Chinese state TV’s full throated endorsement of Putin’s war

Politics & Current Affairs

A veteran observer of Chinese state media has been tracking CCTV’s coverage of the war in Ukraine. It does not even pretend to be balanced.

Illustration for The China Project by Derek Zheng

Much of the commentary of the just-concluded visit of Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 to Moscow has focused on official messaging from the Kremlin and Zhongnanhai. Equally interesting is the substance of how Beijing is communicating its stance on the Russian invasion to Chinese people.

State-broadcaster CCTV, which remains the most influential current affairs information operation in China, has offered a full-throated endorsement of Putin’s war, right from the very beginning.

This point was driven home in a recent episode of the Barbarians at the Gate podcast, produced and hosted by Beijing-resident writer-scholars Jeremiah Jenne and David Moser, in which they interview veteran China journalist Phil Cunningham.

Cunningham did some of the best reporting on the June 4, 1989 protests and crackdown, and has been visiting and writing on China and its media ever since then. He now writes the excellent CCTV Follies newsletter which covers CCTV’s nightly primetime news program, Xīnwén Liánbō 新闻联播.

The latest CCTV Follies covers Xi’s Moscow visit: Xi greets, shakes, and leaves. Cunningham had been writing about CCTV’s coverage of Ukraine since he started the newsletter, and it was a major topic of the conversation in the podcast. Cunningham explained:

One of the things that got me into the CCTV Follies was the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

And I wanted to see how that was playing on the flagship news program in China. It became very obvious to me very early on that this was leaning towards Russia. And with each passing day, it seemed to be solidified…They could have gone either way for a while. They could have been neutral. They could have taken a different tack. They were getting direction. They were getting guidance to do something. It was orthodox pro-Kremlin, to the extent where they use Kremlin-provided, Russian Ministry of Defence-provided video for several minutes every evening, every single day.

I think the day that Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 was coronated as the sort of leader forever in China was the only day where perhaps the Russian news didn’t appear, and one day over the New Year’s holidays, perhaps for reasons of auspiciousness.

But basically, every single day since last February 24…If you’re watching CCTV, you get hit with this footage from Russia, curated by the Kremlin. For the last half a year, it was introduced by Igor Konashenkov, who’s a Russian defense ministry spokesman…It is totally…100% pro-Russia.

Below, we present a full transcription of the podcast episode, published with the hosts’ and guest’s permission.

Barbarians at the Gate podcast: CCTV Follies with Journalist and Author Philip Cunningham

Jeremiah Jenne: Welcome to another episode of Barbarians at the Gate. This is Jeremiah Jenne, who has returned to my perch, high above the Dongcheng District of Beijing, awaiting the repatriation — I guess it’s not repatriation, we had this last week — the return to the mainland of my collaborator…

Phil Cunningham: The return of the non-native.

Jeremiah: Right. Return of the non-native, David Moser. David, how’re you doing?

David Moser: Good. Nice weather here. 20 some degrees today. I assume that you’ve got the same thing there, right?

Jeremiah: Nah, it snowed.

David: Ah.

Jeremiah: And that voice that you heard in the background, there is our guest today, Phillip Cunningham, who we’re really pleased to have on the podcast. Phillip’s been a regular visitor to China since 1983. He’s worked as a producer, a writer, a scholar, a teacher. He’s conducted media research as a Knight Fellow, a Fulbright Scholar, and a recipient of a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard. He’s also the author of a great book, Tiananmen Moon, which is a firsthand account of the 1989 protest in Beijing. And he has a fabulous substack called CCTV Follies, a personal take on China’s nightly news and irreverent roundup that focuses on what is being shown and what is being said. And Phil, welcome to the podcast, all the way from Ithaca, New York, right?

Phil: Yes. Well, thank you very much for having me, and thank you for such a kind introduction.

Jeremiah: So, Phil, maybe you could start off and talk a little bit, I mean, I follow the CCTV Follies, which you put a little bit on your Twitter feed as well, and then you have the substack which goes into some detail. Can you tell us about the origins of doing live takes of the CCTV News, which I have to tell you, I feel like that’s both a test of China knowledge and a small test of endurance.

Phil: It probably is both. And I very frequently hear, get comments, especially on Twitter — Thanks for doing this because I couldn’t possibly sit through a program and so on. But I actually enjoy it some of the time, maybe even most of the time. But if you think about what’s happening, and there’s a lot of deception, and demagoguery, and lies, and personality cult, and twisting of the truth. It can also get you angry. So, I found the best way to deal with it is with a sense of humor, to take it lightly, to poke fun at it where I can, to let it speak for itself as much as possible. I mean, I only use images from the program and I follow the news stories that are covered by the program. But I’ll offer my point of view, or it’s a little bit like every once in a while, I’ll do a little bit of a mad lib, like what they’re saying and what they’re really saying, and what they’re showing and what they’re really showing. And there’s often a gap between the two, and that’s where the humor lies.

Jeremiah: I think many of our listeners are familiar with the CCTV Evening News program, but there’s a…For those people who probably, who may not be watching Chinese Central Television in the evening every night, maybe tell us a little bit about the Xīnwén Liánbō 新闻联播, the history of it, how it’s evolved and what it means today.

Phil: Okay, Well, Xinwen Lianbo, the easiest way to describe it, it’s the evening news that everyone watches, or in theory everyone watches. And back in the day when there was only one or two TV stations, that was the news. There’s a lot of stations in China now, but strangely enough, there’s not a lot of differentiation in the news. Basically, every provincial station carries Xinwen Lianbo, which is a flagship program. So, you’re getting the authoritative voice of the Communist Party at 7:00 p.m. every day. And it’s evolved a bit over the years. It’s always been a bit on the stodgy side. It’s like People’s Daily done in visuals in television. And yet, it’s also really evolved by leaps and bounds in a way that it’s unrecognizable from, let’s say, back in the ‘80s when I first watched the program or when I had to endure the martial law announcements during the Tiananmen demonstrations, and I wanted to see what they’re saying on TV. It’s so different from then because they’ve gotten so good at production.

The camera work is excellent. You have satellites. You have teams around the world. It’s probably the biggest and best-funded news station on the entire planet. I don’t think even BBC can compare with CCTV’s reach right now. But of course, they waste it because it’s top-down editorial, so Beijing tells them what to say. So, you have all these young kids in far-flung places. I mean, for example, the recent earthquake in Turkey, they had someone on the ground in Turkey, a woman who speaks Turkish. They had a man, a stringer in Syria. I mean, find a U.S. network that has that kind of reach. And this is over and over again. But the sad thing is, is we very rarely hear from these people. One of the things that got me into the CCTV Follies was the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

And I wanted to see how that was playing on the flagship news program in China. It became very obvious to me very early on that this was leaning towards Russia. And with each passing day, it seemed to be solidified, not just sort of leaning towards Russia. They could have gone either way for a while. They could have been neutral. They could have taken a different tack. They were getting direction. They were getting guidance to do something. It was Orthodox pro-Kremlin, to the extent where they use Kremlin-provided, Russian Ministry of Defence provided video for several minutes every evening, every single day. I think the day that Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 was coronated as the sort of leader forever in China was the only day where perhaps the Russian news didn’t appear, and one day over the New Year’s holidays, perhaps for reasons of auspiciousness.

But basically, every single day since last February 24, we’ve been watching… If you’re watching CCTV, you get hit with this footage from Russia, curated by the Kremlin. For the last half a year, it was introduced by Igor Konashenkov, who’s a Russian defense ministry spokesman. Now they just play it straight because I think the viewers realize where it’s coming from by now. But it is totally orthodox, 100% pro-Russia.

David: You’re right about the evolution in terms of the format and in terms of the basic style, and the aspect that it’s all visuals and you have the news announcers talking and seldom hear anyone else either remotely or even the fearless leader doesn’t talk very much. Yes, the amazing thing is the production values, the computer graphics are so incredibly slick and professional now, very Hollywood level. I think I sent, I tweeted or maybe something, I describe your substack as great data for anyone writing a PhD dissertation on the semiotics of Chinese state media. And it strikes me that in a certain sense, there’s almost hypnotic quality about it. I don’t know how you would prescribe it. It’s very performative.

TV is a very visual medium, of course. The images are what drive the narrative. And the talk in the background is just blather. Most people are making dinner or something, and they’re mainly just catching brief images. So, your substack sort of captures that really well. But how would you describe, you said the People’s Daily on TV, it was basically, as in the sense as the message, basically mirrors what’s happening on the People’s Daily. But how would you describe, what do you think the effect is there? It’s hard to imagine that it does anything more than just reinforce certain images of stereotypes that people have. There’s nothing very much in-depth.

Phil: Well, it’s interesting. Those are all good points. And I was thinking about this today. I think it’s a kind of religious experience. There’s a ritual. As a linguist once said, the right words in rote order, and is a way of giving comfort to the viewer that everything’s under control. We do the same thing here every day. We always start out with our great leader, Xi Jinping. We give you 10 minutes of… That’s the real People’s Daily part of it. The first 10 minutes where it’s all about Xi Jinping and his many accomplishments. And then you get about 10 minutes, the middle eight is about domestic things — tractors and skyscrapers and rockets and fast trains and things. That’s probably the most interesting if you want to understand what’s happening in China. And the last 10 minutes, and this is nowadays, the last 10 minutes is the war in Ukraine, which is called, of course, you can’t call it a war, even today on CCTV. So, it’s called the Ukraine situation or the conflict.

David: The crisis or whatever. Yeah.

Phil: And so you have several minutes about the conflict, and then you have other international news. And the formula, most recently, and this has been repeated almost without exception, is that the last, the button, the last thing you close with, in U.S. News, typically they do some little human interest story or something. And that’s the end of the news. Something light where people watch the heavy news and leave with a smile. But CCTV closes its news with depressing reports from the United States, gun violence, and whatever. And so the Sy Hersh piece was amazing because it’s such a big piece for China. And the CCTV has spent the last week studiously ignoring the balloon incident — nothing, not a single clip. Nothing on the balloon.

Because it’s very hard for China to spin that to its own people in a way that’s edifying. But here’s something, this is catnip for CCTV. You have a story where an American is saying America has done a bad thing. Basically, Sy Hersh wrote a story — and I want to say something because you mentioned I was a Nieman Fellow — I met Sy Hersh when I was a Nieman Fellow. He was quoted, of course, extensively on CCTV Today. But Chris Hedges was the second guest who came in on CCTV Today. He was also a Nieman Fellow. So, to say that Sy Hersh and Chris Hedges are just apologists or something is really not fair. They’re both very smart. They’re both very good journalists. They both worked for the New York Times and many other esteemed publications.

So, these are serious people. They may be wrong on this particular story. They may be right. But the point is CCTV loves it because it just coincidentally fills a narrative need for China to bash the United States. And if an American can provide that material to them, they’ll take it. If a Russian provides it, they’ll take it too. But they have editorial guidance to end the program with a negative take on the U.S. And this is such a big story and it’s so much value to their PR efforts and to sort of sweep the balloon under the rug, so to speak. That they really pulled kind of a full-court press today. I mean, they gave it about… There’s 20 or 30 images just to go along with that story — pictures of Nord Stream, pictures of the underwater pipes that have been broken, submarine photography, pictures of Chris Hedges explaining why the U.S. denial is not believable. Pictures of the White House, the CIA headquarters. I mean, they just went to town with this story.

So, it’s one of those rare moments where CCTV, through no journalistic hustle of its own, has a story land on its lap, which is useful to its narrative.

Jeremiah: When a story like that is presented. And having watched the Lianbo over the years, one of the things that it reminds me very much of, like Fox News in the U.S., where it’s presented in a very slick way, but there’s very little attempt to try to get any kind of competing views. There’s no attempt to try to balance out any particular narrative because it’s all about pushing a narrative. That’s one way I always think CCTV News and Fox News are really quite similar. But I wonder too, I think about viewers, people who watch Fox News only, and people who watch CCTV only for different reasons. What I’d like to ask you is, you’ve been watching Chinese media since the 1980s. How have people’s relationship with this information changed, or has it changed?

There’s a narrative, right? That people watch it, but they know it’s not totally real. They know it’s not the truth. They’re reading between the lines. And yet, living here, I have conversations with people who very much just parrot what they’re hearing on the Xinwen Lianbo. It makes me think that sure, people may know that it’s not necessarily the truth per se, whatever that is, but at the same time, it does seem to have a reach. And when you hear every day, things that are very comforting to a viewer, like your leaders are wise, the situation is excellent, everything outside of China is going to hell and a zombie apocalypse — have your dinner.

Phil: Well, I think you touched on a very important point, and that is, how is this received in China? And I certainly know, from the people I know and talk about this with, very few people take it at face value. But it’s like, when we grew up in the United States watching TV commercials, you didn’t take them at face value, but they had an effect on your psyche, your consciousness, your likes, your dislikes, your predispositions, and so on. And I would argue Fox News does precisely the same thing with its demo in the United States. So, like Fox News, I think CCTV is partly information, but that’s a really small part of it. I think it’s guidance, how to think. Where is the party line right now? And living in a communist country, it’s very important to know where the party line is.

This is where it is, this is what we’re saying now. You don’t have to believe it. No one’s asking you to believe it. Just know where it is and know what to say. If someone puts a microphone in your face and say, “Who’s the greatest leader China’s ever had and whatever?” you know how to answer that. And you have ready-made answers as I think Fox does. It manufactures consent, as in Chomsky’s great phrase, it manufacturers consent. So, people know what they should be saying about Ukraine, about Russia, about the U.K. Right now, the position on England, by the way, is how could England be wasting its time and money supporting Ukraine when it’s crippled by a nurse’s strike at home?

I mean, the narrative right now is like, what nerve do these Western countries have to meddle and intervene in Ukraine when they can’t even get their own act together? And of course, when they finally turn to the closing footage of U.S., they love that picture of the train wreck the other day because the pictures of the flames and black smoke was so apocalyptic — how could the United States have time to be intervening in Ukraine and other places when they’ve got so many problems at home? So, that is definitely the message, the emotional transference that they’re delivering to their people. That we’ve got everything under control, but listen to us. Don’t listen to them.

David: I think that’s an interesting point to raise because, well, you mentioned, we’re talking about Fox News, and there is that similarity, but the difference is that I think it’s probably good to point out, and I’d love to hear what you have to say about this, Phil, is that the U.S. media environment is all about ratings and infotainment. There’s no meaningful separation between news and entertainment. They mix together — talking heads or stars, and the personalities all weigh in. And politics is a rowdy sort of interesting thing where everyone has different points of view. In China, well, I don’t think a lot of people realize, you turn on Chinese TV and it looks as lively and commercial as anything because there’s so many ads, but what you do find, if you watch carefully, is that there’s a strict separation between news and everything else.

I mean, any kind of entertainment is okay, it makes money, but the news is hermetically sealed from everything else. You don’t mention politics in variety shows. And so, the news takes on a very special role here, and I think you outlined it very well, which is to get the message to manufacture consent. Can you talk about that a little bit in terms of how… See, it’s not meant to entertain and it’s not meant to give rise to all kinds of public discussion. It’s meant to be taken in, like the priest talking in Latin and everyone nods and goes home.

Phil: I want to return to that, you mentioned the priest, because it is liturgical. I mean, it’s like a service where you sit down, and the first 10 minutes, they’re rambling on about something and it’s boring. But you sit there and then they have… The point is you have a predictable turn. Then you know you’re going to turn to domestic. First you have the leadership news, then you have the domestic news. Traditionally, if you go back, not so many years ago, the international news sometimes could be as short as one minute. I mean, they would spend 29 minutes showing Chinese leaders pointing at things, and then you’d have one minute wrapping up what was happening in the rest of the world. For better or worse, the balance has changed. We get almost a solid 10 minutes every day telling you what’s happening in the rest of the world.

Unfortunately, from the point of view of Ukraine’s cause, a good three or four of that minutes is wasted with Russian Ministry of Defence footage and putting into Chinese terms the Russian line on things. And CCTV to me is surprisingly compliant with a foreign power in this case, because Russia, for example, doesn’t even go to this extent. But CCTV will not show a map of Ukraine with borders. Every time CCTV puts a map up on the back screen, on the green screen, it’s got Ukraine without borders. And that’s very useful to the myth that Russia is regaining lost territory, that there never really was a border in the first place; that this is all up for grabs. And they’re doing a great disservice to the world as we know it, but it’s very loyal to Putin, very loyal to a certain Russian centric view of the world.

I’ve had a lot of experience with CCTV over the years. I really expected better than that. I expected a pro-China point of view. I didn’t expect a slavishly pro-Russian point of view.

Jeremiah: Some people to put this on Twitter. As a historian, I’m always a little cautious of these parallels, but country A is being invaded by country B that wants to take them over. And country A is desperately seeking weapons and the means to defend itself, and is sending representatives around the world asking for help. It just reminds me so much of, frankly, what China was doing in the 1930s with Soong Mei-ling (宋美齡 Sòng Měilíng) visiting Washington and visiting the United States as Zelensky does today, asking for help and support and arms. The idea is like Britain has this train strike, so why should they be sending Western aid? The U.S. was in the middle of a great depression. Why send help to China in fact?

Phil: No, I think the historic parallels are important because, for a lot of us watching, and I’m also a historian by training, and I can’t help but see parallels to things that happened in World War II, and the land war in Europe is certainly part of it, and the horrors, and the treatment of civilians and prisoners and so on is just horrific. But it’s also true that, to use a hackneyed phrase, but it’s still useful, there’s such a thing as being on the right side and the wrong side of history. And like you said, the U.S. wasn’t in a great position to get into war when Soong Mei-ling and other people went there, but it responded to the call. I don’t think Ukraine was in a great position, and United States and U.K. may not be in the greatest position to be helping, but they are helping because there are times in history where there are forces so dark and so threatening to life as we know it, that it’s unthinkable that you’re going to let the bad guys win — not without a struggle.

What I say, every time I look at the Russian news on CCTV, I say there’s Putin making the world safe for dictatorship. And the voices that they weigh in, China will call on the ambassador from Iran. They’ll get someone from Syria. They might get someone from Venezuela. I mean, it’s almost like an axis is forming where you have China is clearly leaning towards this pro-Russian alliance. This is only a handful of countries right now, but they’ve recently added South Africa to that list. So, they are achieving some success in terms of swaying people not to support Europe, U.S., NATO, and so on. And the world is dividing into two camps.

Jeremiah: I think there’s actually maybe even three camps, which is the western camp, if you will, this kind of pro-Russia access, and a large number of countries that are like, “Please just don’t ask us. Mom and dad are fighting.” And like, who do you want to live with, son? I think a lot of people, a lot of countries around the world.

Phil: That’s fair. I mean, India’s a case in point. There are a lot of countries that can’t be characterized as in one camp or the other. The reason why I started doing the Follies, and I only started the substack in September and started doing assiduously on a daily basis in October, there’s just so much going on in China. Oh, and this is the thing I wanted to say. One of the things I noticed is I started looking at China coverage of Ukraine, but pretty soon, I couldn’t help it, I wanted to watch the whole program. And so, I was looking at how China’s covering itself, and I saw the civil space, the room for discussion, the room for dissent getting smaller and smaller in China. I saw Xi Jinping’s ego and the space he occupies getting bigger and bigger.

And by the time of the 20th Party Congress in October, it was like, it’s almost of Maoist proportions, where you have absolutely no dissent can be brooked, no alternate point of views can be given voice to on television. And it’s really kind of draconian. It really is black and white. And that is disturbing because I started… I’ve seen, during the Hú Jǐntāo 胡锦涛 years, which was no peach garden, you might say, looking back, the Hu Jintao years were like freewheeling. I mean, I could get on TV and say things you certainly couldn’t come close to saying today. And you could do things, and Chinese people were saying things. There was more than one view out there. It may have been suppressed, there may have been a dominant view, but there were other views percolating up. It’s like a vacuum now — a vacuum of dissent.

David: Years ago when back in the blog era, and I wrote something for, if you can remember that, called Media Schizophrenia.

Phil: Not only that, I remember your article, and you used Wanda Sykes, or some clever pseudonym based on the letters of your name, an anagram.

David: But there is something very strange in China, the dynamic, because yes, the Hu Jintao era was kind of a golden age looking back because there were a lot of dissenting voices, or there was an interesting lively debate happening in the open because of the internet, precisely, and because there were a lot of things that they could no longer just ignore as someone. They had to address it in some way, or they felt they did. And it seemed like the trajectory was moving towards a kind of a commercially based sort of something like a public forum that the media could be at some… And of course, that all went in the opposite direction 10 years ago.

Phil: Right, 10 years ago.

David: 10 years ago. This schizophrenia that I talk about, it’s very odd to be… Chinese people, I think, are very used to it. But I think your substack is useful because it sort of prods and examines this disassociation, this schizophrenia, that there’s actually quite a lot of information in China floating around in social media. There’s tens of millions of people probably who routinely use VPNs so they’re accessing foreign news easily. And there’s complete awareness, at least among the educated class who read outside materials outside of the P.R.C. But there’s this weird schizophrenia where there’s this very tightly controlled message that’s the official one that’s out there every day, like a drumbeat that doesn’t really attract much attention. It’s more like, as you said, it’s more of a guideline of acceptable discourse if the microphone is put in your face. So, it’s a very strange media environment where there’s these two worlds — one that’s sort of based upon what’s really happening in the world. And another one in which the biggest world story, the spy balloon, is not even covered at all. And they’re very aware of that. I mean, they’re not stupid. They know that information is out there.

Phil: There’s a method to the madness. Yeah, for sure.

David: Yeah. Well, how do you square that? I mean, what do you think? Is this a strategy that they’ve devised or is this just inertia? Is this like a media inertia that they can’t imagine doing another way or what?

Phil: Well, I’m going to generalize here, but like a lot of other things in China, it’s incredibly smart and incredibly stupid at the same time. I mean, it’s just like… You wonder how the country even gets through one day after another because there’s so much talent on the one hand, and there’s so much ineptitude and clumsiness and self-sabotage and dropping a stone on your own feet sort of thing going on. So, it’s amazing that anything gets done. And so much gets done. I mean, it’s a technological marvel right now. I might be a little biased because I watch CCTV, so I get to watch every rocket go off. I see the trains day in and day out. I see the best that China has to offer in terms of science and technology. And between you and me, I think that’s threatened because there is now an ideology replacing science that’s ascientific, amoral, and it’s not going to lead China to bigger and better things. It’s retrograde.

China is going back into a cave if it follows that to its logical conclusion. So, it’s not good news for China’s scientists and its development and the skyscrapers, and so on, that you have this new orthodoxy, only one correct way of thinking about things. That’s not good for any civilization. And China, I think, is gasping for air. It needs other points of view. It needs variety, it needs diversity of voices.

David: I also have worked in state media at the education channel, and I’ve certainly been in touch with it, and still meet producers. You’re very right that there’s this wasted talent because there are some very bright people, and people who would love to contribute and are able to do so. And yet, they’re sort of trapped in this system. We might expand this a little bit, not just to the CCTV news, but also to CCTV worldwide, where there’s a great soft power initiative to try to get people, other countries in line. And also they do some good things. I mean, if you look at CCTV in Africa, they’re really the only sort of major world news outlet that does a lot of African news coverage.

Phil: Yeah.

David: Whereas the CNN kind of ignores it. The producers that I talk to, they also crave viewership and feedback to show that their broadcast are making an impact. The thing I hear from the poorer producers, and they’re usually young, bright, college-educated kids right out of school who want to do something, and they’re idealistic, but they’re tasked with making the news interesting. And they say to me, “David, we have this comment section, we hope that people will leave comments, and we want to get something interesting, but no one ever posts. No one ever answers. And how can we get more interest?” And I just want to hug them and say, “Oh, you poor schlubs. You’re working for this institution that won’t let anything be interesting, humanly interesting.” Yeah.

Phil: Well, like I said, the potential is there. I mean, they have the infrastructure, they have the talent, the manpower.

David: Money. The money. Yeah.

Phil: The money, satellite links — everything you could want. And then they have someone in Beijing saying, “No, that’s not the line.” Very early in the war, I was looking for reports from Ukraine. They had a few people in Ukraine, and, of course, their coverage was directed on how the Chinese government is doing a great job of evacuating Chinese citizens from a dangerous place. They didn’t say war zone because it’s not a war, but they said it’s a dangerous place. And of course, the Chinese government actually put people at risk because they were so confident that Russia was going to enter Kyiv and win in three or four days that they told Chinese to stay in place, to have flags, to wave Chinese flags, to wave when the Russians came in so you wouldn’t be harmed and so on.

So, where you could have had a very interesting story in Ukraine, instead you had, let’s get some pictures of our successful evacuation of our Chinese people and then pack up and get out of here. And there were two or three stories. There was one guy in Odessa, he was doing a standup on a porch, and the Russian bomb hit somewhere in the city. You could hear it; you could see the flash. And I said, “Wow, I’m going to follow this.” And the story disappeared within one news cycle. It was gone. No more reports from him. They don’t want journalism. They want party propaganda. They have the potential for journalism, that is good or better than almost any country in the world, but they don’t have the permission, they don’t have the mindset. And I would say they don’t have the practice.

I mean, the Chinese, even the good young, energetic, idealistic people we’re talking about, they don’t have much experience digging, speaking truth to power, investigating, because that’s never been permitted in their lifetime.

Jeremiah: Phil, there’s a lot of commentary about comparative media ecosystems. What do you say to people who they think, “Well, sure, CCTV is biased. CGTN is biased. Chinese media has a biased media environment” — but so does the West. Well, the West is biased. The West doesn’t show good news either. How do we kind of process this? Is this really an apples and apples comparison, or is this being a little disingenuous?

Phil: I’ll try to appeal to the historian in you and say this, Winston Churchill was a vile, racist, biased man, and then you have Adolf Hitler — are they the same? Are they on the same level? I don’t think so. There’s subjectivity everywhere, but there’s more and less. In the very least, you have systems whereupon you may have a great deal of patriotism and confidence in your own country, but you, as a noblesse oblige, you let other people express their point of view. You have a system where there is only one point of view, no alternate point of view can be presented — it’s systemically different. It’s apples and oranges. It’s not apples and apples.

Jeremiah: Well, Phil, I really want to thank you so much for taking the time in the evening in New York to talk to David. And I really encourage people, if they are familiar with substack, to sign up for your substack CCTV Follies. Let Phil do the work of watching the CCTV evening news for you. And I hope that we can have you on the podcast again in the very near future. Thank you, Phil.

Phil: Okay. It’s been a pleasure. I enjoyed talking to both of you.

Jeremiah: And thank you, David. I think the next time I’ll see you; you’ll be back in the warm embrace of the capital.

Phil: Return of the non-native.

Jeremiah: The non-native son. Well, thank you to everyone who’s been listening to us. You can find Barbarians at the Gate wherever you get your podcasts, and of course, you can always send us a message if you have any feedback, comments or requests. We play all the hits that matter, the platters that make a difference from the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. But mostly we just played drum music.