Concern for Human Rights Starts at the Water’s Edge

As Sam Husseini noted, one of the things we’ll miss about print newspapers is ironic juxtaposition of stories. The front page of Yesterday’s New York Times (1/20/11) provided a classic example: There was a story about Chinese President Hu Jintao visiting the White House, headlined (in the late print edition) “Obama Raises Human Rights, Pressing China.” And right next to it was an article about how the Obama administration was acknowledging that Guantanamo would stay open indefinitely, with some prisoners to be held forever without trial, while others would be tried by military tribunal instead of a civilian court because they had been tortured while in custody. The story about Obama championing human rights didn’t mention Obama institutionalizing human rights abuses, or vice versa.

The Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank (1/20/11) didn’t see the irony; instead, he saw Obama and the White House press corps sharing one of their finest hours. Describing AP‘s Ben Feller asking Obama at a joint press conference “how the United States can be so allied with a country that is known for treating its people so poorly” and asked Hu to “justify China’s record”–and Bloomberg‘s Hans Nichols repeating the question when it was ignored by Hu–Milbank wrote:

It was a good moment for the American press. Feller and Nichols put the Chinese leader on the spot in a way that Obama, constrained by protocol, could not have done. The White House press corps has at times been too gentle on Obama (recall the adulatory pre-Christmas news conference), but on Wednesday afternoon, Obama and the press corps were justifiably on the same side, displaying the rights of free people.

One of those rights is the right to be much more concerned about human rights abuses when they occur in countries other than your own. I suspect that Hu was less impressed with the press’s demonstration of this freedom than Milbank was.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.