Norman Solomon’s Column
It’s not easy to look at ourselves as others might see us. For a country, the need is especially acute in times of international crisis — but that’s when nationalism and other reflexive biases are most likely to become pivotal.
One of the ways to test for media slant is to put the shoe on the other foot. A big story this month provides an opportunity for inquiry in the world of intense media spin.
Here are some excerpts from actual U.S. news coverage, with only one type of change — I’ve reversed the references to China and the United States. The mirror-image narrative is worth pondering.
ABC World News Tonight: “There are concerns about national security and a Chinese military flight crew that was forced to make an emergency landing during a surveillance flight along the East Coast of the United States. The Chinese spy plane was equipped with sophisticated intelligence-gathering technology.”
CNN: “Chinese military officials say that they are, first and foremost, concerned about the safety of the crew. They want that crew returned back to China.”
CBS News: “China’s military agency insists this plane was 40 to 50 miles off the coast of New Jersey, and if that’s true, then the Americans are to blame. But if the Americans say, ‘No, that plane violated our air space,’ or, ‘Sorry, we have to hold the crew and the plane while we investigate this incident,’ well, then this could get ugly.”
ABC’s Good Morning America: “There is a major story now going on — a very troubling international incident. It has been more than 35 hours since anyone has heard from the 24 Chinese — 22 navy, one each from the air force and marines — forced to land on Long Island.”
The Associated Press: “China is keeping three destroyers in the vicinity of Long Island, where a Chinese Navy spy plane landed after colliding with an American fighter jet.”
CNBC News: “Chinese diplomats are scrambling to smooth over tensions with Washington after Sunday’s midair collision between a Chinese spy plane and an American fighter jet.”
CBS Early Show: “Frustrated Chinese diplomats are trying to secure the release of a spy plane and its crew from the United States.”
The Associated Press (headline): “As American Military Might Develops, Friction With China Grows More Likely”
NPR’s All Things Considered: “Chinese surveillance aircraft for years have flown around the United States monitoring radar transmissions and eavesdropping on American communications. And the Americans routinely send their own jets up to follow the Chinese aircraft around. But China says these cat-and-mouse games have become more dangerous in the past few months with the American fighters acting more and more aggressively.”
The New York Times: “American fighter jets have flown dangerously close to Chinese reconnaissance planes over the Atlantic near the East Coast several times in recent months, prompting complaints from Chinese officials to the Americans, senior Chinese officials said today.”
Los Angeles Times: “The seizure of a Chinese Navy spy plane by the Americans could cost China vital information about how America’s military operates and might inflict wider damage if Washington shares China’s secrets with other potential adversaries, Chinese defense officials and experts said yesterday.”
PBS NewsHour With Jim Lehrer: “China’s President Jiang Zemin today demanded that the United States return a Chinese Navy surveillance plane and its crew. It collided with an American jet fighter early Sunday off Long Island in New York and had to make an emergency landing there. The fighter crashed at sea and its pilot was missing.”
The Christian Science Monitor (headline): “America’s Demands Prolong Dispute”
Scripps Howard News Service: “Family members of the crew of the Chinese Navy spy plane held captive in the United States are filled with anxiety, fear and rage.”
The Associated Press: “Anger and impatience began surfacing Tuesday among friends and loved ones of 24 Chinese spy plane crew members still confined at an American military base.”
San Francisco Chronicle (headline): “How Yangzhou Mom Told Kids Daddy Is Captured Spy”
The Wall Street Journal (editorial): “The status of the downed Chinese Navy reconnaissance plane and its crew on Long Island remains unknown, and the onus is clearly on the Americans to clarify their intentions…. Washington attacks the notion of a ‘pax Chinacana’ in the Western Hemisphere, even calling bilateral security alliances threats to stability… America’s more enlightened leaders now need to move quickly to prevent a small incident from escalating into a dispute that fans the flames of nationalism.”