Hiroko Tabuchi and the Age of Online Idiocy in Japan — comedy relief

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 12.28.48 AMScreen Shot 2015-11-01 at 8.20.03 PMScreen Shot 2015-08-20 at 12.04.35 PM

Screen Shot 2013-08-21 at 12.13.56 AM

a special investigative report (and comedy relief) —–

Hiroko Tabuchi is one of the most popular reporters from Japan on Twitter, and a model of how to succeed as a journalist in the digital age. She’s brimming with ambition. She’s quick to tweet at any hour, telling us about a quake, tsunami or coffee shop. She’s trenchant and combative — a rarity in Japan. She has parlayed her Twitter celebrity into a New York Times job in New York City. For many expats in Japan, she’s a kind of cyber-goddess, an all-knowing, all-powerful oracle of truth and wisdom in 140 characters or less. 

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 5.46.48 AM

“The foreigners in Japan love the little princess,” writes blogger LillyTearDrop. “They fawn over her as if she were their personal prize-winning pet poodle and she loves it, encourages it and panders for it.”

(https://lillyteardrop.wordpress.com)

Those fans also overlook Tabuchi’s mistakes, says LillyTearDrop and others such as Virginia-based writer Chris Beck, because of her online celebrity status. Tabuchi’s followers don’t seem to mind if she regurgitates stories from Japan’s Asahi and other vernacular press, or if the New York Times posted 11 corrections to 44 of her stories in 2013. She’s a Japanese woman who, against the odds, works for the New York Times and won the Pulitzer Prize, the 112th award for the paper. 

HIROKO TABUCHI WON THE PULITZER PRIZE!!!!

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 6.04.32 AM

It rang out like wedding bells across Twitter in Japan in 2013. Congratulations poured in.

Not many people in Tokyo checked the facts. Tabuchi won a Pulitzer, the holy grail for thousands of hard-working reporters in America, by seemingly contributing one interview and two quotes from Japan to a 9-part series by a team of NYT veterans in America. One interview + two quotes = PULITZER.

(http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/05/business/the-ieconomy-nissans-move-to-us-offers-lessons-for-tech-industry.html?ref=hirokotabuchi&_r=0)

The series only lists Tabuchi as one of several contributors to one particular story with a dateline in Smyrna, Tennessee. It’s likely that Bill Vlasic, reporting from Tennessee, did the main write-through for the 3500-word story, quoting multiple sources in the United States. Tabuchi, a local hire in Japan, perhaps only interviewed Hidetoshi Imazu, a senior marketing executive at Nissan in Tokyo.  

Screen Shot 2013-08-23 at 3.31.19 AM

Screen Shot 2013-08-23 at 3.41.52 AM

Does this, therefore, put Tabuchi on the level of hundreds of other Pulitzer winners?

Like thousands of other reporters, Tabuchi has done a number of excellent stories during her brief career. Yet Tabuchi wasn’t risking her life in Syria, like scores of freelancers who don’t win prizes. She didn’t dress up like a nuclear gypsy to glean insights about working conditions at the damaged Fukushima nuclear reactors. She didn’t delve into alleged mistreatment of foreign migrants or local suppliers in Japan’s auto industry. Responding to an assignment from New York, Tabuchi probably contacted a Nissan media relations officer to set up an interview. That took a few minutes of work from an air-conditioned office. Yet she got the byline, and the series won a Pulitzer. Therefore, her fans consider Hiroko Tabuchi a world-class award-winning journalist, while others think she’s actually at the level of a cub reporter or journalism student in America. 

A fair and balanced examination of Tabuchi’s ethics, role in media and quality of her journalism is a matter of public interest because she’s perhaps the most popular journalist among foreigners ever to emerge from Japan. She’s a high profile reporter at the New York Times, America’s “newspaper of record”, giving her a privileged position to influence society. She uses her status on Twitter and with the New York Times to shape public perceptions of Japan, and her opinions and reports have impacted the careers of many Japanese executives and politicians, including an ousted mayor of Tokyo. She’s also a shining example of how her generation uses social media to attain notoriety and career success.

But she has also used her public prominence to attack and ostracize her perceived enemies, effectively tarnishing their reputations and careers. Without provocation, she used Twitter and her cohorts in 2013 to damage my reputation and journalism career in Japan, which I worked hard to build since the 1980s. She blocks me on Twitter and doesn’t reply to my emails seeking her comments for this story. Thus I have a qualified privilege, as a senior journalist with a 30-year history of serving the public, to examine her work and behavior on journalistic and ethical grounds.  

The blogger “LillyTearDrop” (who goes by the name FujiAsami on Twitter) and other Japan-watchers have become increasingly critical of Tabuchi. “Who needs respect and credibility when your groomers fawn over you and give you a steady supply of your favorite biscuit (which in her case is attention),” writes LillyTearDrop, who claims to be an Osaka native and trained pilot currently doing a PhD in Toronto. “Like most people, I couldn’t care less about her inane attention-seeking ramblings about our country or our politicians, but I cared when she tweeted this little gem about our people: “Japanese people live in a moral and ethical vacuum” — Just not her — she’s the special one — she’s the prize winning pet poodle.”

(https://lillyteardrop.wordpress.com)

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 1.58.32 PM

“LillyTearDrop” also claims that Tabuchi blocked her on Twitter and ordered her pals to ostracize her — an act that is both unethical and counterproductive for a media communications professional.

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 2.15.46 PM

Tabuchi often dismisses her critics as “right wing trolls” who don’t like her questioning Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party, which has ruled Japan most of the post-war period. Some critics even claim Tabuchi is Korean or Chinese, not Japanese. While some critics are indeed vicious trolls, others are merely raising valid questions about her reportage. Tabuchi often fights back by blocking people on Twitter or threatening them with police or court action. She has Twitter blocked Virginia-based writer Chris Beck, who mocked Tabuchi’s complaints about New York Times staffers confusing her with another Asian reporter. 

((http://www.splicetoday.com/politics-and-media/new-york-times-reporter-doesn-t-know-a-lot-about-japan))

Tabuchi’s own life story is not immediately clear. She claims she grew up in Kobe, where she attended the elite Canadian Academy. She has made conflicting claims about her experiences during the devastating Jan. 17, 1995 earthquake that destroyed most old structures and killed more than 5500 people (a disaster which I covered). Tabuchi has claimed that she experienced the quake and fire in the downtrodden Nagata-ku area (setting of my novel Kobe Blue). She also claimed she was safely perched above Kobe in the mountains of Ashiya and Rokko, far away from Nagata-ku. It’s most likely her family kept their teenage daughter from the disaster areas which lacked ample food, water, electricity and secure shelter on bitter cold winter nights. (Indeed, many survivors around me slept outdoors amid jarring aftershocks). Yet Tabuchi has used the quake and her Kobe upbringing to “prove” her toughness and empathy. 

A graduate of London School of Economics, Tabuchi apparently had no previous journalism education or training when she began freelancing in Tokyo. She quickly rose through the AP, Dow Jones and then the New York Times. Yet she carried a chip on her shoulder, as if nobody was giving her the respect she deserved. 

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 6.05.15 AM

Did the NYT staffers ask her if she’s an “intern” because they’ve been reading her raw copy over the past years? Did they see her shopping girl photos? 

Hmm, something smells fishy, as she likes to say.

Relative to many reporters in America, Tabuchi had it easy in her Japan comfort zone. She didn’t endure a four-year weeding out process at a journalism school in Iowa. She didn’t chase ambulances in Alaska or cover murders in Detroit, Rio or Nairobi. In Japan, she sleeps on a mattress, not under it as we did in Baghdad in 2003. She uses a cell phone, not a satellite phone. She takes trains and taxis, not camels and humvees. She’s never been kidnapped, mugged, drugged, shot at, jailed, expelled or even fired for insubordination. She didn’t pay her dues. She didn’t endure slave hours at a local Japanese daily. She didn’t even start out at the Japan Times, a stepping stone for many wire service reporters in Japan. Instead, Tabuchi walked out of school in London and into a cushy job with the UN in Japan. Without getting her hands dirty in the media minors, she jumped straight to the majors: AP, Dow Jones, and the NYT. 

Some reporters in Tokyo gossip that Tabuchi rose by “dating her way” into jobs, and they say her writing is atrocious, requiring extra polishing by thorough NYT editors adept at filling holes and redrafting sentences to fit NYT standards. I’ve never seen Tabuchi’s raw copy. But I can see her tweets: 

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 6.01.21 AM

We can also see an unusually high number of NYT corrections of her bylined stories.

Reporters make mistakes. Professionals correct them, bush leaguers don’t. When I was a staff reporter in 2004, I had to write two corrections — an editor’s mistake, and my own — out of more than 100 published stories. I felt terrible. I immediately called the source and apologized. To this day, I often ask sources to check my drafts for any factual errors. If I make a mistake, I correct it.

Yet I have never seen Tabuchi apologizing publicly on Twitter or elsewhere. The New York Times posted at least 11 corrections to Tabuchi’s stories in four months between June 19 and October 12, 2013. Tabuchi had only 44 bylined stories during that period, an average of about two or three stories per week. (I was doing 5 to 10 stories per week in 2004, without assistants.) Yet even with this relatively easy load, Tabuchi made errors in one out of every four stories. (See screenshots at this story’s end). 

Many of her errors aren’t trivial. 

In July 2013, Tabuchi reported that Prime Minister Naoto Kan ordered TEPCO’s plant manager in 2011 to stop injecting seawater into a damaged nuclear reactor. The correction said that Kan later denied making the order. It’s a crucial point: did Japan’s leader mismanage the crisis at the Fukushima (not Fukishima) nuclear power plant? Tabuchi was part of a NYT team nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for their Fukushima coverage. Yet they could not even get this right, in a story about the mysterious death of the plant’s manager.

Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 1.25.25 AM

Another story erroneously called wireless network operator Vodafone a “phone maker”. Another said dismissals from corporations are illegal, when they’re not. Another said a famous conductor was conducting a play, not an opera or orchestra. Another misquoted a professor at Portland State. Another misspelled the name of a Doshisha professor. Another misspelled the name of a former pro baseball coach. And these are only mistakes that we know about it, possibly because sources complained. 

It’s basic fundamental stuff, usually weeded out by journalism school professors. At my school, professors taught us to double-check facts, and they gave us an “F” for misspelling someone’s name. It’s a glaring error. Of course your source will read a story mentioning them, and they feel insulted to see their name spelled wrong. Students who repeatedly made errors didn’t make it into second year. Those who couldn’t finish a long research project didn’t graduate. Hundreds of high school graduates applied for our faculty: 200 were accepted, 100 made it into second year, not everyone graduated, and less than 50 are still working in journalism. 

But Tabuchi never went to journalism school. She didn’t go through weeding out processes. She went from nothing to the AP and NYT. She still lacks basic fundamentals. Instead of giving her an “F” for errors, the NYT promotes her. 

Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 12.14.59 AM

If you want to separate the wheat from the chaff, check out a journalist’s photography. You can’t fake it, and fantastic editors can’t do anything with your fuzzy unfocussed photos that don’t illustrate a story. At best, Tabuchi is a “developing” photographer who is challenged by high-tech aspects of high-end cameras. (What does the ISO button do, anyway?) Is she going to win a Pulitzer for photography? Can she replace the entire photo department of the Chicago Sun-Times?

Look at her photos on instagram, and compare them, first, with the work of professional photo-journalists, and secondly, with the work of junior high school shopping girls.

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 5.38.51 AM Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 5.39.57 AM Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 5.40.32 AMScreen Shot 2013-08-09 at 5.38.11 AM

Yet Foreign Policy named her one of the world’s “top 100 Twitterati” because she tweets “about high-tech and high art.” 

(http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/08/13/the_fp_twitterati_100_2013?page=0,6)

Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 4.42.33 PM

She does, in fact, tweet occasionally about “high tech” — namely her problems operating a cell phone. Instead of “high art”, most of her tweets are about lunch, her wonderful husband, her glamorous wannabe friends, minor earthquakes, the latest gossip or trendy thought about Fukushima, and sensational new products from Google. It’s a stream of pandering and self-promotions, not truth-seeking or myth-busting. For her, journalism seems to be a popularity contest: just say whatever is popular. Don’t go against the grain, don’t take risks, and don’t take unpopular stands, because you might lose some of your 80,000 followers.  

Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 2.49.40 PM

Based on the hard, verifiable evidence of her photography and the mentality of her tweetering, could she survive as an enterprising freelancer, without those exhaustive NYT editors and the door-opening business cards? Could she could cover a race riot in Los Angeles, or a rebellion in Bangkok or Yangon, where Japanese reporters have been targeted? How about getting her hands dirty in China, not in some deluxe posting in Shanghai, but in some smoggy backwater with locals refusing her access because she’s a “gaijin.” Or how about West Africa, where former NYT Tokyo bureau chief Norimitsu Onishi cut his teeth. 

Perhaps Tabuchi will do great journalism in the future. She often tweets about her admiration for Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami, and perhaps she will write her own books someday. But so far, much of her career has been devoted to 140 characters and cultivating her image as a Twitter celebrity. This is why she’s a figure of historical importance as media transforms from analog to digital realms. I can’t help but calling this transitional phase “The Age of Online Idiocy”. What really matters, in the Age of Online Idiocy, is the appearance of competence. Tabuchi has mastered this aspect of digital journalism. She’s ethnically correct, looks good in an avatar, says politically-correct things, jumps on the bandwagon of various heroes in sports and culture, and cultivates a loyal following. That’s what it takes to be a popular journalist in the Age of Online Idiocy.

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 6.02.22 AM

In the Age of Online Idiocy, might makes right. Tabuchi has 80,000 followers on Twitter, therefore she’s generally perceived as a trustworthy reporter, and her followers will obey without questioning. If she says Prime MInister Shinzo Abe’s a con artist, then he is. If she says TEPCO are all flunkies, they are. If she says Tokyo’s governor is a bigoted blow-hard, well then he must be. If she says Osaka Governor Toru Hashimoto is a Nazi and a Communist, then who can argue with that. When she tells you to block someone on Twitter, you must obey. This is generally how her followers respond to her. 

Why is she popular on Twitter? It starts with her playing along with the stereotype of Japanese women being cute and love-able. 

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 5.49.38 AM

On her Twitter profile, people see a Japanese woman with a cute little dog and 80,000 followers on Twitter. (That number seems like a lot. But really, that’s the size of a small town in Aomori or less than the attendance at a college football game in Michigan.)

Tabuchi is also adept at leveraging her status as a Japanese woman up against the white male hierarchy. 

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 5.55.07 AM

She likes to portray herself as the underdog, a sort of ESL student who learned to master English well enough to write for the New York Times. (In fact, she was spoon-fed English at the prestigious Canadian Academy in Kobe and the London School of Economics.) And, in a country where women with designer bags are (supposedly) shackled in a Margaret Atwood dystopia, she’s done all this — working for the New York Times — and still acts like a gossipy shopping girl in Omotesando who likes tweeting about taking off her clothes by the window of her room. 

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 5.56.36 AM

By manipulating social media, Tabuchi has transformed herself into a sort of media Idoru, a mythical creation of an absurd cyber world that, when seen from a detached distance, is pure idiocy.

I’m not blaming Tabuchi for creating this Age of Online Idiocy. She has merely taken advantage of prevailing conditions. If you like being around infantile, narrow-minded, vain, inane, shallow, pretentious, ego-centric, narcissistic, back-stabbing, two-faced rich kid wannabes who write on their cell phones whilst riding pushbikes across busy intersections, then the rest of the world is not for you. Japan’s English-language Twitter community is where you belong.

You can find examples on a daily basis. Just follow the verbal diarrhea of @noahopinion or @warpedgaijin or @thatdanryan.

Screen Shot 2013-04-17 at 7.40.29 PMScreen Shot 2013-04-17 at 7.41.40 PM

It’s mind-boggling, more fascinating than an uncontacted tribe of the Amazon. From an anthropological viewpoint, the Tokyo Twitter Tribe is governed by strict social rules and hierarchies enforced by harsh punishments such as banishment from the tribe. At the top of the pyramid sits Queen Tabuchi. By tweeting about her cell phone or posting grainy pictures of her dog’s breakfast, she commands a loyal militia of followers who execute her orders with unquestioning servitude, bullying anyone who defies her. He must be banished from Twitter, she decrees, and they obey.

The Queen also has her own court: the erudite intellectual advisor @rolandkelts, the mischievous priest of the underworld @jakeadelstein, the wicked and acerbic poetess and Queen Mother @yurikageyama, the mouthy lady-in-waiting @miocoxon, and the court jester @ourmaninabiko. Just outside the dank moat of this palace, a number of sycophants pledge allegiance to the Queen in hopes of gaining entry into the inner circle.

Screen Shot 2013-08-08 at 5.08.38 AM

This seems like children in a playground, but this court has strict rules. Rule number one: don’t touch the Queen. Rule number two: don’t question the Queen or anybody in her court; they all live in glass houses, and they’ll block anybody who throws rocks or ping pong balls. Rule number three: if you do talk to the Queen, keep it short (less than 140 characters). Don’t bother the Queen with long-form investigative stories full of verifiable evidence and truth. She’s not interested. She’s busy presiding over her court, whilst doing stories about Disneyland or, as Foreign Policy says, tweeting “about high-tech and high art.”

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 5.59.53 AM

Moreover, don’t burden the Queen with your bad news about her Empire. She doesn’t want to hear about 100,000 Asian serfs detained in cruel dungeons and banished from the Empire. She doesn’t care about dark-skinned women enslaved in brothels, or thousands of pets abandoned by owners, or companies like JAL screwing over thousands of investors. Sure, she’ll write about it if editors ask, and if it somehow pads her resume or leads to more quotes in a Pulitzer-winning series. What she really wants is celebrity — as a glamorous shopping girl — and that’s why we follow her on Twitter.

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 6.00.29 AM

She also wants to revolutionize Japan in her own image. Though the New York Times had a publishing deal pending with the Japan Times, Tabuchi in August 2013 showed skepticism about the Japan Times‘ plan to introduce a pay wall for articles.

Screen Shot 2013-08-08 at 7.11.28 AM

Never mind that the Japan Times was founded in 1897, only years after Big Black Ships reeking of butter arrived on the shores of Uraga.

NEWSFLASH: New York Times reporter Hiroko Tabuchi has led other high-profile figures in Japan’s media community in denouncing the Japan Times over an article about online hate culture in Japan.

The 3373-word article, titled “Trolls or Media Watchdogs: Japan’s Foreign Born Defenders”, has drawn more than 130 comments on the Japan Times website since publication on July 15. Many of the comments are not nice, and they appear to be from trolls disguised as media watchdogs. 

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2013/07/15/issues/trolls-or-media-watchdogs-japans-foreign-born-defenders/#.UgEKoGZ5Ecg

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 8.18.41 AM

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 8.22.23 AM

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 8.48.04 AM

Tabuchi’s sharp criticism of the July 15, 2013 article carried tremendous weight in the gaijin community, forcing a number of Japan Times editors and writers to respond carefully, lest they be forever banished from the tribe.

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 9.29.28 AM

Her disgust was echoed by Quakebook editors Dan Ryan and Our Man In Abiko, advertising guy and wannabe journo Rick Ochoa (aka @warpedgaijin), former Google Japan social manager Eido Inoue (nee Adrian Havill of Langley, Virginia), Panasonic security engineer Ken Yasumoto-Nicolson (founder of stalker sites Tepido.org and Japologism.com), and a number of notorious trolls who use pseudonyms on sites such as Japan Probe and Fucked Gaijin to bully writers who question Japan’s handling of the nuclear meltdown and rights issues.

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 8.57.53 AM

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 9.19.28 AM

In response to the Japan Times article, Tabuchi and others falsely accused this reporter of authoring the article, or “being behind it”.

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 8.31.56 AM

In fact, the Japan Times article clearly identified the writer as Stuart Braun, a “former Tokyo-based freelancer now based in Berlin.” Braun in fact worked with NHK, Metropolis and other media in Japan before moving to Berlin. A quick google search would find his work in The Guardian, the Globe and Mail, the Australian, ABC, al-Jazeera, DW, and many others. He has a PhD in history. In other words, he’s Dr. Braun.

But to Tabuchi and her cronies, this unknown hack Braun was somehow “doing the bidding” of the notorious CJ, who Tabuchi has labelled as “our favorite troll.”

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 8.34.44 AM

They didn’t bother to do a google search of Stuart Braun. Instead, they followed the rules of Queen Tabuchi’s Twitter Tribe, and pledged their allegiance to her by spewing venom at CJ and the JT. 

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 8.57.10 AM

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 8.56.31 AM

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 9.00.01 AM

Even as Eido Inoue was confirming the existence of Stuart Braun, wannabe reporter Rich Ochoa (aka @warpedgaijin), who has clearly cultivated his journalistic instincts by working in advertising, was still convinced that it was the work of the notorious CJ.

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 9.01.36 AM

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 9.02.19 AM

Finally, with the troll fest in full swing, the noble Japan Times editor stepped in with some inconvenient facts.

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 9.11.37 AM

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 9.25.23 AM

In fact, this reporter has never met Dr. Braun. Dr. Braun asked me a few questions by email. He declined my offers to talk to me by phone or skype, since I had already published reams of research on the topic.

(https://globalitewatchdog.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/adrian-havill-ken-nicolson-and-the-comment-crew-who-cyber-bully-foreigners-in-japan/)

Dr. Braun insisted on his independence and detachment, and the JT editors contacted Eido Inoue for comment, not me.  

When I saw Dr. Braun’s article, I was surprised too. I didn’t like the acrobatic sentences and powdery newsprint, which makes me sneeze. I thought the article whitewashed the criminal actions of trolls, and there wasn’t enough juvenile name-calling for my liking. I thought he perhaps couched it, by depicting our online flame war as an ideological battle between apologists and critics of Japan, when in my view, it’s really about wealthy white middle-aged expats being jerks online in Japan, because they can. But I also leaned a lot from the article. Dr. Braun put a lot of work and thought into it. I could not have possibly penned an article like that. I simply don’t see the world in the same way that Dr. Braun does.

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 8.34.13 AM

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 8.35.26 AM

Yet Tabuchi and others were convinced that I wrote it. Are they that stupid? I was even more amazed to see Tabuchi siding with the trolls, and taking sides against the editors at the Japan Times, who quite frankly have more street cred than her. 

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 9.09.13 AM

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 9.10.57 AM

The episode was instructive and informative. It shows how young, inexperienced “mass commie” people in Japan, who have enjoyed popularity on Twitter since the March 11, 2011 disasters, can be swayed by rumors and gossip. In this case, Tabuchi and other well-educated, multilingual, and well-paid Twitterati did not do exhaustive research to patiently assemble the facts and then present verifiable evidence to support their opinions. They simply gossiped. They responded to a rumor and amplified it. They got the story wrong — way wrong.

What does this say about our contemporary media culture?

It’s not what is said, but who said it.

It’s not what is true, but what people can be led to believe.

Bush says there’s WMD in Iraq. The NYT reports it. We believe it. We bomb Iraq.

Obama says Yes We Can. The NYT trumpets it. We believe it. We bomb somebody else.

Tabuchi says “ignore this story.” We do it. Tabuchi says “read this”, we do. Tabuchi says “jump on the bandwagon”, and we jump.

This is how media works in the social media age. Somebody gets pushed up the Twitter ladder to the top of the pyramid. A court — in effect, a sort of cult — forms around the leader. A militia forms to ward off attackers. Truth is not the priority — in fact, it’s a liability. It’s all about the cult’s ability to bully dissidents and defeat attackers. Once entrenched, can the Queen be pulled down the ladder? Can the King be dethroned?

Like royalty in any tribe, the kings and queens of social media are adept at controlling and manipulating their followers.

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 5.49.38 AM

If Adelstein, a gifted comedian, calls himself an “investigative reporter” enough times, people will assume it’s true.  Never mind that he hasn’t produced any substantial investigative reports with verifiable sources this century, or so it seems. He has convinced thousands of people that he is the Colombo of Tokyo, when he should really be Don Rickles. No amount of evidence to the contrary will sway them.

Put the words together — Pulitzer Prize and Hiroko Tabuchi — a thousand times, and people will not ask questions about her ethics or journalism fundamentals. 

If Tabuchi says it’s true, it’s true. If she says the Japan Times is fish-wrap, it’s fish-wrap. If she says a story is fishy, it’s fishy.

Even with contrary facts in their face, the “followers” will continue to deny reality. Even after Eido Inoue and others correctly identified Dr. Braun as the author of the Japan Times report, Rick Ochoa, aka @warpedgaijin, and others continued to disbelieve it.

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 9.54.58 AM

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 9.54.58 AM_2

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 9.43.46 AM

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 9.45.22 AM

It wasn’t the first time that Tabuchi and her followers have majestically got the story wrong. Consider the case of Tokyo Governor Naoki Inose. Inose won the 2012 election in a landslide, garnering a record 4.3 million votes. He jogs everyday, and has completed a marathon. As Google manager Eido Inoue knows, running a marathon is a battle with reality. You can’t fake it for six hours and 40 kilometers. Inose, 66, didn’t use the subway when he ran in the Tokyo Marathon. Those were actually his feet pounding the ground.

Inose perhaps sensed a friend when he saw the young Japanese woman waiting to interview him in New York in early 2013. As a published author, he spoke freely, perhaps thinking that would impress his fellow writers, and said some things he perhaps didn’t really mean in his heart of hearts.

What did he actually say? Nobody really remembers. (It was something about Islam, or traffic or protests in Istanbul.) It shouldn’t matter what he said exactly. Just because somebody says something, doesn’t mean that they think that way, 24 hours a day. An interviewer should be careful not to take someone’s words out of context, and mischaracterize their position.

But that’s not what Tabuchi and her colleague Ken Belson did. Instead of intelligent discourse, they opted for “gotcha journalism.” They seized upon a few lines that slipped out of Inose’s mouth at the end of the interview. They checked the translation: that, indeed, is what he said. They had it on record. They went with it. The NYT editors ran with it. The story went viral. Others picked it up. People in Japan and elsewhere condemned Inose for breaking the rules of the International Olympic Committee, a body elected by nobody. Suddenly, Tokyo’s multi-million dollar investment into their Olympic bid was going up in smoke. Inose, the bigot. That’s what formed in the public mind.

Yes, he said it, insisted Tabuchi. But that’s not what Inose meant. That wasn’t his intention, when he agreed to the interview, and took time out of his busy schedule — running a city of 14 million people — to talk with a couple of ink-stained wretches who’ve never been elected by anyone. Inose wanted to talk about turning Tokyo into a 24-hour city, a pretty cool idea actually, that Tabuchi and Belson would probably support. They’d probably also like his idea to set Tokyo’s clocks forward to save energy and link up with financial market closings and openings in New York and London.

Never mind. Gossip is almighty. He said it, she insisted.

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 5.24.14 AM

Who cares if Tabuchi burned a source — the elected leader of her city, who might actually give her valuable information someday. Who cares if Inose was ousted in a sort of coup d’etat, his career ruined in part by Tabuchi. Inose said it. And, Tabuchi wrote it. She has 80,000 followers on Twitter. Who would ever question that?

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 6.03.53 AM

Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 2.49.40 PM

In fact, many people are questioning the Queen. A large number of trolls repeatedly harangue Tabuchi on Japanese language sites, accusing her of fabricating stories and damaging Japan’s international image. These aren’t just nasty English-language trolls, but Japanese who can influence the 125 million Japanese who don’t see Tabuchi’s Anglophile side.

Screen Shot 2013-08-13 at 2.25.48 PM

Bloggers such as LillyTearDrop, who can communicate between cultures, are even more problematic for Tabuchi, and blocking them will only alienate them further. LillyTearDrop and others aren’t restricted by NYT editors adhering to 170-year old traditions. A blogger, critic or troll can say anything they want about Tabuchi. Here’s more from LillyTearDrop:

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 2.20.20 PM

The intense dislike for Tabuchi actually troubles me. Sometimes I fear for her safety. If somebody ever physically attacked her at a press conference, I would jump in to defend her. Even if I criticize her journalism and her unethical behavior, I would defend her as a person. No matter who she insults or manipulates for her own career advancement, nobody working in journalism deserves physical abuse. 

In fact, I had been a loyal servant of the Queen. I had tried to fend off attackers. I had praised her stories about villagers in Fukushima. We had friends in common, including my former neighbor Oliver Reichenstein. I sent Tabuchi well-wishes on her wedding day.

So, why did she turn against me? I had, in her view, offended members of her royal court.

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 5.49.10 AM

I met her very briefly at a social gathering outside an auditorium at the Tokyo Literary Festival, an event we both enjoyed. I was with a colleague who introduced me to her. That was it. No exchange of words beyond that. I figured she probably didn’t even realize who I was. Yet the next night on Twitter, she threatened to sick police and lawyers on me. She made false accusations without evidence. She refused to apologize or even talk to me, commanding her underlings to forward all communications to HQ in New York. She also did something that perhaps no other New York Times reporter would do. She demanded I remove an investigative story about Adelstein’s vicious and high-profile public battles with critics who call him “Jake the Fake” and “Fake Adelstein”, based on his dubious claims and frequent use of unnamed sources.

(https://globalitewatchdog.wordpress.com/2012/10/02/the-tokyo-vices-of-a-reporter-in-japan/)

There she was, a young journalist, who has never worked in a media culture outside the Japan Galapagos, ordering a former war correspondent, with 29 years experience, to CENSOR a story.

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 5.48.08 AM

The Queen, infuriated by the threat I posed to her court, also persuaded her friends to block this reporter on Twitter. Tokyo-based reporters Mari Saito of Reuters, Chico Harlan of the Washington Post, Bloomberg/Reuters intern Mio Coxon, NYT intern Joshua Hunt and many others all followed suit.

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 8.59.47 AM

I met Chico Harlan once, at a table of other journalists outside the FCCJ. He seemed like a bright young guy. I liked his writing, and his attempt to understand Japan during his brief posting here. I did 100 stories for the Washington Times in 2011. He did about the same number of stories for the Washington Post. We never met in the field, never dissed each other in public either. But Queen Tabuchi ordered him to block me on Twitter, and so he did.

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 9.00.21 AM

Mari Saito of Reuters used to follow me on Twitter. She seemed bright and curious — good qualities for a young reporter. We didn’t talk much, but one day I praised her report about Fukushima. The next day, Tabuchi ordered her to block me on Twitter, so she did.

The same goes for Mio Coxon, who hangs out online and off with Tabuchi, who helped her get internships at Reuters, Bloomberg, the British Embassy and others. (One suspects that Tabuchi wrote glowing reference letters — hire her!)  Suddenly, the intern is uppity. While working for the British Embassy, she demanded her Twitter pals CENSOR my story at DW.de about the harsh treatment of foreign migrants jailed without trial in Japan.  Showing respect for a senior reporter, or trying to understand the truth of a situation, means little to her, because she’s the Queen’s lady-in-waiting. Block him on Twitter.

Screen Shot 2013-08-13 at 1.23.21 PM

What does all of this Twitter-blocking and inanity contribute to journalism and truth-seeking in Japan? Is it ethical to block a colleague who asks questions or make false accusations against them? Are Twitterati like Coxon and Tabuchi going to save the institution of journalism, now about 170-years old?

I doubt it. Coxon and Tabuchi are careerists, not truth-seekers. They will most likely only use journalism to aggrandize themselves, and they’ll switch to other fields if it suits them. Indeed, Coxon recently took a job in public relations, otherwise known as “the dark side.”

But Tabuchi and others are important figures in the history of journalism. They have helped to define the Age of Online Idiocy in sharp and clear contrast to old school journalism. In this new digital age, it doesn’t matter what is true, or who is right, ethical or virtuous. It doesn’t matter what you can prove or disprove.

What matters is who is leader, who is follower, and who is blocked. It doesn’t matter if the leader purchased thousands of followers through unethical means, or if half their followers are actually bots. If the Queen says it’s true, it’s true. Without checking facts, her followers will retweet it and favorite it, and the myth will continue to grow out of proportion to reality, and her 80,000 followers will beget more followers, who also won’t bother to check facts, and the myth will grow and grow and grow. That’s how it goes in the Age of Online Idiocy.

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 9.48.01 AM

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 9.49.38 AM

Screen Shot 2013-07-17 at 6.38.01 AM

Screen Shot 2013-07-29 at 11.46.35 AM

Screen Shot 2013-08-08 at 7.09.03 AM

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 9.07.13 AM

xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 1.31.27 AMScreen Shot 2013-11-02 at 1.28.46 AM Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 1.25.25 AMScreen Shot 2013-11-02 at 1.21.33 AMScreen Shot 2013-11-02 at 1.20.29 AMScreen Shot 2013-11-02 at 1.01.23 AM

Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 12.59.53 AMScreen Shot 2013-11-02 at 12.58.22 AM

Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 12.17.21 AMScreen Shot 2013-11-02 at 12.15.44 AMScreen Shot 2013-11-02 at 12.14.59 AM

Advertisements