November 09, 2007
I’ve learned a lot by reading Marketwatch tech columnist John C. Dvorak over the years. So I was pretty surprised to see him get it entirely wrong when it came to the recent dramatic, even historic, grilling of Yahoo’s founder and CEO Jerry Yang and company General Counsel Michael Callahan by the Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Peninsula Congressman Tom Lantos. Dvorak piles one false assumption on top of another to arrive at the startling conclusion that the biggest culprit in all this is not the repressive government of China, which jailed dissident Shi Tao for 10 years for the crime of sending an email it did not like via Yahoo’s email system, or Yahoo, which immediately turned the journalist’s identity over to the Chinese police when asked. No, according to Dvorak, the greater offender here is really the U.S. Congress and Lantos himself because, Dvorak claims, they are doing more to protect the rights of Chinese citizens than they are doing to protect the rights of our own citizens right here in the United States.
Dvorak goes on to suggest Yahoo should have stonewalled (a journalist encouraging corporate stonewalling?) rather than comment on the case. He then casts an aspersion on Lantos by linking financial contributions Dvorak admits the Congressman probably did not receive to Lantos’ crusade against Yahoo, implying that Lantos would not have taken Yahoo to the dock if Yahoo had given Lantos more campaign contributions. This is easily one of the most bizarre columns I’ve ever seen anyone write. It’s wrong on so many counts it’s hard to know where to start.
Anyone who knows Tom Lantos knows Dvorak’s hypothesis is complete and absolute hooey. Ignorant drivel, really. I’ve interviewed Congressman Lantos dozens of times and suspect that Dvorak’s own opinion might change if he knew the man’s personal story a little better. For those who don’t know Lantos and might be inclined to believe Dvorak’s lazy caricature (greedy, money grubbing politician) here are some facts:
Lantos is about the most secure office-holder in the country. He’s near the end of his political career, will not be running for anything else, and has had no significant opposition in about two decades. He needs campaign contributions like an Eskimo needs snow. Instead, Lantos, a former college professor, remains immensely popular with his constituents in this area, in large part, because of his longstanding focus on human rights and economic justice and his own remarkable personal story. Lantos’ concern over human rights stems from his personal experience as a refugee who fled the Nazi conquest of Europe which was aided, to a degree that still appalls many, by several major U.S. corporations that saw in Nazi Germany not a threat to freedom but instead a promising new market. Now clearly, China today, although terribly repressive in so many ways, is NOT Nazi Germany. What is important, though, is that Lantos’ personal history leaves him with no patience, as he showed at the hearing, for those who are eager to do business in countries where human rights are not respected, and he is clearly even more troubled when major U.S. companies take actions that help those countries violate the human rights of their citizens, and particularly journalists, even the “one” journalist whose plight — 10 years in prison — Dvorak dismisses so blithely. (Gee, I wonder if Dvorak might see it differently if he was the “one” journalist rotting in prison for sending an email? You think?).
Dvorak appears willing to give Yahoo a free pass. His apologia will certainly be welcome news at Yahoo headquarters. In fact, his column may even help Dvorak get coveted Yahoo interviews and inside information for future columns. And yet Dvorak has the gall to insinuate that Congressman Lantos, who is standing up for an imprisoned journalist who most people in this country have never even heard of, is the corrupt actor here?
Dvorak owes Lantos an apology. And I can’t even begin to imagine what he owes Shi Tao.