Chiming In On Hidden Harmonies’ Criticism of Newsy

Coal bricks in China.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. The Telegraph: China isn’t the “villain” on climate change, and is investing heavily in “green energy”.
  3. Forbes: China’s energy consumption suggests shift in its geopolitical influence.
  4. France 24: China will influence how energy is used in the future.
  5. 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.

Why?

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.

China vs. US energy consumption according to the International Energy Agency.

That said…

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?


  1. …instead of the surrounding comments they made quickly and ultimately in agreement with each other about the impossibility of objectivity in journalism overall. []
  2. Or “Yellow Scare” if you prefer. []



17 Comments

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  1. -+

    Hi Kai,

    Thx for “chiming” in. Hmm, I wished you read my post a bit more carefully, because I do admit to being “harsh” in criticizing the example videos. (Probably was lousily written.)

    Quoting myself:

    Her next response made me feel a bit prescriptive on my last email, because she’s making me realize this media business is trickier than I thought. We had competing priorities. I feared further spread of “red scare” in the U.S.. She thought less from that perspective.

    So, I agree, the examples are horrible, and I thought the post (okay, it was a long one) eventually explained me coming around to Sow’s arguments.

    I think there is something to be said about “multi-sourcing” – Newsy’s approach to achieving “truth” and “fairness.”

    I was really hoping you’d chime in on the questions I posed at the end – seriously – how can media get there? I didn’t throw Xun Zi out there for nothing, because how countries behave within likely says how they behave outside.

    The post is not about griping Western media bias on the IEA report. It’s about “breaking the mold on Western media bias.”

    You are a very smart guy, so I was hoping for some insights from you.

    regards,
    DeWang

    • -+

      Hey DeWang,

      Thanks for the compliments. I did read your post fully and I think part of my cursory comment here was precisely to say that you were a bit too quick to the draw with the anti-Western media comments.

      I don’t really think you “came around” to Sow’s arguments on the matter of per capita figures. I guess you could say you “came around” on her arguments that Newsy has “fair” as a goal but I didn’t really think of you as arguing against her on that. It was more of you trying to prove Western media bias before you were willing to give Newsy a chance to sell you on their value proposition. Your reaction seemed to go from ascribing guilt by association to backing off and willing to give them a chance.

      On the questions at the end:

      What guards Newsy from giving the consumers what they wish to hear, Fox News style?

      Every media outlet caters to an audience of some sort, whether it be internal or external. What we hope for is competition.

      How do you balance the should and want?

      Not sure what you’re referring to. The same way we all do?

      Where do we draw the line between government responsibilities and media responsibilities?

      Again, not sure what you’re referring to. What I do know is that the government is an audience itself, and it has preferences for what it wants to see and hear from the media as well. As such, I’m not particularly confident in the government dictating media responsibilities.

      I know you framed your post overall as something about breaking the mold on Western media bias but I don’t think you really argued a case for there being a particular mold of Western media bias that is so pervasive that every entrant into the media industry should be scrutinized against it. I think there is definite bias in the Western media but it is closer to general social biases in the West amongst Westerners than it is some systemic conspiracy in the Western media itself.

  2. -++2

    Honestly? Seen more in the U.S. media about P.R. China surpassing Japan as the world’s number two economy than I have seen about P.R. China (maybe) being the number one energy consumer.

    As for the energy bit… it is a bit of a headscratch – given that the powers to be in Beijing are a bit shy about doling out even mundane information like energy consumption.

    Yet, given the amount of money that is being poured into a new fleet of supertankers – it is not too surprising to see this development. Looks like Putin and the Saudis are going to have a new source of income for the next 20 or 30 years.

    • -++3

      Minus me all you want folks – bottom line is P.R. China is getting more addicted to oil, to which it is going to have to play the same dance that North America and Europe. Last time I checked the Russians and OPEC will pluck whatever tune they want.

      • King Tubby

        -++1

        Matthew. Despite the fact that you are probably a dreadful Puritan, I voted you up. It is all about future energy security.

        All this hunting out western media bias is a total waste of time. Myself: never watched Fox in my life. Rather get a mild dose of counterpunch.org

        The fact remains that China is the massive last link in a global chain following an old school model of industrial development.

        And the environment is paying the cost and beginning to bite back. Basically, it has become a chemical sewer.

        As is said on another site, I would give an arm and a leg to view the survey results of what Chinese folk think about the chain of disasters mentioned in the headlines in 2010.

        • -+

          Honestly, if you really want to view the news – skip the talking heads and go straight to the sources – AP, UPI, and Reuters for international/national, then local media sources for regional/local news. We have the technology, and the ability, to get “the bigger picture”.

  3. Bin Wang

    -+

    For some reason, GDP without a per capita reminder seems less flagrant than, say, energy usage. Not sure why that is in my mind. GDP, itself, without the per capita modifier, is such a typically used number; it’s more of a stretch to infer some sort of intent to distort on the part of the party using it. Energy usage, on the other hand, has no standard bandied-about acronym/metric. So when someone writes an article talking about how much energy China uses and how it’s more than any other nation, I would think it’s fair to infer a larger intent to mislead there. Of course, it’s people who use energy, so naturally per capita should matter quite a bit.

    Oh, and in case you all wanted to see a real and pretty blatant example of fear-mongering and muck-raking, check out CNN this morning:

    http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/asiapcf/08/16/us.china.military/index.html?hpt=Sbin

    Pentagon report: China extending military reach

    Oh noes! The Chinese no longer charge machine guns with swords thinking they’d be immune to bullets! They are, GASP, refurb’ing an old Russian aircraft carrier! This both inflates “red scare” and gives license to further grow the American military-industrial complex, wherein the public’s fears are inflamed and then used to justify increased military spending and American geo-political projectionism. It appears this recession is not bad enough … let’s all dig deeper.

    • -+

      “For some rea­son, GDP with­out a per capita reminder seems less fla­grant than, say, energy usage”

      I’m going to guess that this is because GDP is seen a positive thing, and energy usage as a negative one. From a logical point of view there doesn’t seem to be any other difference.

    • Simon Ningbo

      -+

      I was just just going to mention that Bin Wang, it’s clear that both sides use the absolute or the per capita figure when it suits them best. But in Chinas defence: 1. Chinas per capita energy consumption is minimal when industry is taken out of the equation 2. The industry is still export oriented, meaning Americans just outsourced some of their effectively higher energy consumption 3. China is undertaking massive efforts to increase their energy efficiency, especially with rising raw material prices.

      Yes of course, China celebrated overtaking Japan in absolute GDP, carefully omitting the per capita figure, when US media does the same it’s all evil Western propaganda. It’s a silly game, but it’s still true that Energy consumption doesn’t make too much sense without the per capita figures and a quick analysis where and for what this energy is being consumed with what grade of efficiency.

  4. -+-1

    Hi Kai,

    I think there is a big gap in my post I failed to address for people who do not accept that the Western media is so biased in a way that is dangerous for our world. Everything in my post hinges on that premise – that there is agreement the bias is egregious and dangerous.

    Regarding “systematic conspiracy” – I am not arguing one way or another, and to me it’s irrelevant. For example, racists don’t need to conspire to be racists. The extent of their “conspiracy” is that their public display emboldens one another. Likewise, media bias in one outlet reinforces the same behavior in another.

    Every media out let caters to an audience of some sort, whether it be internal or external. What we hope for is competition.

    I am seriously trying to find an “answer” that could prevent that lack of “competition” in the U.S. media which resulted in the last Iraq invasion – for example.

    How do you balance the should and want?

    Not sure what you’re referring to. The same way we all do?

    Westerners understand the value of “check and balances.” Why not extend that to the world stage?

    In my post, I talked about asking Professor Noam Chomsky how do we move towards a world that is less “power” based, and his response was that it depends on the “actions the public willing to take.”

    Yes, the U.S. wants Iraq oil, but should it be allowed via an invasion? That’s what I mean. Of course, if you don’t accept the premise that the U.S. media biased the U.S. population into this WMD threat and this bringing of “freedom” to the Iraqis, then my argument to people with the position you have taken is really moot. We need to step back and debate about how egregious and how dangerous it is with the bias.

    Chomsky’s response to me was that the main “check” for the U.S. power is the American public.

    Back to the Newsy report about China overtaking the U.S. in energy use:

    I guess you could say you “came around” on her arguments that Newsy has “fair” as a goal but I didn’t really think of you as arguing against her on that. It was more of you trying to prove Western media bias before you were willing to give Newsy a chance to sell you on their value proposition.

    I am ok with your first sentence, but not the latter. Sow said:

    We agree, western media is pretty terrible and distortion in the media often leads to conflict within the populace.

    I feel you are hung up on a need to “defend” Newsy, but my conversation with Sow in my post clearly evolved to fixing the “pretty terrible and distortion in the media.” We disagree on whether that particular IEA news was biased or not. Obviously, I still hold it is biased without adding the per capita perspective. But, the conversation move on from there.

    I said:

    Watching them again, I can see an attempt at a broader view. At this point, I can accept them based on difference in prioritizing which perspective is more pressing.

    You emphathized with my concerns about the “red scare.” I honestly find it more “pressing.”

    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.

    I will accept your position that you don’t think the Newsy report was biased. My view – by omission, this is one of the thousand needles. On its own, it won’t bring you down, but over time it will.

    “just as there are anti-U.S. narratives in China” – we would have to look at how “unfair” it is on both sides to know truly how dangerous it is with one side vs the other.

    Anyways, forgive me, I didn’t want to go down this path of discussion – to proof media bias. I am not on a crusade looking for more converts – Noam Chomsky has a sufficient following. If you read the Chinese blogs within China, you will know they simply take Western media bias as a fact. Chomsky was invited to talk to the General Assembly recently. So I suspect that view is global.

    The U.S. is a hegemon and the political culture that has formed in the international arena is dominated by “power” – that’s well documented, and that view has been successfully advanced by people like Tsinghua Professor Yan Xuetong. The “check and balance” is crucial for world peace, and the “actions the public willing to take” and the media “fairness” seems to be the only solution. How we get there is really my question.

    Thank you very much, Kai, for weighing in.

    regards,
    DeWang

    • -++2

      “Every­thing in my post hinges on that premise – that there is agree­ment the bias is egre­gious and dangerous.”

      So, basically, accept my premise, for which I have never been able to produce any evidence, and you will agree with me.

    • -+

      Hey DeWang,

      I’m going to respond to the broader issues in your comment here with a new blog post. However, I do want to respond to the following separately:

      I am ok with your first sen­tence, but not the lat­ter. Sow said:

      We agree, west­ern media is pretty ter­ri­ble and dis­tor­tion in the media often leads to con­flict within the populace.

      I don’t think that challenges my latter sentence that you referred to. You trying to prove doesn’t mean she didn’t agree. It just means I felt you were trying to prove something to her. People can try proving things to people who don’t need such things proven to them. It’s a comment about what you were doing, not a comment about a disagreement between you two.

      I feel you are hung up on a need to “defend” Newsy, but my con­ver­sa­tion with Sow in my post clearly evolved to fix­ing the “pretty ter­ri­ble and dis­tor­tion in the media.” We dis­agree on whether that par­tic­u­lar IEA news was biased or not. Obvi­ously, I still hold it is biased with­out adding the per capita per­spec­tive. But, the con­ver­sa­tion move on from there.

      Nah, I don’t feel a need to defend Newsy. I never even heard of them before reading your post. You asked me to chime in and my cursory impression was that you went at her guns ablaze. I’m glad you guys found common ground and respect each other in the end, but I still felt it was odd that you went at her and that particular Newsy video the way you did off the bat.

      On the video itself, my opinion is that there’s nothing egregiously biased about it for not mentioning per capita comparisons. That doesn’t mean I want people to think China is threatening American energy consumption. It just means I don’t think that’s a conclusion that must be so hawkishly guarded against. When people make that conclusion, then set them straight. You can’t put disclaimers on everything, you can’t give every related detail every time. They have to be prompted.

    • -+

      I am interested in your question about the world becoming “less power based” and without delving into a tangential conversation. I will just say that maybe power relationships are a given.

      That being said, what I think you object to is the distribution of power. I also think the response you got echoes that sentiment, that the “public” ought to have a share of the power. Perhaps, even, as you mention later, enough power to act as a check on other dominant institutions. This strikes me as a very ‘western’ viewpoint.

      Media is meant to be an extension of that civil check, but western media has become a commercial, rather than public enterprise. It has scared up a number of wars already so why wouldn’t that pattern repeat?

      Technology has changed media in a way that offers the public more checks on dominant institutions. The fact that we are having a conversation about this, in this particular setting exemplifies that point.

      Now, instead of being transmitted information from a dominant source, we pass along information and media from peer to peer, from many peers to many more. Across what are currently, fairly open networks. We are talking to one another about news, daily, hourly.

      If your point is that media has potential to be dangerous because of the effect it has on public sentiment, you are sort of tacitly conceding that the opposite is just as true. These characteristics could lead to power for a different group. I think new technology maximizes the potential for the latter.

  5. lolz

    -+

    “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 ”

    Well, yes. What is the point for the Western media to remind its audience that they waste far more than the average Chinese, so that it can lose its readership?

  6. -+

    First time here on china divide. I am not going to address whether media is biased here since I agree with Kai that even if I sincerely believe there were systemic bias in western media, this would not an example I’d pick.

    With that said, I’d propose the problem here is with perception – or even perceived perception.

    The idea of emphasizing on China becoming the biggest energy consumer without making a reference to China’s population (and putting that in perspective with what other nations are doing) is kind of like adding an adjective “communist” or “nondemocratic” in front of every reference to “China.”

    One could look straight in my eyes and say nothing is wrong.

    You’d be technically right. But the underlying propaganda is so strong as to make the report biased.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ’569347467 which is not a hashcash value.

Continuing the Discussion