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    Someone tell Susanna–the press can be biased!

    Posted by Sean at 22:51, November 10th, 2004

    Via NichiNichi, a link to an article by Rebecca MacKinnon, former CNN Tokyo Bureau Chief. It’s actually worth going to the Daily Kos to read it, if you’re interested in problems with international journalism. It’s long, and most of the points are familiar to those who’ve listened to reporters complain for the last several years. But she gives the impression of genuinely trying to be fair-minded.

    The problem is…well, here’s how she begins:

    In November 2003, I had the rare opportunity to interview Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for CNN. The interview came at an important time as Japan wrestled with the question of whether to send non-combat Self-Defense Force troops to Iraq. … The potential dispatch was also considered to be a political gamble for Prime Minister Koizumi – given that public opinion polls showed a majority of Japanese were against sending troops at that time. Thus, not surprisingly, most of my 30-minute interview with Koizumi dealt with the Iraq question. … He believed that Japan must stand behind the United States against terrorism because this was simply the right thing to do, whatever his critics might say. It was a matter of good versus evil. However, he did have some constructive criticism for Bush: Koizumi hoped that the U.S. would cooperate more closely with the United Nations and do more to build consensus within the international community.

    I remember the interview she’s talking about. Not word for word, obviously, but she’s right that it did get a lot of (justifiable) attention, and that it didn’t show Bush in what you’d think of as a bad light. The upshot is that not even one soundbite was aired on CNN USA. Her explanation for why American viewers didn’t get to see it:

    As it turned out, the morning (according to U.S. East Coast time) that we sent in our Koizumi interview happened to be a very busy “news morning” for the CNN USA morning shows. There was CNN’s first interview with Private Jessica Lynch, the young woman who had been captured by Iraqi soldiers during the war and then rescued. There was also an exclusive interview with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, and updates on the Michael Jackson Trial. I was told that while the International Assignment Desk editors had lobbied CNN USA show producers to include soundbites from Koizumi’s interview in their programs, in the end the producers claimed they simply did not have room in their shows that morning to run even one Koizumi soundbite. Later in the day, there was major news in the U.S. about a court ruling on gay marriage, which “blew out” most other stories from the evening programming lineup. Thus Koizumi’s words were not heard in the U.S.

    (We queers just can’t help causing trouble, can we?) As it happens, I agree very much that Koizumi’s contribution to the WOT has been underreported in the American press and is probably, as a consequence, undervalued by many Americans who support it. Yes, part of that is that I live in Japan, so Japanese news has more “felt” importance for me than it does for other Americans. But I think I can distinguish between a pronouncement by Koizumi on the WOT and, say, Matsuda Seiko’s latest, pathetic Madonna-like lunge back toward the spotlight.

    But there are other things to consider. For one thing, CNN has a website. Was the interview posted there? MacKinnon doesn’t say. For another, CNN declined to run her interview on that particular day. It’s galling that she and Koizumi were dissed in favor of Michael Jackson, but did CNN consistently fail to give play to the fact that Koizumi’s support for Bush’s policies was given in the face of a lot of public opposition? At the time, I was watching CNN International with the rest of Japan, so I don’t know. We sure as hell hear about it here, but then, we would, wouldn’t we?

    That brings me to another point. MacKinnon writes:

    This is the case for viewers everywhere – be they American, Middle Eastern, South African, or Japanese. Based on my interactions with Japanese commercial broadcasters, I know that they are under the same kind of budget pressures and competitive pressures to boost viewership ratings as American broadcasters are. As a result, international news reports focus on what producers believe will keep Japanese audiences watching – which means that like in the U.S., many of the important but “boring” or complicated stories get passed over. Of course, public broadcaster NHK has a different mandate which includes extensive international news coverage. However I have been told by several reporters at NHK that they frequently encounter situations in which producers and assignment editors have been unwilling to contradict majority public opinion or sentiment in Japan. This has been particularly true on stories related to North Korea and to the Japanese citizens who were taken hostage in Iraq earlier this year.

    This puts the lie to the Kos poster’s take on MacKinnon’s piece, which naturally is that news reporting must be removed from profit-seeking. It’s an open secret in Japan that the major media have to curry favor with the government. They have to watch themselves around the unelected bureaucrats more than around the members of the Diet, it is true; but to the extent that legislators have pull, they tend to pull in the direction of pleasing their constituents. That’s their job, after all. NHK is in that bind even more than other organizations. When you’re publicly funded, the government has more direct ways to…you know, incentivize you.
    What’s the solution? MacKinnon has it, in my opinion, though her dark tone indicates that she thinks it’s hypothetical rather than actually working:

    Before we leap to moral judgments or condemnations, we must be realistic. In truth, it is unrealistic to expect commercially-driven TV news companies to do anything other than to seek profit maximization – while at the same time selling a product that can still be defined as “news” in some way. The search for profit maximization means that these companies will shape their news to fit the tastes and values of the majority of their most lucrative potential audience. Citizens of democracies who want to be well informed must understand this. They cannot expect to be passive consumers of whatever news comes their way from a name-brand news source. They must question, contrast, and compare. They must demand better quality information.

    Well, okay, MacKinnon only has part of the solution.
    The part she doesn’t have is: Get national governments out of the business of running their citizens’ lives down to every last detail. It’s hard to be an informed citizen when understanding how Washington or Tokyo is micromanaging you requires you to be conversant with everything from education theory to the approval processes for pharmaceuticals. I’m all for intellectual curiosity, but I’d prefer to expend a bit less on figuring out which decisions have been premade for me and how. I don’t know that shrinking government would make people less interested in junk news about pop stars, but it would certainly decrease the number of government pronouncements competing for airing.
    The part she has down is that citizens have to demand better information. Sure. But aren’t we? The instances MacKinnon points to are genuinely disturbing if taken at face value–and I see no reason not to. But are there major stories that simply aren’t available at all for those of us in Western countries with access to cable television, Internet connections, and publications?
    In the process of dealing with the question of whether the news networks are being honest when they package themselves as balanced news sources, she doesn’t seem to register that it’s possible to work around them, and that people are doing so. I subscribe to the Nikkei and watch NHK, but I also read three of the other major Japanese newspapers on-line, have CNNj, and can look at link-based blogs like Instapundit if I want to be pointed in the direction of things I might have missed. I mean, I know you all know that, or else you wouldn’t be reading this page. But MacKinnon, who makes noises about wanting people to go to a multiplicity of sources for their news, in the end seems to think that CNN’s arbitrary selection of what to broadcast is a Major Problem that most people are dangerously unaware of. It’s baffling.

    Japanese guardedly back Koizumi in hostage crisis

    Posted by Sean at 14:55, November 7th, 2004

    The Mainichi reports that a new poll shows support for the Koizumi administration’s decision to stand firm on its Iraq policy in the face of the abduction of Shosei Koda last month:

    A total of 57 percent of the 1,095 pollees said they supported the government’s stance, even though Iraqi militants murdered Japanese national Shosei Koda after they threatened to kill him unless Japan withdraw the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) from Iraq.

    Only 24 percent said they didn’t back the government’s decision to maintain SDF reconstruction activities in Iraq.

    However, the poll also found that a majority, 51 percent, wanted Japan to withdraw the SDF from Iraq when its deployment expires on Dec. 14. Only 27 percent said the government should extend the dispatch of the SDF.

    That sounds about right to me. The Japanese love their country and don’t take well to seeing it treated contemptuously by foreigners. They are also big on stoically fulfilling your duty to your in-group–the Japanese may no longer be used to actual war, but they’ve retained that aspect of their famed warrior culture. Most people, I think, recognize that the US is part of Japan’s in-group in geopolitical terms, even if they wish Koizumi weren’t quite so willing to back Bush’s policies with SDF personnel. On the other hand, this makes sense also:

    The poll, carried out over the weekend, shows that the percentage of those who are in support of the government’s stance to refuse a request of SDF withdrawal dropped slightly, compared to April, when other militants demanded the troops leave after kidnapping three Japanese people.

    This drop in the percentage of people in support of the government’s stance is apparently attributable to the shocking murder of Koda.

    The Japanese frequently fall into the same trap the Americans do: because they sell goods and give out aid and send tourist money to everyone else, they don’t understand why anyone would resent them. (In more Japan-specific terms, a shocking number of people simply cannot fathom why ill-will over World War II continues to the present day; that was a long time ago, the thinking goes, and we’ve been building factories in your country and employing your people for decades since then. Besides, we can’t attack anyone again–it’s in the constitution.)

    BTW, there’s been yet another aftershock in Niigata. (We felt it here pretty strongly; I was worried it might have been a good 6 somewhere else.) This one was 5 on the JMA scale and seems to have caused a few landslides, with injuries but luckily no deaths.


    Posted by Sean at 22:16, November 6th, 2004

    I’ve been thinking a lot about one of my very favorite Virginia Postrel columns, written after the 1998 midterm elections, this past week. See whether you can guess why:

    I told you so. The party that hates America will lose. The party that imagines no positive future, offers no “vision thing,” will lose. The party that thinks it is better than the American people, that makes large segments of the voting public believe they are its enemy, that convinces people it wants the government to boss them around and destroy the things they love, will lose.

    On November 3, that party was Republican. The GOP went down to humiliating defeat, losing close race after close race, plus many that weren’t supposed to be close. The party lost its solid grip on the South and collapsed in California. It managed to lose seats in the House, an extraordinary result that even Democratic pundits failed to predict.

    And it deserved to lose. Republicans sold out their economic base…and ran as the party of scolds, pork, and gloom. No wonder their voters stayed home.

    Sound familiar? The Republicans clearly got the message eventually, which is one of the reasons I think that, despite the hysterical immediate reaction, the Democrats will also. The biggest problem I can see is that the Democrats can’t seem to bring themselves to drop the far-left wackos, presumably out of a lingering belief that loudmouthed dissent is somehow in and of itself heroic, populist, and sexy. But they lost big last week, and I hope the shock gets them thinking more pragmatically.

    Suzuki’s new perch

    Posted by Sean at 16:55, November 6th, 2004

    Muneo Suzuki, possibly the single most corrupt politician in this entire archipelago, has been sentenced to two years in prison. When he was first arrested, it was a blow to the credibility of the Koizumi administration. Suzuki did his power-brokering and cronyist bid-rigging for the LDP, the ruling party, and Koizumi’s platform had promised reform and a break with politics as usual.

    BTW, while I was looking for a link that might summarize the many and varied crimes of which Suzuki has been accused (this is as good as any, though it doesn’t date all the way back to when the scandal started cooking), Google came up with this tidbit: He was a featured speaker on political ethics at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan this spring! Yes, I know, they wouldn’t have been able to get him to talk if they’d openly planned to be adversarial, but still.

    I got a girlfriend with bows in her hair

    Posted by Sean at 14:17, November 6th, 2004

    It has to be a parody, but this website is still good for a laugh. If it is serious, my deepest sympathies to our friends to the north (including my best friend from high school, who lives in Toronto). You’re going to be joined by some real beauts.

    (Found via Dean’s World)


    Of course it’s a parody. Whew! (Click on “Our hidden agenda”.)

    You couldn’t step outside the boho dance now / Even if good fortune allowed

    Posted by Sean at 01:47, November 5th, 2004

    Mrs. du Toit has a post that recommends against pointing out that you don’t fit the stereotype of a Bush voter in a fashion that sounds like, “I’m not like those rubes!”

    I see where she’s coming from, and I agree that it’s wrong. But there’s a flipside to what she’s talking about that’s also worth noting. (I don’t think what she wrote is flawed because she didn’t note it; it just wasn’t the point she was making.)

    I frequently find myself defending suburban living, SUV driving, smoking, hunting, and church-going by emphasizing that I don’t do any of them myself. It’s not because I’m frantically trying to avoid association with church-goers (or smokers, who may actually be even more reviled in the more sanctimonious liberal circles these days).

    It’s because I really, genuinely think it’s great that we all get to make our choices, and I believe there should be room for those I wouldn’t make for myself. One of the things I most despise the left for is the way it’s turned diversity into a codeword for “full range of races, sexual orientations, and gender identifications + unanimity of ideology.” Now those of us who really do like individuality of spirit in others have to avoid a perfectly useful word like the plague, lest our listeners assume we like “diversity” the way Lani Guinier does.

    So when standing up for the suburbs, I generally point out that I myself walk or use public transportation to get almost everywhere and live in an energy-efficient apartment (translation: it actually has insulation, which is not something to bank on in Tokyo) in a neighborhood with nearly the population density of Manhattan. My hope is that the message that it’s possible to see value in other ways of living than your own will get through.

    In an election or more general political debate, there’s a further point to be made: when assessing people’s beliefs, you have to listen to what they say, not just play actuary and assume you have them figured out. I’m a registered Democrat who lives abroad. I grew up in a county that went for Kerry (Lehigh) in a state that went for Kerry (Pennsylvania). From there I majored in comparative literature at an East Coast private college, moved to New York (briefly) for graduate school, and now work in educational publishing. Unless I missed someone, literally all of my dozen or so close friends from since college voted for Kerry. All this is before we even get to the gay thing.

    Based on my statistics, I should have been huddled in the corner weeping and tearing my hair out when Kerry conceded to Bush the other day, not having a victory bath. True, I’ve always been libertarian/republican in my beliefs and largely registered Democrat because of Pennsylvania primaries. But the fact that the DNC is not reaching me at all is something that you would think might start giving someone somewhere pause. Perhaps “Not everyone who voted for Bush is a social conservative” is not the most generous-minded way of putting it, but the Democrats can’t just shunt responsibility for the drubbing they took off on people they weren’t interested in courting anyway. That message matters.

    Added at 2:50: All right, CNN just did a feature on how distraught New Yorkers are over the election, and something I’ve heard a bunch of times over the last few days surfaced in the on-the-street interviews. So before I turn in for the night, I would like to add just one thing here: You people who are talking about wanting to move to another country because Bush was reelected? Understandably, a lot of others are going to recommend that you go ahead and leave if you don’t like it. But as a proud American living abroad, I hope you stay away. There are quite enough spoiled, whiny, high-handed expats making loud and implausible declarations of solidarity with the world’s oppressed and fouling our international reputation with their behavior. You’re the last thing we need.

    Koizumi congratulates Bush

    Posted by Sean at 21:28, November 4th, 2004

    It’s yesterday’s news, but for the record, Koizumi’s reaction to Bush’s reelection was the expected one:

    The government Thursday welcomed U.S. President George W. Bush’s reelection, expecting that his administration’s policies toward Iraq and North Korea, both important issues to Japan, would be maintained.

    Government officials said they would talk to the second Bush administration over a host of bilateral problems to be tackled with the U.S. government.

    During the presidential race, the government was seriously concerned that the result could significantly affect the U.S. policy toward Iraq.

    Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry’s criticism of Bush’s Iraq policy contrasted with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s strong support.

    I noticed that, too.


    Posted by Sean at 11:01, November 3rd, 2004

    Janis Gore, who occasionally sends me gently inquiring e-mails about the most contentious topics imaginable, asked what I thought of Andrew Sullivan’s tone when discussing the election results. His take is, naturally, that Karl Rove used his evil Karl Roveness to lure all those anti-gay religious zealots out of their Alabama bunkers. I was going to comment at Ms. Gore’s place, but I’m afraid I may get a bit riled up, which would spoil the respectful atmosphere she maintains.


    Here’s her terse and (I think) accurate assessment:

    No, Mr. Sullivan, gay activists thought this would be the perfect year to push for a new initiative. Talk about blowback. I suspect they’ve put rights back at least ten years.

    What’s she talking about? She wrote that yesterday, but I think it applies very aptly to Sullivan’s latest series of posts. I’ll start with the third part:

    STAND TALL: But one more thing is important. The dignity of our lives and our relationships as gay people is not dependent on heterosexual approval or tolerance. Our dignity exists regardless of their fear. We have something invaluable in this struggle: the knowledge that we are in the right, that our loves are as deep and as powerful and as God-given as their loves, that our relationships truly are bonds of faith and hope that are worthy, in God’s eyes and our own, of equal respect. Being gay is a blessing. The minute we let their fear and ignorance enter into our own souls, we lose. We have gained too much and come through too much to let ourselves be defined by others. We must turn hurt back into pride. Cheap, easy victories based on untruth and fear and cynicism are pyrrhic ones. In time, they will fall. So hold your heads up high. Do not give in to despair. Do not let the Republican party rob you of your hopes. This is America. Equality will win in the end.

    I basically agree with this. I mean, I don’t think the dignity of my gayness comes from God any more than from the tooth fairy, but I also don’t think it depends on other people’s approval. I wonder whether Sullivan actually believes it, though. Through his writing there’s a clearly discernible thread of nagging desire for acceptance that I think seriously compromises his pro-gay marriage arguments.

    I’m not coming at this as a principled non-conformist. I believe in living as you see fit; I do not believe in getting a rise out of people for the hell of it at every opportunity and then bitching when they shun you. I want people to like me, and my feelings are often hurt when they don’t.

    But that’s not a matter for public policy. Which leads me back to where Sullivan started:

    I’ve been trying to think of what to say about what appears to be the enormous success the Republicans had in using gay couples’ rights to gain critical votes in key states. In eight more states now, gay couples have no relationship rights at all. Their legal ability to visit a spouse in hospital, to pass on property, to have legal protections for their children has been gutted. If you are a gay couple living in Alabama, you know one thing: your family has no standing under the law; and it can and will be violated by strangers. I’m not surprised by this. When you put a tiny and despised minority up for a popular vote, the minority usually loses. But it is deeply, deeply dispiriting nonetheless. A lot of gay people are devastated this morning, and terrified.

    I’m neither devastated nor terrified. What I am is furious. 0° Kelvin furious. The gay marriage advocates decided it was a good time to get pushy and single-minded. They decided they’d figured out what marriage was about to most people and that further arguments from the opposition warranted no more than ritual responses. They were wrong. Those who oppose gay marriage have not just said that the Bible disapproves of homosexuality and therefore we should all reform. They’ve thought things through and come up with more sophisticated arguments. Those arguments need to be answered. (Don’t expect me to do it–I’m not one of the people yammering for gay marriage. Hospital visitation and power of attorney are fine for me, though I’d like transferrability of social security and immunity from testifying against your partner, too. Call my relationship whatever makes you happy–that’s the least of my concerns. In any case, if you’re gay, is your partner worth devoting your life to? Then do it. And stop flooding us with bilge about how we can’t live by moral values we ourselves supposedly hold “deep down inside,” just because straight people refuse to throw rice at us! Gyah!)

    Gay marriage activists need to remember that history did not start with the ’60’s and that, in the other direction, there will be gays in every generation after us who will inherit the environment we’ve helped to create. Thinking about straight children of the future every once in a while wouldn’t hurt, either. In any case, the showdown mentality has shown itself to be self-defeating. Let’s learn our lesson, okay?

    Added on 5 November: I agree with Eric that the numbers from the election don’t necessarily say what we’re being told they say. I’m also reassured to see that someone smarter than I am has trouble doing math in his head. I was always the one in calc class who set up the function and graphed its shape correctly but got all the actual number values wrong. It drove Mrs. Moll crazy.

    And I think Boi from Troy is right about the kaleidoscopic ways “moral values” can be interpreted as a reason for voting. Pretty obviously, gay marriage was one in at least 11 states, but that only indicates homophobia if you believe in such a thing as “marriage rights.” I’ve groused enough about that for the time being, though.

    The important thing is education

    Posted by Sean at 21:53, November 2nd, 2004

    Japan’s three-pronged reform continues to generate controversy in the government; the most recent focus is on education. It’s not exactly like the fight over voucher programs in the States, but there are similarities in that the main point of contention is whether federal or local governments are in charge of the public school system:

    On Monday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda and Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Taro Aso had a heated discussion with Education, Science and Technology Minister Nariaki Nakayama at the Prime Minister’s Office. The debate ended without a consensus being reached.

    The dreaded lack of consensus! There are a bunch of issues here. One is that it’s possible to interpret the Japanese constitution as placing the responsibility for education on the federal government:

    Article 26 [Right to Education, Compulsory Education]

    (1) All people shall have the right to receive an equal education correspondent to their ability, as provided by law.

    (2) All people shall be obligated to have all boys and girls under their protection receive ordinary education as provided for by law.

    (3) Such compulsory education shall be free.

    The constitution gives both sexes and all classes equal rights to education (according to their ability–the PC era wasn’t yet a glimmer in Judith Butler’s eye), but it doesn’t really say who’s in charge of delivering it.

    On the other side, local governments sensibly note that with the aging population, the balance between funding needed for elder care and funding needed for child care is shifting. Their feeling is that they should be able to work with a pool of welfare money, using local knowledge to determine what proportion goes to whom. We’ll see how things develop. The LDP is very keen on seeing its reforms go through, so expect compromises.

    Jenkins guilty of two charges in court martial

    Posted by Sean at 21:32, November 2nd, 2004

    Charles Jenkins has been found guilty of desertion. That’s not a surprise, but some of his family had been insisting that he must have been abducted himself, as his Japanese wife Hitomi Soga was 15 years later. His own plea was guilty to desertion and aiding the enemy and not guilty to treason and soliciting others to desert. He’s likely to serve his sentence in what looks like minimal confinement. His wife’s hometown is in Niigata; there don’t seem to be any reports on how much earthquake damage it suffered. One hopes none, considering what she’s suffered over the last 25 years.