The Taipei Times was kind enough to run my letter on the AP’s use of the “scum of nation” in describing Vice President Lu:

What AP Did

The recent “scum of the nation” flap, and the response to it from the Taipei Times, Associated Press (AP) and other organizations, shows that the media still do not understand why Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) — along with those of us who follow international media coverage of Taiwan — find the story so offensive.

The issue is not, as the Taipei Times framed it in a recent editorial (”Annette Lu tames the world press,” March 10, page 8), one of naive bias on the part of CNN and AP. Nobody is accusing either organization of slanting stories to favor China. Rather, the issue is the foreign media’s uncritical incorporation of propaganda from Beijing into its reporting on Taiwan in a way that is automatic and unconsidered, allowing those opinions to shape its discourse on the nation, instead of developing a robust understanding of Taiwan in its own context.


For historical purposes, here is the paragraph on the assassination attempt in its entirety as originally written:

“Near the end of the article the writer refers to the assassination attempt by a pan-Blue supporter on Chen and Lu in 2004, noting “The opposition alleged the shooting was staged to win sympathy votes.” Fundamentally, there was no reason to mention the shooting; it is irrelevant to Lu’s presidential candidacy. The use of “the opposition” coyly refuses to name the KMT (the failure to use “Chinese Nationalist Party” as the correct name of the KMT is widespread in the international media). The writer also failed to mention that no evidence supports the opposition claims, making a hollow pretense of the sound journalistic ethic of balance in ssigning equal weight to nonsense claims, and using the phrase “the police said” as if no investigation was conducted and no chain of evidence was followed. Note that opposition’s claim is set off in a sentence of its own, and that it comes last in the discussion of the assassination attempt. It goes with saying that Beijing supports the opposition on that one.”

The editor was forced to shrink it a little; my habit of writing long sentences filled with parenthetical comments doesn’t really work in the newspaper context. One thing I could kick myself for was forgetting to mention how the Scum of the Nation flap illustrated yet another silly habit of the international media — its reliance on people based in Beijing and Hong Kong for commentary on Taiwan. As Tetsuo at Forumosa put it, commenting on another blog, that is like asking your Washington DC correspondent for a report on what is going on Canberra.