Hong Kong Port Call
July 27, 2001
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On June 4, 2001, the New York Times printed a front-page, above-the-fold news article from Washington reporting that the United States had moved to reduce relations with the Chinese military. The effect was to make the Bush administration, and in particular its defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, look like they were acting unilaterally to chill relations between America and Communist China. "Under the new policy, the United States is also no longer requesting port calls in Hong Kong, requests that the Pentagon had previously made to reinforce the territory's unique status," the Times reported in that front-page, June 4 article, which Smartertimes.com pegged at the time as bogus, but which the Times never corrected. (See http://www.smartertimes.com/archive/2001/06/010604.html).
So it's pretty interesting to see an item buried as a brief in the World Briefing column of today's New York Times, as follows: "CHINA: U.S. SHIPS ENTER HONG KONG Two United States warships sailed into Hong Kong's harbor in a resumption of port calls that had been halted by the Chinese government after the mid-air collision between Chinese and American military planes last April. The Guardian and the Patriot, both minesweepers, will anchor in Hong Kong until Monday. In May, when relations between the countries were tense, China denied a request by the Inchon to call at the former British colony."
Oh, so it turns the port calls at Hong Kong had been halted, not by a "new policy" of the United States but by "the Chinese government." This has to be one of the sorriest attempts at a correction ever executed by the New York Times. Not only is it buried as a brief when the original accusation against the Bush administration was a front-page story, but today's brief contains no reference to that erroneous front-page story. It's as if the Times assumes its readers are too dumb to notice that on June 4 the newspaper reported a new U.S. policy against port calls in Hong Kong, and less than two months later the newspaper is reporting U.S. port calls in China are resuming after being "halted by the Chinese government."
Take Your Pick: A Reuters dispatch in the business section of today's New York Times reports on the Philip Morris-sponsored study of the financial benefits to the Czech Republic from the premature death of smokers. "Though the report has been met with outrage in the United States, reaction in the Czech Republic was nonchalant," the Reuters dispatch reprinted by the Times reports.
Nonchalant, huh? A New York Times dispatch from Prague on Saturday, July 21, reported that "The Czech government and press . . . reacted in outrage" to the report. "This is first-class cynicism and hyena-ism," wrote the country's leading daily newspaper, Mlada Fronta Dnes, according to the Saturday Times, which said the paper compared Philip Morris "to the Nazi SS." The Saturday Times also quoted a Czech government spokesman calling the report "unbelievable" and "ethically unacceptable."
Well, maybe the Czechs reacted with nonchalant outrage, or with outraged nonchalance, but otherwise, it's hard to see how the Times editors can justify delivering to readers both of these reports without any explanation of the apparent contradiction.
Public Interest: A front-page article in today's New York Times refers to "Citizens for Missouri's Children, a public interest group." A quick check of the group's Web site shows it is stocked with press releases trumpeting news like: "Report says Bush's $555 billion tax cuts for richest 1% require leaving poor children behind. . . President Bush's claim that more that $1.6 trillion dollars is 'left over' as a surplus available for tax cuts requires ignoring the needs of poor children." Other material on the site shows the group is lobbying to spend a large portion of Missouri's share of the tobacco settlement on child welfare programs. Some people think lobbying against the Bush tax cuts and for welfare spending is in the "public interest"; others don't. By labeling this a "public interest group," the Times is taking sides. It would be more accurate and neutral to call Citizens for Missouri's Children an advocacy group. Smartertimes.com has made this point about the Times labeling liberal groups as "public interest" groups before, and the Times news desk, in apparent agreement, even circulated one of those criticisms to the paper's staff as part of its regular weekly internal critique. What's the point of sending around those internal memos if the newspaper's staff is just going to ignore them?
They Sure Does: This, from an article in the weekend section of today's New York Times about riding a bicycle with Senator Schumer: "Bike lanes now makes it possible for people to ride from the tip of Manhattan to the George Washington Bridge, a dazzling ride that Mr. Schumer has already taken a half-dozen times." There are at least three problems with that sentence. First, the reference to "the tip of Manhattan" is too vague; Manhattan has a northern tip and a southern tip. Second, there's a qualifier missing. A person could ride from either tip of Manhattan to the George Washington Bridge before bike lanes were installed. It would be dangerous; a cyclist would have to stop for red lights and for traffic and wouldn't have sweeping Hudson River views, but it would be "possible." Finally, the plural "bike lanes" should take a plural verb; "make," not "makes."
First Black: Yesterday's Smartertimes.com criticized the Times business section for the clumsy way it reported on the race of an executive who was promoted at Merrill Lynch. In yesterday's article on the Merrill Lynch executive, the "first black" reference was in the first paragraph of the story. It's interesting to notice how much more judiciously the Times handles the same issue today in reporting on one of the newspaper's own executives who is in a similar position. The Times reports that "he will become the first black to hold one of the newspaper's top two editing jobs." But the Times mentions this only in the eighth paragraph of the story, after detailing the editor's news experience.
Note: Smartertimes.com is in Massachusetts this morning and is operating off the New England edition of the New York Times.
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