Why Did They Say That The Virginia Tech Shooter Was Chinese?  By Luqiu Luwei (闾丘露薇).  April 18, 2007.

[in translation]

In the most serious shooting case (in terms of the number of casualties) in the history of the United States, who was the killer?  I checked television channels and I heard the eyewitnesses say that it was an Asian.  I checked the newspaper websites and I read that the police declined to disclose information but the eyewitnesses said that the shooter looked like an Asian.  The possibility that it might be a Chinese was based upon information from the Chicago Sun-Times as cited by ChineseNewsNet but the police investigation is still ongoing.  Sometime later, I checked the mainland Chinese websites and they are all citing this story with the big headlines: "Is the killer Chinese?"  Based upon my personal experience as a reporter, everybody must have held back for a long time until China News Service released its translation of the Chicago Sun-Times report.  Ordinarily, news websites are very careful about information on the Internet, especially when it comes to such a major story.  But if the source of information is some official news agency, Xinhua or China News Services, they will cite it.

Shortly after the China News Services website report appeared, a netizen named Orange left a comment for me.  Here is our exchange:

Concerning the Virginia Tech shootings, several English-language websites are saying that the shooter is Chinese.  I also saw that the Phoenix TV website has translated the Chicago Sun-Times report.  Only the CCTV website is sticking to the "Asian" description, along with the best wishes from the chairman of the Chinese Students Association in Virginia to Chinese students there.  So it looks as if they have no intention of saying that the shooter is a Chinese.  I believe that many news workers at CCTV must know about the claim that the shooter is Chinese.  But for special reasons, they cannot report it.  I want to ask you about this situation of "non-reporting."  Thanks!

Here was my response:

If the media do not have a source of information that they can trust, they will not tell their viewers and readers that the shooter is Chinese.  For example, I am watching CNN right now.  Since the police has not made any announcements and CNN does not have a trusted source, they do not discuss the identity of the shooter and they only quote some students who said that it was an Asian.  Most of the Chinese media are citing other media which have their own sources.  In so doing, they run a risk because those reports may be different from the police announcements later on and this will affect their own credibility.  According to the rigorous rules of journalism, a cited report should not be used unless there is third-party verification.  The Internet is less demanding, but the television channels and newspapers have to be more careful.

The story in the Chicago Sun-Times came from one of their columnists.  First of all, this newspaper is regarded as a local gossip tabloid.  Secondly, the articles by their columnists are set aside from their news reports.  Some columnists will quote hearsay and it is up to the readers to decide whether it is accurate.  The newspaper does not accept any responsibility.  So it is like the notice at the end of a television show: the opinions of the guests are strictly their own and do not represent this station.

The Chicago Sun-Times article was first cited by MSN.  A website like MSN specializes in publishing secondhand information.  I believe that more than one English-language website has cited this story and so how could the mainstream media (especially the television stations that are following this story) not be aware of it?  How could the many continuously updated newspaper websites not be aware of it?  But they did not cite this story.  Why?  It is for the reasons that I listed in my response to the netizen.  But most of the Chinese-language websites cited the story and they even omitted name the source in those citations.  This gives the readers the impression that they obtained the information themselves.  It is understandable that the Chinese-language websites want to report on a case involving "shooting"+"Chinese."  But precisely because the rumored shooter was Chinese, they should have considered the misleading effects from an inaccurate source.

The police have now disclosed that the shooter was a Korean student at Virginia Tech with a green card.  This incident tells everybody that one must carefully read every word in media reports and learn to exercise judgment.  Many people just read the report and forgot about skepticism or asking questions.  They were immediately certain that it was a Chinese and quickly began to articulate their own views and conclusions.  It is interesting to read the related news on the Chinese websites and the ensuing comments.  The American police have not yet made a public announcement but a lot of people are playing judge on the basis of the cited information in the Chinese-language websites.  There were different types of people: some people criticized the quality of the Chinese people, some people said that it was a good thing, some people were concerned about the image of the Chinese people, etc.  But not too many people expressed sorrow and sympathy for the innocent victims in the incident.

It does not matter who did the shooting, because this is ultimately an individual act which does not represent a people or nation.  In the American media reports, the focus was on the actions taken by the police and the university during the incident.  From this also came a debate over gun control, which is one issue that differentiates the Republicans and Democrats.  Nobody is talking about the quality of the Asian-Americans because the shooter was Asian.  The first things that most people expressed were sorrow for the dead, sympathy for the injured and condolences for the families of the victims.

I also want to say that the response of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs was swift and appropriate.  Li Zhaoxing's telephoned condolence and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson's hope that people would not speculate wildly on the identity of the shooter are both responsible actions.  But that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had to make such an announcement was the result of the misunderstandings created by the Internet media in China.

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