The “New York Times” is a paper that prides itself on being careful and authoritative. On page two of the paper each day there is a column devoted to errata, in which it diligently corrects any mistakes that may have been made in terms of photos, names, data, times, places and quotes.
Correcting mistakes as soon as they are discovered is a normal thing to do. Nobody is likely to be so incensed about a mistake that they decide to lay siege to the New York Times offices or demand that the paper’s director apologize or resign.
A campaign advertisement published by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) recently used the term “astringent persimmon” when referring to the price of persimmons being NT$2 per jin (600g). However, the picture used was of the non-astringent variety, which sells for a much higher price. The price of persimmons is something that can easily be verified and there is no way that the people working on the DPP’s campaign materials would have been so stupid as to intentionally use an incorrect picture to mislead voters.
As soon as the error was discovered, the DPP immediately explained that the picture of non-astringent persimmons had been used incorrectly.
In contrast, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) could not care less about the livelihood of our farmers and knows only how to conduct political battles. He also cannot be bothered to find out the truth about things, preferring instead to use his status as president to conduct smear campaigns.
Ma scolded the DPP for its persimmon mix-up in an attempt to take the attention away from his own shortcomings. The Ministry of National Defense even ordered soldiers to eat as many persimmons as possible so as to absorb some of the surplus and save face for Ma. Unfortunately they got things wrong, and the soldiers ended up eating the more expensive kind of persimmon, not the astringent kind that are selling for pennies because of the glut.
It is instructive to compare how the DPP handled the persimmon issue with the way Ma dealt with rice wine prices some time ago. They responded to these incidents very differently, and those differences highlight the contrasting characters of the two parties’ leaders and reveal much about their approach to leadership.
The DPP got the price of persimmons right, but used the wrong photo. After the incident, the party not only corrected the error, but also apologized. The mistake was an honest one.
Ma, in contrast, was disingenuous. He boasted about his supposed political achievement in reducing the price of “rice wine” when in fact only rice wine used for cooking became more affordable, not the kind that people drink. Ma knows full well that the prices of these two types of rice wine are different, but he still talks about them as if they were the same thing. This is not an honest mistake; it is deliberate deception.
After being in power for more than three years, Ma’s team has come up with misdirected policies that have done little if anything to address the root causes of a series problems. All they have done is lie and engage in smear campaigns. They will not apologize for their misleading behavior because in their view any lie is acceptable as long as it helps them get votes.
Persimmons and rice wine may not be earth-shaking issues. However, the attitudes with which the two sides have handled these issues do point to a larger truth. Where Tsai has been honest, serious and responsible, Ma has been mischievous, hypocritical and deceitful.
James Wang is a media commentator.
Translated by Drew Cameron
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