Dr. Richard Benkin Bio
Mount Everest, American Climber, Free Tibet Banner
Media Cover Up – Not really news, is it?By Dr. Richard Benkin Friday, May 2, 2008
On April 29, 2007, the Associated Press (AP), BBC, Reuters, the Press Trust of India (PTI), and the French Press Agency (AFP), all distributed the story of an American mountain climber being deported by the Nepalese government. Police arrested him at the Mount Everest base camp because, so all the accounts relate, they discovered a “Free Tibet” banner in one of his bags.
That banner, a police spokesman said, “breached the terms and conditions of the permit we issued him”; terms and conditions that prohibit any pro-Tibet (or anti-China depending on the account) activities. The Olympic torch is scheduled to arrive in the Mount Everest area soon, these news agencies explained, and the government of Nepal has agreed to make sure their Chinese neighbors are not embarrassed.
At least one correspondent asked the climber, William Brant Holland of Virginia (Reuters just calls him “an American national”), about his motives and what he thought about being expelled from Nepal. Holland responded this way. “You can say I’m totally for the home of the brave and the land of the free. That’s where my heart is.” Funny, only the AP ran Holland’s patriotic response; although none of the news organizations shrunk from including any number of details and minutiae. They dutifully reported the unchallenged apologetics by Nepalese functionaries. Some even mention that Amnesty International and others criticized the Nepalese earlier this year for using excessively harsh measures to subdue pro-Tibet protesters. Some articles reveal that Nepal has dispatched troops to the northern side of Everest already; and that it intends to keep them there until after the torch passes on or about May 10 to prevent any pro-Tibet actions that might reflect poorly on the Chinese; but only some. The Indian account adds that the soldiers were posted “under pressure from Beijing.” The BBC reports that China’s ambassador actually accompanied Nepalese troops to the Everest base camp. So there is a good deal of variation in the details reported. But with respect to one detail in particular, the news agencies are unanimous.
All of them omitted any reference to the fact that the new Nepalese government is a communist government, and that it took over the country just last month. Neither did they mention that an openly pro-Chinese, communist party was in the ruling coalition that the new government just supplanted, thus affecting previous policy as well. Not one of them took note of the fact that those Nepalese leaders working overtime to support the Chinese identify themselves as Maoists in homage to the late Chinese Communist leader.
They do, however, tacitly suggest a number of other motivations for Nepal’s pro-Chinese actions; none of them sinister; all of them understandable. Nepal receives extensive aid from China; and the pieces explicitly contrast “tiny” Nepal with the superpower just across the Himalayas. All of them also make sure to emphasize the temporary nature of the restrictions, tied to the upcoming Olympics and driven by basic courtesy. There can be no suggestion that they might be symptomatic of a longer term and oppressive government policy toward pro-Tibet and other activists.
It is utterly baffling why none of these news giants would consider that Nepal’s new leaders might be acting in concert with their communist brothers across the way. It is even more baffling that there was such unanimity in not even mentioning the new communist leaders when they reported other details like the height of Mount Everest in feet and meters and—stop the presses—that Mount Everest can be reached from both Nepal and China. So what is it: bias or ignorance; a conscious conspiracy or bumbling incompetence?
Reuters mentions that “Nepal regards Tibet as part of China,” but draws no connection between that policy and Nepal’s communist government or communist participation in the previous one. Perhaps it seems too simple, but the Reuters stringers are quite transparent with their bias. Clearly, they expect that we insulated and naïve Americans will not know about the communist takeover in Nepal and will fail to see a connection between repression and communism. Even more transparent, these journalists include a statement about the “globetrotting” Olympic torch but mention only communist cities on its route: Pyongyang, North Korea, and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. As one Nepalese journalist explained it to me, “Reds are Reds everywhere….China too is expanding its wings in Nepal.” That journalist is very uncertain about the state of press freedom under the new commissars and how they might react to statements like the one just quoted.
The fact is that the entire region of South Asia is at serious risk, and no western media have been reporting it. Journalists seeing an iron fist of repression coming down in a communist Nepal have few options, and the number is getting smaller. China/Tibet run along Nepal’s entire northern border; fleeing there would be moving from the frying pan into the fire. You can pretty much walk from Nepal to Bangladesh, cutting through a tiny portion of unpatrolled Indian territory; but Bangladesh is coming increasingly under the thumb of radical Islamists who long have coveted the world’s third largest Muslim-majority nation. In large part because of that, The New York Times and others have called Bangladesh one of “the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists.” Since 2005, there also have been credible reports of al Qaeda forces on its perimeter or inside the country. Even the tiny nation of Bhutan—which the media consistently portrays as the last Himalayan Shangri-La—for decades has been ruthlessly expelling its Hindus, most of whom now lead lives of statelessness and desperate poverty in eastern Nepal. Informed sources of mine in at least two neighboring countries also report that Bhutan has become “infested with Maoists.”
That leaves India, but there are problems there, too, despite the two nations having an open borders policy. People exiting from the east, however, will find themselves in a sort of no man’s land between Nepal and Bhutan. Called the “Chicken’s Neck,” the area is notorious for arms and drug smuggling and as a sanctuary for both Islamist and Maoist terrorists. Chinese agents are reportedly active there, as well. Leaving by Nepal’s southern border brings one into Uttar Pradesh province and one of the world’s largest Shi’ite populations. Additionally, India has been complaining about Nepalese and others taking advantage of the open border to escape their countries’ poverty. (Does that sound familiar to Americans?) Impoverished Nepalese are also quick to take jobs smuggling contraband into India. Terrorists, Islamist and Communist alike, use the open border to bring in funds, fighters, and directives that strengthen their position in the country. (Will this sound familiar to Americans?)
The western media and the large news gathering cliques that feed them have not reported this, even though almost one in four human beings live in what is fast becoming a tinder box. Though monumentally incompetent, certainly negligent, it is not the result of a vast left-wing conspiracy. Author and commentator, Bernard Goldberg, probably the most insightful analyst of bias in the news media, provided the best explanation on Fox News’ O’Reilly Factor. “News executives are willing to jump through hoops in the name of racial and ethnic diversity. They ought to jump through a few hoops and start an affirmative-action program for conservative journalists.” Goldberg’s point was that it is not an active conspiracy in the newsroom but simply the result of everyone sharing the same leftist orientation. That orientation tells them—as our own tells us—what is noteworthy and what is not; what is important enough to be in the article and what is not.
The problem is that news organizations—as well as high profile NGOs like Amnesty International—go to the same pool of people for information and to fill their reporting needs. In the Middle East, that means Palestinian “witnesses” and openly partisan Arab reporters, photographers like the Lebanese man Reuters had to fire for doctoring pictures in Qana and then passing them off as evidence for condemning Israel. For the periodic Israeli fig leaf, these same groups invariably turn to the radical Israeli left. In South Asia, they suspect conservatives and assume they are aligned with the military or a repressive regime. The people they go to share the same left-wing philosophy and tend to see socialism as the only hope for helping the downtrodden and upholding human rights. Shahriar Kabir, who media, human rights organizations, and certain agencies of our own government consider the go-to guy in Bangladesh, wrote in 2007 that the fall of the “socialist camp” in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union made it very difficult to fight “extreme poverty…[It] left a tremendous vacuum in the intellectual world that has been fully exploited by the American imperialists.” Those who follow the trials and tribulations of US Presidential candidate Barack Obama take note that in discussing radical Islam on the same page, this committed leftist writes that “people who live in a perpetual state of poverty understandably turn to faith.”
Had the media been doing an unbiased job, it would have been no surprise in 2006, when we revealed that one of our State Department employees in Bangladesh was affiliated with radical Islamist groups; when in the same year, a Voice of America correspondent claimed on Bangladeshi television that the United States concocted the story of British terrorists trying to bring down planes with liquid explosives; or that in 2007, a panel show on US-funded Al Hurra TV turned into a forum for Saudi officials to issue unchallenged denials of any role in exporting radical Islam, while the show’s host marginalized and effectively silenced the lone Muslim dissident.