Truth matters: A commencement address to Global Business Journalism Program graduates

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Here is the text of my address to the 2017 graduating class of the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua University on June 28, 2017.

大家好。Добрый день. Benvenuti. Welcome.

I am honored, on behalf of the International Center for Journalists and the international faculty of the Global Business Journalism Program, to congratulate all of you on your successful completion of your graduate studies.

You are a special group – the best young business journalism minds in China, along with a unique mixture of nations: Iran, Israel, Italy, Vietnam, Thailand, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Slovakia, Turkey, Russia, Canada, and the United States. Some of you already have made a mark on the world of business journalism during your Tsinghua years. I have great confidence that many more of you will have an impact in the years to come, in journalism systems as disparate as Iran, the United States and China.

All of us in this room have our differences – cultural, geographical, even political – but one thing that unites us is the search for truth. As Jim Asher, a 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner for his role in the Panama Papers investigation, said recently: “A world without facts can’t function.”

We live in an unsettling era when the concept of “truth” can be a matter of dispute. Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to Donald Trump, has declared that the White House is entitled to its own “alternative facts.” Whatever that means.

To the graduating class of 2017 and your proud professors, that’s just plain nonsense. We owe it to the public, whether we operate in the United States, China, or anywhere around the world, to share the truth, as best as we can tell it, and to explain what the truth means to our audience. As the 2017 National Press Club president, Jeffrey Ballou, said to fellow American journalists in Akron, Ohio: “Truth is not a game at all.”

The esteemed Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, in Братья Карамазовы, The Brothers Karamazov, summed up the predicament of the perpetual prevaricator. “The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie,” he wrote, “comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others.”

We must respect knowledge, respect truth, and respect ourselves. We owe it to the global public to use the knowledge we have gained about China and about global economics to provide our audiences with intelligent, insightful and factual reports. With your newfound expertise on the Chinese economy, globalization, corporate strategies and much more, you can communicate clearly and comprehensively, on any multimedia platform, about issues ranging from the Paris climate change accords to the Belt and Road Initiative.

One of my favorite philosophers, Nelson Mandela, said that “a good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.”

You have something very special – tools that you can use to make the world a more informed and a more just place. Because, as our dean, Liu Binjie, said in his speech welcoming many of you to the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication in September 2016, “Justice is the soul of the news.”

Barbara Cochran, my successor as president of the National Press Club Journalism Institute in Washington, reminds us that truth is an imperfect pursuit, and journalists are imperfect people. “All news organizations make mistakes from time to time,” she said recently, “but they are trying to tell the truth and generally do it well.”

Truth and justice. The Global Business Journalism program has been trying to live up to the highest international standards for the past 10 years. Since 2007, the GBJ program has combined rigorous academics with practical journalism training in a cross-cultural setting at one of the world’s great universities.

Thanks to the vision of brilliant minds such as Professor Li Xiguang, ICFJ president Joyce Barnathan, and ICFJ vice president Vjollca Shtylla, the GBJ program was created. Thanks to the financial and journalistic support of Bloomberg News, ICFJ, the Knight Foundation and Bank of America, it has grown and prospered. Thanks to the commitment of Tsinghua leaders like Dr. Hang Min, Dean Shi, Dean Chen, Dean Hu, Professor Lee Miller, Professor Dai Jia, and many more, it has a bright future. Thanks to dedicated and high-achieving alumni from some 60 countries, GBJ is improving the quality of journalism – and public understanding of economic issues — in China and around the world.

I close by quoting my favorite philosopher, my grandfather, Barrows Dunham. In his 1947 book Man Against Myth, he concluded that understanding the truth was necessary to overcome society’s myths. “With words, as with knowledge generally,” my grandfather wrote, “there can be no substitute for constant analysis of fact.”

Truth. Justice. Words. Knowledge. Tsinghua. That pretty much sums it up. Congratulations on your achievements in the Global Business Journalism Program. I look forward to your truth-telling in the years to come.

谢谢。Thank you.


Flashback: My 2013 article on Birtherism 2.0 and Canadian-born Ted Cruz’s eligibility to serve as president

Screenshot 2016-01-06 07.23.16Screenshot 2016-01-06 07.23.55I woke up this morning in Beijing to a tweetstorm fomented by Donald Trump’s new birther conspiracy: raising questions about Ted Cruz’s eligibility to be president. Here is a story I posted on Texas on the Potomac in 2013, when it was growing increasingly likely that the Canadian native would seek the U.S. presidency. In case you’re interested, here is what I wrote:

It seems like an obscure court case from a dusty old law book, but if Canadian-born Texas Sen. Ted Cruz ever decides to run for president, you’re likely to hear a lot about the United States v. Wong Kim Ark.
In that 1898 case, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 6-2 to repudiate the exclusive language of the infamous Dred Scott case and create an expansive definition of the Constitution’s “natural-born citizen” clause.

That’s important because the Constitution requires that the U.S. president be a natural-born citizen –and Cruz was born in Calgary, Alberta, in 1970. Cruz, who is being urged to run for president in 2016 by some conservative activists, argues that he is a natural-born citizen because his mother was an American citizen. His father, now a naturalized American, was born in Cuba.

Screenshot 2015-12-26 11.17.49

Trump: This is war!

As the Cruz-for-president talk heats up on the right, some bloggers on the left have argued that the strict interpretation of the Founding Fathers’ words that Cruz claims to worship would disqualify a Canadian-born American from serving as president.

Five years after celebrity billionaire Donald Trump and a motley assortment of conservatives raised questions about a liberal Democratic candidate’s American birthplace, the shoe is on the other foot.

Call it Birtherism 2.0.

“It is ironic that a Tea Party favorite might be blocked from serving as president by one of the Tea Party’s favorite constitutional provisions,” said Democratic strategist Paul Begala.

The question of presidential qualifications has never directly reached the Supreme Court. But there is a wide range of jurisprudence on the issue — which overwhelmingly favors the notion that Cruz is eligible to serve as president.

Ironically, the same legal logic that confirms Cruz’s eligibility would have permitted Barack Obama to serve as president even if he had been born in Kenya, because his mother was a U.S. citizen.

The most comprehensive study of the issue was a 2009 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, which cited English Common Law principles and American legal scholarship dating back to 1833.

“The weight of scholarly and historical opinion appears to support the notion that ‘natural born citizen’ means one who is entitled under the Constitution or laws of the United States to U.S. citizenship ‘at birth’ or ‘by birth,’ including …those born abroad of one citizen parent who has met U.S. residency requirements,” wrote Jack Maskell, a CRS legislative attorney.

So why the controversy?

Because, as in so many cases, the Constitution’s authors were silent on the meaning of the phrase “natural-born citizen,” leaving it to generations of constitutional scholars to divine their thoughts.

T. Gerald Treece, a professor at South Texas College of Law, said that despite the Founders’ silence on the subject, their intentions are easy to understand.

“The Founding Fathers merely did not want any British or other foreign subjects to become naturalized and, therefore, eligible to become president,” said Treece.

He said legal precedents focus on an individual’s status “at time of birth.”

“Most authorities agree that, if at time of birth, you are born to U.S. citizens — where they reside — then you are a U.S. citizen at time of birth,” Treece added.

But because the Supreme Court has never directly addressed the issue, it has been a subject of argument for centuries.

in 1881, some Democrats contended that Republican Vice President Chester A. Arthur was born in Canada and ineligible to succeed assassinated President James A. Garfield. But Arthur insisted he was born in Vermont, had a birth certificate and was sworn in as president.

in 1964, some critics of Republican nominee Barry Goldwater said he was barred from the presidency because he was born in Arizona before the territory gained statehood. The challenges got nowhere.

Four years later, Michigan Gov. George Romney sought the presidency although he was born in Mexico, where his American parents were living in a Mormon colony. The Mexican constitution in effect at the time of Romney’s birth in 1907 restricted citizenship to the children of Mexican nationals. So there was no issue off dual citizenship to cloud Romney’s campaign.

In 2008, both presidential nominees faced lawsuits to disqualify them based on their place of birth.

GOP nominee John McCain, the son of a Naval officer, was born in the Panama Canal Zone, then a U.S. territory, in 1937, months before Congress approved a law guaranteeing birthright citizenship to children of military personnel serving abroad. To erase any doubt, the U.S. Senate approved a bipartisan resolution confirming McCain’s citizenship, and a legal challenge to his eligibility was rejected.

There was far more fuss over false claims that McCain’s Democratic rival, Barack Obama, was born in Africa. A series of lawsuits were tossed out of court.

None of the anti-Obama “birthers” has stepped forward to challenge Cruz.

“I doubt that birthers will go after Cruz because he is ideologically compatible with them,” said Carleton College political scientist Steven E. Schier.

After the “birther” circus of 2008, friends and foes of Cruz say they’re ready to focus on his political positions, not his birthplace.

“The ‘birther’ issue — whether it’s Barack Obama, John McCain or Ted Cruz — has always been nothing more than a pointless hyperpartisan distraction and remains one,” says Democratic consultant Harold Cook.

Here’s the 2009 CRS document:

41131059 MoC Memo What to Tell Your Constituents in Answer to Obama Eligibility

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