Yonden Lhatoo
SCMP Columnist
Just Saying
by Yonden Lhatoo
Just Saying
by Yonden Lhatoo

Before you cry ‘fake news’ make sure you’re not a fake yourself

Yonden Lhatoo advises those quick to ape the US president’s favourite refrain to get their facts straight and make sure their own houses are in order first – lest they embarrass themselves

I know America’s twitchy-fingered tweeter-in-chief Donald Trump has made it rather fashionable these days for people to cry “fake news” over any dissemination of information they disagree with, but it’s starting to get ridiculous.

In the US president’s case, he should be the last pot to call the kettle black, fountainhead of falsities that he is. He gets away with it all the time, but I would remind anyone else jumping on the media-bashing bandwagon in this part of the world to make sure they have a leg to stand on first. 

Because this is not America and you are not Donald Trump.

Take for example a report we ran earlier in the week about  Hong Kong-based bookseller Gui Minhai being snatched from a train to Beijing by mainland police in the presence of the Swedish diplomats accompanying him.
Angela Gui did not remember speaking to Woo Chih-wai. Then she did remember. Photo: Handout

We quoted Gui’s former publishing associate, Woo Chih-wai, recalling how he had spoken to the bookseller’s daughter after her father was released from a previous stint in mainland custody in October.

The daughter, Angela, promptly tweeted: “I’ve never spoken to this dude Woo Chih-wai. Didn’t even know who he was until this morning. SCMP, latest purveyor of fake news?”

Woo turned out to be a meticulous record keeper and sent us details of his phone logs to prove he had indeed spoken to Angela Gui. Presented with the evidence, Gui recovered sufficiently from that little bout of amnesia to corroborate the story, but not enough to remove her totally unwarranted tweet.

Let’s just take a step back here to grasp the irony of it all.

This 115-year-old media institution is being accused of purveying fake news by a woman whose one and only claim to fame is that she is the daughter of a man whose only claim to fame is getting into trouble for – this is rich – peddling fake news.

Donald Trump, America’s fountainhead of falsities. Photo: AP

Gui Minhai is not some righteous champion of press freedom taking on China’s evil state machinery with cutting-edge journalism; he is a hawker of trashy books full of salacious and/or fictitious gossip about China’s leadership.

We would never even have heard of these people or cared if their dodgy, dai pai dong version of TMZ-style reportage hadn’t landed them in hot water across the border.

A man with an ‘over-the-top style’: Arthur Li. Photo: Dickson Lee

Earlier this month Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, the head of the University of Hong Kong’s governing body, called us “fake news” nine times in a one-hour webcast because he was upset by the tone of our interview with departing vice chancellor Peter Mathieson.

Don’t just criticise Hong Kong youth, the elderly can be worse

While we merely reported what Mathieson told us, Li accused us of making it sound like the vice chancellor felt under constant pressure from Beijing’s representatives interfering in academic freedom. 

It turned out to be a case of Mathieson changing narratives depending on whom he was talking to and Li tilting at windmills with his usual, over-the-top style.

I remember “King Arthur” quite fondly from the days back in 2007 when, as the city’s education minister, he was at the centre of a judicial inquiry into allegations of interference in academic freedom at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, now the Education University.

Arthur Li complained that the media had made him look like Dirty Harry, played by Clint Eastwood in the 1971 film of the same name. Photo: Handout

He was quoted as threatening the institute with “rape” and telling one of its officials: “I’ll remember this; you will pay.”

I recall how he protested that we in the media were making him sound like Dirty Harry saying “make my day”. While the inquiry cleared Li of the interference charges, it concluded that he had “more likely than not” used those words, which he could not recall.

I’m not saying he’s a liar, but the next time he accuses us of publishing fake news, I have a ready-made reply for him: “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”

Yonden Lhatoo is the chief news editor at the Post

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Before you cry ‘fake news’ be sure you’re not a fake yourself