Discussing Dishonesty in a Dishonest Way

This National Post article talks about the several ways in which China was less than honest in the opening ceremonies to the Olympics: think pre-recorded fireworks and fake fans in the stands, and – the fact that the article focuses on most – that the little girl, Lin Miaoke, that “sang” in the opening ceremonies was actually lip-synching to a recording of a song sung by another girl, Yang Peiyi.

I feel sorry for Yang. Which, I think, is exactly what the reporter, Cam Cole, wanted. The point of the article, of course, is not just to point out the injustice towards a seven year old girl, but about the fact that China is trying to bolster its image through less-than-honest means. But Cole chooses to illustrate this point through the example of the victimized child singer. So it seems to me that he is trying to play on his readers’ emotions in order to sway them to his side. Not that his actual logic is unsound, but the fact that he finds it necessary to resort to emotion and the image of the “wounded child” makes me uneasy.

On the one hand, it seems to be effective: the article is now the second most popular article on the National Post website, and I doubt that it would have been quite as popular if it was not accompanied by the picture of a victimized little girl. Which means that China’s forgeries are getting the kind of attention they would not have otherwise received. If Cole had not embellished the article in this way, anyone who was not interested in the Olympics or in politics would have passed it by. So at least in this way his tactics led to a positive outcome.

On the other hand, Cole’s tactics aren’t entirely honest. Victimized children automatically elicit sympathy, especially since sympathizing with them doesn’t involve thinking or understanding all of those messy and uncomfortable political things. It’s safe – you can’t suddenly end up sounding uniformed or politically incorrect. So by devoting his article to this image, Cole makes his task of proving his point much easier. Once the reader’s emotions are held hostage, he is more likely to believe other allegations: “Look at what they did to a child. They must be terrible people. Of course they are guilty of whatever other crimes you accuse them of!” The burden of proof is just not the same. This may seem like a brilliant trick of rhetoric, until you remember that the point of the press is to inform the reader, not to blind him. Once the latter becomes the case, then the press becomes propaganda, and ceases to be effective.

Of course, this article is not very consequential, anyway. So maybe it doesn’t matter. Then again, it could have been far more consequential, if Cole hadn’t invalidated his point by using such tabloidian methods. After all, once you discover the lip-synching singer, you can’t quite trust the rest of the ceremony.

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