for “inappropriate” statements on history, Abe really meant it. In a report offering almost no details, Xinhua writes:

TOKYO, March 11 (Xinhua) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday expressed unfeigned apology to “comfort women” who were forced by Japan’s then military government into sex slavery during World War II.

In a TV program of NHK earlier in the day, Abe also reiterated that his government will not change the policy of honoring the Kono statement.

The prime minister’s remarks were a big conversion from what he said on Thursday, when he hinted a reinvestigation of the facts unearthed in 1993 by the previous official probe which gave birth to the Kono statement in the same year. …

In what I’ve come to know as the language of Xinhua stories, my hunch is this reflects a desire among the decision-makers in Chinese media to put the “comfort women” aside. Reuters, under the more skeptical headline quoted above, has some more detail:

On Sunday, Abe repeated that the 1993 apology remained in effect. “We have stated our heartfelt apologies to the ‘comfort women’ at the time who suffered greatly and were injured in their hearts,” Abe said in an interview with NHK television. “I want to say that that sentiment has not changed at all.”

The furore precedes a visit to Tokyo in mid-April by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Abe’s trip to Washington later that month.

In a sign the Bush administration was growing concerned, U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer last week advised Tokyo not to renege on the 1993 apology, known as the “Kono Statement” after the chief cabinet secretary in whose name it was issued.

“No friend of Japan would want Japan to back away from the Kono Statement,” Schieffer told Japanese reporters on Friday

The Reuters article quotes a Sofia University political science professor as saying that the U.S. headlines surrounding this story might have led the Abe team to worry about the opinions of the Japanese public. “When Asian governments criticise Japan, no one cares but when it’s reported in the New York Times, they have to react,” said the professor, Nakano Koichi. “They care about the American elite being upset.”

Let’s see what Rep. Honda has to say about this on the Hill Thursday.

On the NYT Editorial Page, a Swing and a Miss

The New York Times today took a whack at what Abe Shinzo should do as the new prime minister of Japan. The editorial is both reasonable and unambitious in urging Abe to work toward better relations with China and other nearby states. It ends:

Japan has a great deal to be proud of, including an increasingly vital democracy, a revived economy and the difficult but necessary economic reforms that Mr. Koizumi began to push through and that Mr. Abe will now need to take further. It does not need to glorify the darkest period of its recent history and the war criminals most responsible for that terrible aberration.

But on the way to a reasonable conclusion, the Times loses its way. Regarding Chinese anti-Japan sentiment, the editorial says “an ugly, but increasingly distant, history of Japanese aggression and war crimes stands in the way.” While all history is technically increasingly distant as time passes, history is only distant when it ceases to maintain a prominent position in popular consciousness. Japanese aggression is not distant in China; it is reinforced in the public sphere by the CCP, as Peter Hays Gries writes in China’s New Nationalism. This editorial would have us believe history is declining in importance.

Or would it? The writer still finds space to criticise Japanese textbooks for inaccurately reflecting the nation’s war aggression, despite the fact that most of the headlines coming out of the Japanese textbook controversy surround a book almost no one uses.

I wish the Times were more careful with its words when taking this essentially reasonable stand.

Abe, the Politics of Being Korean, and the NYT

From a conversation I had last week with David Marx and some snooping around on Japan’s popular 2ch message board comes Marxy’s essay on “Abe and the Politics of Being Korean.” The particular 2ch thread, which is now unavailable, got on Marxy’s back for being a vicious foreigner and also included unfriendly comments about New York Times reporter Norimitsu Onishi, whom the 2ch-ites say is a Korean Japanese. Part of Marxy’s take:

Much more moral clarity over on the thread, however, as posters want to know about this Japan-bashing writer Onishi. Apparently he is Korean-Japanese with Canadian citizenship. Comment 572 states 「大西は日本在住の、日本→カナダ国籍取った朝鮮人だよな。マジで殺されろ。」using a questionably-racist term for Koreans (朝鮮人) and then adding a cherry on top: “Seriously, he should be killed.” The logic is clear: of course, he is bashing Japan, because he is #1 – not actually Japanese – and #2 – the Korean-Japanese live their whole life to bash Japan. Racial purity determines political outlook.