'Where's the 2009 Winner?' Obama, Liu Xiaobo, and Ignorant Certitude

Yesterday I posted an item about the open letter from 15 past winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, calling on China's government to release the latest winner, the imprisoned civil-liberties activist Liu Xiaobo.  I noted that two names were interestingly absent from the list: Al Gore (despite the presence of Jimmy Carter) and Nelson Mandela (despite his fellow South African Desmond Tutu's role in organizing the letter).

When I returned to my computer just now, after an hour away for lunch, I found several screens full of incoming emails all to the same effect. Here's a sample:

"I don't see the name of the 2009 Nobel peace prize winner either--namely Barak Obama."

And:

"The list seems to be missing someone else who might have an influence on the Chinese government, oh heay, where is our fearless leader's John Hancock? Was President Obama too busy playing golf to bother? Didn't Obama win one, too?"

I am sorely tempted to use the names of some of these senders, but... Many dozens of emails total, all with this same theme -- the hypocrisy of Obama in not speaking up for his fellow laureate, and the hypocrisy of me for not pointing that out. Here is what's interesting:

- Something must have happened to get a lot of people riled up about the same topic all at the same time. Was it mentioned on Fox? Did it get onto a right-wing site? I don't know. I just see what's in the inbox.

- Not one of these people could apparently be bothered to check and see that, within hours of the award, Obama had in fact urged the Chinese government to release Liu Xiaobo. The final words of the official White House "statement by the president" were, "We call on the Chinese government to release Mr. Liu as soon as possible."
ObamaLiu.png


It took me approximately two seconds on Google to find numerous references to Obama's statement. For tips on how you can do this at home, see here. I'm not blaming anyone for wondering whether Obama had in fact issued a statement. I do blame people for not bothering to find out before issuing a blast.

The combination of ignorance, lack of curiosity, and certitude is a very difficult one to offset.*
____
*And lest this last sentence further inflame some people, I mean it very specifically: Ignorance = lack of knowledge, in this case about what Obama had done; lack of curiosity = not spending the two seconds it would take to check; certitude = "was he too busy playing golf?"

Ignorant incurious certitude: a modern curse.

** To spell out an issue that would take more than two seconds to look up: While the original letter was an appeal to China's President Hu Jintao, it was officially addressed to all heads of state of the G-20 countries, plus the Secretary General of the UN and a few others. So Obama was one of the people on the "To:" part of the letter. That would have made it odd for him to sign it -- apart from the more basic fact that serving heads of state do not sign open letters.  The real point is: why didn't he speak up for Liu Xiaobo's release? He did -- right away.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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