True story: Some friends and readers know that I have a graduate degree in political science, but few would guess that it has nothing to do with American politics. Instead, in 1982 – this is long before the Internet made this sort of thing easier, chilluns – I spent an entire summer doing primary research for a thesis on the then-very-new capitalistic economic policies being tried out in “enterprise zones” in some outlying Chinese provinces, notably Fujian on the southeast coast. The centralized Chinese state media didn’t talk much about the heretical experiments being carried out in the hinterlands, and so I spent an entire summer holed up in the library of Simon Fraser University outside Vancouver, B.C., the closest source for this stuff at the time, poring through literally thousands of microfiched pages of provincial state newspaper articles, transcriptions of provincial state radio broadcasts, and the official Chinese national newspaper, Renmin Ribao (“People’s Daily”). My task was to figure out the experimental policies and their outcomes by translating these sources from Orwellian Mandarin Newspeak, to Mandarin (which I was somewhat fluent in at the time), and thence to English, in which I compiled the findings.
From this experience, I gained an expert-level appreciation of the power of state propaganda. Both Renmin Ribao and the various provincial organs made Pravda look objective. To decode their accounts, you needed a thesaurus of Mandarin bullshit and a keen eye for what was not said – E.g., the upbeat-sounding “Chengxiang District adopts new production goals for October!” might lead you to dig a bit and discover that poor Chengxiang only made 20 percent of its September production goal, and its former chief executive hadn’t been heard from in a month.
In short, Chinese state run media was, and remains, fundamentally dishonest and manipulative propaganda, just as China’s top political rulers were, and remain, callous butchers willing to sacrifice the blood or lives of millions to achieve what they see as the greater good. The problem, as with all authoritarian regimes, is that inevitably its leaders will confuse their own good with that of the people they allegedly serve.
And so imagine my surprise when readers of today’s print edition of the Seattle Times, while ignoring the content-free front section on their way to reading the latest on the Seahawks, inevitably encountered a full, paid-for special section whose entire content was produced by the People’s Daily.
Remember, the Times is the same reactionary newspaper that, in its editorials and much of its so-called objective reporting, fulminates at every chance on the evils of organized labor. This is the same newspaper that never met a tax it didn’t reflexively oppose. And most especially, this is the same media platform that got, and continues to get, vapors because Seattle elected an actual omigodmoigodOMIGOD SOCIALIST!!!!!!11!!
These same bastions of 1950 Republicanism just took, in all likelihood, tens of thousands of dollars to allow the chief propaganda organ of Communist China, for nearly seven decades one of the most blood-soaked outfits on the planet, to propagandize its readers.
So…the Times ownership and management is adamant that state control, or even regulation, of the means of production is a terrible thing. Unless you pay them a lot of money so you can use world-class propaganda to celebrate it for their readers. Then, apparently, it’s just peachy-keen.
Words in any language don’t begin to describe the hypocrisy. If the Blethens and their functionaries took a lot of money to publish this dreck, as the old saying goes, we know they’re whores – the rest is just haggling over the price. And if they offered their readers up for free, that’s actually even worse.
I can hear the Blethenite justification for this now: “Blah blah trade blah blah Seattle trade blah blah blah.” Even if it were morally excusable, that’s still bullshit. Boeing is not going to sell one more fighter jet (indirectly, of course) to the Chinese army – which is both notoriously corrupt and operates mostly outside the control of the executive branch – because a dying newspaper in the American hinterlands published a special section. More directly, Microsoft is not going to sell its next generation of censorship software to Beijing because some retiree in Newcastle read about the wonders of the People’s Republic. There are only two possible motives for publishing this garbage which wouldn’t, if offered up, be transparent cow patties. One is that they somehow thought it gave their obscure provincial newspaper prestige, in a bizarre, Brave New World kind of way.
The other explanation is pure, amoral greed.
Regardless, when, in a couple of weeks, the Times publishes its inevitable editorial urging readers to vote for Kshama Sawant’s opponent because EEEEEK!!, remember September 23, 2015 – the day when the Blethens took a boatload of money to sell their readers on the glory of a government whose collectivist policies, in many cases, would likely mortify Sawant. But, as the Times can learn from President Xi and his colleagues – or Xi can learn from them – anyone, even the readers of a third-rate newspaper, can be sacrificed for a greater good, even if it gets confused with the greater good of the newspaper’s publisher.