Analysis: Why Xi Jinping’s summit with Barack Obama is more important than you may think

Analyzing the summit for CCTV.

Analyzing the summit for CCTV. You can watch the entire Dialogue program here.

This week’s summit meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama has been overshadowed in the United States by the historic visit by Pope Francis — and then the sudden resignation of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner. But the China-U.S. summit is likely to have broader and longer-lasting implications on both the global economy and geopolitical matters.

Here is my analysis of the high stakes and — at least for leaders in China — high hopes for the summit. It is in a Q&A format based on questions formulated by China Radio International designed to stimulate a roundtable discussion on its Today program.

Q: Xi Jinping’s first speech upon arriving in Seattle was peppered with U.S. cultural references, including the film Sleepless in Seattle and the television series House of Cards. He also shared some personal experiences, like his life as a visiting student in Iowa. Do you think the personal touches went down well with his American audience?

China US flags

A: It’s always good to drop a few cultural references — though I will say that House of Cards may be more popular in China than it is in the U.S. At Tsinghua University, where I work in the Global Business Journalism program, everyone wants to know if it’s an accurate depiction of American politics and journalism.

More seriously, President Xi definitely connected with his business audience of leaders of major technology companies — and I think that is a big win for future partnerships with the tech and aerospace industries.

Q: Since China and the U.S. established diplomatic ties, only four Chinese presidents have paid state visits to the U.S.: Li Xianian in 1985, Jiang Zemin in 1997, and Hu Jintao in 2006 and 2011. We now have the fifth. How different is this one: what has changed and what remains the same in bilateral relations?

A: The biggest visit from a Chinese leader was not even a state visit, it was from Deng Xiaoping, who was vice chairman, not president.

What is the same? The desire of the leaders of both countries to deepen economic and cultural ties. The differences: the end of the Cold War, the rise of China’s economy (even with current uncertainties) and the increasing importance of China on the global diplomatic and military front. Also, for much of the relationship, China and the U.S. used each other as a wedge against the Soviet Union and then Russia. Now China and Russia are closer in a geopolitical sense than China and the U.S.

Presidents Obama and Xi walk from the White House to Blair House for dinner on Sept. 24.

Presidents Obama and Xi walk from the White House to Blair House for dinner on Sept. 24.

Q: Apart from political rhetoric and media outcries, what really makes the two giants like each other and what turns them apart?

A: The leaders like each other. The countries share mutual respect, win-win economic ties and a concern for future of the world economy. The issues that drive them apart include economic competition, Taiwan, U.S. criticism about human rights issues and U.S. military alliances (particularly with Japan).

Q: Is there anything special about the personal relationship between Obama and Xi Jinping? They twice have discussed ideologies and history. The pictures of them walking on the Sunnylands Ranch in 2013 and their late evening stroll indicates some mutual understanding of the top jobs.

A: They have definitely connected on an intellectual level and it’s clear from the body language that they like and respect each other. You don’t see the same thing when President Obama and Russian President Putin get together.

Q: Xi Jinping’s visit comes at a time when geopolitical conditions in East Asia have evolved to a very subtle point. The Obama administration declared to its “Pivot-to-Asia” diplomacy shift in 2012. Tensions have been growing in the region with Shinzo Abe seeking to expand Japan’s overseas military role and several Southeast Asian nations embroiling themselves into a territorial dispute with Beijing. Is the timing of the trip too tough?

A: There’s never a perfect time for a trip. Japanese assertiveness on military matters, issues in the South and East China Seas, cyberspying all have created some tensions. The slowdown of China’s growth also has created some uncertainty on the economic side. But there are many important things the two countries can do to benefit each other and the world situation, economically and geopolitically.

Q: How does China fit into the current global strategy of the United States? And vice versa?

A: That’s a complicated pair of questions. The U.S. has not taken part in the AIIB — the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank — and tried, thus far unsuccessfully, to launch a Trans-Pacific Partnership anchored by the U.S., Japan and Korea. But despite those problems, both countries are eager to welcome investment from the other nation to help grow jobs in their countries. And both are interested in improving the economies of Africa, where both have invested a substantial amount of soft-power capital.

In terms of geopolitics, the U.S. believes that China is a key player in resolving almost all of the most difficult international issues of the day, from the Korean Peninsula to the Middle East. The U.S. wants China as a leading player and not a marginalized actor.

Q: China has been very active in recent years on both political and economic fronts. Despite a global economic slowdown, China still manages to maintain a GDP growth at around 7 percent over the years and is now the world’s second largest economy, right after the U.S. Since Xi Jinping came to power, China has proposed several international cooperation mechanisms such as the AIIB, the New Development Bank, the Land and Maritime Silk Road Initiative and so on, taking more responsibility in regional and international affairs. What do you make of the U.S. reaction to this?

A: I think the U.S. should be more welcoming and more cooperative — while realizing that some tension and competition is natural. I’m not sure how much of this reflects the concerns of Japan about China’s growing influence and how much is Washington policymakers’ policy concerns. The world economy should allow for both nations to grow — it’s not a zero-sum game.

The two presidents take questions from the U.S. and Chinese media on Sept. 25.

The two presidents take questions from the U.S. and Chinese media on Sept. 25.

Q: How much damage has been caused by conflicts between the two?

A: There have always been tensions and there still are. Taiwan was and will be a continuing strain, but the strain has been handled by both nations with mutual effort. Both nations have accused the other of spying, and they have had strong words about military actions in the South China and seas. But they have kept their disagreements civil and kept them in perspective. The shared goals of the two nations are much more important than the continuing differences.

Q: What’s the way to bring China-U.S. relations to a new level while properly handling these conflicts?

A: Agree to disagree about some things and work on the issues where progress can be made. A bilateral investment treaty is good for both countries and should not be blocked because of American fears about cybersecurity. However, international companies need to reach a comfort level that their trade secrets would not be compromised if they do business in China.

Q: China and the U.S. both shoulder responsibilities in dealing with major international issues, like the Iran nuclear issue, the North Korean nuclear issue, climate change and so on. What’s a more constructive way for the two sides to cooperate in order to solve these difficult problems?

A: I would hope that we hear more about this from President Xi at the United Nations. The key thing is more and higher-profile Chinese involvement alongside the U.S. and Russia. Korea is a very difficult problem and can only be resolved if China and the U.S. are in complete agreement about the future of the peninsula.

Q: Leaders from both countries have been exchanging visits regularly in history. When people reflect back in the future, how do you think they will think about this visit?

A: To use President Xi’s words, it was the first summit of the major-power relationship era. In my view, the most important meetings between the nation’s leaders were in 1972, when President Nixon came to Beijing, 1979, with Deng Xiaoping, when China was beginning to reshape its economy, and 1998, when Bill Clinton visited China as China was emerging as a global economic power. To me, this is the logical fourth leg of the chair — and could steady the relationship for the decade to come, whoever is elected president of the U.S. next year.

Photo opp with CRI crew and fellow guests after the Today program on Sept. 25.

Photo op with CRI crew and fellow guests after the Today program on Sept. 25. You can listen here.

Q: Several economic deals are being announced this week during the visit, including companies such as Boeing and Cisco. How significant are these deals? Can economic and trade links still function as the main stabilizer of the overall China-U.S. relations?

A: Yes. Economic ties and trade not only will help the two nations but the global economy. The world economy may be more dependent on Chinese economic growth than U.S., particularly nations of Africa and Central and East Asia.

Q: Moody’s Analytics’ chief economist has calculated that every 1 percentage point drop in Chinese growth reduces U.S. economic growth by 0.2 percent. This is equal to the price of oil going up $20 a barrel. How interrelated and interdependent are the two economies?

A: I agree with Moody’s. Of course, the Chinese people are hurt more than the American people by any slump in the Chinese economy, but there is a ripple effect in this interdependent world. I think that the African and East Asian economies would suffer more by a prolonged slump in China, but the U.S. would feel it.

Q: China has been on a path towards reforming its economy. How important are China’s economic reforms to the U.S. economy and that of the world?

A: Internal reform in China is important to the U.S. — not reform for reform’s sake, but reform that makes the Chinese economy more efficient and reform that creates more disposable income in China and more markets for global goods. Also, reforms in rule of law and protection of intellectual property are very important to the U.S. and the rest of the world.

Q: Given the moves last month on the value of the RMB, how much of an issue is that in the relationship now?

A: Although some Republican presidential candidates have criticized China’s devaluation of the RMB as currency manipulation, most global economists do not believe that, and neither does the Obama administration. This was a legitimate issue in 1999, but times have changed. The IMF has stated that the RMB has shown signs of floating with the market, and I think the U.S. administration appreciates that.

The first families wave from the Truman Balcony at the White House.

The first families wave from the Truman Balcony at the White House.

Q: China and the U.S. respectively have proposed different international economic entities. China proposed the AIIB and the New Development Bank, while the U.S. is pushing forward with the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In what ways can these two countries and these different entities cooperate, especially in terms of global financial institutions reform?

A: It would be ideal to unify these partnerships, and I think that is likely at some time. But it might take a decade or more. International financial institutions are in serious need of reform. I’m not optimistic that such reform is coming in the near term, but it is inevitable in the long term.

Q: The U.S. Federal Reserve recently made a decision to delay an interest rate rise. How much did China’s current economic situation factor into the decision?

A: It played a role — along with the continuing economic softness in Europe. The Fed is ready to raise rates, but it remembers when its rate increases in previous decades created panic in Mexico and other emerging markets. So it is acting more cautious now. However, rate hikes are a near certainty over the next year.

Q: How does the decision affect the Chinese economy? How much should the Fed take such affects into account when making these decisions about the U.S. economy?

A: The impact should be minor, more psychological than real, more based on speculation than reality.

Q: In recent times, U.S. companies and business associations have mentioned issues of market access, national security and cyber-security laws, and potential requirements to hand over corporate security materials. Chinese tech companies like Huawei faces similar problems in the U.S. What can be done about this?

A: Talk about it honestly and openly, as has been going on. Agreeing on a treaty that would provide “rules of the road” for cybersecurity. That’s a first step. The agreement may not be unveiled this week, but a framework for future action is possible.

Q: Another on-going item is the bilateral investment treaty, or BIT, between the two nations. What are the main challenges, and how should they be overcome?

A: The main challenges are rule of law, cybersecurity, openness of U.S. markets to Chinese companies and openness of Chinese markets, particularly financial, to U.S. companies. Prolonged negotiations will be needed to resolve them, but both sides want to achieve results, so I’d be optimistic.

Q: In terms of a compromise, might we see a type of “cyber arms deal” being reached, which would help establish which kinds of cyber attacks could be outlawed – attacks on civilian infrastructure, for example?

A: Yes, that’s exactly right. Government on government spying has always existed. But companies want assurances that they will be able to do business without fear of corporate espionage.

XI Jinping is honored in Iowa, where he lived several decades ago.

Before becoming China’s president, Xi Jinping visited Iowa, where he lived several decades ago.

Q: One of China’s most wanted economic fugitives – Yang Jinyun – was returned to the country by the U.S. last week. This marked the first time China has succeeded in repatriating a wanted corruption suspect from the U.S., with whom it has no extradition treaty. Has Yang Jinyun’s repatriation laid an important foundation for bilateral cooperation, or is it just a separate move done only as an olive branch for a presidential trip?

A: It is symbolic but it also is part of a series of concrete actions by the United States to help China in cases of corruption-related fugitives. The U.S. Justice Department has shown a willingness to help China deal with corruption cases, which are different than political cases.

Q: Beyond all specifics, the fundamental question has always been: What does the rise of China mean to the USA, and vice versa? What should Xi Jinping say to Obama? “I have no intention to challenge the existing world order.” What should Obama say to Xi Jinping? “Play the second fiddle.”

A: No, there is no need to talk about who is number one and who is number two. It is the most important bilateral relationship in the world. The leaders must show each other and their nation’s respect. I think that exists. Xi Jinping doesn’t have to make any assurances about the existing world order. The new world order is emerging — and everyone knows it. There is no reason for irrational concern on either nation’s part. The leadership of both countries — economic, diplomatic and moral — is vital.

>> Link to CCTV Dialogue program:

>> Link to CRI Today program:

Who said it? Xi Jinping or … George Bush, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Nancy Pelosi or Henry Kissinger?

Images of Xi Jinping at the Sept. 3 military victory parade were shared around the world. But who is the Chinese leader and what does he stand for?

Images of Xi Jinping at the Sept. 3 military victory parade were shared around the world. But who is the Chinese leader and what does he stand for?

Chinese President Xi Jinping is coming to the United States, and very few Americans (or even American journalists) know much about the leader of the nation’s most populous country.

With apologies to Vladimir Putin, he has been called the most powerful leader in the world. But what does that mean?

Is Xi a reformer? Is he a hardliner? Is he a step forward, a step back — or both? Is he firmly in control or fearful of rivals within the ruling elite — or both? Is “Big Daddy Xi” widely popular or the beneficiary of a manufactured cult of personality?

As much as I’ve learned about China over the past two years, I still have a lot to learn. For additional background, I recommend you check out my former Philadelphia Inquirer colleague Jim Mann’s recent commentary in the Washington Post:

For American pundits, China isn’t a country. It’s a fantasyland.

In the meantime, test your knowledge of who Xi Jinping is — and isn’t — by taking this news quiz. Which of these statements are from Xi and which are from other world figures? Good luck.

For answers, scroll to the bottom of the post, after the final photo. Click on the quotations to read the original source material.

President Barack Obama and Xi Jinping have been careful to treat the other with respect and discuss fundamental disagreements without alienating the other nation's leadership.

President Barack Obama and Xi Jinping have been careful to treat the other with respect and discuss fundamental disagreements without alienating the other nation’s leadership.

Who said the following?


1. Japan is “eating our lunch.”

a) Xi Jinping

b) Donald Trump

c) Paul Prudhomme


2. “(We must) make terrorists become like rats scurrying across a street, with everybody shouting ‘beat them!’

a) Xi Jinping

b) George W. Bush

c) Donald Rumsfeld


3. “Some foreigners with full bellies and nothing better to do engage in finger-pointing at us.”

a) Xi Jinping

b) Pat Buchanan

c) Chris Christie


4. “America must be a light to the world, not just a missile.

a) Xi Jinping

b) Barack Obama

c) Nancy Pelosi

d) George H.W. Bush


5. A cooperative United States-China relationship is “essential to global stability and peace.

a) Xi Jinping

b) Barack Obama

c) Henry Kissinger


6. “To build a community of common destiny, we need to pursue common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security.”

a) Xi Jinping

b) George W. Bush

c) Margaret Thatcher

d) Ronald Reagan


7. “Our people love life and expect better education, more stable jobs, better income, more reliable social security, medical care of a higher standard, more comfortable living conditions, and a more beautiful environment.

a) Xi Jinping

b) Pope Francis

c) Raul Castro

d) Barack Obama


8. “Japan is not being nice to us.

a) Xi Jinping

b) Donald Trump

c) Franklin D. Roosevelt

d) Theodore Roosevelt


9. “Resolute and decisive measures must be taken and high pressure must be maintained to crack down on violent terrorists who have been swollen with arrogance.

a) Xi Jinping

b) Barack Obama

c) Binyamin Netanyahu


10. “I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction. They won’t get in our way.

a) Xi Jinping

b) Barack Obama

c) Binyamin Netanyahu


11. “The international forces are shifting in a way that is more favorable to maintaining world peace.”

a) Xi Jinping

b) Shinzō Abe

c) Barack Obama

c) Hassan Rohani


12. “We should uphold the idea that working hard is the most honorable, noblest, greatest and most beautiful virtue.

a) Xi Jinping

b) Margaret Thatcher

c) Marco Rubio

d) Ronald Reagan


13. “When did we beat Japan at anything?

a) Xi Jinping

b) Donald Trump

c) Michael Keaton in “Mr. Mom”

d) The captain of the U.S. Olympic baseball team


14. “Our strength comes from the people and masses. We deeply understand that the capability of any individual is limited, but as long as we unite as one, there is no difficulty that we cannot overcome.

a) Xi Jinping

b) Bernie Sanders

c) Mao Zedong

d) Ronald Reagan


15. “Economic growth … is going to come from the private sector. But the No. 1 thing government can do to encourage that growth is get out of the way.

a) Xi Jinping

b) Deng Xiaoping

c) Ted Cruz


16. “As Deng Xiaoping said, we must ‘seek truth from facts.’

a) Xi Jinping

b) Barack Obama

c) George H.W. Bush



17. “People should not underestimate me.”

a) Xi Jinping

b) George W. Bush

c) Bernie Sanders

d) Vladimir Putin


18. “The Communist Party is keenly aware one of the reasons its predecessor in China, the Nationalists, lost the Chinese civil war in 1949 was because of the terrible corruption under their rule, costing them public support.

a) Xi Jinping

b) Henry Kissinger

c) Jim Mann, American journalist and author of The China Fantasy

d) Wang Jiarui, head of the Communist Party of China’s international department


19. “When China and the United States work together, we can be an anchor for world stability and the propeller of world peace.

a) Xi Jinping

b) George W. Bush

c) Dan Quayle

d) Rick Perry


20. “Our two nations are poised to take an historic step forward on the path of peaceful cooperation and economic development. I’m confident that our trip will be a significant success, resulting in a stronger U.S.-China relationship than before. For Americans, this will mean more jobs and a better chance for a peaceful world.

a) Xi Jinping

b) Barack Obama

c) John Kerry

d) Ronald Reagan


Answers below this photo.

XI Jinping is honored in Iowa, where he lived several decades ago.

XI Jinping is honored in Iowa, where he lived several decades ago.

1.b; 2.a; 3.a; 4.c; 5.c; 6.a; 7.a; 8.b; 9.a; 10.c; 11.a; 12.a; 13.b; 14.a; 15.c; 16.b; 17.c; 18.d; 19.a ; 20.d

Remembering Ken Reigner: A life of passion for politics, words and friends

Last Saturday, my good friend Ken Reigner died just a few hours before we were scheduled to meet for dinner. Ken was one of the first people Pamela Tobey and I met when we moved to Washington in 1984 and he was part of many of our important life events, including our wedding, family holiday gatherings and even Adirondack vacations at the Dunham family compound. Here is my tribute to Ken’s life, written with the indispensable reporting of Michael Gessel and John McDiarmid.

In the fall of 1983, Ken Reigner was shocked to learn that NBC News had canceled one of his favorite programs, the critically acclaimed but ratings-challenged NBC News Overnight.

“It was just as if someone had shot me through with electricity,” the red-haired Michigander with insatiable energy and righteous passion told The New Yorker in December 1983. “I was dumbfounded. After that, it was like being in an accident. A couple of minutes went by before I knew where I was.”

Ken Reigner at the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.

Ken Reigner at the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.

But while most people would have accepted the program’s fate with disappointment and sorrow, Reigner, already a veteran of four presidential campaigns, decided to fight back.

“Somebody had to start up a movement to save the show,” he decided.

In the days before the Internet, email and social media, Reigner led a crusade to save NBC News Overnight. He led a candle-light vigil in front of NBC’s Washington studios, shared his outrage by calling in to Larry King’s nationwide radio show, organized a letter-writing campaign to NBC Chairman Grant Tinker and even demonstrated his support by distributing campaign-style buttons to members of the show’s audience one night.

“We noticed yellow ‘Save NBC News Overnight’ buttons on an increasing number of chests as the night wore on,” James Lardner wrote later in The New Yorker, “and we traced them to a tote bag carried by a bright-faced man named Kenneth Reigner.”

That bright-faced man, who led a number of crusades during more than four decades as a political campaigner, congressional staffer, writer and editor, died in his sleep at his home in Greenbelt, Md., on Aug. 8. He was 66.

“Crusading was what Ken was best at and enjoyed most — crusading for political candidates in campaigns, crusading for NBC News Overnight, crusading to save Washington Independent Writers,” said John F. McDiarmid, his partner of 16 years and Professor Emeritus of British and American Literature
at New College of Florida. “He could build up tremendous energy and zeal for crusading.”

Described by friends as “naturally enthusiastic,’ Mr. Reigner was accomplished in both the political sphere and the world of Washington writers. He was a former congressional press secretary, presidential campaign radio specialist and Democratic National Convention media operations fixture. He also was the founder and owner of CompuMedia Business Services, a two-term president of Washington Independent Writers, a freelance radio producer for several segments aired on National Public Radio and a tireless advocate for health-care and social safety net services for freelance writers facing tough economic times. One of his proudest “achievements” was earning a spot on one of President Richard M. Nixon’s infamous “enemies lists” along with fellow staffers and contributors to 1972 Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern.

“A remarkable person,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a prominent American author, communications professor and director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania who was a friend of Mr. Reigner’s for three decades after teaching him at the University of Maryland. “A sad loss.”

Paul Dickson, the author of more than 50 non-fiction books, called Mr. Reigner “a wonderful friend and a great person to work with when the going got tough. Watching him in action was to see a man of true determination working with the aid of a great smile and a deep sense of civility.”

Among Mr. Reigner’s ancestors was John Morton of Pennsylvania, a signer of the Declaration of Independence whose decision on July 1, 1776, to side with Benjamin Franklin against fellow Pennsylvanian John Dickinson cleared the way for final approval of independence. Two centuries later, Morton’s descendant entered the American political arena with the active encouragement of his family. Mr. Reigner always credited his mother Ann with instilling in him a keen interest in current events, politics and public service.

“I distinctly remember sitting with my mother when I was only three years old watching the 1952 Democratic and Republican National Conventions on television,” he recalled in 2004. “The message from my mother was loud and clear: this was important stuff that affected real people’s lives and I had better pay attention and learn about it.”

After decades of working on presidential campaigns, Mr. Reigner in 2000 helped his mother fulfill her lifelong ambition to attend a national convention by securing credentials for her to attend the Democratic convention in Los Angeles and hear the acceptance speech of party nominee Al Gore.

In a Washington culture often driven by ego and dominated by a lust for power, Mr. Reigner’s passion for life and his compassion for others made him an icon to many.

“Ken made life nicer for everyone he met,” said former National Press Club president Doug Harbrecht.

Mr. Reigner was born in Detroit, Mich., on May 20, 1949, to Mollie Ann Pocock Reigner and Hal Morton Reigner, a Ford Company engineer. He grew up in Battle Creek and Farmington, Mich., as the only son in a family with three sisters. As a boy, he was in a Battle Creek Cub Scout troop led by his mother. He once contemplated a life in the clergy and graduated from Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit in 1967.

Educated at Wayne State University and later the University of Maryland at College Park, he worked for four years as a retail sales manager at the J.L. Hudson Company in Detroit before moving to Washington in 1972 to pursue his passion for politics.

He worked in five presidential campaigns, starting as a volunteer for anti-war Democrat Eugene McCarthy in 1968 and ending as a volunteer for anti-war Democrat Howard Dean in 2004. He was employed as a radio press assistant three times: for 1972 Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern, 1976 nominee Jimmy Carter, and Carter’s 1980 Democratic challenger, Ted Kennedy.

In the days before digital broadcasting, Mr. Reigner was a master of the radio actuality, a short recording of a presidential candidate’s speeches, press conferences or interviews that Mr. Reigner taped, edited and then trained an army of volunteers to transmit by telephone to more than 2,000 radio stations and broadcast networks across the United States for use in their news programming. He produced audio commercials for the Democratic presidential candidates and assisted with distribution of video spots. During his decade of presidential politics, he estimated that he recruited, trained and supervised about 500 volunteers and staffers.

“I knew no one in the campaign more exacting, dedicated and passionate about his work than Ken,” Carter Radio Director Robert W. Maynes said.

Mr. Reigner was a seasoned spokesman for Democrats on Capitol Hill, serving as press secretary to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Warren G. Magnuson of Washington and Representatives Bob Matsui of California, John Burton of California, Mickey Leland of Texas and Mike Barnes of Maryland. He was employed as radio press assistant for Brendan Byrne’s 1973 campaign for governor of New Jersey. He also worked as Director of Public Information for the National Credit Union Administration and Communications Director at the Center for Environmental Education.

The devoted Democrat worked with the media at every Democratic national convention from 1976 to 2012, the last seven times as one of the managers in the convention’s office handling printing and distributing of advance speech texts, schedules and news advisories to the thousands of members of the press corps covering the convention.

“Ken loved politics,” said John McDiarmid. “He was passionately and intelligently committed to liberal political causes.”

The Nixon

The Nixon “Enemies List” through the pen of legendary Los Angeles Times political cartoonist Paul Conrad.

Mr. Reigner’s top political heroes were South Dakota Senator George McGovern and Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, both unsuccessful presidential candidates. He considered Richard M. Nixon the nation’s worst president—and earned a spot on one of of Nixon’s enemies lists.

“Not the first-string list, he would modestly point out, but the longer list that he got on by working for the McGovern campaign,” added Mr. McDiarmid.

Although he made rather a bad enemy of the president known to many as Tricky Dick, Mr. Reigner also had friends in high places. Among those who agreed to serve as job references for him were Vice President Walter Mondale and National Transportation Safety Board Chairman James B. King.

In 1986 Mr. Reigner founded his own writing and editing business, which he operated in suburban Maryland until his death. Over three decades, he edited hundreds of books, articles, academic papers, theses and dissertations, and wrote countless résumés.

“He was passionate about the use of the English language,” said Mr. McDiarmid. “He was knowledgeable and judicious about grammar and style, a hard-working, meticulous editor.”

Mr. Reigner was active in the independent writers movement in the national capital region, working to strengthen networking among freelance writers and editors and to help writers who faced financial or medical crises. He joined the Board of Directors of Washington Independent Writers (WIW), then the largest regional writers’ organization in the United States, in 1997. (WIW was renamed American Independent Writers in 2008, then dissolved 2011.)

When first elected to the WIW board of directors, he was named chairman of the WIW Technology Committee. In that position, he organized annual technology conferences at Washington’s University Club. He chaired technology panels at WIW’s annual Spring Writers Conference at the National Press Club and George Washington University.

Mr. Reigner received the Philip M. Stern Award, WIW’s highest honor, in 2000 “for his exceptional service in bringing WIW into the Electronic Age.” The award is named for the investigative journalist, author, early benefactor and founder of WIW.

A year later, in response to a move to dismantle the WIW main office, he ran for WIW president at the head of a “Save WIW” slate including well-known writers Paul Dickson, Beryl Benderly and others. Swept into office in a landslide, Mr. Reigner served two terms before retiring in 2003.

“For hundreds and hundreds of us, WIW was pivotal to building our careers, and Ken, by leading the ‘Save WIW’ ticket to resounding victory over a board that wanted to dismantle the downtown office, allowed it to continue prospering for an additional decade,” said Ms. Benderly.

As WIW president, Mr. Reigner worked with leaders of other writers’ groups and journalism organizations, particularly future National Press Club President Rick Dunham, to offer first-rate training programs for Washington area writers that focused on technology skills and job opportunities.

Ms. Benderly recalls—“vividly”—meeting Mr. Reigner at the National Press Club on a Friday night in April as dissatisfaction with the incumbent WIW board festered.

“The question arose of who would lead the campaign and take on the onerous and time-consuming role of the president who would have to rebuild the shattered organization,” she recalled. “We were all freelancers, so time was very important to us. Nobody came forward to do that.

“Eventually, Ken stepped forward to take on the burden. I don’t think that most people in the crowd knew him. I know that I didn’t. He was younger than most of us and hadn’t been that active. But that didn’t matter, because he seemed sincere in his outrage and his affection for [former staff director] Isolde [Chapin] and, mainly, he was willing to do it. So the ‘Save WIW’ slate was born that night.”

As a candidate, Mr. Reigner brought his organizational and messaging skills to a much smaller electorate.

“To the shock of our adversaries, who had absolutely no idea what was afoot, we put the plan into effect, completely blindsiding them,” said Ms. Benderly. “Ken, of course, knew what to do and relished the fight, as did we all. We raised money among ourselves to send a letter (by mail) to every member–about 1,500 as I recall. And we divided up the telephone directory—literally gave out pages to different people — and together our group and our supporters personally phoned every member to ask for their vote.

“When the votes were counted, we utterly crushed them, electing our entire slate by huge margins.”

George Bailey's in trouble. With WIW, like Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, the good guys won in the end.

George Bailey’s in trouble. With WIW, like Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, the good guys won in the end.

Ms. Benderly calls the “Save WIW” campaign her “Frank Capra moment,” like the scene from It’s a Wonderful Life in which the community unites to the cry of “George Bailey’s in trouble?”

“I keenly feel the loss of my partner in those glorious days of doing the right thing for our fellow writers simply because it was the right thing,” said Ms. Benderly. “Ken had such a big heart and because of it played an absolutely crucial role in WIW at an absolutely crucial time.”

As passionate as he was about politics, Mr. Reigner was equally passionate about words and music. His favorite entertainers—David Letterman, Jon Stewart and Garrison Keillor—were masters of intelligent conversation and piercing wit. His favorite authors—including the historians David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin and the journalist and biographer David Maraniss—are masterful storytellers with an eye for detail.

His musical tastes ran the gamut from Rosemary Clooney to Janis Joplin. He loved theater and was a volunteer with the Ushers group in the Washington area. He also was proud to be a member of MENSA. For years, his Maryland license plate was “HIGH IQ.”

Always on the cutting edge of technology, Mr. Reigner was among the first Washingtonians to have a car phone, a cell phone, a personal computer, an email address and an Internet access account. But his first love was always radios.

“He was interested in computers but loved radio technology,” said Mr. McDiarmid. “He was the first person I have ever traveled with who pointed out different kinds of radio towers we passed. I gave him a radio towers calendar one year.”

Mr. Reigner died of natural causes on the 41st anniversary of Richard Nixon’s resignation speech. A year earlier, he and longtime friend Rick Dunham had toasted the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s disgrace.

Mr. Reigner is survived by Mr. McDiarmid, a resident of Falls Church, Va., and three sisters, Judith A. Crowe of York, Pa; Susan M. Justice of Seal Beach, Calif., and Beth Reigner of Garden City, Kan.

A memorial service is planned for later this year.

His ashes are likely to be interred alongside his parents in the suburbs of Detroit, a city he loved faithfully even after it hit hard times.

In lieu of flowers, Mr. Reigner’s family asks friends to consider donations to two organizations that provide financial support to freelance writers in financial crisis: the Author’s League Fund and the American Society of Journalists and Authors’ Writers Emergency Assistance Fund.

American Society of Journalists and Authors, Writers Emergency Assistance Fund

Donate online at or mail a check made out to the ASJA Charitable Trust to:

Writers Emergency Assistance Fund


355 Lexington Ave, 15th Floor

New York, NY 10017-6603


The Authors League Fund

Donate online at or make checks out to The Authors League Fund and mail to its office:

Attn: Isabel Howe, Executive Director

The Authors League Fund

31 East 32nd Street, 7th Floor

New York, NY 10016

– 30 –

Global Business Journalism students are improving the quality of journalism in China and around the world

A talented group of global journalists, including the first graduates from Nepal, Jamaica and Ukraine.

A talented group of global journalists, including the first graduates from Nepal, Jamaica and Ukraine.

I am so excited about the opportunities I have had in China to work with journalism students — both international and Chinese — and professional journalists to improve the caliber of reporting and writing in China, and to prepare us all for the Brave New World of journalism in the Digital Age. Here is a transcript of my speech at the July 10 commencement of the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication Global Business Journalism Program.

Speaking to the 2015 graduating class of the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua University.

Speaking to the 2015 graduating class of the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua University.

I am honored, on behalf of the faculty of the Global Business Journalism Program, to congratulate you on your successful completion of graduate studies at the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication graduation.

It indeed has been an adventure – a voyage of discovery – for all of us. You represent the best of China and the best of the world.

Over the past eight years, students from more than 50 countries have studied together, worked together, gotten to know each other here in the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua University. Ours is a vibrant tapestry of cultures and ideas. You have been exposed to new perspectives, whether they are from the minds of brilliant Chinese professors or veteran international journalists who have plied their trade at the highest levels in the United States and around the world. All of us have gained a better understanding of the rapidly changing world we are inheriting, the rise of China and the rapid transformation of its economy, the complicated dynamics of our interdependent global business world, the rapid transformation of our own world of journalism and the imperative to learn new multimedia and data skills to compete in the emerging journalism marketplace. You have been tested with rigor. You have passed the test. I am so proud of you.

Eight years ago, the Global Business Journalism Master’s Degree Program was just a dream, an idea conceived by some exceptionally creative souls at Tsinghua University in Beijing and at the International Center for Journalists in Washington. In just a few years, it has gained tremendous respect throughout China and around the world, attracting renowned international scholars and Pulitzer Prize winning journalists to work with our students and share their wisdom and their skills.

From the beginning, the GBJ program has been nurtured by the invaluable and incalculable support of Bloomberg News, with its unprecedented gift of ten of its priceless terminals, a series of guest lecturers and events, and a wonderful faculty member named Lee Miller.

One of Tsinghua's finest, Zhang Sihan, is heading to Columbia University to pursue a dual master's program in journalism and public policy.

One of Tsinghua’s finest, Zhang Sihan, is heading to Columbia University to pursue a dual master’s program in journalism and public policy.

And special thanks to my partner in the program, Dr. Hang Min, for her support, her wisdom and her guidance in making the GBJ program an invaluable resource for global journalism. Under her leadership, we have offered some of the most advanced classes in communication theory, as well as practical, advanced skills that will help our graduates succeed in their chosen field of endeavor, whether that be global business journalism, business, journalism, or something else somewhere on this globe.

By setting exacting standards and requiring rigorous coursework, the GBJ Program has helped to improve business journalism in China by training a new generation of highly qualified journalists specializing in economics and business. Our Chinese graduates now work at some of the most important media outlets in China, such as China Daily, Xinhua News Service, CCTV, and Radio Beijing, as well as at important international media outlets such as Bloomberg News.

That is a testament to the quality of our alumni. It also is a testament to the iron will of friends in the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication who have exhibited an unwavering commitment to our success and our continuing growth. Dr. Shi Anbin has been a champion of our cause and a special mentor to me as a newly minted college professor. Thanks, Dean Shi, for everything you have done to make GBJ what it is today, and thanks to Dr. Jin Jianbin and other school officials for their support.

Of course, as all of us know in business journalism, you can’t have an entrepreneurial venture without some venture capital. I would like to thank our founding sponsor, Bank of America, for its steadfast commitment to the program since 2007.

I would like to close by quoting from my favorite philosopher, who happens to be my grandfather, Barrows Dunham. Despite a turbulent professional career that included an unwelcome appearance before the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee and a spot on the American blacklist during the Red Scare Era of the 1950s, my grandfather, a distinguished philosophy professor and internationally acclaimed author, never lost his sense of patriotism or optimism.

“Even now,” he once wrote, “we ourselves are determining the future, not by knowing what it will be, but by conceiving what it can be.”

None of us know what the future will hold. But with the knowledge we have gained at Tsinghua, the support of our families – and, yes, the Global Business Journalism family – we can conceive that better future.

Congratulations to the Tsinghua Global Business Journalism graduating class. Good luck to all of you. Thank you.

Pulitzer Prize winner Ken Herman encourages Tsinghua journalism students to ‘try different things’

Ken Herman (center) talks to Global Business Journalism Program students, flanked by Rick Dunham (left) and Sharon Jayson (right).

Ken Herman (center) talks to Global Business Journalism Program students, flanked by Rick Dunham (left) and Sharon Jayson (right).

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ken Herman encouraged students in Tsinghua University’s Global Business Journalism Program to experiment with the many new technological tools available to today’s reporters.

“Try different things,” Herman, a columnist at the Austin American-Statesman in Texas, said in a lecture on May 12. “Don’t be afraid to fail. Keep trying and you’ll get better.”

Herman and his wife Sharon Jayson, a longtime reporter for USA Today, spoke to Professor Rick Dunham’s Data Journalism and Multimedia Business Reporting classes at the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication. They told the stories of their award-winning journalism careers and advised students to master traditional news writing, audio, video and social media.

Jayson’s three-decade career has included stints as a television news reporter and anchor, a radio station reporter, a radio network Austin bureau chief and a newspaper journalist in Washington and Austin.

“I love journalism,” she said. “I’m glad to go to work every single day.”

Herman, who covered George W. Bush both during his days as governor of Texas and president of the United States, won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1977 for a series of stories in the Lufkin (Texas) News investigating the death of a young recruit in the U.S. military. The series led to congressional hearings and changes in American military recruiting practices. For the past six years, he has written a newspaper column that sometimes covers serious policy topics and often uses humor to make his points.

“I feel it is important to tell people what is going on in their government – or just entertain them,” he said.

Herman was one of the first print reporters to supplement his reports with multimedia elements such as video and audio. He said that some of his early efforts at video journalism were “pretty bad.”

“Make mistakes,” he said. “I certainly did. But you’ll learn how to do it and you’ll get better.”

Jayson, who specialized in coverage of younger Americans and human relationships during her decade at USA Today, said she knew she wanted to be a reporter from the age of 12, when she worked on a newspaper at her school. She encouraged the students to follow their passion in life, like she did, even if it does not lead to material wealth.

“Don’t just accept something because you think you’re going to get rich,” she said.

Ken and Sharon in Tian'anmen Square, with the Forbidden City in the background.

Ken and Sharon in Tian’anmen Square, with the Forbidden City in the background.

Ten tips to improve your news photography from a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner

Larry Price spoke to Global Business Journalism Program students on April 21. (Photo by Gaelle Patricia Chekma)

Larry Price spoke to Global Business Journalism Program students on April 21. (Photo by Gaelle Patricia Chekma)

Every year, the Pulitzer Prizes celebrate some of the world’s best journalism. Just hours after the 2015 Pulitzer winners were announced, my Global Business Journalism Program was fortunate to play host to a two-time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for photography. Larry C. Price, a University of Texas graduate who won the Pulitzer while working for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Philadelphia Inquirer, dazzled my Multimedia Reporting and Data Journalism students with tales from his latest project, a multi-year investigation into the use of child labor in gold mining. His work — entitled “Tarnished” — was published in eBook form by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.

Here are ten tips I culled from Larry’s lectures and the subsequent Q-and-A period. They are not a definitive list of “ten top tips.” They are just a collection of tips that I hope will be useful as you attempt to improve your photographic skills.

One of the many vivid photos from "Tarnished." This is from Larry Price's trip to a gold mining area of Burkina Faso.

One of the many vivid photos from “Tarnished.” This is from Larry Price’s trip to a gold mining area of Burkina Faso.

1. Always remember that you’re a storyteller.

Whatever publishing platform you’re on, and whatever visual medium you’re using, journalism is always about one thing. “It’s all about the stories,” Larry says. “Stories are as old as language. They’re everywhere. And journalism tells them.”

2. Look for something new — or a new take on an old image.

“Find something that hasn’t been done,” Larry says. “Or find a different spin on it.”

He says colleagues have sometimes discouraged him from shooting certain images, saying, “it’s been done.”

“My response is, ‘I haven’t done it,'” he says. “If somebody’s told the story, tell it differently.”

His example: a recent trip to Paris and a photo shoot at the Eiffel Tower.

The eBook "Tarnished" is available online from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.

The eBook “Tarnished” is available online from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.

3. Get up early. Stay late.

Larry doesn’t use artificial lighting. As a result, he is looking for the best natural light available. “If you want your multimedia productions to look good, shoot them early in the morning or a few minutes before sunset,” he says.

That means long days of work and short nights of sleep.

4. Get close.

Every photographer has her or his own signature. For Larry, it’s close-ups. “I love tight facial portraits,” he said. “Force yourself to get close.”

Another favorite subject for his close-ups: “Hands and feet. That’s what it’s all about.”

5. Get personal.

To make a subject comfortable with you — especially if you are going to shove your camera into their face — is to develop a personal relationship with them. “I spend a lot of time getting rapport established before I take out a camera,” Larry says. “I develop that rapport so it doesn’t get uncomfortable to your subject.”

Of course, you can’t always do this when news is breaking, but it can help improve your image if you have a bit of time to prepare.

6. Keep shooting.

“When I’m in the field, it’s constant activity,” Larry says. “Digital allows you to shoot, review, delete a lot.” Don’t let your guard down when you’re on duty: You never know when the next great photo opportunity might come. “You can’t ever relax,” he says. “It’s a never-ending cycle of feeling guilty.”

On his most recent trip to Burkina Faso, Larry returned with 37,000 frames. “I always have a lot of failures,” he notes. “I shoot a lot of pictures.”

7. Minimize your vertical shots.

Horizontal photographs work best on digital platforms, whether that’s a mobile device or a computer. And if you’re taking video, make sure it’s horizontal. “Never shoot vertical video,” warns Larry. “It’s useless. Half your space is wasted.” He rarely takes vertical stills, except for portraits. But he likes the square format popularized by Instagram. “Square is a very good portrait format — a little more artsy,” he says.

8. Stay natural.

Great photographers don’t cheat with editing programs that alter reality. “I don’t do a lot of Photoshop with my pictures,” he said. “I don’t exaggerate the colors or anything.”

9. Take good notes.

You need to have the spelling of names, correct ages and the locations of cities or villages. Larry always uses two notebooks. He also records the GPS coordinates of everything.

10. One old-fashioned photo composition rule.

“Don’t ever put people in the middle of the frame,” he says.

Matt Haldane has a front row seat for Larry Price's lecture at Tsinghua.

Matt Haldane has a front row seat for Larry Price’s lecture at Tsinghua.

Congratulations to 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner Lisa Falkenberg, who exposed injustice in Texas justice

Lisa Falkenberg gets a hug from Chron colleague Tony Freemantle after winning the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. (Photo by Steve Gonzales)

Lisa Falkenberg gets a hug from Chron colleague Tony Freemantle after winning the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. (Photo by Steve Gonzales)

What a thrilling way to start the day! On the morning I will host two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Larry Price in my Global Business Journalism classes at Tsinghua University, I wake up to news that my longtime Houston Chronicle colleague Lisa Falkenberg has won the 2015 Pulitzer for commentary.

Thoroughly deserved. Lisa’s compelling columns exposed deep injustices in the justice system. The scales of justice in Texas are weighted … and not in favor of the individual.

Many in Houston will note that this is the first Pulitzer Prize in the history of the Houston Chronicle. Yes, that is a historical footnote worth noting. But let’s not forget that this prize was given because Lisa described in a compelling and clear nature the deep, systemic flaws in the local criminal justice system. To honor Lisa, let’s have more than champagne. Let’s fix the perversions of justice that take place in Texas.

I can now say that I once covered an election from the cluttered cubicle of a Pulitzer Prize winner, when she was on maternity leave.

Have a great celebration with Mizanur and the family, Lisa. And let’s see if we can do something about the ills you exposed.


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