What kind of yellow journalism is this now?

Joe Hung criticizes CNN for conducting an unscientific poll on whether Taiwan's President Ma should step down for his delayed response to help typhoon victims

The China Post
Wednesday, August 19, 2009

By Joe Hung

William Randolph Hearst, the celebrated founder of the Hearst papers, had a very good definition of what news is. "News is what the people like to talk about," he intoned. Well, he was the one who started yellow journalism.

The Spanish American War occurred in 1898 when sensational news reporting was at its height. Hearst sent a correspondent to Havana, telling his underling to cover the war that would break out. The reporter waited in vain in Havana for a couple days and wired his boss he would like to return to New York.

"You stay put," Hearst wired back. "You supply the news, and I supply the war," he told the happy reporter.

Is the world-famous Cable News Network (CNN) repeating what Hearst did?

It seems like it's doing so happily. A few days ago, a CNN correspondent began reporting intensively on how Taiwan was coping with its worst flood disaster in history. Then his network took a short vote to find out how many people want President Ma Ying-jeou to "stand down over delays in aiding typhoon victims." Typhoon Morakot plodded across north Taiwan in two days, leaving in its wake an estimated 500 people dead and a significant part of the island under floodwaters and thick layers of mud and debris. Thousands of people, most of them in remote villages, were marooned. As a matter of fact, hundreds of villagers are still awaiting evacuation to safety.

Taiwan is a free country. Any news can be reported without any interference from any quarters. CNN has every right to take an online vote to find out anything except whether Ma had better quit as president to take responsibility for the delayed rescue and relief operations to help the victims of the Flood Disaster of August 8.

For that is a taboo for respectable news media. CNN could ask its viewers to vote on Ma's popularity, poor judgment, stupid gaffes, double-takes and whatnots. Save the domestic political issue like his resignation as president.

The short vote gives rise to a legitimate doubt that CNN is trying to help the opposition Democratic Progressive Party which is proposing Ma's recall or showing that Taiwan is one of Uncle Sam's banana republics. Washington has, from time to time, tried to change the presidents of its client countries. As a matter of fact, the Spanish-American War was fought only because the United States wanted Cuba to declare independence by creating the USS Maine incident. Uncle Sam got Guantanamo immediately after Cuba won independence from Spain.

Perhaps CNN stepped on the toes of the people of Taiwan without any deliberate intent. It may not have known that they are a very proud people.

They would certainly wonder whether CNN ran a similar vote on President George W. Bush right after the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Did CNN do so during his second term when almost everybody knew that he had, probably not intentionally, misled Americans into believing that Iraq had to be invaded because Saddam Hussein was supposedly building nuclear bombs and other weapons of mass destruction? If it did, the people would understand that CNN could make mistakes unwittingly.

Should CNN need to conduct such a vote in the U.S., it could do so in Washington, D.C. There's a ready candidate, Marion Barry who has nine lives like a cat. He served as mayor of the capital for three terms. A city councilman now, he is perceived by many as a crook, but his supporters would consider him "our crook." The outcome would be totally different from the vote on Ma. An overwhelming majority would vote against his resignation or recall, unless CNN allows multiple voting, making for a very unscientific vote as it did in Taiwan.

It is regrettable that CNN made this mistake that reflects badly on its honorable tradition. The online vote is an unerasable stain on the good reputation it has been trying to build across the world.