Friday, September 25, 2015

Global Political Football

The print edition of the "New York Times" this week has contained "China Daily," a propaganda supplement put out by China's government to provide wall-to-wall coverage of President Xi Jinping's trip to the United States and to allow prominent Chinese companies more chances to buy ads telling the world how much they love the guy. It is instructive skimming on how propaganda and the forms of conventional journalism are not all that different, at least on the surface.

Today's big front page story was about Xi's visit to a high school football team in Tacoma, Washington. Yes, I said "whaa?" too. The story however, was not the point. The photo covering the top half of the page was.

Two grinning if puzzled teenagers flanked Xi, who looked most puzzled of all. A veteran of photo-ops, as all pols everywhere must be, Xi's routine smile couldn't mask the doubt in his eyes as he looked down at the football he was holding in his hands. What is this silly thing? And is it puffed or stuffed?

You don't get to be China's top guy by accident. Xi may not have known what the 'ol pigskin is, but he knew what to do with it. He made sure he held it with its logo facing the camera. The President of China was going to be like Mike and let the world see him fly the Nike swoosh.

Nike Chairman Phil Knight wasn't in the picture, but he was there in spirit, wielding power Xi could only envy. Think about it. Nike has to pay Rory McIlroy 20 million or so bucks a year to use its golf equipment. The authoritarian leader of the second most powerful country in the world was happy to do a Nike ad for free.


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