Media Elite Speak Out
One of the things that I always practiced during my submarine career was the concept of keeping internal problems internal until they had to be brought to the attention of outside agencies. In other words, it's perfectly OK to bitch about what you think is wrong with your boat to your shipmates, but you should think twice before bitching to someone from squadron.
In an interview in China's People's Daily Online (via Drudge Report), Washington Post Managing Editor Philip Bennett apparently decided that he can be more open with the U.S.'s rivals than he is with Americans. Assuming the transcript of the interview is accurate (and remember, we are dealing with a Chinese media outlet here) Bennett says some things that I can't imagine he'd tell an American audience. Excerpts:
Yong Tang: In such sense, do you think America should be the leader of the world?
Bennett: No, I don't think US should be the leader of the world. My job is helping my readers trying to understand what is happening now. What is happening now is very difficult to understand. The world is very complex. There are various complex forces occurring in it. I don't think you can imagine a world where one country or one group of people could lead everybody else. I can't imagine that could happen. I also think it is unhealthy to have one country as the leader of the world. People in other countries don't want to be led by foreign countries. They may want to have good relations with it or they may want to share with what is good in that country.
That is also a sort of colonial question. The world has gone through colonialism and imperialism. We have seen the danger and shortcomings of those systems. If we are heading into another period of imperialism where the US thinks itself as the leader of the area and its interest should prevail over all other interests of its neighbors and others, then I think the world will be in an unhappy period.
Yong Tang: So the world order should be democratic?
Bennett: Democracy means many things. How do you define democracy? As a Chinese journalist, you may have your own definition of democracy which corresponds to your history and your way of seeing the world. I may have another definition. Someone else may have their own definitions. Democracy means a lot of different things.
Let me give an example. Democracy in one sense means the majority decides, but it also means the rights of the minority are protected. As UK late Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, democracy is the least bad system that we have ever thught of. So democracy is never perfect. It always has problems. Our democracy here in the US has many contradictions, problems and challenges. So democracy is not a cure that could turn everything bad into good. It has its own advantages and its disadvantages.
The whole interview goes on in this vein. I realize that my disappointment with Bennett may be simply nothing more than my own old-fashioned view of the world; Bennett, being an enlightened media elite, may realize that looking at the world in such narrow "we vs. they" terms is an outmoded way of thinking, and that he has more responsibilities as a "world citizen" to reveal what is wrong with America to Chinese readers of the People's Daily than he does to his "fellow Americans". If so, he's apparently ahead of most of us poor slobs, since he reveals that he recognizes that the Mainstream Media doesn't necessarily reflect the beliefs of most Americans:
Yong Tang: Does it mean that American mainstream media no longer represent mainstream views?
Bennett: I think there will be some people on the right and conservatives who say that. In their eyes the mainstream media is too liberal while the whole country tends to be more and more conservative. Today American people are more conservative, nationalistic and religious and more closed off to foreign influence than the media. By and large, American mainstream media has been slow to appreciate how important the religion is in America. We don't cover it very deeply and extensively. So I think there are areas we are out of touch.
Furthermore, there is a mood of great suspicion about the media. Every time when we publish a story about Iraq that suggests the war is not going well for America, I get lots of messages from people saying that we the Post are not patriotic and we are reporting negatively on the war only because of our political bias against the Bush administration. I think there is a perception among some of our readers that we are hostile to the Bush administration or representing our own political point of view in our news coverage. I think it is impossible to make that perception go away. Over the time it could damage the reputation of a newspaper...
So, there you have it. Bennett recognizes that his profession is out of touch with much of America, but rather than level with his readership, he let's an overseas paper know about it. I for one don't think that a paper needs to stop reporting negative news. What I would like to see is more balance (which doesn't mean giving equal space to all weirded out views; it means having sensible views represented). Of course, before the opening of the Iraqi front of the Global War on Terror, the people who said that Iraq didn't have any WMDs were generally recognized as wackos -- contributing to this, of course, was that these were the same people who had predicted that there was no way we could overthrow the Taliban, and if we did, there would be millions dead in an Afghan famine in winter 2001-2002. The press has a long way to go to restore whatever credibility they once had in an era where everyone has access to the raw data needed to form intelligent opinions on what's going on in the world, but my guess is that whining about it to the Chinese isn't the best way to start...
Update 1529 14 March: Power Line has much more on this interview...
Update 2052 14 March: CDR Salamander delivers a righteous fisking of the article. Hilarity ensues!
Update 0535 16 March: Via Instapundit, Bennett now claims that he was misquoted.