Yesterday the NY Times published a new video report about the Chinese PR efforts surrounding the coronavirus. “We analyzed thousands of tweets from Chinese state media and official accounts,” the narrator states. What the Times found was three messages being heavily pushed by the Chinese government.
First, the government was eager to project optimism in the face of the growing threat. Part of that effort was putting out positive messages about the government response but an equally important part was censoring statements and images that didn’t conform to the message China wanted to circulate. If you want a pure distillation of that message this next video is it. This is a Mr. Bean impersonator whose optimistic message has been heavily spread by the Chinese media:
But there’s a dark side to this optimism: Censorship of what is really happening. The Times created a separate video last month about a small group of people who reacted to Chinese censorship by attempting to archive and translate as much of the material appearing online as they could before the censors made it disappear. By posting this material through VPN’s onto western social media sites they were able to get some of the messages to the outside world:
There were a few persistent voices in China who insisted on doing actual reporting from Wuhan. Last month Chinese blogger Chen Qiushi suddenly disappeared after uploading a number of videos about the crisis. Chen apparently hasn’t been seen since.
The second message China wanted to send was that it was a leader in the fight against the virus. Chinese media sought to portray the world as united to fight the virus with help from China. But there was one exception. China has been critical of the response within the United States and, in particular, of Donald Trump. On this topic, the message coming from Chinese media sounds a lot like the message coming from U.S. media.
Finally, the third message the Times found Chinese state media pushing was the idea that the origin of the coronavirus is unknown. More specifically, Chinese government officials have claimed the origin may have been the United States. This started last month when a Chinese epidemiologist said the source was unknown. When U.S. media sources announced the first case of the virus in the U.S., a mistranslated version of the message began spreading on Chinese social media which said that the U.S. had admitted the virus originated here. The normally censorious government minders who monitor Chinese social media decided to let this false claim go viral.
Here’s the NY Times report:
Given what is happening in China, it remains striking that so many in the U.S. media remain fixated on the idea it is offensive and wrong for officials in the U.S. to refer to this as a “Chinese virus.” President Trump was asked about this several times yesterday. He explicitly pointed out that he was using the phrase in response to Chinese propaganda efforts to blame the origin of the virus on U.S. soldiers. But for the most part (and here I’m excluding the NY Times) the U.S. media is ignoring the Chinese propaganda as if it isn’t happening. And if it isn’t happening (or isn’t worth mentioning to readers and viewers) then President Trump’s response seems to come out of nowhere.