Keith Bradsher, the New York Times reporter, had an important article on the Shih Ming-teh protests the other day in the New York Times. This article represents a significant improvement over recent articles in other major publications, including the Washington Post (discussed here) and the Economist (The Economist Misses a Chance).

While Bradsher teases the reader with the by-now familiar theme of Shih coming in the political wilderness to rescue the nation from the horrors of the Chen Presidency, he actually managed to get Shih to acknowledge in an interview the reality that the protests are almost completely partisan:

But Mr. Shih, a man sometimes described as the Nelson Mandela of Taiwan, is now leading a movement that, as he acknowledged in an interview, is heavily composed of Nationalists, his longtime enemies who once ran the country under martial law.

The importance of this acknowledgement should not be underestimated. I was recently posting on H-Asia, the academic news list, where, after I pointed out all the overwhelming evidence that the protests were composed largely of Blues, even Deep Blues, I attracted some flak from the pro-Blue crowd. That was no big deal, but I also attracted an entirely different kind of flak, one much scarier. One misguided academic wrote:

This is an excellent opportunity to examine a mass protest in the long and tumultuous history of Chinese democratization. I am sure that Mr. Turton is more aware of the complexities than he has let on so far and will be returning with more valuable information, as will others.

I fear that in the future similarly misguided academics will write earnest articles about the “mass movement” in 2006 in Taipei, that places the faux protests in a false historical context of “people’s movements” rather than the true one of pro-Blue, anti-Chen made-for-media psuedoprotests. A number of Taiwan academics have pointed out too that placing Taiwan’s democratization in the context of “Chinese” democratization is simply another of the many ways in which academics have subsumed things Taiwan into things China (see Murray and Hong’s controversial Taiwanese Culture, Taiwanese Society) to the denigration of Taiwan. Because of this, there can simply never be too much evidence that the “protests” are bogus. Thanks, Mr. Bradsher.

Bradsher also notes the association of the color red the protesters are wearing with China, though he fails to tease out any of the other China connections swirling around Shih, such as his connections to a notorious embezzler now living in China, or the appearance at the rallies of the violent thug Lin Cheng-chieh, who beat upa pro-democracy commentator on a TV talk show, and has business connections in China. In common with every single other foreign reporter on this topic, Bradsher utterly failed to discover the very public fact that Shih belongs to a pro-Blue think tank in concert with other DPP turncoats. Thus, he totally misunderstands Shih. Note how in the paragraph below Bradsher writes as if Shih is a DPP supporter disappointed with Chen, rather than an ally of the Blues as he actually is.

Mr. Shih said that it would be better for the Democratic Progressive Party if President Chen stepped down instead of serving the 20 months remaining in his second term. With the president’s approval ratings below 20 percent in opinion polls, his continued stay in office could help the Nationalists win the Taipei and Kaohsiung mayoral elections this December, legislative elections in December next year and the presidential election in March 2008, Mr. Shih suggested.

Shih is being disingenous — if he was concerned about the DPP winning at the polls, he wouldn’t have run against it in two different elections, one in Kaohsiung and one in Taipei. Sadly, the wily Shih has simply pulled the wool over Mr. Bradsher’s eyes.

Bradsher does mention that Shih is connected to the embezzler, Chen Yu-hao….:

The party has hit back at Mr. Shih by releasing photographs of his recent meeting in Bangkok with a financier who is on Taiwan’s list of the 10 most-wanted fugitives for deals that have left Taiwanese banks facing large losses. But Mr. Shih said the entire sit-in effort, including a stage, a large-screen television and other supplies, had been paid for with donations of $3 apiece by a million citizens from across Taiwan.

…but fails to mention that Shih boasts of the connection….

Former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Shih Ming-teh (施明德) yesterday said that his campaign calling on President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to step down had nothing to do with fugitive tycoon Chen Yu-hao (陳由豪).

Shih made the remarks at a press conference in Taipei, where he displayed photos he had taken with Chen Yu-hao during a visit to Thailand last year.

He said that “Chen [Yu-hao] and I are definitely good friends.”

and that Chen Yu-hao hates President Chen and tried to destroy him in a previous election. Because it leaves out Shih’s nuttier moments, like boasting that he’s friends with a prominent embezzler, this article, in keeping with the practice of other foreign reporters, thus makes Shih look more reasonable than he actually is. For whatever reason, Bradsher does not mention Shih’s claims that the DPP was trying to have him assassinated, that the DPP was worse than the Communist party of China, that it had less legitimacy than Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT, and so on. Bradsher also repeats the factoid that Chen’s approval ratings are below 20%, missing the fact that those numbers are from the pro-Blue media. He also does not challenge Shih’s claim that the whole thing is paid for by donations. Has anyone seen the books of the campaign?

Bradsher does give a good thumbnail of Shih’s fall from grace. I suspect he’s seen Linda Arrigo’s piece on Shih:

Mr. Shih, who will turn 66 in January, is a leader of a generation of tough, street-wise demonstrators who fought Chiang Kai-shek’s police and languished in his jails. But charismatic lawyers like President Chen, 55, a graduate of National Taiwan University’s law school, pushed Mr. Shih’s generation of activists aside at a Democratic Progressive Party leadership conclave in 2000.

Mr. Shih practically disappeared from politics afterward, refusing even to accept a senior presidential appointment, and he has managed to return to the center of the political stage with his unusual campaign only in recent weeks.

He also notes that Shih has been absenting himself in the evenings, and ends with a remark that is full of Shih’s lively wit:

Mr. Shih himself has a well-coiffed mane of dark hair and has not been lying in the street every night with his followers. Mentioning his long years in prison, he said, “If I look young, it’s because I was frozen for 25 years.”

Not a bad piece, with a much greater level of nuance than some of the other trash that has appeared in the foreign press.

(hat tip to Jason and others)