(Midland, Texas – July 19, 2013) In an attempt to set the record straight about details in recent news reports on blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng’s departure from New York University, ChinaAid president Bob Fu on Friday released a lengthy statement in which he clarified and corrected facts in a report by The New York Times.
The statement also contains Fu’s responses to other reports and comments that have been in the media related to Chen’s announcement last month that NYU was forcing him to leave due to pressure from the Chinese Communist government (see https://chinaaid.org/2013/06/blind-legal-activist-chen-guangcheng.html).
The ensuing media attention to this development included a front-page New York Times report on July 11 by Andrew Jacobs that contained factual errors, mischaracterizations, at least one fabrication and the reporter’s bias, Fu’s statement says.
“Regrettably, The New York Times’ Beijing-based reporter Andrew Jacobs violated the basic code of professional ethics requiring journalists to be neutral in their reporting and, in his recent report about the controversy over Chen Guangcheng’s departure from New York University, he openly defended NYU, wrongfully blaming me and other people who were trying to help Chen Guangcheng,” the statement says.
Fu had already contacted the reporter, Andrew Jacobs, about the problems in his news report, and last Friday, under Jacobs’ instructions, Fu submitted to The New York Times a letter to the editor and a request for a correction to be published. To date, the newspaper has not responded.
Fu’s statement is below:
Clarifications about The New York Times’ distorted reporting and responses to
Pastor Bob Fu
July 18, 2013
In response to the inaccurate, misleading and biased report in The New York Times on July 11, 2013 headlined “After Epic Escape From China, Exile Is Mired in Partisan U.S.,” and after requests for a correction and for the publication of a letter to the editor failed to elicit a response from the newspaper, this statement clarifies and corrects errors in The New York Times’ report and also addresses some other issues related to other news reports about blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng’s departure from New York University.
As president of China Aid Association, I sometimes help others escape from China and from the same persecution I once suffered before my own escape in 1997. One of the most well-known persons I’ve helped is the blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng, who earned the wrath of the Communist authorities in Linyi, Shandong province, when he exposed the large scale and wide scope of forced abortions. Consequently, he was subjected to all kinds of persecutions and trials and tribulations. Although we do not share the same religious faith—I converted from atheism to Christianity while living in China, while Chen is not a Christian—I believe that no person should be abused or tortured for his or her religious beliefs or thoughts and speech. Chen Guangcheng’s indomitable fortitude and his incredible courage to escape that hell-hole and come to a free America is inspiring. I am grateful to have played a small role in this.
Regrettably, The New York Times’ Beijing-based reporter Andrew Jacobs violated the basic code of professional ethics requiring journalists to be neutral in their reporting and, in his recent report about the controversy over Chen Guangcheng’s departure from New York University, he openly defended NYU, wrongfully blaming me and other people who were trying to help Chen Guangcheng.
In front-page July 11 report in The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/11/world/asia/after-epic-escape-from-china-exile-is-mired-in-partisan-us.html?_r=0 ), he wrote:
“Critics say Mr. Fu overstated his own role in the audacious escape and then made use of Mr. Chen’s story in fund-raising appeals to his evangelical Christian supporters. Those appeals sometimes cast Mr. Chen as an opponent of abortion. Despite his opposition to forced sterilizations and abortions, Mr. Chen has said he has no position on the divisive issue. ”
Please allow me (and my organization) to respond to these contentions. First of all, I have been in this country long enough to recognize the use of unnamed “critics” as a way of incorporating the reporter’s own bias. If there were critics making such claims, why not quote them as saying so on the record?
Next, regarding the contention that I “overstated” my role in Chen’s courageous escape, where is the evidence? When and where did I overstate my role? I have always recognized that the credit for Chen’s escape lies primarily with Chen, and the rest of us who assisted played much smaller roles. I simply appealed on his and his family’s behalf on the international stage and shuttled between Washington, Brussels and London in order to coordinate diplomatic efforts for freedom for Chen’s family. (It is, however, my firm belief that I was the first to personally inform U.S. consular officials in China that Guangcheng had fled his home village of Dongshigu and I suggested that they be prepared for the diplomatic negotiations. Later, the U.S. State Department assigned people to be in contact me through an exclusive channel. When then-Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner arrived in Beijing on then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s plane, he also called me personally to tell me the results of the first round of Sino-U.S. negotiations. Later, the two times that I linked up Chen Guangcheng to hearings at the House of Representatives [via my cellphone] were minor episodes only. Andrew Jacobs knows the details of all of this.)
I applaud my friend for his determination and perseverance, and I’m thankful that I could help at all.
Additionally, I’ve never mischaracterized Chen’s faith or his political views. It is telling that the New York Times article does not contain a single example of such a misstatement. I’ve always accurately described Chen as an opponent of “forced family planning and forced abortion.” Never have I described Chen in any way as an opponent of “abortion.” (See, for example, my opinion piece in the Washington Post on April 29, 2012: “With the Chen case, U.S. credibility is on the line” http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-04-29/opinions/35451125_1_chen-guangcheng-chen-case-chen-guangfu )
In fact, I have never characterized Chen as someone who shares my political and religious views. I certainly wouldn’t try to get Chen to agree with me on hot-button social issues being discussed by American politicians today. In my Washington Post piece, I point out that Chen is not a “dissident” in the traditional sense of the word because not only has he not founded any [opposition] political parties nor called for “regime change,” Chen hasn’t even advocated leaving the Communist Party. That being the case, what reason would I have to try to get him to align with Republicans or Democrats? It is China he wants to reform, not the United States.
In the video he posted after his escape in which he addressed Wen Jiabao, for example, Chen spoke of the unjust treatment his family had experienced and asked that the central government launch a thorough investigation, otherwise “the image of our Party will be damaged.” (Emphasis mine.) (See http://www.chinese.rfi.fr/中国/20120427-陈光诚向温家宝提出三要求的视频和文字实录) When he was in Beijing’s Chaoyang Hospital, he told me he wanted the outside the world to know that he wanted “to live a normal life as a Chinese citizen with my family.”
In its references to last year’s Congressional hearing, The New York Times report also contains many inaccuracies. It is true that when Congressman Chris Smith met Chen in person, he gave him a letter of invitation in the hope that he would attend and testify at the hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights. And it is true that Chen readily agreed. Later, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee decided to hold a larger-scale hearing of all the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s subcommittees that would have a greater impact. I still remember that Mr. Dennis Halpin, senior assistant to the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called me many times throughout that day trying to reach Chen to confirm with him in person his attendance at the hearing (that day was the final day to confirm whether he would attend). I remember all this very clearly because on that day I happened to be on jury duty, and when I saw that Congress kept calling me, I had to ask the judge for permission to be relieved of jury duty.
After that, I too spent all day on the phone trying to find Chen Guangcheng. Later, Mr. Halpin, a senior diplomat who has served in many U.S. embassies in Asia, quite angrily told me that NYU had actually said that Chen Guangcheng could attend only if the Congressmen who would be at the hearing submitted the questions they intended to ask Chen in advance to NYU, which would then screen the questions and decide which he could answer. In his phone call with me, Mr. Halpin asked, “Are they kidding?” and said it was as if NYU thought the U.S. Congress operated like China’s National People’s Congress and wondered how they could think that any Congressman would agree to have his questions filtered by NYU. The hearing was held as planned, except that Chen did not attend. Later, Mr. Halpin told me that he learned that on that day someone from NYU had driven Chen to some island in New York for a sight-seeing vacation and a “serious” talk.
[In this part of the Chinese version of this piece, the author discusses the characterization in The New York Times’ Chinese translation of Andrew Jacobs’ report of Mark Corallo as having “always” served as Chen’s advisor. The translation of that discussion, which pertains only to The New York Times’ Chinese version of the report, not to the original English report as written by Andrew Jacobs, is provided as a footnote below.]
Another egregious factual error in The New York Times’ report had to do with Chen’s opportunity to join the Witherspoon Institute. The report said: “In an interview, Mr. Fu recounted a conversation …[with] Mr. Chen, he recalled, said he was unbothered by the group’s attacks on abortion and same-sex parenting. ‘He told me: “Don’t call them conservative. They are principled. And if they are willing to support the struggle for freedom, then that’s good enough for me.” ‘ ”
This is a total fabrication. Chen himself never said this and I have never and would never quote such a foolish statement. (In a phone conversation I had on the morning of July 12 with Andrew Jacobs, I told him this. He said he did not have a recording and only had his hastily written notes, adding that he had been up all night interviewing and writing the report. To date, I have not seen his notes.)
In fact, this New York Times report is but the second round of a public opinion offensive to cut off this new work opportunity for Chen. As early as June 2, in an exclusive report in London’s Financial Times, NYU Law Professor Jerome Cohen took the initiative in an unwarranted attack on the Witherspoon Institute (see “Chen Guangcheng courted by US institutions with opposing views,” by David Pilling and Demetri Sevastopulo in Hong Kong http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/1748ef26-c9e6-11e2-8f55-00144feab7de.html#axzz2YtfyQMCc). In this interview, Professor Cohen boldly and sensationally predicted that “[i]f he takes the Witherspoon position that would diminish his stature in the U.S.”
Actually, this institute is an assemblage of a group of scholars and professors who are well-known not just in the United States but worldwide, including professors from Princeton, Harvard, Yale and other Ivy League universities who work as research fellows. From what I understand, this institute absolutely and unconditionally guarantees Chen’s freedom of speech and academic freedom and any efforts he makes for the sake of human rights in China. It has never demanded that Chen support its views and is even letting him decide where he wants to live. To date, although the institute has been attacked both openly and secretly because of this goodwill, it has never counterattacked.
I’d like to clarify two other points:
1. Although Andrew Jacobs admitted in our July 12 phone conversation that he knew that NYU had stopped providing a portion of Chen’s fellowship back in October of last year and that by November it had completely stopped paying what it promised for food, daily necessities and clothing, yet he still published this inaccurate report in which he wrote: “Backed by a coterie of conservative figures, Mr. Chen has publicly accused N.Y.U. of bowing to Chinese government pressure and prematurely ending his fellowship this summer. The university says the fellowship was intended to be for only one year.” When I asked him why he reported this lie when he clearly knew that NYU’s “one-year fellowship” had ended in less than half a year, he hesitated and then said that NYU told him it was because Chen had received an advance on his royalties for the book he was writing.
I asked him, if you had won the lottery while you were in school studying on a scholarship, should the school immediately end your scholarship ? He had no answer. It needs to be known that NYU stopped paying for living expenses last year, shortly after Chen Guangcheng went to meet the Speaker of the House and other Congressional leaders, which NYU had not wanted him to do. Furthermore, in May this year, while Chen Guangcheng was in Europe, a former Chinese ambassador to the United States visited the United States and, in a private meeting with the head of a U.S. non-governmental organization that has connections with the Chinese government, he repeatedly asked questions that showed that China already knew that NYU had stopped paying Chen Guangcheng’s fellowship and his family’s living expenses and asked who was sponsoring Chen’s trip to Europe. I’d like to ask: NYU stopped paying all the expenses for food and clothing for Chen’s family beginning in November last year, but Chen Guangcheng did not say anything about this publicly. Even now, there’s been little reporting of this in the mainstream media. So how did the Chinese government get such clear information?
2. As for Professor Jerome Cohen’s widely quoted comment that “You shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds you” in response to Chen’s statement about his forced departure from NYU (see http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/06/17/jerome_cohen_chen_guangcheng_nyu_china), it’s as if NYU had suddenly become an all-merciful refugee affairs agency feeding beggars in the street. In fact, before Chen Guangcheng came to the United States, I myself knew of at least two other U.S. universities that had publicly expressed willingness to provide a fellowship to him as well as housing and funds for living expenses. One was the University of Washington on the West Coast (see this report by Reuters: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/09/us-usa-china-dissident-idUSBRE8481K920120509) and the other was Oklahoma Wesleyan University (through Oklahoma Congressman John Sullivan). Furthermore, there are many other American institutions and kind-hearted people who are willing to help.
Finally, I’d like to say that while Chen and I do not share exactly the same political and religious views—nor do we have to—we are bound together by common experiences of persecution and by a common commitment to human rights and freedom. There is no conspiracy as imagined by NYU and Professor Jerome Cohen. My organization ChinaAid operates as a non-partisan non-governmental independent Christian human-rights organization. Our core mission is to advance religious freedom and rule of law in China. We believe these are universally recognized values and rights (and that they should be so in China) and should be a concern to all Americans—conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, and across the political and ideological spectrums.
My experiences in China’s Communist system taught me bitter lessons about the extent that ideological zealots will go to obscure and distort the truth in advancing a partisan agenda. I did not expect such distortion within the pages of America’s most historic newspaper.
Bob Fu is founder and president of China Aid Association. His autobiography, God’s Double Agent: The True Story of a Chinese Christian’s Fight for Freedom, is to be released in October 2013. See www.BobFu.net
Footnote: The New York Times, in its Chinese translation of Andrew Jacobs’ report, describes Mark Corallo as “always” (yi zhi) having served as Chen Guangcheng’s advisor and said that some accuse of him played a role in Chen Guangcheng’s quarrel with NYU. This is totally groundless. In fact, before Chen Guangcheng released his statement last month through the Bancroft Law Firm of former Assistant Attorney General Viet Dinh, who is now Chen Guangcheng’s acting lawyer, neither Chen nor I even knew of the existence of Mark Corallo or his public relation firm, let alone the groundless fabrication that Corallo has “always” been Chen’s advisor. I clearly told Andrew Jacobs these facts three weeks ago. After this was reported in the media, Chen Guangcheng asked me to ask the law firm about it, and his acting lawyer explained that the law firm had hired Mark Corallo, a well-known Washington media expert, to help release Chen’s statement to the media.
Chen Guangcheng himself wrote every word and punctuation mark of that statement and he alone approved the final draft and decided when to release the statement. How does this suddenly become a Republican right-wing conspiracy just because Mark Corallo once worked for Attorney General John Ashcroft in a Republican administration and released a statement for Chen Guangcheng which he was hired by the law firm to do in his professional capacity? According to this logic, why was it not reported that NYU, wanting to avoid arousing suspicions and fearing any misunderstandings on the part of the Chinese Communists, instead of using its own PR firm, had intentionally and specifically hired Washington-based Rabinowitz/Dorf Communications (Professor Cohen told me so in person) when Chen Guangcheng first arrived in the United States. This is a well-known Washington, D.C. public relation firm, and its clients have included Democratic President Bill Clinton, and it also handled public relations for his wife Hillary during her senatorial and presidential campaigns. So, using the same accusatory partisan logic employed by NYU and The New York Times, does this mean that before Chen Guangcheng arrived in the United States, he had already been trapped by the Democrats?