I just got an email from DeWang of Hidden Harmonies asking me to chime in on his recent blog post, one featuring an email discussion had with a certain Rosa Sow of Newsy.com, “a multi-source online video news site that monitors, analyzes and presents the world’s news coverage“. I’m not sure how much I can say but I’ll throw in a few cursory thoughts.
The conversation begins with Ms. Sow recommending a video from her site to DeWang after reading one of his posts about Japan apologizing to Korea for its past colonialism. It quickly became a lengthy back and forth revolving around DeWang’s criticisms of Western media bias. To illustrate his criticisms, DeWang uses another Newsy video, one reporting on the International Energy Agency claims that China has surpassed the United States as the world’s largest energy consumer. This video, he argues, is an example of how “Newsy seems to be suffering from the same immoral and propagandistic behavior that is so typical of the Western media”:
“So typical”? How so? DeWang cites that there was no mention of how China compares to the United States in per capita energy consumption terms:
Of course, everyone knows, a metric that is critically important for populous countries like China and India are the per capita figures. Compare to American consumers, the Chinese consumers are saints. Certainly, it’s important to look at a country’s total consumption. But it is also equally critical to consider the per capita angle. That angle is missing from this Newsy video. So, the problem with Western media is their self-touting virtue of supporting fairness and these various values. When its fairness for others, they go out the window. And, best of all, the media can do it in a way that Americans are completely oblivious.
That then leads to Americans feeling entitled to an out-sized proportion of the world’s resources.
I’m going to chime in on DeWang and Ms. Sow’s arguments over the above video itself1. Off the bat, I’m not quite sure I see the immorality and propaganda in this particular Newsy video, and I don’t agree that the per capita figures are “critically important” for what this video set out to report.
The video report is pretty straight-forward. You have a summary of the news item of the day, that the International Energy Agency says China has surpassed the United States as the world’s largest energy consumer. China itself disputes this, citing its own data, and says it is still #2. Then five other news sources are presented with the following summarized perspectives that are related but tangential to the news item itself:
- The Wall Street Journal: China doesn’t like being #1 because it doesn’t want the world to think they’re a “developed” nation when they see themselves still as a “developing” nation.
- The Telegraph: China isn’t the “villain” on climate change, and is investing heavily in “green energy”.
- Forbes: China’s energy consumption suggests shift in its geopolitical influence.
- France 24: China will influence how energy is used in the future.
- Treehugger: China should “own up” to the title and the responsibilities of that title, should not enjoy “lax treatment”, and is no longer “really” a developing nation.
Newsy wraps up its video report with this final question to the viewer:
“So what do you think? Do you believe China has become the world’s largest energy consumer and what does it mean for its responsibility to the rest of the world?”
As an aside, I don’t really care if China is the largest or second largest. It’s up there and its responsibility, to me, ought to be commensurate with its expectations of continued survival and development in a resource-limited world. The people that really matter in this discussion already know how significant or insignificant it is being the “largest energy consumer” country. They know the per capita figures and yadda yadda yadda. DeWang knows this too, but he, like the Chinese government, do also care how the average person in the world interprets this news.
Because, quite unfortunately, there really are a lot of idiots out there who don’t immediately progress to the next level of thought and realize that China probably uses a lot of energy because its quite a large and populous country with certain understandable goals to achieve. These people, again unfortunately, influence others and people in aggregate influence governments. It’s politics. DeWang argues that the omission of a comparison of per capita energy consumption figures between the United States and China may contribute to a growing “Red Scare”2 in the United States:
I disagree the per capita angle is ancillary. The main narrative in the U.S. is that the rise in Chinese energy consumption means a lowered consumption by Americans. The predominant “view” in the U.S. of that news is as a threat. So, the question of fairness is out the window. That way of reporting (via omission) predisposes Americans into a more unfair (or belligerent) stance with the almighty U.S. military.
Now, DeWang isn’t being clinically crazy here about how certain news and issues relating to China are being packaged for the American masses. There certainly are people and organizations advancing anti-China alarmist narratives out there, just as there are anti-U.S. narratives in China. I can empathize with him on this.
However, I do think he is being unfair to Newsy here. There’s a difference between a report that says “China is a threat to us, look at how they’re consuming energy more than us” and one that says “China now consumes more energy than the United States”. It isn’t fair to project the first statement onto the second statement, nor is it fair to ask someone giving the second statement to change their statement to counter or balance against the first.
…which is what I can’t help but feel is what DeWang is after, and he’s too quick to ascribe some sort of conspiratorial guilt of “unfairness” if they didn’t do so.
I don’t know if I’ve misunderstood or misrepresented DeWang here. If anything, though, I do think this was a battle poorly chosen. There are better examples of Western media bias to argue and this Newsy video wasn’t really one of them.
What do you think?
Do you feel the Western media has made such a big deal about China surpassing the United States as the world’s largest energy consumer where enough people out there are being mislead into an alarmist reaction towards China that explicit media reminders of per capita stats would put everyone back in whatever place they should be?