The headline for Patrick Smith‘s latest Salon op-ed is a good one: “Get Over Yourself, New York Times. You’re Not Standing Up to Anyone.”
But the first few sentences of his article might be even better:
They say fiction has had its day, given over to Brooklyn-dwellers with nothing to say. True and not. Our newspapers provide splendid fiction. It is a golden age.
From 1985 to 1992, Smith was the International Herald Tribune bureau chief in Hong Kong and then Tokyo. During that time, he also wrote “Letter from Tokyo” for the New Yorker.
He takes informed, cynical stock of the current struggles of the New York Times and Bloomberg News to get their China-correspondent visas renewed for 2014. Smith also candidly explains how he sometimes failed the related white-knight test:
My own batting average is one for three. I was expelled from Singapore in the early 1980s, and my magazine at the time, the regrettably defunct Far Eastern Economic Review, kept the bureau open and listed it on the masthead with a blank where the bureau chief’s name would have gone. This went on for years.
In Tokyo later for the International Herald Tribune, I wrote of the incestuous ties between the foreign ministry and the Japan Times, the leading English-language daily. Perfectly defensible, but my paper published an apology in the center of the editorial page (where demanded) because it was keen to sell papers in Japan.
Most recently, the aforementioned Matt Winkler caved to the Singaporeans when they alleged I had accused the city-state’s rulers of nepotism in a  Bloomberg column. I had not even mentioned the term — writing about nepotism in Singapore is like shooting at the side of a barn — but Winkler agreed to half a million dollars in penalties and fees, scrubbed the column from the archive and published a very awful apology.
Smith also passes on some advice for today’s generation of correspondents grappling with the China challenge:
“Write it until they fire you,” as someone once advised me. (I did and they did.)
Previously on FishbowlNY:
Time Beijing Bureau Chief on the Hazards of Her (Hopefully, Continuing) Job
- This NYT Staffer is Spending Thanksgiving in Cuba
- Le Monde Profiles Nikki Finke
- Time Inc. Gears Up for Third International Edition of People Magazine
- The Incredible Life of Vogue Illustrator Brian Stonehouse