In the 1930′s, New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty earned himself a place in literary infamy by whitewashing Stalin’s forced famine of Ukraine.
Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias can at least take comfort in the fact that their junketeering whitewash of China’s authoritarian assaults on human rights has historical precedent, but will probably not lead to a Pulitzer that gets contested fifty years after their deaths:
Klein and Yglesias’ group was taken to tour a spanking-new village built on the outskirts of the northern city of Dalian. As Yglesias describes it, “back in 2006 the former “village” of rudimentary structures was razed and the government constructed a large and extremely nice park (it’s in a very scenic area), reforested the hillsides, and constructed a series of apartment complexes. The former villagers now live in modest but up-to-date structures.” But don’t worry about the forcibly displaced, Yglesias admonishes us, because, “[w]e spoke to one retired couple who was given four apartments—they live in one and rent out the other three to families who’ve either moved out to Cha’an from the central city or else moved to the area from less prosperous regions of China. The town’s current party boss said he was given five apartments.” Klein’s coverage on the website of the Washington Post was equally credulous. He informed his audience, “A conversation with some residents revealed that they didn’t just get one free apartment in the new building. They got four free apartments, three of which they were now renting out. And medical coverage. And money for furnishings. And a food stipend. And — I’m not kidding, by the way — birthday cakes on their birthdays. Sweet deal.”
The problem is, it’s not a “sweet deal” for most of the millions of Chinese displaced by development projects every years. China has no real concept of private property; every hovel is considered state property, for the state to destroy as needed for any reason.
Big hydroelectric dam? Millions relocated (with no documentary evidence of “sweet deals”). Beijing holds the Olympics? Over a million relocated.
Yglesias and Klein are on a junket managed and staged by a public relations firm based in Hong Kong called the China-United States Exchange Foundation. While the firm claims on its website it is a “non-government” organization, it would be impossible for it to operate without strictures imposed by the Chinese government. China has no concept of freedom of the press, and there is simply no way that the Beijing government would tolerate a group of American journalists traveling around the country with impunity. In other words, Yglesias, Klein, and their “fellow travelers” are being shown precisely what the Beijing government wants them to see. It is a non-governmental tour in name only. The fact that Klein and Yglesias report back on such obviously staged scenes without a hint of doubt raises serious doubts about their journalistic competence. The “sweet deal” that Klein alluded to above is obviously too – in fact, sickly – sweet. It is plainly obvious to anyone who knows a whit about China that they were visiting a stage-managed potemkin village.
The “Potemkin Village” – named after a Czarist minister who built a fake village to show Western visitors how well the Russian serfs were being treated (they were treated like slaves elsewhere in Russia) – is a great totalitarian tradition; dictators build a really, really nice demonstration of something controversial, to show how benign, even wonderful, it is. Hitler even built a “Potemkin” concentration camp, Theresienstadt, to show visiting human rights dignitaries and, one presumes, the 1940′s anscestors of Klein and Yglesias, how good concentration camp inmates had it.
Sad to say, they bought it back then, too.
Leftyblogs: Speaking “sweet deal” to power.