Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Fishin' Blues
It turns out that loonballs wanting to get press for their aluminum foil hat theories aren't confined to Shenzhen's expat population.
Yesterday I logged on and called up the day's first story. It was a "science" article with an unfamiliar Chinese byline for part of a special section we publish on Wednesdays for Chinese middle and high school English students .
The proposed headline immediately caught my eye:"Human speech originated with fish".
For a moment I thought I was back at Weekly World News.
I read further and learned that contrary to what I'd gleaned from Mrs. Grill and Mr. Bender, my junior high science teachers, prehistoric fish were "phonetic speakers" who formed "tribes" and "talked" with one another. And because human beings "evolved from fish", our power of speech is due to them.
Well, sure. Kind of a unique Chinese theory of de-evolution, I guessed, as fish - except for Nemo and his pals and Charlie Tuna - no longer talk and Flipper didn't count cuz he's technically a mammal.
Further investigation revealed that this exclusive scientific news came to us courtesy of a close friend of the SZ Daily's top dog. My Chinese coworkers whom I consulted agreed that, yes, it was also a unique theory that they'd also never encountered but since the head honcho wanted it printed, we'd better go ahead and do it.
But worse was to come. Did this "friend" have any scientific or academic credentials?
Well, no. Actually, he's a railroad manager. And by the way, he has another article for next week.
"Here it is. I do not think you are going like it," warned my coworker, as she handed me a fax.
She was right.
"USA moon landing was 20th Century's biggest lie!" What followed appeared to be the usual hodgepodge of psuedo-science ripped directly from the plethora of ameoba-brained websites devoted to the topic.
"We can't print this," I sputtered. "This guy is nuts. This isn't responsible journalism. It's garbage. The paper will lose face if we print stuff like this."
I was told that the top editor was unavailable for consultation and urged just to "polish" the talking fish story and forget about it until later.
"Maybe the writer will get a promotion if he has a story published," ventured one colleague.
"It's not our job to get him a promotion, is it? Besides, what does running a railroad have to do with talking fish?"
She just smiled apologetically and went back to her desk.
Over lunch another coworker told me that it's best not to rock the boat.
"In China journalists have to do many things we don't want to do, but we are paid better than the average person. We just do what we have to do and then go home. Do you know what a journalist is called here?"
"Scumbag? What? No, I do not know that word. 'A king without a crown.'"
Fellow crownless barbarian coworker Jeff went ballistic when I told him about the fish and the NASA hoax stories shortly after he arrived for his night shift.
To make a long fish story short, we formed a Gang of Two and appealed to the Comics Lady (who also oversees the Wednesday school kids section) to appeal to the editor.
"What is wrong with the story?" she asked.
"It's all bloody rubbish is what's bloody wrong!" Jeff said as his voice rose.
She asked me to underline any facts in the story.
I underlined two. The guy's byline and one estimating the geologic era in which scientists believe fish first emerged.
"That is all?"
"Assuming that's his real name, yes, that's all."
She disappeared with the story and returned about 30 minutes later with good news.
"We will use another story. The writer will be told he must have more proof if he wants us to publish this."
In other words, he's going on another fishing expedition.

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