CNN reports Chinese naval movements like a Cold War Soviet satellite reporting the latest political edicts from Moscow

CNN reports Chinese naval movements like a Cold War Soviet satellite reporting the latest political edicts from Moscow
Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning in Hong Kong in 2017. Wikipedia: By Baycrest - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, Link

*UPDATED with screen caps of original story.*

Hate it when this happens.  It seems like a good time to shut down for the night, and something shows up that simply Must Be Written About.

We’ll keep it short.  This is one of the most astonishing “news” “reports” I remember ever seeing.  And I was a sentient adult during the last decades of the Cold War.

What CNN has done in this fantastic item is regurgitate quotes from China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) claiming China is controlling the coronavirus better than the U.S. – and the proof is that, according to China’s claim, the aircraft carrier Liaoning has deployed into the Pacific in the last few days with a carrier escort group, and they’re all completely virus-free.

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The headline reads: “China’s PLA Navy is controlling coronavirus and aircraft carrier’s deployment proves it, report says.”

The opening sentence:  “A Chinese naval flotilla headed into the Pacific over the weekend, evidence that the People’s Liberation Army Navy has done a much better job controlling coronavirus than the US Navy, according to a story posted on the PLA’s English-language website.” (Note: I logged on this morning to be advised that the entire story has been changed at the CNN webpage.  Below please find screen caps of the story as it appeared 13-14 April 2020.  The screen caps were taken about 1:00 AM PDT on 15 April 2020. – J.E.)

Screen cap 15 Apr 2020. Click to enlarge for legibility.

Screen cap 15 Apr 2020
Screen cap 15 Apr 2020

Later, the CNN repetition of Chinese talking points asserts this: “’Through the voyage, the Liaoning showed that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has done a great job in the epidemic prevention and control work and COVID-19 epidemic has not had an impact on its deployment and operations,’ the story says, citing Xu Guangyu, a senior adviser to the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association.”

CNN shows no skepticism or any inclination to at least supplement the Chinese report with information from other sources; e.g., the media of the U.S., Taiwan, Japan, Australia, etc., which have all noted the deployment of Liaoning.

The point here is not that Liaoning hasn’t gotten underway.  Regional reporting indicated the Chinese naval task group passed though the Miyako Strait on Saturday, and proceeded to sail “east of Taiwan” (apparently headed south) on Easter Sunday, 12 April.  The Liaoning task group was heading west out of the Pacific at the time, based on the description in Stars and Stripes.  (Map below.)

The Stars and Stripes report then goes into some detail on the virus situation aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) and USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76).  Reagan is homeported in Japan and preparing for deployment; sailors are undergoing 14 days of pre-deployment sequestration to ensure no virus cases get underway.

The point, however, is that CNN has done nothing more than quote Chinese sources on the Liaoning deployment, including passing on the political editorializing from China as if it’s “news.”  There is no reason to believe Chinese claims about controlling the coronavirus, or the ships’ crews being virus-free.  But CNN’s report doesn’t even make that point, much less cite competing views of that matter for balance.  Nor does it refer to the detailed reporting about the U.S. carrier situation that is readily available from the U.S. Navy.

Don’t fail to go to the link and read it for yourselves.  It has to be read to be believed.  (See screen caps above instead.)

During the Cold War, the CIA press-clipping service once known as the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) used to entertain us with translations of state “news reporting” by communist nations like Bulgaria, North Korea, and Cuba (among all the other communist nations).  The quality of their “reporting” was very similar to what CNN has done here.  The state news organs didn’t just carry wire reports from the Soviet Union’s TASS or Interfax; they generated busy-work by having their own “reporters” churn out copy based on, and quoting, Soviet (or Chinese) “sources.”

Their products looked exactly like CNN’s “report” on Liaoning.

This isn’t really even like the infamous reporting of Walter Duranty, the journalist for the New York Times who at least went to the old USSR, even if he never met a Potemkin façade he could see past there.  This is more like, whoever, Carlos and the “newsroom” gang in Havana, waiting for the tape to spool in from Moscow so they could get to work typing and quoting.

Liaoning, formerly the Soviet Kuznetsov-class carrier Varyag, was commissioned into the PLA Navy (PLAN) in 2012, and has deployed multiple times into the Pacific (e.g., in 2017) since reaching operational status in 2016.  She carries 24 multi-role J-15 fighters, as compared to the typical U.S. Nimitz-class air wing of about 55 fixed-wing aircraft, with ~48 of those being F/A-18 Super Hornet (E/F) strike-fighters.  The F-35C Lightning II is expected to make its first carrier deployment with VFA-147 in 2021 on USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), a West-coast carrier homeported in Washington state.

I don’t have time tonight to track down all the Chinese carrier’s movements on this trip; reportedly she went east into the Pacific on Friday 10 April and made a quick loop before returning on Sunday.

Google map; author annotation
J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.

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