A recent New York Times article making unwarranted criticisms of a Chinese New Year show clearly reveals a darker side of a media outlet that Americans have come to trust.
The show in question is the Chinese New Year Splendor, which is performed by the Divine Performing Arts Company. After finishing last weekend a successful 11-day run at New York's famed Radio City Music Hall, the Divine Performing Arts is now continuing its worldwide tour.
The article bashes the show for a few acts in it related to Falun Gong, a spiritual practice persecuted by the Chinese communist regime.
Facing almost nine years of severe repression, including prison, slow death by torture, and state-sponsored exclusion, intimidation, and brainwashing, Falun Gong practitioners have never resorted to violence. Instead they have appealed to the world to help them have the opportunity to practice their spirituality in peace.
That the Divine Performing Arts would call attention to the struggle of the Falun Gong practitioners would usually be seen as commendable and might be considered a necessary part of any attempt to portray China's traditional culture. After all, the persecution of Falun Gong is only the latest chapter in the efforts of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to extinguish China's traditional beliefs.
In the view of Falun Gong adherents, the practice of Falun Gong offers hope for a China suffering today from the exaltation of the principle that getting rich is all that matters, and the collapse of China's traditional moral teachings.
This view is shared by the human rights attorney (and Christian) Mr. Gao Zhisheng, as expressed in an open letter to CCP Chief Hu Jintao and regime President Wen Jiabao: "In contrast to the current situation where the humanity, conscience, morality, compassion, and responsibility of our society is suffering an overall deterioration, these cultivators, as a group reborn from the old nation, have impacted all of these areas in a positive way.
"One can feel the powerful way in which faith can change one's soul. Indeed it has allowed me to see a spark of hope for rescuing our nation from its current depraved state."
Ms. Carrie Hung, the spokesperson for the producer of the Splendor, New Tang Dynasty TV, says the Divine Performing Arts aims to discover and revive the best in China's authentic traditional culture.
According to Gao—and other observers of today's China, we in fact see Falun Gong reviving a traditional morality in China. Why shouldn't the Divine Performing Arts include acts about Falun Gong in their survey of the best in China's traditional culture?
Yet, the NY Times article criticizes the Divine Performing Arts' approach to raising global consciousness about the plight of Falun Gong. It does so even though most audience members will see in the acts portraying that persecution a reminder for all of the other persecutions carried about by the CCP—house Christians, Tibetans, Uighur Muslims, and many others.
The NY Times uses three audience interviews to portray the inclusion of material on Falun Gong as "political," and says, "At intermission, dozens of people, perhaps a few hundred, were leaving" the show.
This combination of quotes and observation suggests to the reader a widespread rejection of Falun Gong and the Splendor.
But Epoch Times reporters at the scene did not see "hundreds" leaving the show early.
Moreover, the NY Times fails to provide its readers with an essential bit of context for understanding the use of the word "political" by Chinese immigrants.
The CCP has always stigmatized as "political" those it considers its opponents and anyone who takes part in an activity the CCP does not control. The word "political" has been one of the foundation blocks of CCP propaganda.
For those suffering under the CCP's rule, the word "political" has this important function: It tells all Chinese they had better run in the opposite direction or risk their very lives.
Had the NY Times readers had a chance to understand the history of this word in China, then they might have seen the likely meaning behind the comments of those interviewed. They were not rejecting Falun Gong; they were simply scared of coming in contact with something the Party has told them to avoid.
Even after living for decades in New York, Chinese immigrants may struggle to shed the fear they learned in China—that fear is what once kept them alive.
But rather than provide readers with this necessary context, the NY Times instead manipulated appearances in order to draw readers to a false conclusion: that the audience as a whole was objecting to the Splendor.
The Epoch Times, a media sponsor of the show, conducted hundreds of interviews with audience members who had a very positive reaction. Only a minority of about one percent of interviewees had a negative reaction.
In a word, people loved it—the dancing, the music, the costumes, the backdrops—and many people specifically noted how much they appreciated the two dances that portray the persecution of Falun Gong. Those warmly praising the show included professionals from the arts world and financial sector executives. ( http://en.epochtimes.com/features/dpa2008/ ).
Journalism is a profession rooted in the high ideals of truth, accuracy, and verifiable fact. The Society of Professional Journalists, a national organization with thousands of members, lists a code of journalism ethics along these lines. The code says: Seek Truth and Report It, Minimize Harm, Act Independently and Be Accountable. By publishing this article, the NY Times has shown that it does not honor these aspirations.
Instead of following these basic ethics of journalism, the NY Times sought after a cooked-up angle in pursuit of a controversial topic. The result is half-truths and inaccuracies meant to cast doubt on the spiritual practice of Falun Gong and on the worth of the Divine Performing Arts.
The right and responsibility of the media to seek the truth and report it is a sacred trust between that media and its public. When that trust is so flagrantly broken, the public would be advised to find another source of news and information.