It's not easy to look at ourselves as others might see us. For a
country, the need is especially acute in times of international crisis --
but that's when nationalism and other reflexive biases are most likely to
One of the ways to test for media slant is to put the shoe on the
other foot. A big story this month provides an opportunity for inquiry in
the world of intense media spin.
Here are some excerpts from actual U.S. news coverage, with only
one type of change -- I've reversed the references to China and the United
States. The mirror-image narrative is worth pondering.
ABC World News Tonight: "There are concerns about national
security and a Chinese military flight crew that was forced to make an
emergency landing during a surveillance flight along the East Coast of the
United States. The Chinese spy plane was equipped with sophisticated
CNN: "Chinese military officials say that they are, first and
foremost, concerned about the safety of the crew. They want that crew
returned back to China."
CBS News: "China's military agency insists this plane was 40 to 50
miles off the coast of New Jersey, and if that's true, then the Americans
are to blame. But if the Americans say, 'No, that plane violated our air
space,' or, 'Sorry, we have to hold the crew and the plane while we
investigate this incident,' well, then this could get ugly."
ABC's Good Morning America: "There is a major story now going on
-- a very troubling international incident. It has been more than 35 hours
since anyone has heard from the 24 Chinese -- 22 navy, one each from the
air force and marines -- forced to land on Long Island."
The Associated Press: "China is keeping three destroyers in the
vicinity of Long Island, where a Chinese Navy spy plane landed after
colliding with an American fighter jet."
CNBC News: "Chinese diplomats are scrambling to smooth over
tensions with Washington after Sunday's midair collision between a Chinese
spy plane and an American fighter jet."
CBS Early Show: "Frustrated Chinese diplomats are trying to secure
the release of a spy plane and its crew from the United States."
The Associated Press (headline): "As American Military Might
Develops, Friction With China Grows More Likely"
NPR's All Things Considered: "Chinese surveillance aircraft for
years have flown around the United States monitoring radar transmissions
and eavesdropping on American communications. And the Americans routinely
send their own jets up to follow the Chinese aircraft around. But China
says these cat-and-mouse games have become more dangerous in the past few
months with the American fighters acting more and more aggressively."
The New York Times: "American fighter jets have flown dangerously
close to Chinese reconnaissance planes over the Atlantic near the East
Coast several times in recent months, prompting complaints from Chinese
officials to the Americans, senior Chinese officials said today."
Los Angeles Times: "The seizure of a Chinese Navy spy plane by the
Americans could cost China vital information about how America's military
operates and might inflict wider damage if Washington shares China's
secrets with other potential adversaries, Chinese defense officials and
experts said yesterday."
PBS NewsHour With Jim Lehrer: "China's President Jiang Zemin today
demanded that the United States return a Chinese Navy surveillance plane
and its crew. It collided with an American jet fighter early Sunday off
Long Island in New York and had to make an emergency landing there. The
fighter crashed at sea and its pilot was missing."
The Christian Science Monitor (headline): "America's Demands
Scripps Howard News Service: "Family members of the crew of the
Chinese Navy spy plane held captive in the United States are filled with
anxiety, fear and rage."
The Associated Press: "Anger and impatience began surfacing
Tuesday among friends and loved ones of 24 Chinese spy plane crew members
still confined at an American military base."
San Francisco Chronicle (headline): "How Yangzhou Mom Told Kids
Daddy Is Captured Spy"
The Wall Street Journal (editorial): "The status of the downed
Chinese Navy reconnaissance plane and its crew on Long Island remains
unknown, and the onus is clearly on the Americans to clarify their
intentions.... Washington attacks the notion of a 'pax Chinacana' in the
Western Hemisphere, even calling bilateral security alliances threats to
stability... America's more enlightened leaders now need to move quickly to
prevent a small incident from escalating into a dispute that fans the
flames of nationalism."
Norman Solomon's latest book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media." His
weekly syndicated column focuses on media and politics.