Photo of Bill Moyers Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Watch & Listen The Blog Archive Transcripts Buy DVDs

August 22, 2008


When I started in broadcast journalism many moons ago, one of the giants in the field, the late Fred Friendly, told me to remember, there is always more than meets the camera's eye. Subject everything you see to a reality check.

NBC ANNOUNCER: The rousing welcome to the USA team...

BILL MOYERS: While watching the Summer Olympics, I imagined Fred looking down - or up, as it may be - from wherever old journalists gather in the hereafter, mentally telegraphing his protégés still toiling here in the vineyards, to remember that nothing is as it seems.

How about those spectacular fireworks at the opening ceremonies? Turns out the Chinese enhanced the pictures we saw with digital special effects.

And that winsome little girl who sang "Ode to the Motherland" as sweetly as the Emperor's Nightingale? She was a ringer, a lip syncher inserted at the last minute because the real vocalist was pronounced insufficiently adorable by the Chinese government.

Amateur sports? Sure, but nothing is as it seems. Michael Phelps is an amazing athlete, but he was making five million a year in endorsements before the games began. Now sports agents and promoters are salivating at the prospect that he'll be hauling in as much as ten times that amount.

And General Electric, the Big Daddy of defense contracts and the parent company of NBC, stands to generate at least 1.7 billion dollars in profits off these Games.

Nonetheless, among all the picturesque scenes of China accompanying the hundreds of hours of Olympic coverage, NBC has shown us practically nothing of the abuse of migrant workers who built the stadium, or the hundreds of thousands of people evicted to make room for the games, or of the Chinese journalists who have been punished for trying to tell the truth about their government.

Look at these logos of the game's top 12 sponsors. These corporations spent 866 million dollars to become Olympic partners. Yet, when the organization Human Rights Watch asked them to speak out against the Chinese government's abuses, all of them, all of them refused. One corporate executive told Human Rights Watch: "It is not our comfort zone to criticize countries." Another declared: "That is the role of human rights organizations. In this respect we are from Mars, you're from Venus."

That might be okay on Mars: No human beings, no human rights abuses. But here on Earth, human beings suffer from abuses by the powerful. Some of them fight back, against great odds. Zhang Shihe, known on the internet as Tiger Temple - he's been speaking out on his blog which he calls "24 Hours Online," and with our producer Jessica Wang.

ZHANG SHIHE: The underrepresented are the most helpless. But they're all hidden away out of sight, not spoken of.

BILL MOYERS: Zhang belongs to the so-called Lost Generation of China, people whose formal education was stymied by the anti-intellectual furies of the Cultural Revolution. In his youth, this son of a card-carrying Communist worked in a steel factory, then became a bookseller. But after the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, he shuttered his stores. And today, he publishes on the internet.

ZHANG SHIHE: I've already lived over half my life, and I have less than half more to live. So I document real life - it's the best I can do. I have a duty to record life's truths, since right now the real history isn't being told.

BILL MOYERS: Through Zhang we met this man, an activist he'd heard about through his network of underground sources. Ji Sizun is from Fujian in southern China - he helps people in those rural provinces oppose government injustice.

JI SIZUN: I handle many cases from Shangdong, Zhejiang, Guangxi, Yunnan, Fujian...from these cases it is obvious that people know they are breaking the law, that government officials are covering up for each other. We are strongly against such behavior. This is not a problem limited to the quality of local officials, but a problem of the entire political system.

BILL MOYERS: The Chinese government promised the International Olympic Committee that those wishing to demonstrate would be able to do so. All a citizen had to do was apply for permission. So Ji traveled to Beijing to submit his application, saying he planned to protest official fraud and abuse of power.

JI SIZUN: We want to protest official corruption, no phoniness. This is our lawful right. The Chinese government has made this promise to the entire world; they shouldn't go back on their word. You should do what you say, not lie to the international society, not deceive the common people.

BILL MOYERS: With a small group of media was in tow as protection, Ji went to police headquarters to file his request. One of his friends had come here just days before to seek permission and he vanished.

Right away, Ji was treated as a suspect. For three hours, he was interrogated in a closed room. He emerged defiant and frustrated.

JI SIZUN: We had a heated discussion. They won't approve anything. They won't even accept my application.

BILL MOYERS: As Ji left, plainclothes police kept him under surveillance.

This is one of three parks in Beijing that the government set aside for demonstrations. We didn't see a banner, picket sign or protester in sight. In fact, all these days into the Olympics, the government has yet to permit a single demonstration in any of the official protest zones. Except for strollers, the park was empty, because China claims that only 77 applications were filed, and all but three were withdrawn, says the government, because the petitioners had their complaints satisfied. Those other three? "Oh", says China, "turned down on technicalities." Nothing is as it seems.

Two days later, Ji went back to the police station to ask about his missing friend. Witnesses said Ji was led by plainclothes policemen into a dark sedan, then gone...disappeared.

Moyers Podcasts -- Sign Up for podcasts and feeds.
Our posts and your comments
For Educators    About the Series    Bill Moyers on PBS   

© Public Affairs Television 2008    Privacy Policy    DVD/VHS    Terms of Use    FAQ