Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Out of Sight, Out the Door? The Media on Finance Minister’s Last? Gaffe

This post is dedicated to Drs. YH and PS and the letters C, O, and H.

Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa’s latest spacewalk at the G7 meeting in Rome—his previous one came at the January 28 Lower House plenary session, where he made 26 acknowledged errors while reading the fiscal statement for the administration—when he fell asleep during the closed meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors and later slobbered through a subsequent press briefing. Widely reputed to have a drinking problem, credible reports have had him in previous administrations showing up late and hung over for the twice-weekly morning Cabinet sessions. In this case in point most likely the consequences of a combination of jet lag, cold medication and, yes, alcohol, his latest travails have forced him to take the day off today (February 17) to seek medical help, while the Lower House shut down work on the budget and budget-related legislation for the day. Regardless of the medical prognosis, only a political miracle will allow the near-terminal Aso administration—the only administration other than the Mori Cabinet to fall to single-digit approval figures in public polls—to keep him on as Finance Minister. I drafted a fairly long post last night on this affair, but it looks trivial and already dated in the light of day—Mr. Nakagawa, detox helps!—so I’ll merely give you a brief rundown of how the story broke in the media.

Two different stories initially came out, one in Japan, the other in the English-language media. The Japanese media wrote up the post-meeting briefing for the Japanese media, some of whom were embedded members of the MOF kisha club while others were correspondents dispatched to Rome or possibly other places in Europe. Although the Finance Minister acted as drunk as a skunk and the Japanese journalist who is not aware of his alleged substance issues is rarer than a dodo-passenger pigeon mix-breed, the Japanese media tiptoed around the matter at first, speculating about things like fatigue and jet lag, while using question marks (Asahi) or a code phrase ろれつが回らない(unable to articulate properly) (Nikkei) or both (Mainichi) to drop a hint to the political cognoscenti (i.e. tabloid readers, bloggers, and chatroom denizens) that there might be more to the story. (Yomiuri kindly decided to be nonjudgmental.) The post-meeting late-afternoon press briefing for the Japanese media by the Finance Minister and the BOJ Governor was preceded by a lunch with the Japanese media and a hour-or-so-long break.

An ABC News blog broke the story overseas with a riff on close-up shots by APTN / AP of Nakagawa nodding off at the meeting. The blogging White House correspondent for ABC News only mentions jet lag, but Sankei brought the two strands together in a story that raised the “drunk” question in conjunction with the “nodding off” issues. Then it was open season as ex-Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori—yes, Mr. Single-Digits— went on national TV on one of those morning wide shows ahead and noted, “I was surprised. (Mr. Nakagawa) is a person who likes alcohol very much, so I’ve often told him to be careful with his alcohol”, intimating in the bargain that he had disagreed with Taro Aso when the latter decided to nominate Nakagawa as Finance Minister.

I do not think that it was a coincidence that none of the postprandial reports from Rome explicitly used the A-word, nor that the Yomiuri was the most reluctant to hint at the issue. Likewise that the Sankei was the first to pop the question and that it bundled it with overseas reports—the shame of it! Although I watch little regular TV programming, I believe that the morning wide shows have helped drive the print media along the narrative.

That’s all for now.


Anonymous said...

I suppose that NTV's news room was getting their instructions from their bosses at the Yomiuri Shimbun. Of the 4 network news broadcasts I watched last night, NTV's Real Time News had the least coverage of the Nakagawa incident.

Jun Okumura said...

James: Not surprised to hear that, although I doubt that any broadcaster receives explicit marching orders from the senior member of its respective media group—muscle memory should be good enough for this sort of thing.