Who’s writing about Lu Banglie?
Not American newspapers. Not yet, at least.
As of 4pm today, a search on Google News for “lu banglie” turned up four results. One is in The Epoch Times, a China-focused print and web publication; one is in The American Thinker, a right-wing news site; the third in the Malaysian Star, with the headline “Beating Complicates China’s Political Reforms”.
The fourth is a cluster of stories… which should really be two clusters of stories. 7 of the 35 stories are an “oddly enough” story from Reuters, “For Some, China’s ‘Pop Idol’ Trumps Party Meet”, which alludes to Taishi and the beating of Lu Banglie in the 7th and 8th paragraphs, though doesn’t mention Banglie by name.
The remainder are stories resulting from the Guardian story by Benjamin Joffe-Walt, who witnessed the beating. Four stories appeared in major Australian media outlets – the Australian, the Sydney Morning Herald, ABC Online; ten appeared in UK media outlets, including the BBC, the Observer, Reuters UK and, of course, the Guardian. Indian news outlets ran three stories, Italian ones two stories.
As of 4pm, three US media outlets had picked up the story – CNN/CNN international, the World Peace Herald (reprinting a UPI story) and Siber News Media, a news service focused on Tamil issues – with the exception of CNN (which tries hard to brand itself an “international” news service, nothing from major American media outlets. Nothing in the New York Times. Or the Washington Post. Or the LA Times.
Searching the archives of the Times, the Post and the LA Times for “Taishi”, I found nothing on the Times (four stories that matched “Taishi”, but nothing related to the village of Taishi); one article on the online crackdown on web sites discussing Taishi protests in the Washington Post (an AP story); nothing at all in the LA Times.
I’m used to griping about crappy coverage of Africa in US mainstream media. There’s a frustrating, but defensible, explanation for why the Liberian election, for instance, won’t get widespread coverage: it doesn’t affect Americans directly, doesn’t involve a country we have major strategic relationships with or do business with, and isn’t in a part of the world we regularly report from, so it’s hard for us to provide context. This simply isn’t true in the Banglie case – US newspapers focus a great deal on China, as it’s a major trading partner, an economic rival, a major player in UN affairs, etc.
Given the current obsession with “spreading democracy” in the Middle East, you’d think actual attempts at democracy in rural China would be front page news in the US. My colleague Rebecca speculates that US papers may be reluctant to write about the matter because they can’t reach the village in question and can’t confirm Banglie’s death.
Oddly enough, neither can the person who’s been doing the best job of covering the story: Roland Soong of EastSouthNorthWest. A Hong Kong-based media critic, Roland’s been doing exactly what skilled journalists could be doing with the Taishi story – collecting accounts online, via email and from media sources, translating from Chinese to English, and organizing them into coherent narratives, like this hugely useful timeline.
While I’m not generally a blog triumphalist – I believe there are stories that mainstream media can cover that bloggers cannot, and that bloggers usually follow, rather than lead the media – this is a case where bloggers and citizen journalists have been running circles around formal journalism. A set of searches on Blogpulse’s Trend Search tool reveals long-term (if low-volume) interest in Taishi over the past two months; we’re seeing a recent burst of posts about Lu Banglie on Technorati.
Is this one of those situations where bloggers can act as a court of appeals and ensure that mainstream papers pick up this story? Or does the inaccesibility of Taishi – due to government-sponsored thuggery – ensure that this story disappears?
Update: The San Jose Mercury News has an excellent article on the situation, posted around 5:45pm today.