Journalist's Call for 'de-Americanized World' Provokes Alarm in U.S., Fart Jokes in China

As fears mounted this week about a possible (and now, it seems, averted) U.S. government default, the U.S. press stumbled upon an Oct. 13 editorial in Xinhua, China's largest news agency, calling for a "de-Americanized world" in light of Washington's fiscal dysfunction. News outlets including CBS, USA Today, and Bloomberg picked up the editorial, while the Los Angeles Times ran a story with the headline "Upset over U.S. fiscal crisis, China urges a 'de-Americanized world.'" CNBC emphasized that Xinhua was a "government voice," and that the editorial was "government propaganda" intended for local readers. The op-ed hit something of a sweet spot for shutdown-traumatized Americans, touching on, as Max Fisher at the Washington Post put it, "the dual American anxieties that we are letting down the rest of the world and that China is finally making its move to replace us as the global leader."

But what much of the coverage failed to mention is that the article appeared on Xinhua with the byline Liu Chang, indicating that the editorial more likely represents the views of Liu (who is identified simply as a "Xinhua writer") and his colleagues rather than China's top leaders, or "China" itself. The op-ed does not claim to reflect broader Chinese views, and just because an article appears in Xinhua does not mean it represents the views of the Communist Party (which, as an organization of tens of millions of people, does not speak in one voice). China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued its last official comment on the fiscal showdown in Washington on Oct. 9: "China and the U.S. are economically intertwined and inseparable. We hope that the U.S. can resolve this issue and ensure the security of Chinese assets in the U.S." Admittedly, "Xinhua Journalist Calls for a 'De-Americanized World'" makes for a less compelling -- if more accurate -- headline.

Xinhua also published the editorial in English only, which suggests it was directed at an international rather than a domestic audience. In fact, there was virtually no mention of the article in Chinese -- until, that is, U.S. media began responding to the provocative op-ed. By Oct. 16, there were at least 15 articles in major Chinese-language media outlets on the international response to the piece. Xinhua published one titled, "Incisive wording of Xinhua's call for 'de-Americanization' surprises American media," and the Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times' top headline on Oct. 16 was "Washington Worried by 'de-Americanization' editorial run in China's state-run media." In other words, for Chinese state-run media, the international reaction to the editorial was more newsworthy than the editorial itself.

Despite all the international attention, the call for global de-Americanization didn't make a big splash among Chinese readers. China's criticism of America's role in international affairs is nothing new, and many Chinese readers felt the Xinhua editorial was unremarkable. As one user of Weibo, China's version of Twitter, wrote in response to the Xinhua editorial, "The articles of certain media outlets are like the farts of a dog: There's no need to pay them any mind."

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Greenwald Leaves Guardian, Leaving Team Snowden's Future in Doubt

Glenn Greenwald -- the prominent journalist and columnist -- is leaving the Guardian to form an independent news site, and there's a wonderful irony to the news that he will be striking out on his own.

"Because this news leaked before we were prepared to announce it, I'm not yet able to provide any details of this momentous new venture, but it will be unveiled very shortly," Greenwald said in a statement. After making himself a household name by exposing the true reach of the National Security Agency, Greenwald had his big news -- and it's certainly a major announcement -- scooped by a disgruntled associate. Dare we speculate an unhappy editor at the Guardian?

After a spectacular run at the British newspaper, during which Greenwald delivered a series of bombshell scoops about the NSA, the Brazil-based journalist has now decided to form his own news site, which he says has secured major funding and will cover everything from politics to sports to entertainment. That development represents an intriguing turn in a story that has been as much about the media as it's been about U.S. intelligence. With his outspoken left-wing politics and platform as a columnist, Greenwald was an unlikely person to emerge as the primary reporter on a story about the NSA's misdeeds. His involvement caused many observers to question the objectivity of the Guardian's coverage and exposed the deep tension at play in today's media world between establishment outlets and reporters, and a new breed of journalists willing to make their political ideals and opinions a central part of their reportage.

Though details on the new venture remain sparse, it appears Greenwald will now be creating an outlet free of these burdens. So is this the day when the Fifth Estate broke through to the mainstream?

In a statement to BuzzFeed's Ben Smith, Greenwald says that he is aiming to create a news outlet with the sensibility that has made him one of the world's most prominent -- and often controversial -- journalists. "My role, aside from reporting and writing for it, is to create the entire journalism unit from the ground up by recruiting the journalists and editors who share the same journalistic ethos and shaping the whole thing -- but especially the political journalism part -- in the image of the journalism I respect most," he told BuzzFeed. Greenwald added that his site has already begun hiring editors and reporters and described the venture as "a general media outlet and news site."

As the news business has struggled to adapt to the Internet, an online transparency movement has emerged to challenge mainstream news organizations' stranglehold on the business. Outfits like WikiLeaks have tried to democratize the news, while writers like Greenwald have fomented a growing skepticism toward centralized power -- regardless of whether it resides in newsrooms or governments. Long before he began writing about the documents leaked by Edward Snowden, his columns presciently foresaw the dangers of the American security state. Alongside other privacy rights activists, he emerged as a powerful voice for civil liberties, the dangers of government surveillance, and government transparency. At the Guardian, a highly respected newspaper that put the enormous resources of a global news organization at his fingertips, Greenwald has both helped reinvigorate its online presence and come to embody the divide between the old and new school of journalism. Is Greenwald an impartial adjudicator of facts? Is he an activist looking to discredit state power? These are questions the Guardian never fully resolved.

Nevertheless, his departure comes as a huge blow to the paper. Its partnership with Greenwald and stories based on the Snowden documents yielded a huge bump in online traffic and helped establish the paper's presence in the United States, which represents a key component of the Guardian's push to become a truly global news outlet. "We are of course disappointed by Glenn's decision to move on, but can appreciate the attraction of the new role he has been offered. We wish him all the best," a Guardian spokesperson told BuzzFeed.

"My partnership with the Guardian has been extremely fruitful and fulfilling: I have high regard for the editors and journalists with whom I worked and am incredibly proud of what we achieved," Greenwald told Buzzfeed. "The decision to leave was not an easy one, but I was presented with a once-in-a-career dream journalistic opportunity that no journalist could possibly decline."

With Greenwald launching his own outlet, it remains somewhat unclear whether the Guardian will continue to have access to the Snowden files. Greenwald has repeatedly emphasized that he and another journalist involved in the story, Laura Poitras, retain control over the documents. Over the course of the revelations, Greenwald has published stories in a wide range of outlets around the world, and he may very well continue to publish some stories in the Guardian, at least until his new outlet is up and running.

The funding for the project reportedly comes from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, but more important is the fact that someone with serious cash on hand is willing to back a crusading, independent, left-wing journalist. It's a remarkable turn of events -- one indicative of the impact the Snowden documents have had in changing the conversation about surveillance and state power -- that Greenwald now finds himself with the backing to launch an ambitious news organization.

Just how much that conversation has changed will be revealed by what approach Greenwald adopts. Will he create a WikiLeaks-style depository for secret documents? Probably not. Will he create an outfit that will go much further in exposing government secrets than his current employer? Probably. Over the course of the Snowden leaks, an intense debate has played out among Internet activists over the degree to which the Snowden files should be made public. They have often criticized newspapers for not going far enough in revealing the NSA's activities. Here's one response from Greenwald to that charge:

Now Greenwald will be the one assuming that risk. How far he chooses to push the envelope on transparency will go a long way in determining what kind of news outlet he decides to build.