WashPost Editorial Board, But Not Post Reporters, Tag Chen Guangcheng As a 'Human Rights Activist'

May 8th, 2012 1:05 PM

Yesterday I noted how two Washington Post reporters, Andrew Higgins and Keith Richburg, studiously refused to tag Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng as a "human rights activist." Curious about whether the Post has ever described him as such in its reporting, I did a Nexis search.

What I found was that at no time in the past few weeks has Chen -- whose work included shedding a spotlight on forced abortions in China -- ever been described by a Post reporter as a "human rights activist" or "human rights advocate." Curiously, however, the Post editorial board has directly and indirectly labeled Chen as one:

"Chen Guangcheng, one of China's best-known and bravest human rights activists, had been illegally and unjustly kept under house arrest in his village for 19 months when he somehow escaped last Sunday," the Post editorial board noted in the lead paragraph of its April 29 editorial, "A great escape."

In a May 6 item, the Post's editorial board indirectly referred to Chen as a human rights advocate in this line in its closing paragraph:

It will be important that the administration keep pushing if, as seems probable, Mr. Chen seeks to return to China after spending time in the United States, in order to establish the principle that human rights activists can work within the law without persecution.

But alas, other instances where the term "human rights activist" was used in Washington Post reporting on Chen involved either quotes from others or references to other persons besides Chen:

"Twitter and Weibo became essential for journalists and overseas human rights activists who used it to pass along phone numbers and links to photographs of Chen in the hospital and of plainclothes officers keeping reporters and diplomats outside," Keith Richburg noted in his Sunday, May 6 story, "China's censors lose control of the story."

In another May 6 story, this one by the Post's William Wan, the only reference to Chen being a human rights activist was in this quote by conservative Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.):

The U.S. should never apologize for promoting human rights and protecting courageous human rights activists like Chen.

In the same article, Wan referred to how "Some Republicans, including presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and human rights advocates have accused the Obama administration of mismanaging Chen's case." A few paragraphs later, Wan cited "one human rights advocate, who requested anonymity because of ongoing human rights work with members of Congress" as critical of Republicans for making "political hay" out of the situation.