In a history course I’m taking this semester, we got talking about the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests today. It was a good talk, but I couldn’t resist raising a point of irritation I’ve always had about the media coverage of the event. It has to do with this iconic image:
Whenever I’ve seen the video of that moment, it has always stopped short and faded away. I used to quite naturally assume, “Why, he must get crushed. They’d never show something so graphic.” But then things like Wikipedia and YouTube cropped up. This provided me the perfect opportunity to find out the details.
I started with Wikipedia. I didn’t particularly want to see the guy get crushed, but I wanted to know more about what the protests were all about, what happened to the guy’s family, who he was, etc, etc. To my surprise, I read this:
As the tank driver attempted to go around him, the “Tank Man” moved into the tank’s path. He continued to stand defiantly in front of the tanks for some time, then climbed up onto the turret of the lead tank to speak to the soldiers inside. After returning to his position in front of the tanks, the man was pulled aside by a group of people.
…huh? Really? Had the media been lying to me all this time? I thought the man had been crushed by the tank. Why the fuck else wouldn’t they show the whole video? Ever? Does the media really think the moment needs to be augmented? Wasn’t the man courageous as hell regardless of whether or not he was crushed?
To my surprise, a number of other students also noted the same point. They had always grown up assuming the man had been run over by the tank. Given the basic dishonesty of the media here, it’s a rational assumption. Furthermore, the protesters did face violence, resulting in likely thousands of deaths. Some even were crushed by tanks.
Just not this guy.