OPINION: Politico and SCMP Will Make Strange Bedfellows

OPINION: Politico and SCMP Will Make Strange Bedfellows
Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG

What you need to know

The Washington-focused blog may be getting more than it bargained for in its deal with the South China Morning Post.

U.S. media company Politico and the South China Morning Post last week announced a mildly surprising collaboration agreement.

The SCMP’s report perhaps sounds a little self-congratulatory, rather as Hong Kong officials do when receiving their idiotic annual World’s Freest Economy Prize from the Heritage Foundation. Without wishing to sound cruel – could it be that a Hong Kong newspaper owned by pro-Beijing interests is rather flattered to have the Washington Post /Time types at Politico treat it as an equal?

But maybe that’s what they want you to think: as recent trade talks show, the Chinese can get anything by letting the gullible Americans think they are winning.

Politico’s statement talks of expanding coverage to include China as if it were a new and exciting idea (the Washington-centric outfit’s previous venture overseas was four years ago in sleepy Brussels, as the EU’s slide into insignificance gathered pace). To add to the impression of innocents abroad, it creates a stir by describing its new Hong Kong partner as “the oldest newspaper in Asia (wrong) and … the only independent English-language publication in the region (hmm…).

The deal is focused on sharing content – cutting and pasting each other’s articles. This raises the question of whether Politico is aware of the possibility that some (in fairness, not all) SCMP China coverage might have a pro-Communist Party bias.

Jack Ma’s SCMP has a declared mission to "explain" China to a global audience. Attentive readers will have noticed that the SCMP’s online articles now helpfully use imperial as well as metric measurements. And the paper is encouraging staff to write more items with international appeal. If Politico carries the right sort of SCMP stories, Jack succeeds in his patriotic soft-power-creating duties.

It’s hard to see what Politico gains. Does it want to scoop other US media in carrying staged interviews with Mainland political prisoners reading out forced confessions?

Alternatively, it could be that a flow of Politico content dilutes or displaces the SCMP’s China-cheerleading, West-bashing "positive energy" material. Let’s be open-minded. (Indeed, the whole thing could be another evil foreign plot like Peppa Pig, to spread Western influence and bring down the CCP.)

Or it could be that the two simply see more mundane and basic reasons to cooperate.

The SCMP might hope to learn from Politico’s business model, which includes print, on-line, paid, free and regional products, including a subscription daily briefing pitched at "insiders." It achieves the rare feat of at least sometimes making a profit from political journalism in the digital age.

And they are talking about staff exchanges. Like many in the Beltway comfort zone and similar Western media habitats, the expert elite Arlingtrons at Politico would surely benefit from some exotic global mind-broadening Asian exposure.

The least-exciting explanation is often the best.

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This piece was republished with permission. It was originally published on the author’s blog here.

TNL Editor: Morley J Weston