Showing posts with label washington_post. Show all posts
Showing posts with label washington_post. Show all posts

Friday, December 27, 2019

Bad backgrounding but good intentions: an eternal problem for Taiwan

I don't have a related cover photo so please enjoy this rural menagerie

It is so frustrating, honestly, to read a well-intentioned piece that interviews mostly good people (I'm iffy on Jason Hsu) to try to make a point I generally support. Then to open it up and realize it's full of little inaccuracies and bad backgrounding that render it unsharable - and then to see all your friends sharing it, when it's really not that great.

I don't really want to go up against pieces like this as I'd like to see more coverage of what Taiwan and Taiwanese think from the international media. But I can't just blindly support journalism where I think the execution is somewhat poor, either. 

This particular piece by Anna Fifield in the Washington Post gets better towards the end - almost all of my criticisms are aimed at the first half. Let's take a look at a few of these problems, hopefully as an informative tour of how to do a better job writing about Taiwan. 

(I have to run off now - I'll try to populate this with more links to support my points later.)

First, there's the title:

Taiwan’s ‘born independent’ millennials are becoming Xi Jinping’s lost generation

Excuse me, Ms. Fifield.

Taiwan's millenials aren't Xi Jinping's anything.

They are Taiwanese and what they think or do is based on their lives and perspectives, not what Xi Jinping thinks. Xi is irrelevant to their daily existence except as a kind of weird scary dude in the background. Why are we starting this off by framing it through the eyes of China?

But let's not linger on that - often writers don't get to choose the title. This is bad, though, and whoever wrote it should feel bad. 

TAIPEI, Taiwan — The prospect of a “one country, two systems” arrangement for Taiwan — bringing the democratic island under Chinese control while largely preserving its autonomy — has never seemed realistic to lawyer Hsu.

The first issue is fairly minor, but worth noting. "One country, two systems" would not "largely preserve" Taiwan's autonomy. The Chinese Communist Party has already made it clear that to them, "one country, two systems" means Taiwan can keep only the aspects of law and society the CCP deems "legitimate", such as property ownership and personal religious belief (though even the latter is doubtful given how they treat their own people). They have never included "democracy" or "human rights and freedoms" in the model.

With Tsai’s reelection, the divide between millennials who want an independent Taiwan and older generations who have generally been more amenable to Communist-run China will only grow wider. Perhaps irrevocably so.

This isn't wrong on its face - older voters are indeed more likely to vote for pro-China candidates and argue that we need closer ties to "the mainland" (a term that is commonly interchanged with "China" without implying support for unification, but I've noticed has been increasingly aging out of use by younger Taiwanese).

However, not even older Taiwanese are particularly in favor of unification - they've just been convinced that being "closer" to China isn't a Chinese strategy to render Taiwan so economically dependent on China and devoid of global recognition that they could not possibly remain sovereign forever. The younger generation are smart enough to see through this tactic. Some older voters do favor unification as "the ROC re-taking the Mainland". They are delusional.

This is not "perhaps" irrevocable. It is irrevocable. Once the curtain is drawn back it's impossible to un-see the truth.

“Taiwan has not been ruled by China for one day or for one minute or even for one second in our lifetimes,” said Miao, a 31-year-old pro-independence member of Taipei’s City Council, adding that her conservative father is more bothered by her stance toward China than by the fact she’s lesbian.

I hate to criticize Miao Poya as she's one of my personal heroes, but it would have been more accurate to leave off " our lifetimes". Taiwan has never been ruled by China as it exists today, and the "China" that held colonial power in Taiwan just cannot be said to be the "same" China (nor was it outright rule - more like colonial control of part of Taiwan) that exists today. Therefore, Taiwan has never been ruled by China, period. 

Unlike many of their grandparents’ generation, who fled the Communists on the mainland seven decades ago, or their parents, who grew up under authoritarian rule, young Taiwanese have never known anything other than democracy and pluralism.

This is not totally untrue - the parents of the current zeitgeist generation knew dictatorship; the youth never did. But it is misleading - "many" is wrong. In fact, only a small minority of their grandparents' generation fled China after losing to the Communists. A few million KMT diaspora showed up. Taiwan already had a population much larger than that - most of today's generation has much deeper ancestral ties to Taiwan. 

Why do articles like this always assume that hardly anybody lived on Taiwan before the KMT showed up? It's true that that wave of refugees had disproportionate privilege once their government colonized Taiwan, and therefore disproportionate impact on 20th century society, but they were in fact a fairly small minority.
Taiwan has been politically separate from the mainland since the nationalist Kuomintang, or KMT, fled to the island when the Communist Party established the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

This is flat-out wrong.

Taiwan and China were politically unified, officially at least, for a few short years in the 1940s. Within two years of the KMT arriving in Taiwan in 1945, unrest kicked up in both Taiwan and China (228 and its aftermath in Taiwan, the civil war in China). By 1949 - just four years later - the ROC had lost control of China, and still could only said to be 'occupiers' of Taiwan as there was no legal basis for their continued rule (an issue which still has not been solved). They were not invited here by Taiwan; they came from a foreign country and set up a government. In effect, they were just another wave of colonizers.

Before that, Taiwan was a colony of Japan. For 50 years. Why do people always forget that?

And before that, it was a colony of the Qing, who were not considered Chinese at the time. It's hard to say definitively that Taiwan could be considered "a part of China" from that history. As I've written:

Arguably, Qing Dynasty China might be considered a Manchu colonial holding, as was Taiwan. Moreover, the Qing only controlled the western part of the island, which for most of that period was not considered a ‘province’ in its own right. Was there one China under the Qing Empire or were there two colonial holdings, Taiwan and China? That’s a discussion worth having for a clear historical perspective.... [note: I've edited this slightly from the original].
It is true that from 1945–1949 the ROC “controlled” both Taiwan and China. Yet China was torn asunder by civil war, and ROC “control” of Taiwan was a postwar occupation conducted at the behest of the wartime allies as their representative....
To boil that complicated history down to “split in 1949” makes it easier to write succinctly, but also implants in readers’ minds the idea that for a significant period of time before 1949, Taiwan and China were part of the same country. That is simply not the case. 

How many times do we have to keep repeating this for well-meaning journalists to get the memo and stop writing about Taiwan as though it had been a part of China before 1949?

Here's my suggestion: "Taiwan, first colonized by the Qing dynasty and later by Japan, was briefly ruled as a part of China from 1945-1949, before the ROC government fled China following their defeat by the Communists."

That's short and accurate, unlike the garbage Washington Post allowed in here.
“This wave of democracy is not stopping,” he [Jason Hsu of the KMT] said. “There is no going back. The KMT is also realizing this. We can have different opinions in how we deal with China, but we all have concerns about democracy.”

Oh, Jason. You are so deluded about your own party and so very, very disappointing. You really don't see how many of them are quiet (or not-so-quiet) annexationists, because they think they would personally benefit? You still don't think Chinese money is pouring in to influence the media and bolster the funding of KMT candidates?

I support the idea that KMTers/pan-blue believers should get a say in pieces like this, so we can juxtapose their views with the pro-Taiwan narrative we know so well as allies. I can see why Hsu is a popular choice - his quotes appeal to moderation and sense, and make the KMT more palatable.

But do the people who quote him realize that his views don't actually represent KMT beliefs more generally, and that he's something of an outsider in his own party? 

Then there's this:
Some 60 percent of Taiwanese ages 20 to 34 now support full independence, up 10 points from a year ago, according to an Academia Sinica poll.

It's not wrong. But more could be said here - the other 40% don't support unification, they support "the status quo". Most people who support that are aware it can't last forever, and some even understand that the longer we continue it, the more time we give China to quietly (or not-so-quietly) attempt to interfere in Taiwan's economic and political systems. Of those, most lean towards eventual independence, not unification.

For almost all Taiwanese, the status quo is independence as Taiwan is sovereign in its current state. The goal for the vast majority has always been independence, with the only question being "what form should it take" and "how long should we wait". It's misleading to imply that support for independence stops at 60%, even though the statement itself is not wrong.

It would also have been smart to note that an even larger number of people identify as only Taiwanese, or as primarily Taiwanese. Those poll numbers exist.

The rest of the article is better - at least, it's good enough that I don't need to pull quotes and tear them down.

But man, in an attempt to clarify for the world that Taiwanese do not see themselves as Chinese and almost certainly never will, they sure got the background on this one wrong. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2019


At this point, we're all used to the skewed language that English-language media uses to talk about Taiwan. When the CCP does something to exacerbate tensions with Taiwan, or acts extremely offended over something going on here (including actions of individual Taiwanese citizens), the default seems to be that "tensions are rising" - no agent is named as the entity doing the raising. Or it's subtly implied the fault is Taiwan (e.g. "tensions have been rising under Taiwanese President Tsai", as though she's the one doing the escalating. She's not.)

Even when a story should be reported neutrally or with a critical eye to Chinese government's actions - as there is plenty of evidence of ill intent - the language used always exonerates Beijing and invites the reader to imagine that the other side is in the wrong. For example, here, we see language such as "soothe" and "calm" in the face of a "swipe" by a European leader (European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker). To read that, you'd think that the Europeans were hysterical - MEOW! - as cool and collected President Xi sought peace. Criticism of China's actions comes much later and is phrased dismissively ("which some see as" is basically newspaper code for "you can ignore those people"), even when more investigation into the intent and impact of these actions are merited.

Gee, you'd almost think the international media is wary of criticizing China, even when it would be right to do so. Huh!

So what happens, then, when there is absolutely no way to avoid pointing out that the CCP is the one exacerbating tensions? When no accurate language is possible that implies that these tensions just magically rise on their own, or perhaps they are the fault of Taiwan (or some other country "taking a swipe" at China)?

Consider this example from a few days ago:

There's just no way around it: without provocation, the PLAAF made an incursion into...well, I'm not sure if we can call it "Taiwan airspace" exactly (someone with more expert knowledge is welcome to fill me in) but violating an agreement like this - even a tacit one - is in fact intentional, provocative and reckless. MoFA is absolutely right.

And there's no way to write about that which takes the blame off of the CCP...or is there?

Local and regional news is reporting on it, but the top article (in the Japan Times) manages somehow to make Taiwan look like it's overreacting, when it absolutely isn't:

Screen Shot 2019-04-02 at 5.41.40 PM

"Provocative" in quotes can mean that they're just quoting MoFA's words, which is true, but they're called "scare quotes" for a reason: used this way they also imply that the words used don't accurately describe the situation. That's followed by "so-called" and "extremely rare" and a lot of talk about what China thinks, but none at all really about what Taiwan thinks and why it responded as it did. And while I'm happy they asked Bonnie Glaser about this, after some tired faff about the "renegade province" they go on to continue minimizing Beijing's actions as if to say "hey Taiwan, why so serious? It's not a big deal. Don't make this into a whole big thing - you wouldn't want to raise tensions, would you?"

When anybody who is aware of China's actions in the 1990s know that they were meant to scare newly democratic Taiwan into, um...not being democratic. You'll recall that there were also missile tests then, and they were intended as an oblique threat to Taiwan. It was terrifying and kind of a big deal. I remember hearing about it as a teenager in the US who had no relationship to or conception of Taiwan. It was a big deal then and it is a big deal now.

And that's not even getting into SCMP's use of language: "hardline" etc.  - to make Taiwan look like the fire-starter. Plus this steaming turd:

Analysts in Taiwan said, while it remained to be seen how Beijing would react to the order to forcefully disperse any future incursion by PLA jets, Tsai could risk setting off a cross-strait conflict which might drag Washington into the situation [emphasis mine].

Excuse me, ahem.


Seriously, Lawrence Chung and Liu Zhen, what the hell is wrong with you?

Then there's this, from Channel News Asia:

Taipei hit out at China on Sunday (Mar 31) for what it said was a "reckless and provocative" incursion by two fighter jets across a largely respected line dividing the two sides in the Taiwan Strait [emphasis mine].

Excuuuuse me. No. 

China hit out at Taiwan, not the other way around. Why do you lead with an implication that China's the one being provoked, rather than the provocateur? (The rest of the piece is a little bit better, giving some good reasons why Taiwan needs to procure better defensive capabilities and discussing Chinese pressure, though I wonder why they say Tsai will be "fighting" for re-election rather than merely "running").

Outside of Asia, the reporting has been spottier. The Washington Post (via AP), MSN, CNN and ABC News ran stories (mostly copies of each other) which are a bit better than the crap from SCMP and Japan Times. I'm not a fan of the use of "scrambled" (to me it connotes haphazard surprise with a whiff of incompetence) but I'm told it's the correct term. So...okay.

The New York Times ran a Reuters feed which has some of the usual Reuters junk, including this gem:

There was no immediate reaction from Beijing, which views Taiwan as part of its territory.


Didn't Beijing do the action that Taiwan is reacting to? So why are you reporting it as though Beijing is not reacting to Taiwan? Is Beijing's reaction to Taiwan's reaction really so important that it needs its own one-line paragraph? Did I just use up one of my free NYT articles reading this garbage?

To their credit, the Washington Post and ABC News started out with strong reporting on what Taiwan thinks, rather than showing everything the issue through the CCP's preferred lens. Read those to see how it's done right (though WaPo's reporting dives into a little 1949 nonsense toward the end).

But BBC? The Guardian? Anyone else? Anyone home? Hello?


(I Googled and checked the sites of each and found nothing; if I've missed something, let me know.)

Edit: BBC is in the game two days late with a bit more trash for the fire.

How do these growing tensions relate to the deepening differences between Washington and Beijing?

Huh - it's like they don't even care about how this might impact Taiwan or its 23.5 million people.

Taiwan - of course - is seen by Beijing as an inseparable part of China; its separation from the motherland merely a temporary phenomenon.


This weekend's incursion by Chinese warplanes is a reminder of the dangerous Taiwan dimension as well.

There is no "dangerous Taiwan dimension", there is only the "dangerous Chinese expansionism dimension". Why are you making it sound as though this is somehow Taiwan's fault?

For everyone else, why aren't they reporting it?

Maybe they just didn't think it was big enough news, although you'd think an incursion over a tacitly-agreed border which prompted a 10-minute stand-off and a reaction from Taiwan that they will "forcefully expel" any further violations, in one of the biggest the biggest potential flashpoint in East Asia would be, uh, news.

Though I doubt it would be this purposeful, I have to wonder if they shy away from any reporting on China and Taiwan that makes China look bad. Even if the impulse to do so is subconscious, it seems that tensions must always be everyone's fault except China's.

Of course, though most media can't seem to wrap its head around the notion that Taiwan may have an opinion about this and that opinion matters, there seems to always be space to run stories about Beijing lashing out at the US as the reason why it bullies Taiwan (and then denying said bullying).

So we get headlines like "Chinese State Media Blames US For Stirring Trouble in Taiwan", because apparently Chinese propaganda is newsworthy on an international scale, but how Chinese incursions on Taiwan affect Taiwan isn't. 

It's almost certainly not a war-starter, but it is a deliberate instigation. Leading up to the 2020 election we can expect to see more of them, as the CCP attempts to terrify the Taiwanese away from voting for the party that wants to guarantee their sovereignty, and into the arms of a pro-Beijing bloviator that China can manipulate. And, of course, it puts Taiwan in a tough position: respond and risk looking like they are overreacting, or ignore it, which basically gives them the green light to keep ramping up their provocations.

So why is half the world still reporting on it bewildering and frankly disconcerting ways that somehow make it sound as though this - even this! - is either not a big deal, or somehow Taiwan's fault?

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

So, who cut ties with whom (and why)?

I know, I was going to continue my previous post, but this came along, and I can't resist.

I generally avoid commenting on which checkbook ally has cut ties with Taiwan on any given day, because it's always the same story, and never a very interesting one. These allies not helpful in any way that matters to Taiwan - are they going to stand with us if China invades? (No.) Are these countries our biggest trading partners? (No.) Does Taiwan stop being a de facto independent state if it has no diplomatic allies? (No.)

But even more problematically, they recognize Taiwan in a sort of "what is the real China" decades-out-of-date death dance in which they're only recognizing Taiwan as the legitimate sole government of China. Which it isn't.

So, generally speaking - whatever.

But El Salvador is an interesting case. Why?

El Salvador hadn't abandoned Taiwan yet. It asked Taiwan for "an astronomical sum" of financial aid, and Taiwan cut ties with El Salvador. 

Of course, that's not the whole story. I'm sure there was a competing offer from China. I don't know what that offer might have been, but friend of mine pointed out that there was a delegation from El Salvador in Beijing not long before this happened. "It was known" that this was where things were going. So, Taiwan took the only step available to it.

And it did so for good reasons (the headline sucks - we'll get to that later): El Salvador wanted money for a port project that Taiwanese engineers deemed infeasible (and which Chinese companies were, from what I hear, bidding for), Taiwan is worried about developing countries' debts to China, and apparently the ruling party wanted funding from Taiwan to help it win elections, which is a story so slimy you could break a leg trying to navigate it. And, of course, Taiwan just doesn't want to play dollar diplomacy any more.

Beijing or no Beijing, these are actually very good reasons to say goodbye to one's allies. And Taiwan at least tried to at least seem as though it made the call. 

In that light, assuming the story coming out of Taiwan about this "astronomical sum" is true, this looks a lot more like blackmail than diplomacy. I applaud Taiwan for not playing that game.

That's the real story here - people have asked, every time we lose another ally, whether it really matters. The government has just given its answer: it doesn't. It knows that if Taiwan is going to defend itself against China, it won't be because a few, as one person put it, "statelets" recognize Taiwan. It will be defended if it can keep up the morale of its own people to be willing to "stand on a hill with a gun" and fight for it, bullet by bullet. It would also help if the international community saw it as worth defending regardless of who recognizes it.

So let's look at some of the, um, "journalism" this particular severance has generated.

First, we have the one - one! - article that at least gets the subject and object right: "Taiwan Cuts Ties With El Salvador", though of course (being Focus Taiwan) it doesn't tell the whole story. It can't. 

Then, we have a piece by Lily Kuo (reporting from Beijing - couldn't they have handed the whole piece to the guy who is actually in Taiwan?) with the headline:

 "Taiwan Further Isolated As El Salvador Switches Allegiance To China"

...leading everyone who didn't read the article (that is, almost everyone) with the impression that the same old narrative was playing out, and Taiwan was sitting around with its thumb up its butt looking on stupidly as yet another friend ran away.

If you read the article - which I did - it does note fairly early on how things actually took place:

Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu, said on Monday that Taipei had terminated bilateral ties with El Salvador and was recalling all staff from the country.

According to Wu, El Salvador had been asking Taiwan to provide an “astronomical sum” in financial aid for a port project that Wu said would leave both countries in debt. Meanwhile, Taiwan had received reports that El Salvador was considering establishing ties with Beijing in exchange for investment and aid.

This is solid. So why was the headline so misleading? Which unqualified editor thought such a headline was acceptable?

Unfortunately, the piece also includes this (stupid) gem:

Relations between China and Taiwan have reached a low under Tsai, who belongs to the Democratic Progressive party, which advocates independence for the island. Since her election, Beijing has ramped up efforts to poach Taiwan’s allies. Now, just 17 countries recognise Taiwan, after Burkina Faso and the Dominican Republic cut ties and recognised Beijing instead earlier this year.

Let's see, in this steaming turd heap of a paragraph, we have:

1.) An assumption that the problem with relations with China is Tsai, not China. Tsai hasn't done anything to foster tensions with China. China is doing everything possible to create tensions to hurt Tsai. No wonder her popularity is sinking - she's not perfect on the domestic policy front, but with garbage like this, people think she's riling up China, too - when her dealings with China are actually one of the strongest points in favor of her administration. People want a president who will stand up to China when it matters, but who will not rock the Chinese economic boat. For Taiwan, that is not possible, and China is playing that card hard.

2.) An implication that "advocating independence for the island" is somehow a bad thing, or that this, not Chinese bullying, is the real thorn in the side of Taiwan-China relations

3.) No redux of the actual story behind Taiwan's decision (which doesn't look good for Taiwan, but would at least interesting related information about what China was up to and the steps Taiwan took to deal with it more proactively. All we have are some "reports" mentioned above, and then a lot of information about previous diplomatic switches that, while useful to the non-expert, are tangential.)

These parts are a bit better: 

The latest diplomatic switch leaves Taiwan further isolated on the international stage as Beijing continues to put pressure on the self-governed island that operates under its own government, currency, and military. Beijing claims Taiwan is an inseparable part of China and will not maintain ties with any country that has formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan....

China has also pressured companies to take sides. This year China’s aviation authority demanded foreign airlines, including American Airlines, Air Canada, Lufthansa, British Airways, and Qantas to change any descriptions of Taiwan as a non-Chinese territory.

Sure, there is a lack of explanation of China's role in Taiwan's decision, leaving us with the previous half a sentence about some "reports" to lead readers to understand how the story goes from "Taiwan cuts ties" to "Beijing is trying to isolate Taiwan".

But, I will say that I appreciate that it moves away from the old "separated in 1949" nonsense; that's an improvement. It talks about Beijing as the main antagonist. Good.

Yet, as with most pieces, it goes on to talk about what Beijing wants, without talking about what Taiwan wants, only mentioning (above) that the ruling party "advocates independence for the island" - nothing about why the Taiwanese would vote in such a party (could it be that...they want independence too? Who woulda thought? Nobody outside Taiwan apparently, because they're reading such shoddy news reports.)

Nothing about why the DPP might advocate for independence to begin with. Nothing about why unification with China might be seen as a bad idea in Taiwan. Nothing about how all of these allies recognize Taiwan as "China", not as "Taiwan", and are not necessarily important allies. So, of course the rest of the world has a skewed view of what's actually going on here.

I won't bother digging into the trash heaps of the other articles, but here are some headlines just to show you how skewed the story the West is hearing really is:

El Salvador Breaks Ties With Taiwan To Favor Beijing (wrong subject/object order, guys)

El Salvador, Taiwan Break Ties As China Isolates Island Foe (Taiwan isn't a foe of China - China is a bully to Taiwan. In any case, why is Beijing treated as a lead actor in this story?) - with the same headline in the Washington Post, which includes some useful information alongside the same old 1949 nonsense, and a paragraph about Xi Jinping's ambitions that are only tangentially related to the real story.

Taiwan loses third diplomatic ally this year as El Salvador breaks ties (again with the subjects and objects. You could have told this story in a way that acknowledges Taiwan's proactive choice, while still noting that it was forced into that choice, rather than pretend it sat by passively.)

Channel News Asia starts with an okay headline (Taiwan Says Breaks Ties With El Salvador), only to dive deep into the trash pile in the actual article.

Internationally, outside Asia, only the Wall Street Journal gets it right:

Taiwan Cuts Diplomatic Ties With El Salvador

So now, thanks to poor reporting, we have the rest of the world thinking Taiwan is passively letting itself be eaten away, when in fact, Taiwan is trying to flip the table on this tired story. It's doing so in a weak way, playing a weak hand, but it's trying nonetheless. It matters that despite being pushed into this corner, Taiwan is trying to at least seem more proactive about it, but nobody is listening.

Even when Taiwan tries to change the narrative others have forced on it - however imperfectly - it gets pushed down. Why bother trying to take control of your own story when nobody is paying attention anyway?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Of Funhouse Mirrors and Falling Scales


"I wonder how many other international issues the media does this with, but we're only noticing this time because it's Taiwan and we know enough about it that we know they're wrong," Brendan quipped back when the Tsai-Trump phone call was actually news.

At that time, I wrote a lot about liberal hypocrisy (claiming to be on the side of human rights, freedom and democracy abroad and yet leaving liberal, democratic Taiwan out in the cold in favor of totalitarian, human-rights-abusing China), the "this is so dangerous China's gonna flip oh no oh no you can't do that!" narrative that the media had decided to run with - or as Michael Turton summarizes it when it pops up on all things Taiwan, "ZOMG TENSIONS!" - and that same media pruning the voices of Taiwanese who were not quite so afraid of said phone call to fit their narrative that it was a dangerous and unacceptable move. I know the overwhelming media narrative was wrong, because I live here and follow these things closely, and yet I watched quite a few people I trust, or at least other liberals like me, fall for it because they aren't as well-acquainted.

Even now I come across comments and tweets about how talking to Taiwan was one of Trump's "dangerous" moves that makes him unfit for the presidency. Or more veiled comments about how he's using Twitter to destabilize international diplomacy (hint: yes they are talking about Taiwan). He is unfit, but not for those reasons, yet it still keeps popping up.

I remember distinctly thinking that I finally understood what conservative voices were talking about when they called liberals elitist know-it-alls, accusing them of being snotty and condescending. As a liberal myself I had not experienced that, generally agreeing with other liberal voices. When I disagreed on this issue based on, well, my knowledge of it - which may be imperfect but certainly runs deeper than most journalists and so-called 'experts' not actually based in Taiwan or who are in fact more oriented towards China - I saw the sharp end of that condescension and snottiness in various discussions I engaged in on the issue. "Well, what you have to understand is..." has got to be my most hated phrase of 2016, but not as used by conservatives (I always hated that) but rather by those with whom I ordinarily would agree.

All that arrogance, all that "we are the experts" condescension on an issue they don't understand. Not one iota of owning up to the hypocrisy of the whole thing.

It is also fairly well understood among circles of people who know Taiwan (as opposed not only to those who don't, but also those who only think they do) that the liberal narrative on Taiwan is straight-up wrong. The assumption that closer ties with China are generally a good thing for everyone, including Taiwan, and talk of independence is therefore bad? Wrong. The refusal to re-examine beliefs formed years ago about how the Taiwanese identify? Wrong. The assumption that whatever is in the Republic of China constitution accurately represents the will of the Taiwanese people? Conflating the will of the Taiwanese people with whatever KMT or CCP talking points the media digs up? The historical untruth, widely reported in even "reliable" media outlets that "China and Taiwan "split in 1949" - thereby erasing a good half-century of Taiwanese history - with some clause as to what China believes without any note as to what Taiwan believes? The assumption that if we don't placate China it could mean war, but if we push Taiwan into China's arms that that won't mean war (oh, but it will)? Aggressively ignoring Taiwan's economic and geopolitical importance - a vibrant democracy with a population rivaling that of Australia which is one of the US's top trading partners in favor of a narrative that casts Taiwan as a small, worthless rock? Filing reports on Taiwan from Beijing and calling them accurate? Wrong, wrong, wrong, fuck you, wrong.

But that one comment has stuck with me. Through it all, I have still generally trusted the established media. Yes, I am a liberal and they often lean liberal, and yes, I have stopped to ponder whether the fact that I tend to agree with them is what causes me to trust them (to some extent, this is probably the case). However, I also do truly believe that in most cases liberalism simply reflects reality: the facts have a liberal bias.

Even in this case, liberalism reflects reality: supporting Taiwan is a true liberal ideal. Something is not liberal or illiberal because of who believes it, it's that way because of its fundamental makeup. Supporting Taiwan means supporting self-determination, nation-building based on common ideals rather than ethnic makeup, supporting freedom, democracy and human rights. Taiwan is also a nation of strong (perhaps too strong in some cases thanks to the construction-industrial state) public infrastructure such as telecom, national healthcare and affordable public education. Their social activists are unapologetic liberals in a truly modern sense. These are liberal ideals.

It's like a world of funhouse mirrors where conservatives support the liberal thing as liberals eschew it. The facts here do have a liberal bias, but the liberal mainstream happens to be illiberal in this case.

So what is sticking with me is this question: how many other cases are there that I am simply not aware of because I don't know as much about the issue?

Just before all of this happened I was openly pondering which newspaper or media source to subscribe to, thereby supporting them through troubled times ahead when we would need reliable media to separate the wheat from the fluffy, combed-over chaff and report accurately in a time of post-truth "news" (or "newsiness").

My candidates included the New York Times, The Guardian and the Washington Post.

So far, I have contributed to none.

After the tragedy they called "reporting" on the phone call, and their continued insistence on being completely wrong on Taiwan - including the headline hullabaloo in WaPo recently, and the fact that to be heard at all, important voices in Taiwan have to reach out because, unlike with so-called "experts" from China, nobody is calling them - I can't find one that I trust enough to give them my money.

Because really. How many other issues are there? If I can so readily side with conservatives on the one international issue I can be said to know quite a bit about, what other turds might I be swallowing without even knowing it? Are there other issues that, like my liberal friends who do not know Taiwan, I come off sounding like a mindless parrot because I was so silly as to trust the narrative sold to me by the New York Times?

It's funny, too, that of all issues that might inflame an American - as much as I can be said to be one anymore in anything but name - Taiwan is the one that caused the scales to drop from my eyes.

IMG_6760Don't worry, I won't be embracing conservative news anytime soon. Just on a grand fact-checking scale, I trust them even less despite their getting one issue right. I am no less liberal than I was, I'm just following my liberal beliefs to their logical conclusion by supporting Taiwan, rather than entering the wonky-mirrored funhouse.

That leaves me with a big fat problem though: in a world of "fake news" (I still hate that term but again, it'll have to do), "post-truth" beliefs, bad reporting, and massive inaccuracy resulting from half-baked stories designed to get readers agreeing - or just clicking - if I can't trust the media bastions otherwise best-known for the closest thing to accuracy there is, who the hell can I trust?

What is left, if I can no longer be sure I am getting accuracy and good reporting on international issues from the only media outlets that have any right to claim accuracy and good reporting on those issues? What is even news? What is even truth? What is even accuracy? Nobody has the time to delve more deeply into every issue, to live in every country, to study every region.

Other than a basic ability to think critically about what I read, when every single source, even the seemingly trustworthy ones, come up short, what is left when my faith in even the "good" media is dead