ESWN once again goes for an Apple Daily piece that looks made up (Roland, when are you going to warn your readers that Apple Daily is known to make up, misreport, and exaggerate stories? Do you think it is ethical for a blogger who claims to have no agenda and who is an international news source not to place that warning there?). Unfortunately the permalink that ESWN provides goes to another story, so I have to reproduce the text here. First ESWN’s presentation:

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Junior Knowledge (04/16/2006) According to Apple Daily and Ming Pao, a junior high school in Taipei city administered a commercially published history examination that contained some controversial items. This has caused some parents to complain to the media.

Example: “Taiwan got a bad deal when the occupation ended. Many people died from starvation, the price of goods soared and the mainlanders grew fatter day by day (台灣光復真吃虧,餓死同胞一大堆,物價一日一日貴,阿山一日一日肥).” What is this report about? Answer: 2/28

Example: “Prior to the 2/28 incident, there were popular sayings among the people such as ‘The old governor leaves and a new governor comes,’ ‘The wolf leaves and the tiger comes,’ ‘We leave hell in order to jump into the fire.’ Whom is the old governor, wolf and hell referring to?” Answer: Japan

But the most controversial question is this contemporary one:”During the difficult process of democratization in Taiwan, which president made no contribution whatsoever (誰對台灣民主化毫無貢獻?)?”

A. Chiang Kai-shek

B. Chiang Ching-kuo

C. Lee Teng-hui

D. Chen Shui-bian.

Out of 36 students in class, 30 (=83%) picked Chen Shui-bian as the answer. According to one student, “Apart from being elected as president, I cannot think of any other contribution of his.” Another student picked Lee Teng-hui because in his impression, Lee Teng-hui is just an old guy who often spoke in Minnan dialect and drew a high salary.

According to the scoring instructions, the correct answer is “Chiang Kai-shek” and all those students who picked Chen Shui-bian got zero on this item. Teachers and educators are complaining that such questions are controversial (that is, one and only one answer is right and the others are wrong for scoring purposes). While this teacher was merely using a commercially available examination, he/she should have exercised professional judgment to avoid using such questions.

What about the adults? According to the Apple Daily automated telephone poll of 208 respondents (note: small sample and unreliable methodology), the question “During the democratization of Taiwan, which president can be said to have made no contribution?”

- 68% Chen Shuibian

- 21% Chiang Kai-shek

- 7% Lee Teng-hui

- 2% Chiang Ching-kuo

Apple Daily also has KMT Ma Ying-jeou’s reaction: “It is unfair to say that President Chen has made no contribution towards democracy, because the policies that he proposes when he first assumed office was popular with the people … I would have picked 0, or none of the above. All four presidents made contributions!”

Therein lies the problem with this exam question. It is not “Which president made the least contribution towards the democratization of Taiwan?” which is a relative question. Instead, it is an absolute question: “Which president made no contribution whatsoever towards the democratization of Taiwan?” and since the specificed issue is the process of democratization (e.g. universal suffrage, freedom of speech and press, etc), popular policies are not irrevelant unless they pertain to that process.

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The problem here isn’t the exam question, it lies in the presentation of both ESWN and Apple Daily. From prior experience I know, like everyone who reads the news seriously in Taiwan, that if Apple Daily says the sun is out, check the window to make sure the story is true. ESWN withholds from the reader any clue that Apple Daily is a tabloid that long ago parted ways with journalistic standards. ESWN’s failure to be clear on that key point makes his pious note that the phone poll is unreliable seem really rather ironic.

What is the political slant of the story? It is clearly anti-Green, as only two quotes are provided, one anti-Chen and the other anti-Lee Teng-hui. The only politican cited is Ma Ying-jeou, the chairman of the KMT. The story makes much of the fact that alleged junior high school students picked Chen Shui-bian overwhelmingly. Chiang Ching-kuo, the second president and the murderous son of the dictator Chiang Kai-shek — who ran his father’s security apparatus — is generally credited among KMT supporters with initiating Taiwan’s democracy (the democracy movement is usually ignored by them). Note that he comes last in the poll. An obsessive anti-Chen and anti-Lee focus, as well as a reverence for Chiang Ching-kuo betrays, of course, a pro-Blue source.

With this in mind, it is important to go back and check the original story. As Ming Pao notes in its description of the story, the tale goes back, not to outraged parents, but a KMT legislator:

國民黨立委李慶安昨天指出,她接獲學生家長投訴,指一間初中的二年級歷史試題是「誰對台灣民主化毫無貢獻﹖」,選項包括已故的總統蔣介石、蔣經國、前任總統李登輝及現任總統陳水扁,結果全班83%學生選答「陳水扁」,但校方的答案卻是「蔣介石」,引起學生不解。

A check of the story will reveal that no school is named, the test company is not named nor is a sample page provided, nor is the teacher named, nor are there citations from the outraged parents. The principal of the school is not cited to defend or chide his teacher, as is common in real stories of this nature. And the source?

The KMT legislator in question is the infamous Diane Lee. That’s right: Diane Lee of the Twu Shiing-jer case, the Diane Lee who made up a story, was told it was false, and went ahead with it anyway. Given the lack of relevant detail here, and the prior experience we’ve all had with Diane Lee and Apple Daily, I’ll need to see some details first.

Finally, Lee, from an old KMT political family, has her hat in the ring for the Taipei mayoral race. One way that legislators raise their public profiles is by creating vapor stories that arise for one moment and then rapidly disappear into the ether. This has all the hallmarks. At the moment, it apppears to be just a publicity stunt….