The misleading media

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.

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6 Responses

  1. I don’t recall everyone assuming he was killed at the time it happened, but recall is a poor indicator.

  2. He really should have been run over. I’d certainly be tempted if someone played this game in front of my car.

  3. There is that “I only count, fuck everyone else” attitude.

  4. Hey, I’m just saying, if you lay down with dogs you get up with fleas. If you taunt giant moving pieces of metal you get run over. It’s not exactly rocket surgery.

  5. 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.

    I recall it as you describe it, with the tanks stopping and the “tank man” talking to the soldiers.

    As to the wisdom of doing so, brave folk for thousands of years have realized the efficacy of Non-Violent Direct Actions like this.

    It’s one thing to take out a bunch of rebels who are shooting back at you. Kill or be killed. But it’s another thing altogether to deliberately cause harm to a deliberately non-violent person. “A soft answer turns away anger,” the Bible tells us.

    Does it always work? No, of course not. But then, neither does violence.

  6. Based on a report on a PBS show (Frontline? — can’t recall), Tank Man was last seen being hustled away by other men, in such a way as to suggest he was gotten out of the picture by sympathizers before the security people could get to him.

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