In a story published Wednesday, June 29, 2022, USA Today White House correspondent, Francesca Chambers, called Taiwan a “democratically-governed part of China.” Although the main topic of the story was President Joe Biden’s actions at the now concluded NATO summit held in Madrid, Spain, the article closes with brief remarks on how the policy direction indicated at the summit affects other areas of foreign policy. In one of those closing remarks, the story references prior comments by Biden that the way the Russia-Ukraine conflict is handled will “affect how Xi approaches Taiwan.” It goes on to reference how Biden has “recommitted the U.S. to defending Taiwan,” and adds, almost as an aside, “which is a democratically-governed part of China.”
Of course, the insistence that Taiwan is actually a part of China isn’t anything new. The issue got increased attention at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when the World Health Organization denied Taiwan a seat at the table due to reluctance on the part of the U.N. and other international actors to confront China. This was in spite of the fact that Taiwan had demonstrated early success in containing the virus and sought to share its data with the world. A WHO official even refused to answer a journalist’s question about the issue, instead apparently feigning a poor connection. None of this is made less complicated by the United States’ own official position regarding Taiwan, which is basically a (wink-wink) nod to China’s insistence that there’s only “one China” and Taiwan is a part of it. Like so many other things in our culture today, the policy is basically an agreement to play pretend and make-believe for the sake of preserving the peace by not hurting anyone’s feelings.
I’m not opposed to peace, of course. In fact, I’m an active proponent of peace. My political sensibilities are firmly libertarian, which means I believe in the non-aggression principle, not for the least of reasons being that it is consistent with Jesus’ commands to be peacemakers (Matt 5:9), to “turn the other cheek” (Luke 6:29), and to love others as we love ourselves (Mark 12:31). But a consistent hermeneutic cannot construe biblical commands in ways that contradict one another. Therefore, being a peacemaker who turns the other cheek cannot conflict with the command to not bear false witness (Ex 20:16). In other words, lying isn’t a legitimate tactic for seeking peace. If someone gets angry and attacks me because I told the truth, they’ve violated the non-aggression princple, not me. Despite what philosophically-ignorant teenagers might tell you, words are in fact not violence.
But I digress. The point is many refuse to acknowledge the clear truth: Taiwan is an independent, self-governing nation that preserves the democratic legacy of the government that got kicked out of China by the Maoist Revolution. There. I said it. And so have many others, but nobody with the international pull of the United States, or any other major Western nation. Many journalists and newspapers have taken a stand in support of Taiwan, even those in places with clear national-security interests in keeping China at bay. Sadly, USA Today is apparently not one of them. And that got me thinking and asking questions, like: why?
USA Today is owned by the Gannett Company, so their website seems like a good place to start. It didn’t take long to notice an announcement on the homepage titled: “USA TODAY and China Intercontinental Communication Center Launch Sister Cities TV Series.” The announcement is for “Sister Cities, an immersive four-part TV series” that will be streamed on USA Today‘s digitial streaming network. The series profiles U.S. and Chinese “sister cities” with the goal of showing the “cultural, artistic and economic bond” between China and the U.S. by “revealing astounding similarities and surprising differences.” Not terribly alarming, right?
What is alarming is the fact that Gannett’s partner in this venture is the China Intercontinental Communication Center (CICC). The announcement’s description of the CICC says this:
Established in December 1993, CICC (China Intercontinental Communication Center) is an international communication company, dedicated to produce high quality factual programs. CICC has worked with broadcasters and production houses from more than 40 countries. Till now, CICC has produced more than 1000 hours’ programs, among which over 350 hours are international co-production, reaching audiences in over 200 countries and regions across the world. As a leading and award-winning production company, CICC has won over 100 prestigious awards in China and the world.Gannett Co., Inc.
Compare that description to this one, from an article published by Made in China Journal:
China Intercontinental Communication Centre (CICC), a company operated by the State Council Information Office (SCIO) — the Chinese government organ, sharing an address with the Central Propaganda Department’s Office of Foreign Propaganda (OFP), responsible for spearheading its official messages overseas [. . .]“Documenting China’s Influence” in Made in China Journal
The article that description is taken from is aimed at documenting the way Western media companies work with Chinese state-run entities to create a “nesting dolls” structure that, more often than not, winds up “ending with the CICC and the SCIO.” According to the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, the SCIO is one of several “Agencies Responsible for Censorship in China.” Another such agency is the Central Propaganda Department and its Office of Foreign Propaganda, which, according to Made in China Journal, shares an address with the SCIO, which is the true “owner” of CICC, Gannett’s partner in producing Sister Cities. No matter which way you slice it, Gannett–the publisher of USA Today–is in a business relationship with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Chinese government. Although the CICC may be a private company on paper, the nature of CCP control over media organizations in China means it, like so many other “private” enterprises in China, is actually an arm of the state.
This is a big deal because, according to 2021 statistics, USA Today has a daily circulation of almost 800,000 and a Sunday circulation of over 500,000. And that is not inclusive of digital access, which is how I came across the story–via my subscription to Apple News on my smartphone. The link to the article in question at the beginning of this post is via MSN’s news feature.
This is also a big deal because of the recent and ongoing public discussions over disinformation and its effects on public discourse in the United States. In many of the official reports on disinformation and how to avoid and combat it, we’re told that one of the primary drivers of disinformation is social media, fueled by things like conspiracy theories. And many of the apparently well-intentioned guides on spotting and avoiding disinformation focus on knowing your source–are they reliable, reputable, overly biased? Interestingly, just a couple weeks ago, Gannett announced that it would be scaling back the opinion pages of its newspapers–including USA Today–in order to “combat perceptions of political bias.” That was announced just 18 days before Gannett announced its partnership with the CICC in the production of Sister Cities. That partnership was announced just one day before the article that started me down this investigation. Also interesting is the fact that, just last week, 12 days after making its fewer-opinions-less-bias decision, USA Today published an op-ed, co-authored by five former generals and a former CIA director, that asserts that “domestic threats [are] more dangerous than foreign adversaries.”
Also in the last week, accusations against the paper have come forward claiming that it actively purges conservative writers and has demonstrated a preference for so-called “woke” ideology, none of which I knew about before digging around on the Taiwan issue.
To be clear, I’m not trying to single out Gannett or the USA Today. The problem this highlights is not limited to this one media organization. However, given the pushback against attempts by the U.S. government to interject itself into policing speech on the pretext of combatting disinformation, it’s worth asking the question whether we should be also pushing back on similar efforts by China, with the full cooperation of the largest newspaper publisher in the United States. China, after all, in the case of the article that started me down this path, is just trying to prevent the spread of just one, simple piece of disinformation: Under no circumstances should we think that Taiwan is an independent nation.
So what are we to do? USA Today, along with the majority of U.S. daily newspapers which are owned by Gannett (250 as of May 2021), are by old-fashioned accounts reliable information sources. You probably take for granted that your local paper is, well, local. But no matter where you live, you’re probably wrong. Nevertheless, when you open up these newspapers, or view them online, you don’t think twice about questioning their validity or their truth content. What this demonstrates is that you should.
Perhaps those five generals and the former directer of the CIA were right. The danger is domestic, but not for the reasons they cite. The danger is domestic because what was once a bulwark of liberty–the free press–is influenced by foreign actors. [Interesting aside, the headquarters of Gannett are, according to online mapping, just five miles from CIA headquarters at Langley]. So perhaps “the press,” as we’ve always known it, isn’t so free anymore. And Gannett’s less-opinion/less-bias public image is, to state it plainly, a lie, since it’s disingenuous to suggest that its relationship with the CICC doesn’t inform opinions or create bias. Even if that bias is not saying anything to piss off China so their spiffy four-part series gets produced, it’s bias nonetheless. And Gannett isn’t telling its readers.
Sure, they put an announcement on their corporate website. But how many readers of their papers are going to go hunting for clues about bias there? I found it completely by accident because of an awkward parenthetical insertion about Taiwan in an article primarily about NATO.
So if you’re ever in Mountain Home, Arkansas–for whatever reason that may be–and you decide to read the Baxter Bulletin while you eat breakfast at Bobbie Sue’s, just to get a feel for the locals, know that your news is produced by a large corporation, one of just seven that own virtually every newspaper published in the U.S., that has partnered in business with the propaganda purveyers of the Chinese Communist Party.
@USATODAY Calls #Taiwan a “democratically-Tweet
governed part of #China” and Why That’s Important