Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Why Norimitsu Onishi’s Report Japan’s Outcasts Still Wait for Acceptance Is Wrong, and Why It Matters: Coda without a Finale

I’d had the final part in the can days even before I’d written the previous installment, but had decided that I’d put up maybe a couple of more before I went there. Unfortunately, real life intervened and, somewhere along the way, I seem to have lost the appetite to continue. Perhaps the exchange of comments at a number of points along the way drew out so much out of me on the subject that there no longer was any there there… which, come to think about it, is not a bad thing at all. So let me thank the people who took the trouble to comment for giving me a good intellectual workout.

However, having I’ve looked again at the final piece, I see that it’s not well written and certainly needs more work. Who knows, one of these days, I might edit it and put it up. In the meantime, I’ll be happy to email it to anyone who wants to see it—I actually sent it to Roy Berman because, if I remember correctly, I thought that he deserved an explanation of why I was doing this after I read his take on the affair and I wasn’t ready to put it out there just yet. You know where to find me; my email address is: okumurajun@gmail.com (also accessible from my profile). In any case, I think that the justifications for my attack—what else was it?—were more appropriately expressed in a paragraph from one of my counter-comments here. I’ll repeat it below for your convenience.
I think that the data, facts and opinions that I cite regarding the buraku issue are at least as good as the facts and opinions that Onishi raises in his article. I also think that my version of Nonaka’s political circumstances when he gave up running for LDP President is superior to Onishi’s. I leave it up to you the readers of this blog to decide who has a better case. However, that’s not the real issue at stake here. What I find disturbing is the fact that one of the few reports on Japan in the “newspaper of record” that appears to probe beneath the surface of events turns out to be a collage of anecdotes and opinions that ignores the substantial amount of material that do not support a personal take on Japan that appears to drive the reporter’s work. I have some guesses as to where that personal take—more temperament than ideology—comes from, and I’ve gained a little sympathy for Onishi as I progressed because of this. But that does not provide an excuse; this is a news report, not a short story that we are talking about.
And that is as good a place as any to end this coda without a finale. Thanks for coming, you all.

5 comments:

PC said...

I enjoyed most of what your write on this topic. I did think, however, that the parts that seemed to attack Onishi were a bit salty and added little to your argument.

Oh, and this sentence wants cleaving:
"What I find disturbing is the fact that one of the few reports on Japan in the “newspaper of record” that appears to probe beneath the surface of events turns out to be a collage of anecdotes and opinions that ignores the substantial amount of material that do not support a personal take on Japan that appears to drive the reporter’s work."

Anonymous said...

Just passing through and browsed the original article.
Q: Why do you use "hirakana" when the romanized form of ひらがな is "hiragana"?

Jun Okumura said...

Ah, the salty bits, PC. You’re right about that. But I was frustrated by what I saw as the latest manifestation of his deliberate and unprofessional if highly skilled attempt to twist the truth in service of his agenda and/or to satisfy preconceptions of his readers. And I began taking it back after I began to sense the personal demons that must be driving him.

As for that sentence, ugh, it stinks to high heaven! Now that’s something that should have had some salt dropped on it.

Anonymous, it’s a mistake. It’s not that rare, but a mistake is a mistake.

Martin J Frid said...

Well, but the Big West does ignore "the substantial amount of material that do not support" his personal take on Japan while writing happy-go-lucky articles about other countries in Asia.

One thing I don't understand is the editing. Doesn't NYT have proper editors that have a final word, and can delete the most outrageous errors that passionate writers like Onishi tend to make?

Jun Okumura said...

Martin: I think that the worst parts—and there is certainly much that is good—are the result of the imperative of the increasingly crowded media market for your ears and advertising dollars more than anything unique to the “Big West”, as you put it. It is easier to gain attention and bylines/airtime by piling on the exotic, the dramatic, and the, yes, alien details on top of the familiar as background. If the .former turn out to be only half-truths at best, and the latter shopworn stereotypes, too bad. Editors cannot be indifferent to this incentive and moreover is not likely to have an intimate knowledge of, say, Japan that would enable them to challenge the veracity of their foreign correspondents. In fact, the systemic falsehood happens at the level of the headlines that the desk gives the reports. In some institutions, the reporters are also victims.

There is also the matter of lack of knowledge and time constraints as opposed to venality. Martin Fackler, for example, has been rightly ridiculed for one particularly egregious error, the vending machine camouflage fashion report, but that’s what happens when a reporter wanders onto unfamiliar territory without proper guidance and means of verification. It is no coincidence that the wire services are more consistent in quality.

God knows the Japanese media can be just as bad as their Western counterparts, no doubt for similar reasons. But this is an English-language blog; I have little interest in critiquing the Japanese media in English unless it is important to understanding something about Japan that I am blogging about, whereas offering corrections to distortions in the English-language media when I see them in English is useful in its own right, no? And if some people think that I have a particular ax to grind, how often have they seen me do this?

That’s it folks. Done for the night. Have been typing a lot today, some of it for money, too much for fun. Thanks for commenting, you all.