25 August 2008

Flashback! Conventions, Olympics and History

OK. We’re back after our News Blog vacation. And it’s time to once again go back in time to recall the words of a famous American:

“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.”

If you need another clue, the speech we are quoting from is perhaps best known for the following line:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal… I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Of course, those are the words of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, the civil rights leader who delivered them from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, on August 28, 1963.

The reason we note this is that the Democratic National Convention is taking place this week in Denver, Colorado. It is the political event at which Senator Barack Obama will formally receive his party’s nomination as its Presidential candidate --- the first ever African-American to win the Democratic Party’s nod.

And Senator Obama will deliver his acceptance speech on August 28th --- exactly 45 years after Dr. King’s historic speech.

We certainly expect VOA’s coverage from Denver to take note of this coincidence.

But we have already had a series of reports by Chris Simkins and Jeff Young exploring the question of whether the United States is ready for a black President. You can see those reports here, here, here and here. We commend them to you if you haven’t already seen them.

Speaking of the past, during the News Blog’s vacation, we, like millions of other sports fans, watched the Olympics in Beijing. Now we will acknowledge most folks probably did not turn to VOA to watch events since we did not have the rights to transmit any actual sporting events.

But Olympic games are also socio-political events and this is the kind of reporting VOA excels in --- especially when the host country has been associated with such sensitive issues as human rights violations, media censorship, etc.

So we were surprised in looking back at the coverage of the stunning opening ceremonies that no one noted the absence of any mention of one of the most important figures in Chinese history: Mao Zedong. After all, as VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer wrote about the ceremony: “The program mixed China's ancient history and culture with elements showcasing the modern face of the country.”

In fact, the only mention we could find of Mao (in English) on VOANews.com during the Games was a piece by reporter Mandy Clark that said “in place of the cult of personality that the Communist Party built around Chairman Mao, the Chinese are embracing a new cult: celebrity. (And) No Chinese person is more famous now than basketball player and NBA All-Star, Yao Ming…”

As our news file has noted in the past, the Chinese government officially discourages public discussion of the founder of modern China who, after all, pursued several disastrous social programs blamed for the deaths of tens of millions of people.

Still, just because Chinese authorities don’t want Mao mentioned, that doesn’t mean VOA and other news organizations should fall in line. Sometimes it is just as important to report on what isn't said and to ask experts to explain why.

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