Media Reality Check
  Notable Quotables
  Press Releases
  Media Bias Videos
  30-Day Archive
MRC Resources
  Site Search
  Media Addresses
  Contact MRC
  Support the MRC
  Planned Giving
  Comic Commentary
  MRC Bookstore
  Job Openings
  News Division
  Free Market Project
Support the MRC






 Magazine Watch

Tuesday June 1, 1999 (Vol. One; No. 1)

News Magazines: Cox Report Close to "Hysteria" and Fuels "Extremists"

After months of scattered reports on Chinese espionage, the June 6 issues of the weekly news magazines weighed in on China, but not to fill in all the gaps for their readers. Instead, each emphasized how the Cox Report went too far and how our relationship with China is too important to be sidetracked. Time and U.S. News & World Report put China on the cover. None of the magazine included a word about the potential impact of the scandal on the Gore presidential campaign, but all three contained the same themes illustrated at length below:

1) The Cox Report is overstated and inaccurate. Time charged it "slips close to hysteria." Newsweek cited an FBI agent who claimed, "But it seems they've jumped to conclusions that aren't supported by all the facts." U.S. News located experts to condemn it as "replete with inaccurate and incomplete information."

2) Sino-U.S. relations are too important to be ruined by "extremists" in Washington and Beijing. Time concluded: "If both China and the U.S. give in to extremists in their capitals and let their relationship unravel, the worst-case scenario the report presents just might come true."

3) Two of the magazines highlighted two other themes: Every recent administration is responsible for Chinese espionage, and Republicans are hunting for "scapegoats" to blame for Chinese espionage.


Cox's report is overstated and inaccurate. 
-- Time: In the cover story, Time Senior Foreign Correspondent Johanna McGeary noted: "With 'insatiable' appetite and 'enormous' energy over decades, Beijing's agents mined valuable military information from every corner of the American military-industrial complex and haven't given up yet. From that time to the present, a permissive, often inept U.S. government let the People's Republic help itself to valuable technology thefts."

McGeary argued the Cox report "slips close to hysteria, though, when it says, for example, that every one of the 80,000 Chinese who travel annually to the U.S. is tasked by military-intelligence officials to glean technological tidbits, or that 3,000 U.S.-based ‘front’ companies do the bidding of hidden Beijing connections."

Time suggested all the experts that matter disagree with the bipartisan findings: "A sober morning-after appraisal of the available information is not so chilling (one-third of the Cox report remains classified). Sizable numbers of arms-control experts, intelligence agents and FBI officials regard much of the tome as biased and alarmist and disagree with many of its central claims. But even they agree that the report lays out a real problem: for decades China has been running an intensive intelligence-collection effort targeting an array of U.S. military and commercial technologies. Nor does anyone doubt that Beijing has acquired both by stealth and by legitimate means pieces of hardware and information that could accelerate modernization of its outmoded military."

McGeary continued: "But for all their gloss and heft, the black-bound volumes assert more drastic espionage than they prove...And the report makes giant leaps of assumption about the military capabilities China gained from its spying and high-technology purchases. Cox & Co. assert that ‘the stolen U.S. secrets have helped China fabricate and successfully test modern strategic thermonuclear weapons.’ They state that Beijing may test a long-range mobile solid-fuel-missile system this year and could be ready to deploy it by 2002."

Time emphasized expert disagreement: "Not likely, said a blue-ribbon intelligence-community assessment in April compiled in response to Cox's central findings. Its experts concluded that so far, 'the aggressive Chinese collection effort has not resulted in any apparent modernization of their deployed strategic force or any new nuclear weapons deployment.' The Cox report errs, explains Bates Gill, a China expert at the Brookings Institution, by 'equating acquisition with capability, period.' China has been more like a car thief stealing a hubcap here, a fuel-injection system there -- but that doesn't mean it can build a Mercedes from the bits and pieces. Although no one minimizes the possible future impact of China's aggressive acquisitions, almost every expert in Washington and Beijing says it will take the struggling nation decades to translate information it has pilfered into a superpower's ranks of bristling missiles."

-- Newsweek's Daniel Klaidman and Mark Hosenball begin by noting how the Cox committee "seemed at a dead end" until Energy Department counterintelligence chief Notra Trulock testified that Beijing had stolen top secrets from America's nuclear labs. "For the committee, bad news never sounded so good." Noting the report's "strident tone," Newsweek said: "CIA and FBI officials are not as certain as the Cox Committee about how Beijing did it. The Feds have yet to solve any of the major spy cases currently under investigation, and investigators say the Cox report claims to have gotten to the bottom of cases that are far from solved. 'They put out a very damning report,' says one top FBI official. 'But it seems they've jumped to conclusions that aren't supported by all the facts.'"

-- U.S. News & World Report Executive Editor Brian Duffy concluded his magazine's report: "Administration officials say the Cox report raises many legitimate concerns, but they add that it is also replete with inaccurate and inconclusive information. 'The "mights" and the "coulds" overwhelm the facts in this report,' says Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. 'It pointed out some very strong security failures, but the alarm bells may be ringing a little too loudly. It relies too much on a worst-case scenario.' Whether the same can be said for relations between Washington and Beijing remains to be seen."


Sino-U.S. relations are too important to be ruined by "extremists" in Washington and Beijing.

-- Newsweek. While the majority of the Time and U.S. News cover stories focused on the subject of strains in the diplomatic relationship, Newsweek only touched on it in one early sentence: "But last week's public frenzy reached beyond Washington. U.S. relations with Beijing, already at a 20-year low after errant NATO bombs struck the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, slumped further."

-- In Time, McGeary worried: "The report is sparking political fallout that imperils U.S. relations with China. Partisans in Washington have seized on the allegations to fight another election-time round of 'who lost China.' Beijing has denied all the charges strenuously, and its hard-liners wave the report as proof of hostility from a superpower out to 'contain' a rising China. Both countries threaten to disrupt the delicate balancing act that keeps Sino-American relations from spinning out of control. Nobody wants a new cold war, but overheated emotions could provoke a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Later, she asserted: "It seems absurd that the fate of nations could hang on the sale of a Pentium III chip. 'It's an illusion that we can draw a bright line in the sand,' says Jeffrey Garten, a Commerce official during Clinton's first term and now dean of Yale's School of Management. 'So it's healthy that we have a national debate over what we transfer and what we hold back.' Engagement with China rests on scores of such decisions, and virtually no one, not even in the white heat of the Cox report, is seriously calling for Washington to disengage."

McGeary noted criticism from Republican presidential candidates, but charged: "And once in office, every President since Richard Nixon has come round to the same realization. If not engagement, what? Cold war? Hot war? Those are hardly practical choices. And so for 20 years, there has been little daylight visible between the basic ways that Republicans and Democrats have approached the rising power of the world's most populous country, pursuing the effort to foster political reform and global stability by encouraging China's economic development."

McGeary saw the clear and present danger coming from Clinton haters, not the Chinese: "Now the danger is that Clinton's implacable critics, armed with the Cox report, will vent their outrage on the entire Sino-American relationship. They are right to slam the door on Chinese spying, but a sizable number sound ready to turn China into the New Enemy. Washington hardheads talk of holding up the annual renewal of China's normal trade relations (the new bureaucratic label for most-favored- nation trading status) or blocking its entry into the World Trade Organization."

She then sought to present China's case against Cox: "China's approach to international relations may seem crude, but it underpins the deep anger with which China has greeted the recent string of American embarrassments. Charges of campaign-financing corruption, Premier Zhu Rongji's rebuffed concessions to win WTO endorsement, NATO's assault on a sovereign Yugoslavia, the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, which no Chinese citizen believes was accidental -- all these add up to frightening confirmation that the U.S. is bent on 'containing' China from achieving its rightful place in the world. The Cox report not only buttresses the public tilt toward tension and mutual distrust but also strengthens Beijing's own hard-liners as they call on China's leaders to get tough." Note McGeary doesn't mention whether charges like "campaign-financing corruption" are true, just that they're damaging to diplomacy.

McGeary concluded: "Chinese and American diplomats continue to agree in private that the two countries have too much to lose to let the relationship rupture. For now, Beijing is still dedicated to catching up to the U.S. economically, and a military buildup isn't its top priority, ‘unless we help change it,’ says a Clinton aide. Whether China chooses to exploit the secrets it has already stolen to embark on a superpower arms race may depend on how Washington manages this dangerous rift. The Cox report offers a stark warning. If we get hostile, they will get hostile. If both China and the U.S. give in to extremists in their capitals and let their relationship unravel, the worst-case scenario the report presents just might come true."

-- The U.S. News story came under the headline: "Why Washington and Beijing just can't seem to get their act together." Duffy reported "the relationship is profoundly damaged. Ten years ago, the student demonstrators in Tiananmen Square quoted Thomas Jefferson and built replicas of the Statue of Liberty. But now feelings have turned intensely anti-American: Suddenly, it seems like the Cultural Revolution all over again. 'This may be the lowest point in Sino-American relations since Nixon established diplomatic ties,' says Jia Qingguo, a professor of international relations at Beijing University. 'Chinese have felt for a while now that a faction of Americans have used different methods to keep them down.'"

Duffy exemplified the diplomacy-first, espionage-down-the-list approach of the magazines with this sentence: "Serious as spying and sleazy campaign contributions are, they need not have exploded the relationship between Washington and Beijing. Other factors contributed.," especially crackdowns on dissidents.

He spent several paragraphs exploring the "Chinese view of America...The men and women of the Middle Kingdom want to be full players on the world stage. But they see themselves and their country as constantly stigmatized, particularly by the United States. And not just in the current controversies but on a range of issues, from human rights, to trade, to weapons proliferation, to Taiwan. Xenophobia, of course, is a deeply ingrained trait. But hatred of 'foreign devils' is a habit of mind that most Chinese want to leave behind. The criticisms only serve to reinforce old suspicions."

Again, the reporter suggested that it's not true whether charges are true (take, for example, China's unrepentant shipping of weapons to outlaw regimes like Iran and Libya), but that it's somehow tacky to point them out.

In a back-page editorial, U.S. News owner Mortimer Zuckerman turned the reality of Chinese proliferation upside down and claimed they're America's non-proliferation helper: "China has made important gestures to the community of nations by taking steps to expand personal freedoms and open itself to the outside world, decentralizing economic planning, working with the United States in closing down military exports to Iran and Pakistan, and adhering to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the Chemical Weapons Convention."


Every recent administration is responsible for Chinese espionage; and Republicans are hunting for "scapegoats" to blame for Chinese espionage.

U.S. News didn't call the roll and blame other Presidents for Chinese espionage, but Time and Newsweek eagerly blamed everyone from Jimmy Carter forward.

-- Time noted, "four Presidents have pushed to stoke up trade with China for rich profits for the U.S. economy. The hard part is making sure the U.S. doesn't sell the Chinese goods they could turn to military use. Sensibly regulated exports actually boost American security indirectly by promoting closer ties and helping ensure that China doesn't make deals with less conscientious countries.

"But in balancing these interests, the Clinton Administration is hardly the first to take off the security brake. It was Ronald Reagan who allowed U.S. satellites to be lofted into space by Chinese rockets after the Challenger blew up and Europe's aerospace company charged too much. Pressed by American satellite companies, Bush continued to approve still more launches even after sanctions were imposed for the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, and when Clinton came in eager to make trade a centerpiece of foreign policy, Big Business worked him to go further, faster...All told, successive Administrations steadily relaxed export controls on a slew of computers, machine tools and high-end electronics that China could covertly put to forbidden military use."

Time also blurred the lines between current and past administrations and the role of campaign contributions: "Some critics contend that the wholesale auction on generous business contributions to presidential-campaign treasuries, Republican and Democratic alike, tipped the U.S. too far from proper vigilance."

-- Newsweek's Klaidman and Hosenball suggested: "There is no doubt that Beijing has been adept at pilfering U.S. nuclear secrets. Federal investigators say the Chinese were helped by two decades of presidents who were willing to ignore warning signs in order to foster more open relations with Beijing....The Chinese effort to harvest American technology didn't begin with Bill Clinton. More than two decades ago there were already warning signs that U.S. secrets were vulnerable to spies. The FBI believes that lax security at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California allowed the Chinese to obtain early U.S. designs for a neutron bomb back in the late 1970s, when Jimmy Carter was president. The Reagan White House did little to plug the leaks on its watch. In 1984 -- 15 years before the Cox report -- the Defense Intelligence Agency issued a report warning that China had obtained U.S. secrets about, among other things, 'high explosives, radiochemistry, metallurgy, welding, [and] super computers...'George Bush was just as ineffective at plugging the leaks. A former ambassador to Beijing, Bush saw himself as a trailblazer on China policy -- pushing for improved relations between the two nations. The Bush White House encouraged technology transfers and cultural exchanges between the United States and China. Emblematic of the new openness was a 1989 conference on explosives held in Portland, Ore. Weapons scientists from around the world came to share their latest findings. Among the guests: explosives experts from China, and three Iraqi scientists working on Saddam Hussein's secret efforts to build a nuclear arsenal."

-- "Scapegoats." U.S. News columnist Gloria Borger complained: "This being Washington, both parties reverted to the predictable scalp 'em-scenario. Sure, Attorney General Janet Reno looks asleep at the switch. Why didn't she authorize the FBI to tap the phone of its Numero Uno spy suspect, Wen Ho Lee, back in 1995? And National Security Adviser Sandy Berger looks no better, having learned about this in April 1996 and having waited a year to brief the president. Off with their heads, say Republicans and some Democrats, and maybe they should be sent to the guillotine-but not until the oversight committees do their work. (Although when Clinton pal Sen. Bob Torricelli stops just short of calling for Reno’s resignation, inquiring minds want to know if he's doing the President's bidding.)"

Newsweek carried a sidebar titled "The Hunt for Scapegoats" by Michael Hirsh: "It's a ritual as old as scandal itself: if charges of wrongdoing threaten the chief, some poor scapegoat is sent packing into the political wilderness. And if it’s a scandal as big as Chinese nuclear espionage, just one goat may not be enough. In recent days Republicans on Capitol Hill, figuring they've got Bill Clinton on the run, have called for the resignations of two of the administration's top officials: national-security adviser Sandy Berger and Attorney General Janet Reno."

Hirsh worried about their health: "They said they had no intention of resigning....That's not to say Berger and Reno aren't feeling the strain -- particularly the workaholic national-security adviser, a behind-the-scenes fixer unused to the spotlight... Some colleagues worry that the overworked and overweight Berger will have 'a Leon Fuerth episode.' (Al Gore's national-security adviser was hospitalized this spring after suffering a heart attack.)"

Webster's Dictionary defines "scapegoat" as "A person, group of thing that bears the blame for the mistakes or crimes of others, or some misfortune due to another agency." Does that implication of uninvolved innocence really apply to Berger and Reno?

-- Tim Graham


Home | News Division | Bozell Columns | CyberAlerts 
Media Reality Check | Notable Quotables | Contact the MRC | Subscribe

Founded in 1987, the MRC is a 501(c) (3) non-profit research and education foundation
 that does not support or oppose any political party or candidate for office.

Privacy Statement

Media Research Center
325 S. Patrick Street
Alexandria, VA 22314