In forcing through the legislation, Mr. Fukuda, who took over the leadership from former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in September, risks a backlash from a public that is divided over the mission. The public remains much more concerned about the economy and other issues.
“Mr. Fukuda’s approval ratings have fallen into the 30s because he has been unable to pass other legislation in Parliament since taking over as prime minister.”
“Mr. Fukuda does not have to call a general election until the fall of 2009. But with the impasse in Parliament, he will probably be forced to do so and seek a popular mandate later this year.”
－ from “Japan Approves Bill on Afghan War”, 2008 January 12, Norimitsu Onishi
For a mainstream daily, Mr. Onishi’s articles are usually well-sourced and well-informed. I also have a sneaking admiration for his understated style. But what to make of the three paragraphs excerpted in order above, which, strung together, appear to be the essence of the guidance that he has to offer?
In my view, the first paragraph should be rewritten as follows:
”In forcing through the legislation, Mr. Fukuda, who took over the leadership from former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in September, risks relatively little backlash from a public that is divided over the mission but remains much more concerned about the economy and other issues.
Now I may be wrong about the magnitude of backlash, but it’s hard to discern the logic behind Mr. Onishi’s connection of the potential backlash to the public’s concern about other issues. That is, it’s hard until you read the second excerpted paragraph, which basically says that Mr. Fukuda has lost public support because he has been ineffective in addressing them. Maybe, maybe not. But the drop had at least as much to do with how as with what he did or didn’t do. Besides, if Mr. Onishi had been reading my blog, he would have known that getting legislation enacted had not figured as much of a problem as a casual glance at the Japanese media would have led you to believe.
Still, since just about everybody seems to feel that a snap election could be called any time after the Hokkaidō Summit in July, nobody will call Mr. Onishi out if it doesn’t happen*. Thus, the last paragraph is the safe call to make. But if the article is not backed by the basic facts behind the assertion, this article has about as much value as a broken clock that gets it right twice a day.
* Give me resonable odds, say 3 to 1, and I’ll be happy to bet against it happening within the calendar year.
So the question is: What happened here? First of all the NYT Tokyo bureau must be understaffed. Simply put, he doesn’t have a fact-checker. But second, and I think this is more important, he’s just not interested in straight, boring, just-the-facts reporting. His work so often consists of human interest stories, about the weak, the old, the loners in out-of-the-way places, the common man (or woman) in a ceaseless and ultimately futile struggle to maintain themselves and their dignity. His subject is humanity, in the lower case.