NPR Boosts Mrs. Obama's Trip to China, Ignores American Press Shut-out While Focusing on Chinese Press Fascination

March 24th, 2014 11:09 AM

National coverage of Michelle Obama’s trip to communist China has been overwhelmingly glowing and shamelessly quiet on Team Obama’s decision to allow no press contingent to follow along, because the trip was apparently “not political.” The networks dutifully repeated that with no protest, despite more than 30 tweets from the First Lady’s account touting her trip.

But NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday deserves some kind of booby prize for burying the story of the press pool-drowning. Anchor Rachel Martin blatantly discussed how the Chinese press was fascinated by the trip, while ignoring the restricted access of American journalists.

Martin acknowledged “There will undoubtedly be some sightseeing, but it's hard as the first lady of the U.S. to go to China and not dip into geopolitics at some point.” So she interviewed liberal journalist Evan Osnos of The New Yorker, who tangentially mentioned American journalists having access in China:

MARTIN: So what does a trip like this by Michelle Obama, what does it actually achieve? I mean, is this just about endearing her to the Chinese people? And what good does that do in real terms?

OSNOS: Well, the goal is what the White House describes as people-to-people diplomacy. But there are a couple of concerns. One of the concerns, of course, is that public diplomacy matters but it's not a substitute for policy. And so, there have been some commentators in the U.S. who have said there may be a way of the spirit of this broader subject of cultural and educational exchange, to talk about some of the things that are important to that. For instance, ensuring that American journalists have access to China.

Martin skipped that subject and turned to the apparently free-wheeling Chinese press under a communist regime:

MARTIN: How closely do the Chinese press scrutinize a trip like this? Are they really paying attention to every stop along the first lady's tour and trying to read things into it?

OSNOS: They have been, yeah. The Chinese press has been very pleased by the design of this visit. One of the things that is interesting about this first lady on the Chinese side, Peng Liyuan, is that she's one of the first First Ladies that has ever really had a profile in China. Her predecessors were really anonymous figures. They played no role in public conversation, public debate. And what the Chinese government is trying to do is to create their own Michelle Obama. They want to create somebody who has a public profile because they recognize that Chinese people today expect more of their leadership.

You know, after all, this is a generation that uses the Web to be able to criticize, to talk about what it is that they want out of the people running the country. And on some level, for all of its misgivings about the United States, the Chinese government looks at what the Obama family represents in America and they want to replicate some of that.

Earlier, Martin tried to find big similarities between Mrs. Obama and Ling Piyuan, because they both have fashionable tastes:

MARTIN: Let's start with what's been called a meeting of the First Wives Club in Beijing. Michelle Obama spent a day with Chinese president's wife, who is known for her taste in fashion and the arts, as is the first lady. Is that all they have in common?

OSNOS: Well, actually, they have more in common than perhaps any previous first lady's ever had. If you think about it, Michelle Obama was a Harvard-trained lawyer who supported her husband when he was making his way through the State Senate in Illinois. And Peng Liyuan was arguably, China's most famous folk singer. And she was in a way the breadwinner for her family while her husband was making his way up the ranks of the Chinese Communist Party.


OSNOS: So they have something in common.