To the editor:
I was extremely angry to find, upon receiving copies of the May 2000 issue of Multinational Monitor in which my article on China was published, that the title of the piece had been changed from the neutral sounding "The Effect of WTO Entry on the Chinese Rural Sector," to the slanted "Doomed Harvest: How PNTR and the WTO Threaten to Drive Chinese Farmers Off the Land." Though we had on at least two occasions discussed changing the wording of the text of the article, the title alteration was made without consultation, much less agreement, on my part. In fact, following these earlier textual changes, there is no mention of PNTR at all left in this piece.
You are well aware of this, since it was due to your objecting to them that I deleted from the article several long passages that made clear my opposition to the anti-PNTR drive, as well as the attempt to keep China out of the WTO. This included such statements as:
"Keeping China out of the WTO or denying it permanent NTR status as a result of U.S. governmental action will not protect the peasants from the effects of 'globalization' or promote their interests. It will only raise the specter once again of historic discrimination against the Chinese and their subordination to outside political forces, and as such it is certain to be resisted."
Though in reviewing my first draft you stated that "we will almost certainly end up editing out the editorial comments about the WTO etc. at the end, as that's not the Monitor style," leading me to remove them from later drafts, I can no longer accept at face value that this was the only reason for your objection. Apart from the insipid "Doomed Harvest" -- not the kind of hyperbole I like -- by changing the title of my article, you made it appear that I supported the overall theme of your May 2000 issue, which included an editorial titled "The Case Against China PNTR," as well as several other articles and interviews, including one with Wei Jingsheng, supporting that position. Though from our very first conversation I asked what else would be included in the issue, I was given no hint of this overall tone to its political content.
I consider the anti-PNTR campaign especially discriminatory, since it subjects China to special requirements not applied to other nations, and assumes that the United States has the moral authority to pass judgment on the Chinese. While it can at least be argued that keeping China out of the WTO serves the larger goal of trying to end that institution altogether, I still oppose Chinese exclusion as the best way to do so. I have over the past few months taken an active and outspoken role in both private meetings and public forums in opposing this punitive and exclusionary approach to China.
You perhaps had no obligation to inform me of the approach you were taking in the issue, but you had no right to change the title of my article to imply that I agreed with it, especially after removing the very passages that made clear my opposition. Further conveying this implication, in your own signed piece in the issue, "The Joys of PNTR, According to the Fortune 500," you specifically refer readers to my article. To distort my position in this manner was both a personal affront to me as well as a form of unethical journalism.
It is ironic that a magazine founded by Ralph Nader, who has done so much to promote truth in advertising and other similar protections, should stoop to this kind of manipulation in order to further your own political agenda. I assume that Nader had no direct hand in this, but it is worth noting that he has called the granting of PNTR to China "horrible," and that other organizations that he founded, notably Public Citizen, were among the most open "China-bashers" in the anti-PNTR campaign. Not so much the journalistic style, but the content of the May 2000 issue, is therefore in line with this overall approach taken by Nader and his associates.
I am sorry that an article which I wrote at your solicitation and in good faith has been misused in this way. I request that this letter be published in the next available issue of Multinational Monitor as a way of correcting any implication that I supported the continued annual review of NTR status of China or its exclusion from the WTO.
The editors reply to Robert Weil:
As a matter of our standard operating procedure, we try to work closely with writers during the editorial process, and make sure they sign off on the final version of their articles, but for last-minute, non-substantive line changes made in the layout process.
We generally do not run our titles by the authors. In crafting our titles, we typically use aggressive language, puns, what we hope is clever phrasing or other devices to capture reader interest. Though we write for a general audience, our articles frequently deal with difficult topics, and are sometimes dense. We try to use the title to liven up the magazine. For these reasons, your proposed "The Effect of WTO Entry on the Chinese Rural Sector" is the kind of title we try to avoid.
As for the title itself, though you may not like hyperbole, it does reflect the substance of your argument in the article. There is virtually nothing in the article to suggest that there are countervailing agricultural benefits to WTO entry. Leaving aside our title style, it seems entirely appropriate to give the article a title that reflects the article's central theme.
It is true, as you say, that the article does not mention PNTR per se. But the PNTR issue is inextricably intertwined with WTO accession for China. And the specific agricultural tariff cuts that were negotiated in the US-China deal -- effectively the price extracted for a Congressional vote on PNTR -- are to a considerable extent the precise cause of the expected harmful changes in the rural sector you highlight.
We draw the conclusion from your article, as well as the extensive other evidence available related to PNTR and WTO accession, that Chinese entry into the WTO will be harmful and should be opposed. We also believe that opposition is appropriate from a more U.S.-oriented perspective. That's the case we made in our editorial. We think this is a pro-China position, or at least a pro-Chinese people position.
We do not believe, and we do not believe that any of our readers believe, that the inclusion of an article in the Monitor suggests that the author endorses our editorial position. Nor do people generally assume such endorsement for other journals, so far as we know.
As for the deletion of your text arguing against U.S. opposition to China's WTO accession, that did involve editorializing -- and somewhat afield from all prior discussion in the article -- of a kind we do not publish in Monitor articles.
The "Joys of PNTR, According to the Fortune 500" appropriately refers to your article, since it directly relates to a comment from the American Farm Bureau disputing that WTO accession will lead to significant rural displacement in China.
If you look at that article, by the way, you will see that it is reported straight. It conveys the business point of view, without editorial comment.
It is, obviously, perfectly legitimate for you to disagree with our editorial position. And we're quite happy for you to clarify your differences with us, and to highlight perceived mischaracterizations in the title. But we think you'll find that not many conclude from the title anything other than what the article suggests: that China's accession to the WTO poses risks of dramatic magnitude for Chinese farmers.