tv [untitled] May 23, 2012 1:30am-2:00am EDT
getting a visa. i seem to be the editor who spends the most time of any editor in america getting veeses sa, mostly succeeding, sometimes not. getting a visa is critical. people still have their -- you have to assume you're still being followed, that your phones and conversations are being listened to, people get interviewed after you interview them by state security people. and yet, if you -- that's the snapshot. the dynamic picture is, if you compare it to the days in the '80s when you first were there, when other journalists here, probably, were there, it's a far different world. people are willing to let their names be used. one of our reporters right now in china, keith richberg, has one of his assistants basically spending full-time on the equivalent of twitter, monitoring social discourse april was talking about. information is abundant. and that's on this sort of political/social level. on the business or economic
front, when i first moved to hong kong in 1984, there were these jesuits in hong kong. lazil ladoni. they'd been evicted from the communists in 1949 and had gone to hong kong, set up camp there, and they were reporting on china, trying to get the facts right out of china. in the late '70s, they'd go to the kowloon railroad station, look at the grease on the axles of the trains, try to figure out the state of the petrochemical industry in china or something. that contrasts quite -- it's a huge contrast today with what norm's company, bloomberg, does. they probably have people dedicated to covering the state of the petrochemical industry in china today. there's vastly more information, the society is vastly more open, reporters have way more access. that's not in any way to say it's easy. in fact, i sense, maybe people closer to it like april will be able to affirm this, i sense
there's a closing-down of access. that china's getting impatient with the ways of journalists, and i guess that would be my picture. >> it's sort of astounding when you think about it, that the president of china's been in office now almost a decade and has never given an interview. i think to any journalist. certainly not a foreigner. >> it's, you know -- one of the things that will be fascinating to see is whether the incoming president ping is more open and outgoing. i heard somebody who was at his luncheon in los angeles when he was there said he didn't sit and eat his lunch, he walked around and met people the whole time, a very un-hu jintao thing to do. maybe you'll get more personality next time around. >> i've been through a few generations of leaders and there's always a tremendous amount of hope that's followed by a certain reality check in terms of the opacity. >> that's true of any leader. you always think the next
president of the united states is going to be nicer to reporters than the one before. >> it's just the opposite. >> yeah. at the risk of sounding like the geriatric panel. i remember when i was in china in the '80s! i was in china in the '80s and i didn't have a visa either. in some ways it's liberating to fly below the radar and it makes you pick up on stories that the officially sanctioned correspondents are always spending their time at the ministry press conference and you don't bother. you go straight to the new generation that's really making change. it's maybe sort of a policing that they don't -- i'm sure it's a pain in the neck too, i don't mean to sound pollyannaish. sometimes it reflects your coverage to be on the outside and that's a good thing. >> introduce went from china to russia. >> i did. >> what kinds of revelations did you have in that sort of comparison? >> well, we were all -- the thing about the russians, they love to talk.
blah, blah, blah. so easy to conduct interviews with russians, you couldn't get them to stop talking. the chinese, it's harder to pull stuff out. and people were so -- so unused to foreigners. you had to spend a long time talking about the fact that you were a foreigner, you spoke chinese, you had to comment on that for a long time before you could start asking questions. i think russia in the time of glasnost was more open than china in the 1980s. i don't know about today. i think as marcus said, you do have like the southern weekend, or chinese publications that are doing interesting things. you do have the internet, absolutely transformative. then you have -- you can't get into tibet. you can't get into sichuan. the tibetan ethnic areas. >> one of the fascinating things, the uprising a couple of
years ago, the foreign ministry set up a press center for foreign journalists. i'm guessing they thought, because the violence seemed to be directed against han chinese, they thought maybe they'd get the kind of press they expected if the foreign press came in. >> you know also who set up a press sector i understand is the protesters in the village that rose up against this local official. they had like a sort of underground railroad for foreign correspondents to get in because they'd been blocked off. i think that's a very interesting development, the idea that even chinese villagers recognized the importance of the foreign media and the reporting that foreign reporters can do about events in china, is significant for people inside china too. that's a really new development. and that level of awareness of the foreign media and sophistication was unthinkable in the old days when marcus and i were there. >> and yet, in many ways, the
reputation of the media, particularly in the west, i'd say, has suffered much damage in the last 20 years or so. and i think in a certain sense, paradox is many americans find themselves almost agreeing with the chinese, that the media is in a certain sense a negative force. >> oh, orville. >> well, i'm just -- >> april, do you want to handle that one? >> well, that's how a lot of chinese people tend to see the situation. but it's -- speaking from -- you know, i was in wukan with these activists who had organized and captured the attention of the international media, and as a
result, made the chinese government, the central government, or at least the provincial government, take notice. and it was -- i think that -- china has both -- still very few people do read the foreign media in china. they say that you -- to really understand china, you have to learn english. but local activists have gotten, and the government, have gotten so much better at working with the foreign media. i think the one case was wukan, another is chen guangcheng. also -- actually, bosulai -- it was so interesting to watch the coverage of the downfall of the mayor of chongqing. there were just these really
salacious stories that came out in the first couple weeks. about somehow, i think the chinese government somehow diverted the media, international media's attention to this affair between boshi li's wife and this british guy who got her son into boarding school in britain. and it seemed to go -- you know, the chinese government has often done that with its own people. blamed -- blamed -- after the downfall of a leader, they'll scapegoat the wife to maintain the integrity of the -- and the reputation of the leadership of the party. so they took the sort of attention off bochi li and put it on this like salacious affair. it was sort of similar to after
how intra done died and they put his wife on trial. i thought it was one of the most, like -- most interesting times when you could see the -- the chinese spinmasters manipulating the international media. >> i want to note, orville, that tonight is the oz prize, the pulitzers, the peabodys, and the webbies. they're all today. i don't know what cosmic convergence landed this day all these journalism prizes. there's still actually a lot of good journalism being done. let's not weep too hard into our beer. april is 1 great example and there are more. >> that's an interesting question, isn't it. the role that such prizes play in a society, to encourage good
journalism. because certainly if you sit on a pulitzer jury, you realize that the papers probably would never invest that kind of money unless there was such a possible celebration of that kind of work. marcus, as you look at our coverage of china, do you find the paper has trouble now financially justifying it? >> well, i don't -- i kind of dispute the premise. i think that there are some newspapers that pursue pulitzer prizes in a fairly craven way -- >> we're not going to name any names. >> no, no. i think that across the country, there are such newspapers. but i think that that is not generally what -- i think reporters -- reporters like to win prizes. they do seek the -- they seek the accolades. but i think that most people who go into reporting and who are capable of winning pulitzer prizes are people who are pretty
driven and passionate about what they do. >> but they don't do it all alone. they have to have an institution -- >> right, and the institutions -- i mean, i don't think a pulitzer prize doesn't do much for you economically, sadly. you know. obviously, some of the more traditional legacy institutions are facing real financial pressures these days. and they think harder about how they spend their money. but the big institutions like the "new york times," "the wall street journal," "the washington post," continue to invest heavily in foreign news. and, you know, we actually built up our foreign bureaus just a little bit last year, we added one bureau back. and it's a critical -- a critical dimension for our readers. our readership surveys, we're in washington, our readership surveys show internationalism is one of the things they most desire from us. so i think that continuing to cover china is important for our audience. in addition to that, there is this -- there is this pressure
to cover china from these upstart -- upstarts is the wrong word. from new media, some of which are quite giant now, like bloomberg. reuters is not new, it's been around a century or more. but large organizations that cover the world for an audience that cares deeply about the details of how the world works because they may be investors, they may be economically motivated. as i said earlier, i think there's more coverage, more granular coverage of china than there's ever been. so i don't think you can make the case, as some people do, that there is not the great foreign correspondents that there was once. i think there is great foreign correspondence across the board, all over the world. they're more information, more people out doing journalism today than there's ever been. i think it's a pretty big picture if you know how to navigate it. >> i think the peabodys, person after person stepping to the mike saying, thank you so much
for this prize because i really had to beg the general manager of my tv station for the time to tee vote to this, now he'll feel that it was justified. so i do think those prizes matter to people. you know, i hope they matter to you. >> yeah, makes a huge difference. i mean, part of what journalists are paid in is bylines. and it's -- partly it's curiosity -- it's not only curiosity. knowing that people are reading it. and recognizing it that keeps us determined. >> so what are you all aware of on the chinese side that impresses you as very hopeful in the media, doing really good work, and it's new? maybe let's start with you, april. >> okay.
on the chinese side? >> yeah. >> this might be sort of an odd -- this might be sort of an odd news source or information source to mention. but when i was -- when i was asking people from all walks of life in beijing what they thought of chen guangcheng, the activist, most of them had not heard of him, including students at beijing university. had not heard of him, including students at beijing university. but this one -- this one guy who did respond to that question is the -- he's a baker at a dumpling shop. he said, you know, he gets his news from a variety of sources, but he said chen guangcheng, the blind lawyer who escaped to the american embassy. he had actually read about it on this political forum on his
favorite porn site. >> good news. >> apparently, this site has learned some great techniques of getting around the great firewall of china and as a result they've used those to create a very vibrant forum, and a lot of people sort of are on their e-mail list constantly, sending out notices about their new web address. >> new idea for the human rights watch website. that's awesome. >> that has to be the overwhelmingly good news, is the internet, social media, all the ways of getting over the great firewall of china. it's just transformative. it's huge. it's hopeful. >> the other thing is, you know, i have a very -- these are shad oesz on the cave wall, but chinese journalists come through washington and come by the office to visit. and if you just watch the way
the question -- the kinds of questions you that get asked, you know, when i moved back to the u.s. in the end of '99 the groups that came through were mostly interested in getting a tour of the united states and going shopping at century 21. and then today people come into my office and they're tweeting what we say, which is probably not tweetworthy, but that never stopped anybody. and they record -- they ask all these questions about our business model. they ask questions about how do we manage public relations people, our relationship with the government. what do we see our role as. lots of questions about the pentagon papers when they come to the "washington post" and what exactly was the relationship between the government and news media at that point. so i take all of that as hugely positive. journalists are asking the right questions in china and those questions lead to certain answers, i think. >> i was visited ten years ago by a journalist. they don't come with the same regularity to human rights watch as they do to the "washington post."
i think they're scared to even come in the building sometimes. but i was visited by someone from -- i think it was chun du wambao. the evening paper of chengdu city. i had no idea why he was there to see me. i said how is it being a wang bo, an evening paper? how is your competition with the morning paper? he said i come out in the morning too. i said but you're a wang bo. he said oh, but wang bo means you're not controlled by the party. here at evening paper it means you're less under communist party control. >> marcus, you mentioned pr. >> yeah. >> and of course close sibling to pr in the minds of many chinese is soft power. how do you get soft power? where in a society such as our own it's something that either generates or doesn't generate. it isn't something you can manipulate. i'm wondering how you -- when
you look at china and your correspondents look at china how they see that playing out. >> how china gains soft power in the world. >> yes. and do you think there's a confusion in china between what good journalism is, you know, propaganda, public relations, soft power? >> i mean, i -- again, i feel a little bit too removed to be authoritative on this. but i'm quite sure -- some people really do understand what the role of media is and understand what their responsibilities are. and they know what the risks are as well. it's like when the high-speed rail crash occurred last year, there was a report, i think in the "wall street journal" that some newspapers, not only did they get the instruction -- not only did they report that they
got the instruction from the propaganda people to discontinue reporting about this thing. they caused one problem by allowing that to get out. the fact they'd received this instruction not to report about it but some kept reporting about it anyway, even beyond the point they were told to stop reporting about it. i think that's a sign you have serious journalists thinking hard about what is the role of the journalist in society. and while it's by no means universal and while the state still controls media and can exert influence, it's a vast -- it's a vast country and there's a lot of people, whether in southern weekend or saichen that are doing serious journalism. >> i think serious journalists have a strict restrictions as ever. but i think they're getting -- i would -- and in some cases there the government's techniques for censorship are a little more
sophistica sophisticated. but the journalists are some -- are still able to express themselves outside of these constraints. for instance, on weibo, on the chinese knockoff of twitter. a couple weeks ago the mainstream newspapers were all -- they were all forced to run these very scathing attacks on chen guangcheng, saying he was a tool of the american government and kidnapped by amnesty. just ridiculous statements like these. then one of the editors, no one even knows who wrote this, but it was a weibo. confession, an apology on someone -- on the beijing news official site posted this really tragic photo of a clown. after -- like backstage after the circus was over smoking a cigarette, smeared makeup and
the caption was "we take off our masks after the day is done and apologize to our true selves." and it was really indirect but poignant insight into journalists, how they feel about their constraints. >> i thought one fascinating example of chinese soft power came from andy higgins' runner-up piece where he has a vignette where the african union is meeting in adis ababa and sudan and south sudan are at loggerheads and fighting over oil and they each in the middle of negotiations have their cell phone to their ears and they're talking to a chinese diplomat who is really -- that's the kind of thing that an american diplomat would once upon a time have done and they do still do at african union, but that's the kind of role that china is poised to play in the world and should play in the world given
its oil interests in sudan and its role in africa. they were interested in repairing the fragile peace between those two countries as any of us on the outside. that's a good thing. >> how do you think china is doing on the soft power front? they're putting an enormous amount of energy into it. and particularly into expanding their global sort of media reach. is this successful? >> lots of people are going to work for cctv because they got fired from cnn. but look, you can't -- it is what it is. nobody made up the chen guangcheng incident. and no amount of pr can back-pedal out of that. and china can sell itself as a benign soft power on the world stage, but if they're not doing it at home it's not like they're going to fool anybody. part of the jonai idea of soft power is america is a democracy and we have a good story to
tell. but china has a bad story to tell. it's not a democracy. and you can't sort of make up what isn't there. so i think they've taken huge gigantic black eyes this year. >> the question i'd like an answer to is what is it like in asia right now? how is china perceived, whether in immediately adjacent countries or further afield? the south china sea disputes must rankle the philippines, malaysia, vietnam -- >> everybody. >> i don't see how -- i don't know how you get around that in terms of exerting soft power. but that's what people read in their papers. you're basically insisting that an island that's 100 kilometers off an existing philippine island is actually chinese. i don't know how that -- any other argument would work with the filipinos, make them feel benignly toward you. >> and from within china it really -- there's no sign of
soft power. for the past couple weeks cctv has really been beating the drumbeats to war with the philippines. and you know, people i talk to like the guy who had a lot of -- the dumpling shop baker who had a lot of sympathy for chen guangcheng and watches porn had also agreed with the chinese government. he said yeah, we've got to go to war, we've got to defend our sovereign territory. and, yeah, it doesn't -- it doesn't look -- it doesn't look like soft power when you're in china watching. >> do you think within china that the media has had a salutary effect on the way people view the world or are things up and down and just sort of unpredictable? are we making progress in the sense of the great promise of media to inform?
>> within china? >> yeah. i mean, we could ask the question about america as well. and i'd hate to think of the answer. >> i don't think i know the answer to the question about china. >> what about america, marcus? >> wait, let's hear the answer about china. >> all right. but don't forget the answer on america. >> you mean is the foreign media making a big impact on -- >> no. is the evolution of the media to be more open, providing more information, has it actually had a good effect in sort of enlightening society and opening society? >> definitely. i would say that what's gone far and beyond the evolution of the media -- you know, the newspapers and magazines in china is the internet, though. because it's just a platform for civil society that hasn't existed ever before. so -- and it's still very much
controlled. there are a lot of levers that the government can pull to diminish conversations in ways that are almost undetectible to the average reader or microblogger. but so just the act of conversation i think is -- so it's a very individual media is changing people's attitudes. so. >> and marcus, how do you think we're doing here in this country? in many ways we fancy ourselves as the model of, you know, in-depth, thoughtful coverage. and yet when you look around the american landscape how do you assess our state of grace? >> i don't know that there's a really simple answer to that question. i think the -- you know, i think
people want -- there's a narrative line that journalism isn't reaching people anymore, that everybody is focused in politics especially on just partisan, rancorous debate. and it's all rhetoric from this side, rhetoric from that side. goodness knows we see plenty of that, and i get plenty of the e-mails from people who feel strongly about things we write on politics. but, i mean, one of the questions you'd have to ask is what people -- reading habits have changed. and people used to be able to -- people used to have only a certain diet of information available to them. if you lived in a small town in the united states, what you had available to you informationwise was what your local newspaper could provide to you. >> & most local newspapers probably didn't provide great depth on very much. they might get the a.p., they might even get "the new york times," "l.a. times," "washington post" news service, but they couldn't go deep and they probably didn't have great substance. today if you live in any town in america with an internet
connection you can go as deep as you want to go on any subject. people's habits have changed. people no longer start their day by reading a newspaper with us sort of beginning to end the briefing you need for that day. in fact, they may want to go really deep on the area that interests them and they may not care all that much about the other things that pass them by that they once might have read. and i'm not sure that that's necessarily a bad thing. there's a line out there that somehow, you know, what's going on today with information in the way young people are consuming information is somehow bad for our democracy. and i don't buy that. i think that people will seek out the information that they need in order to make good civic or economic decisions because the motivations they have are very powerful. and i think that they do that today. i think if you ask the average, you know, person in his early 20s who voted for obama in 2008 how much he knew about obama or about obama's platforms or ideas, i suspect that person knew as much or more, probably vastly more than the average person in his 20s in 1968 who
might have supported gene -- or some other candidate of hope or promise. because the information's out there and it's conveyed much more effectively. we never knew what people were reading when we published our newspapers 10 or 15 years ago. i mean, you sat in shanghai or -- you know, write a 40-inch story about general motors coming into shanghai, and i assumed every one of the 2 million subscribers of the "wall street journal" was reading that article. and then i came back and i got the readership report that norm probably commissioned when he was editor of the "wall street journal" that showed, you know, page by page, we did this thing every year where we looked through with 100 people and asked them what they actually read. and we found out that once you get to page 3, 2% of the people are reading the article. we all like to think that's what everybody was reading. but i'm not sure that's true. i'm not sure that's valid. i think that people have -- people do seek out information that matters to them. and they go really deep now in the subjects that matter most to them. and it's a different way of consuming information. i guess i thi