Last month I gave an interview to a Newsweek journalist, Traci Carpenter, about the complicity of U.S. technology companies in Chinese internet censorship. Today they finally posted it on their website. Here's how the Q&A begins:
NEWSWEEK: What do you think American companies should do differently with respect to Internet censorship in China?
Rebecca MacKinnon: What I'm sort of calling for, and what people in the human rights community are saying, is not that the U.S. companies shouldn't sell technology to China. Everybody agrees that it's great China has an Internet, and it's great that Western technology is helping to build that, but we have no business assisting in censorship. It's completely contrary to our values. And when our president is telling the world that we believe in democracy and free speech, and our companies then go and deliberately go and do things that help to stifle that free speech, then it's not surprising that a lot of people on this planet think we're hypocrites.
Do you believe allowing U.S. technology to be used this way compromises American efforts to spread democracy?
I think it contributes to a general cynicism towards Americans around the world, and a general feeling that Americans talk a big game about democracy and human rights but really only uphold these ideas when it's expeditious and when it's profitable. And when it's unprofitable to uphold these ideas, they go out the window very quickly...
Click here to continue reading.
After Traci emailed me with the link yesterday I clicked over to see what they'd done. It was bizarre. The introductory paragraph setting up my interview described me as the co-founder of the Committee to Protect Bloggers. I am on the CPB's advisory board (which means I respond to Curt Hopkins' emails requesting advice from time to time), but I have nothing to do with its day-to-day operations and am certainly not a co-founder. They also neglected to mention that I worked for CNN in China for nine years, which is the only reason why I have any credibility talking about Chinese censorship in the first place. So I asked them to correct the web-only report (which is easy to do) to accurately describe my background as a journalist who worked in China for 9 years and co-founder of Global Voices Online. They did neither of these things. All they did was change "co-founder" to "advisory board member." Lazy. But I know how it goes. I've been on the other side of the interviewee-mangling process. Most of those editors don't really care.
Traci tells me that she gave her editor the accurate background information and that somehow it ended up all confused. Of course nobody bothered to check with me before they published the story.
Newseek's reputation for sloppiness is well deserved. Sure, my little experience may not have policy implications the way some of their other sloppy reporting recently has... but still. It's not nice. And it makes me a lot less inclined to trust Newsweek's reporting in general. Even if their reporters are hard-working, well-intentioned and trying their best, you can count on their editors to mangle the details and have no respect for interviewees - without whom they would have no stories.
Fortunately we're now living in the age of the blog so I don't have to be a silent victim.
UPDATE: I just got a call from Traci's editor, Susanna Schrobsdorff, who is responsible for the mistake. She apologized. Apparently the excuse is that they had listed too many affiliations for me, and had to cut it down, and so somehow the CPB thing, erroneously calling me co-founder, ended up on top. Still, they could have called and checked. But that doesn't seem to be their M.O. when they're on deadline. Susanna said she hoped this issue will not obscure the fact that they've done me a big favor by helping call attention to an issue I care about. Sure, I'm glad they did that, but it's not like I wasn't already getting quite a lot of attention on this issue.
Darn those ungrateful bloggers...