(admin note: This was first posted by member JustMyOpinion as comments to a link to an NPR commentary. But since it's longer than a comment could hold, posting as an article here would make it a complete piece.)

A recent NPR commentary compared the White House's "tactics" to that of China's in their dealings of the media.


Opinions aside, the author's understanding of the issue and the method of the comparison worth a discussion. The author, Mr. Frank Langfitt, might have worked as a journalist in China for two separate periods of about five years each , but he did not seem to have grasped the fundamental differences between the Chinese government’s relationship with the media and that of the US’s. As someone who grew up and spent decades in China, and also have spent decades in the US, I can say that I know the differences quite clearly.  


In China, the government does not “discredit” the media, it controls the media and has absolute power over it. The media, in essence, is just the government’s propaganda tool and submissive mouthpiece. Not only news pieces that do not conform to the government’s viewpoints are not allowed to be published, but even wordings are tightly controlled. For example, lists of banned words are routinely sent by the government to news outlets, which must carefully avoid using those words in their publication/broadcasting. Dare to make negative comments about the government? It will be condemned as “presumptuous deliberation” (妄议), severely punishable by the government!


Can this happen in the US? It cannot. In the US, freedom of expression, by the media or by individuals, is protected by the Constitution. The government has to obey the Constitution, which exists to protect the people against the government should it overstep its authority. Within the government itself, there are checks and balances, so not one branch, nor any individual, has absolute power. President Trump can lay claim to a disputed size of his inauguration audience, but he cannot ban the media from making counter assertions or even go so far as to call him a liar, which is unthinkable in China.


Mr. Frank Langfitt also seemed to confuse, or be confused by, the targets of the “tactics” in his comparisons. In making the central claim, “ The White House seemed to be using the same tactics the Chinese government routinely uses…”, he compared the White House’s “tactics” on US media with China’s “tactics” on the foreign press. It would have been more fair a comparison if he discussed how each government treats their own media (e.g., China’s total control of the media, vs. the White House’s defending from a media challenge); or he could have talked about how the White House treats foreign reporters instead, as how a government treats foreign media is quite a different affair, related to foreign policies.


That Mr. Frank Langfitt knowingly or unknowingly, or “tactically”, compared two different things in making his key argument, diminished his thesis to the point of completely discrediting its central assertion, rendering the point of his piece, the two governments using the same tactics against the media, invalid.

This leads to a crucial distinction:  that the media or the journalists need to establish credibility themselves, or they could be rightfully discredited or even disrespected by their audience. This has nothing to do with the media’s freedom of speech. There is a major difference between respect of freedom of speech, which is guaranteed in the US, and respect of the media, which should be earned, by the media and by each journalist.

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