The title in question – “China is the real sick man of Asia” – appeared on an opinion column written by academic and foreign affairs specialist Walter Russell Mead in the Journal on February 3. The column was a commentary on the health of Chinese finance markets rather than a reference to the outbreak of the coronavirus there.
Chinese officials and ordinary citizens protested that “sick man” is a racist phrase once used by Westerners to denigrate China during and immediately after the era when colonial powers dominated and exploited the nation.
The protests led the government on Wednesday to revoke the press credentials of three journalists, giving them five days to leave the country in the biggest action against western journalists since 1989.
The Journal expressed “regret” for the title, but did not apologize or change.
“We … ask you to consider correcting the title and apologizing to our readers, sources, colleagues and anyone who has been offended by it,” said an email sent on behalf of Journal employees by Jonathan. Cheng, head of the Journal office in Beijing, to William Lewis, the editor of the Journal and chief executive officer of Dow Jones & Co., and the chief of Lewis, Robert Thomson, chief executive officer of News Corp.
The email added: “It’s not about editorial independence or the sanctity of the division between news and opinions. This is not the content of Dr. Mead’s article. It’s about the wrong choice of a deeply offensive title for many people, not only in China.
“We believe the argument that no infringement was considered unconvincing: someone should have known it would have caused a widespread offense. If they didn’t know it, they made a bad mistake and should correct it and apologize.”
The e-mail, sent on Thursday, was signed by 53 Chinese Journal staff and “other colleagues involved in our coverage,” he said. Cheng was not among his signatories.
In a separate email, also obtained from the Washington Post, Cheng told the two senior executives that “their proper handling of this issue is essential for the future of our presence in China.”
Newspaper spokesman Steve Severinghaus said on Saturday that the newspaper’s position has not changed.
“We understand the extreme challenges facing our employees and their families in China,” he said in a statement. “. . . The experience of working through coronavirus and expelling close colleagues is incredibly difficult and we have encouraged open conversations about their concerns so that we can offer support. “
He added: “Dow Jones will continue to push for unfair action against [the paper’s journalists] to be reversed and to restore their visas. “
China has periodically punished Western journalists by denying them entry into the country or by not renewing their visas. But expulsions are rare; Until it acted against the Journal this week, the government has not kicked out an accredited journalist since 1998, according to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China.
The government’s action prompted a rebuke from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said in a statement: “The mature and responsible countries understand that a free press reports facts and expresses opinions. The correct answer is to present arguments against, not to limit “Pompeo himself recently launched an NPR reporter from his media plan in apparent retaliation for questions he didn’t like in a previous interview with another NPR reporter.
Cheng, who did not respond to a request for comment, noted in his email that the Journal had been attacked for weeks for the headline of the Chinese state media and the common people his reporters met. The state-run Global Times, for example, called the title “racist” on Wednesday and apologized to the Journal, as well as a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman.
In a statement released a few hours after the announcement of the expulsions, Lewis, the editor of the Journal, expressed regret but did not offer a formal apology. “It was not our intention to cause offense with the title on the piece,” he said. “However, this clearly caused disturbance and concern among the Chinese people, which we are sorry for.”
Lewis said in his statement that “the need to report quality and reliable news from China is greater than ever” and that the decision to “target journalists from our press office greatly hinders this effort.”
The Journal is owned by News Corp., whose executive chairman and main shareholder is media baron Rupert Murdoch.
The controversy arises between ever-increasing tensions between the United States and China on media issues.
China moved against Journalists the day after the Trump administration designated five major Chinese news organizations with U.S. operations as official government entities, effectively labeling them as propaganda points for Beijing. Designation under the Foreign Missions Act means that organizations will be treated as if they were diplomatic outposts of the Chinese government and subject to the same constraints.
The outlets include the official Xinhua agency; China Global Television Network; China Radio International; the People’s Daily, the spokesman for the Chinese Communist Party; and the China Daily newspaper.
The latter entity produces advertising sections in English that promote China called “China Watch” which are reported in American newspapers, including the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.