Can We Talk About American Media’s Connections to Chinese Interests?

Larry O’Connor, Several weeks ago, we detailed how American mainstream media outlets were intent on parroting communist propaganda talking points coming from disinformation ministers in Beijing.

At first glance, it would be easy to write this disturbing surrender of journalistic integrity to advanced stages of Trump Derangement System. It would be reasonable to suspect that reporters, producers, anchors and editors held such an intense zeal to oppose, resist and damage President Trump that they’d even stoop so low as to hand their bylines over to propagandists supporting the totalitarian murderers at the top of the Red China food chain.

However, something even more disconcerting may be at work here.

Over at National Review, Jim Geraghty has assembled a disturbing and thorough timeline of the communist Chinese government’s complicity in the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus.

The story of the coronavirus pandemic is still being written. But at this early date, we can see all kinds of moments where different decisions could have lessened the severity of the outbreak we are currently enduring. You have probably heard variations of: “Chinese authorities denied that the virus could be transferred from human to human until it was too late.” What you have probably not heard is how emphatically, loudly, and repeatedly the Chinese government insisted human transmission was impossible, long after doctors in Wuhan had concluded human transmission was ongoing — and how the World Health Organization assented to that conclusion, despite the suspicions of other outside health experts.

It’s fantastic reporting and well worth your time when you’re finished reading this.

This is fantastic work by Jim, but why is he the one who put this together? Jim’s one of the best, don’t get me wrong, but he, like so many of us, works for a scrappy media outlet with limited resources. I mean, there are huge media companies in this country covering this story who have resources and reporters all around the world at their fingertips to assemble this data.

Why didn’t NBC News do this reporting? Or ABC News? Or CNN?

It was Jim’s tweet for his story that turned the lightbulb on over my head:

He’s absolutely right and it deserves some attention.

Every single major broadcast and cable news outlet covering the COVID-19 pandemic has a direct and critical interest in pleasing the communist regime in China. Every single one of them. To understand this critically important connection between these American news outlets and the Chinese government, you only need to understand the power of the Chinese market when it comes to the film industry.

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It’s not breaking news that the Chinese market is the single most important region for growth and revenue for Hollywood. The profitability for many films these days is almost entirely dependant on ticket sales in China. If a major film doesn’t sell in China, it’s a problem for the studio. And films are only allowed to be shown in China if the communists in Beijing give permission. That’s the beauty of a totalitarian, communist state. Nobody in the country sees “Avengers: End Game” unless the authoritarians are accommodated.

This directly affects how Hollywood makes its movies.

Much has been written about the growing influence the Chinese censors have on the product coming out of Hollywood. Both conservative and liberal news outlets have lamented this growing trend. The influence of Chinese censors is often depicted in amusing anecdotes like this NPR feature explaining how a Tom Cruise blockbuster was modified to assuage the communist propagandists:

Consider Mission: Impossible III, which was partially shot in Shanghai. The film’s establishing shot of Shanghai shows Tom Cruise walking past the winking lights of the modern cityscape and then past underwear hanging from a clothesline. The movie was released in 2006. Even now, many people in Shanghai don’t own dryers and hang their clothes out on the balcony to dry.

“The censors felt that it did not portray Shanghai in a positive light, so that scene was removed from the movie,” says T.J. Green, CEO of Apex Entertainment, which owns and builds movie theaters in China.

“The censorship always goes back to the Communist Party. They’re in charge and they’re always looking at how China is portrayed,” he says. “They didn’t want to see something that portrayed it … [as] a developing country.”

Perhaps this influence doesn’t end with how the next “Mission Impossible” film depicts the Chinese government. Perhaps the importance of maintaining entre into the Chinese market also influences how these same film companies report on the news.

Consider:

– CBS News is part of a conglomerate of media and entertainment companies called National Amusements. The companies under their control include Viacom and Paramount Pictures.

– NBC News/MSNBC is part of Universal and Comcast.

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– CNN is part of AT&T Time Warner, which owns Warner Brothers.

– ABC News is owned by Disney, which owns, well, pretty much everything else coming out of Hollywood.

Beyond the direct concerns of the film producing and distribution arms of these major corporations, they also have other direct interests in not ticking off the Beijing communists. These companies also own theme parks, cellular telephone networks, cable networks, movie theatres and much more.

All of their movies and theme parks sell toys and clothing which are manufactured in China. Cell phones and infrastructure equipment are manufactured in China. Cable boxes and broadband devices are manufactured in China.

Angering the Chinese government is just bad for business for these companies.

Are we to believe that the CEOs of these companies pick up the phone and direct how stories are to be reported? No, of course not. Spare us the straw man arguments here.

But to suggest that these companies are not aware that their product is viewed, scrutinized and judged by the government of China and there is an incredibly well-documented history of certain accommodations made to placate the Beijing propagandists is dangerously naive.

Would journalists, producers, and network executives bow to the will of the Chinese government in how they report on the facts surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic? I mean, wouldn’t their journalistic integrity and liberal ideals win out over these crass commercial considerations? After all, they are professional journalists with progressive ideals. The truth will always win out over powerful pressure from their connected, well-funded corporation, right?

Well, let’s just answer those rhetorical questions with this: If you saw the Freddie Mercury biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” in China, you would never have known the lead singer of Queen was gay. The Beijing censors erased any reference to his sexuality even though it was one of the most important themes in the film.

The progressive artists who made that film didn’t stand on their principles and integrity by demanding that the film should not be touched. They didn’t pull the film from the Chinese market insisting their work be seen untouched by communist censors.

The film grossed a paltry $14 million in China for its studio, ABC News. Oops, sorry, I meant Disney/20th Century Fox. But acquiescing to communist Beijing still paid off for Disney. The year the film was released, Shanghai Disney had an attendance of 11.8 million, its best year yet.