The prestigious Columbia Journalism Review has been publishing a two part interview with Howard French, former foreign correspondent for the New York Times in both Tokyo and Shanghai on how the US media got it wrong when they reported Barack Obama‘s recent trip to Asia and especially China as a horse-race.
The observations have more to do with the news culture in the US than with China, Howard French says, but do have an influence on the relations between China and the US.
The unstated element for me in all of this coverage of Obama’s visit is a kind of hysterical insecurity in the American mind about the possibility—or reality, depending on how you look at it—of American decline. China being the most obvious and immediate symbol of American vulnerability and decline. You put these two things together, the hysterical insta-pundit on the one hand and the hysterical anxiety on the other hand, you end up with this kind of coverage that says essentially that Obama goes to China and doesn’t get instant, public, overt gratification on issues A through Zed and therefore it was a failed trip, or we’re losing ground to China or we have no more standing or we have no more clout or the Chinese moment is upon us—any number of variations on this decline-related theme.
More notable observations at the CJR in part one and part two.
Howard French is currently teaching journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School. He is also a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. When you want to share his observations, do let us know.