By Ted Lipien
Published March 22, 2015 in Digital Journal
In an exclusive interview with the Voice of America (VOA) Mandarin Service, blind Chinese exiled human rights activist Chen Guangcheng blamed President Obama and the White House staff, but not former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for allegedly trying to force him out from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. A more prompt VOA reporting on this story in English could have prevented what appear to be misleading recent media speculations about Hillary Clinton’s role in a 2012 diplomatic standoff with China.
The VOA interview contradicts some earlier media reports which suggested that Chen Guangcheng was blaming Hillary Clinton for “giving in” to Chinese negotiators and arranging for him to remain in China under unfavorable conditions. He was eventually granted asylum and left China in May 2012 for the United States.
In his 322-page memoir “The Barefoot Lawyer,” Chen Guangcheng wrote: “The country that most consistently advocated for democracy […] had simply given in.”
But in a Voice of America interview posted online in Chinese on March 12, 2015 and reported in English on March 22, Chen Guangcheng explained that he believes President Obama and the White House staff should be blamed for his ordeal, not Hillary Clinton.
As the Voice of America reported, “Obama held a meeting with all his staff members and made another decision. [sic] Some staff even said it is not good for the American national benefit [sic] if China becomes democratized,” he [Chen Guangcheng] said.
The Voice of America news report did not explain how Chen Guangcheng could have obtained such detailed information about a White House meeting and from whom.
An English language news report on the Voice of America website says that “VOA asked the White House for a comment and has received no response.” VOA report does not say when VOA had asked the White House for a comment and whether VOA repeated its request.
The Voice of America also reported that “As much as Chen is criticizing President Obama, he is lavishing praise on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her role in his ordeal.”
[VOA] “Generally I appreciate Hillary very much. After all in that harsh moment, she got me into the U.S. Embassy in emergency time [sic]. This is the most significant point. It is she who insisted on the American human rights principle [sic],” he said.
It is not clear why it took 10 days for the Voice of America to report on the story in English with what appear to be some minor grammatical mistakes. The VOA report did not question how Chen Guangcheng would have learned what went on behind the scenes at the White House and at the State Department while he was staying at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
There have been reports of the VOA Central English Newsroom being severely understaffed and the organization poorly managed in recent years, which may explain the 10-day delay in posting the news report in English with several key questions still left unexplained. But Chen Guangcheng’s comments reported by the Voice of America under the headline, “Chinese Activist Accuses Obama of Trying to Leave Him in China,” appear to exonerate Hillary Clinton in the 2012 U.S. Beijing Embassy incident while blaming President Obama for being weak on human rights issues in China.
Had the Voice of America made its exclusive interview with Chen Guangcheng available in English soon after it was recorded ten days ago, various U.S. media accounts about what the Chinese activist thought of Hillary Clinton’s role in the 2012 incident in Beijing, such as in this Politico article, “Hillary Clinton and the case of Chen Guangcheng,” might have been written differently. The delay and subsequent handling of the interview by VOA seem to suggest that while Voice of America journalists are capable of excellent reporting, the organization is poorly managed. In her 2013 testimony in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Hillary Clinton said that the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the federal agency in charge of VOA, is “practically defunct in terms of its capacity to tell a message around the world.” As U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was at that time an ex officio member of the BBG board.
Democrats and Republicans in Congress, the Obama Administration, and members of the bipartisan board in charge of the Voice of America are currently discussing legislation to reform the management of the U.S. overseas media outreach agency. Supporters of reform say that the Voice of America has now a much more important role to play than ever before in responding with objective news to propaganda and disinformation from Russia, China, Iran and terrorist groups.
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