Sunday, August 10, 2008

Please, Ed, Make It Stop!

Apparently, I was wrong in my last post when I assumed that the Review-Journal's sports columnist Ed Graney would move on to start covering what he understands -- the sports of the Olympics -- once competitions got underway. Evidently, despite the fact that Michael Phelps broke his own world record, an American tourist was killed and the U.S. president seemed to get hot and probably completely offended half of his anti-sex religious-kook base back home by frolicking with Team USA's 7/8-naked women's beach volleyball players, Our Man In China was busy writing the idiot's guide to Beijing tourist attractions.

Today's dispatch included a predictable piece on the awesomeness of the Forbidden City complete with a few minor inaccuracies and a reference to "The Last Emperor" as well as, this being a sports writer and all, an obligatory Tiger Woods analogy. You know you're in trouble when the piece starts with "Maybe you saw the movie. Maybe you didn't." Well, gee, Ed. That's kind of what "maybe" means. Thanks for covering all the bases.

But what's worse is the sidebar on weird Chinese food offerings on a stick at Wangfujing Night Market. This offered a particularly interesting contrast because there's Ed rambling about trying the scorpions-on-a-stick and taking note of other oddities and then in the R-J's sports section there's a piece by humorist Dave Barry that mocks all the journalists at the same site doing exactly that and thinking they're so clever. Except, of course, Barry was funny and original and Ed was a cheap, cliche-soaked imitation. Barry also noticed, as Ed did not, that the Chinese weren't eating these crazy things; Wangfujing is an odd tourist trap that profits off of the West's stupidest impressions of the Chinese by playing into it. "I would not be surprised to learn that the Chinese word for scorpion is 'TV reporter food,' " Barry wrote perceptively.

Also, Barry didn't throw in a gratuitous line about the Chinese eating dog parts like Ed did because, I suspect, Barry knows this is an increasingly rare concept, as an essayist in the NY Times noted recently. In all my travels and coverage in China, from sleeping on the floor of an AIDS victim's home in Henan Province to sleeping in a yurt in the remote northwest mountains of Xinjiang, I only ever saw one instance where anyone used dog meat for food. It was in a punishingly poor area near Guilin in south-central China where the desperation was beyond anything I'd ever seen. They eat anything they can in these places and you would, too. But in a modern metropolis like Beijing? Uh, no.

Our Man In China also cracked me up in his blog by going on a little babble about how foreign newspapers were burying the news of the dead American tourist. Uh, hello? Ed didn't write a word about it in today's paper, either, and the R-J ran a long wire story from the Olympics that took well into the jump to get to this news. It appears on page 10A, about 14 paragraphs into a story that is largely about Bush's exciting day. Ed chides the China Daily, where I worked and mocked mercilessly in Editor & Publisher years ago, for putting it on page 5. That's more prominent than the R-J!

So here's my prediction for the coming week. Our Man In China will go to the Great Wall, declare it truly impressive and take note of the T-shirt vendors there as a contradiction of capitalism in a Communist nation. He'll go to the Summer Palace and marvel at the big, expensive marble boat that can't float the Empress Dowager bankrupted the Navy to build, making some comparison to some U.S. pro sports team's failure to win despite spending millions on talent. Some Chinese person will ask to take his photo and he'll write with bemusement about the experience. He'll probably get approached by a Chinese hooker who acts demure and wants to "practice her English" and he'll think, "Wow, this is my Front Page Lead tomorrow!"

Or maybe Ed will focus on the sports themselves. One can only hope.


VegasTeaRoom said...

When you bitch slap someone you do it all knuckles! Bravo!

Anonymous said...

god am i glad to see you're feeling better!!!

gregoryzephyr said...

I checked the RJ today and they have an article about how the restrooms feature posters illustrating how to wash your hands. Now, I realize there's a diversity of human hygiene habits around the world so it makes sense to have that. But the article is another of those, "Hey, let's make fun of the funny things you see in a foreign country" pieces. The Chinese must be doing something right if the reporters can find nothing more headline making than fried scorpions and bathroom instructions.

Anonymous said...

Let's not overlook one bit of silver lining. At least the R-J, which is notoriously cheap with its travel budget, went to the expense of sending someone to Beijing.

Love or hate Ed's work there, it's nice to see Sherm putting some money back into the paper's editorial content. For a change.


i don't disagree, although this is probably the largest mainstream newspaper without a professional sports team to have to follow around all season long. If you consider the expenses that, say, the paper in Milwaukee has to spend on following the Brewers for a summer, you realize the R-J ought to have loads of cash for sportswriters to go every so often and do something like this. If they wanted to really splurge, they would have sent Ed to cover the sports and John L Smith to cover the cultural and political issues swirling around the games. I suspect Smith would not come off as a walking, talking Western cliche.

Anonymous said...

Send Norm!

Anonymous said...

They have the cash, I'm sure. But putting cash into improving the product isn't their forte, sadly.