Chinese Media Join the Wheeler-Conspiracy Bandwagon

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As the investigation into the tragic death of John Wheeler continues, most "normal" news outlets have offered increasing numbers of videos and accounts from people who saw Wheeler walking around, apparently disoriented, in the last two days of his life. How he ended up in that condition, and what happened in the few hours between his last sighting and the time his his body was found in a landfill outside Newark, Delaware, no one has yet explained.

Anyone following this story is aware that there has been a parallel discussion, at sites I'm deliberately not linking to, that has resolved all mysteries with one sweeping conspiratorial explanation. To sum up this (far-fetched) view: it is "no accident" that Wheeler died around the time of the also-mysterious mass death of birds in the Midwest. The birds were the victim of a military poison-gas test (or leak, or whatever); Wheeler, a one-time Pentagon staffer and a recent Mitre corporation employee, obviously "knew too much" about the evil plans; and so he was eliminated near the headquarters of (naturally) the DuPont corporation, which manufactures exotic chemicals.

I shouldn't have to say this, but I will: such reasoning is nuts. And so far it has not crossed the barrier from fringe websites to "real" media in the United States. But in China, it is quoted today in the very popular and proudly nationalist Global Times - Huanqiu Shibao 环球时报.

The story linked here is in Chinese, and others will understand its nuances a lot better than I do. But I'm sure enough about the headline and the crucial passages about Wheeler (introduced as "美国前国防部官员惠勒," "former Pentagon official Wheeler," with 惠勒, huilei, as his name) to know that it is quoting, at detailed length, Russian "reports" about Wheeler being killed to shut him up about the Pentagon's ongoing reckless experimentation with poisonous phosgene gas -- and about the leak of the gas, leading to the bird kill, as it was being prepared for shipment to Afghanistan. The comments from Chinese netizens, which start here, appear to pour on the "Is there no end to the villainy of the United States??" theme.

Global Times, a kind of state-sanctioned Limbaugh/Beck counterpart in China, is the sort of place where you would expect this.  And, again, lots of English-language fringe websites are astew with these theories. But it's worth noting the way these theories have gone straight into the mainstream (state-controlled) media in China. We have our "truthiness" problems; they have something more. Here's how the start of the story looks on their site (and thanks to reader JF for the lead):  [UPDATE: Interestingly, the story does not appear to be in the English-language version of Global Times online.] WheelerGlobal.png

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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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