Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Business Insider Quietly Changes its Headline

In yesterday's post I noted that a story on the increasingly popular Business Insider website misread its source, resulting in a headline and content that were patently false. Several commenters to the original BI story also pointed out that the author had made false claims.

I followed the link in yesterday's post to see if there had been any changes to the story to find that the headline has been changed.

Yesterday's headline:
These Fake Chinese Microchips Were Made To Disarm U.S. Missiles

Today's headline: The Navy Bought Fake Chinese Microchips That Could Have Disarmed U.S. Missiles

While the new headline is somewhat less inflammatory, it still doesn't address the false allegation here, which is that a Chinese entity sold chips to the US that had the capability of being used to disarm US missiles.

Having read both the Wired story and the Washington Post story, I can still find no suggestion that this was the case. By all indications, these were merely "fake" chips -- fake in the sense that they looked like real chips and performed like real chips -- in the same way that a fake Gucci bag both looks and performs like a real one.

In no way do I want to minimize the potential for serious damage that a fake chip could cause to an airplane. I get the fact the potential for damage is much greater than that of a fake handbag.

But there is a HUGE difference in the political implications between a fake chip and a chip that has been deliberately designed to cause damage. HUGE. And if Business Insider doesn't get that, then they are in the wrong business.

Of course the chips "could have" been designed with a back-door, but as long as all possibilities are on the table, let's go ahead and acknowledge that China "could have" nuked Los Angeles yesterday. I mean, they do possess that capability, right?

I looked for some sort of mea culpa, but didn't find one. As a commenter to my post from yesterday seems to imply, Business Insider's inflammatory headline has probably already generated enough page views anyway.

If, for some reason, Business Insider should start to lose viewers in the West, I'm sure Xinhua would welcome some of their editorial expertise. ;-)

Monday, June 27, 2011

"Hostile Foreign Forces" Making Up Stuff About China

Whenever China encounters difficulties or problems, its state-owned media and foreign ministry are often quick to blame "hostile foreign forces" which include foreign (i.e. non-Chinese) media organizations. These accusations are often preposterous, but unfortunately, they are sometimes based in fact.

An article posted today on Business Insider serves as an unfortunate illustration. The article, "These Fake Chinese Microchips Were Made To Disarm U.S. Missiles," by Robert Johnson levels some startling charges:
Last year, the U.S. Navy bought 59,000 microchips for use in everything from missiles to transponders that turned out to be counterfeits from China.

Wired reports the chips weren't only low-quality fakes, they had been made with a "back-door" and could have been remotely shut down at any time.
What??!! This is a major international incident! Why is it not all over the news?

Following the link to the Wired report, we find out why: it simply isn't true.
The chips turned out to be counterfeits from China, but it could have been even worse. Instead of crappy Chinese fakes being put into Navy weapons systems, the chips could have been hacked, able to shut off a missile in the event of war...
...but they weren't, and a further link in the Wired report to a Washington Post story fills us in on the actual facts as reported by an actual journalist (not that all actual journalists are above fabrication).

My point is that we need to be better than this. If a Chinese company somehow conspired to get fake chips with backdoors into US hardware, then, by all means, let's nail them to the wall. But Business Insider's Robert Johnson has either read the Wired article so quickly that he failed to fully understand it, or he has maliciously fabricated a false story -- and neither reflects very well on Business Insider.

And it just adds to the pile of evidence that the "hostile foreign forces" really do exist.

China's corrupt, opaque system will continue to produce enough negative stories on its own. It isn't necessary to make up stuff like this.

EDIT: Note that since I posted the above, Business Insider has since changed its headline slightly, which prompted me to write this subsequent post.