Washington Post ombudsman Patrick B. Pexton has criticised the newspaper’s publication this month of a written interview with Xi Jinping, arguing that the Chinese government was granted too much control over its content.
In publishing the transcript, which was more press release or propaganda than news, The Post set a bad precedent with the authoritarian government in Beijing ….
As The Post’s correction stated (this was from early editions — it was shortened in later editions): “… the Chinese government modified, deleted, and added questions to those The Post submitted. As a result, The Post did not publish the questions and instead published only the responses. The comments were not direct answers to the original questions submitted by The Post.”
So, The Post submits written questions — already a far cry from a live face-to-face unscripted interview with journalists — and the Chinese say, thanks, but we don’t like your questions, so we’ll provide our own questions and answers. Take it or leave it.
The Post took it. I think it should have left it.
Pexton later acknowledges The Post’s commercial ties to the state-run China Daily, at which The Atlantic’s James Fallows raised an eyebrow early last year:
Recently the Washington Post has started carrying China Daily’s US edition as a physically separate advertising supplement to the printed paper, as described here. Fine: it’s clearly labeled, and we’ve all gotta stay in business. But now the Post is doing the same thing on its website ….
I showed this to a seasoned world traveler a few minutes ago and asked what he thought it was. “‘China Watch’ ? — The Post’s blog about China?” Reasonable guess …. I’ve long been skeptical of the Chinese government’s ability to exert “soft power” influence over outside opinion, precisely because of the tin-eared super-earnest “Resist Hegemony!” / “totally legitimate” approach. Getting the Post to present Chinese government material this way is a step I hadn’t foreseen.