Monday, December 1, 1997

Harry Wu, an American Contradiction

When Harry Wu returned from captivity in China in 1995, he declared to the western news media, such as the San Jose Mercury News, that he saw nothing wrong with lying to the Chinese. Not obvious at the time is that lying comes easily with Wu.

Admiral Mike Boorda's detractors hounded him for a couple of service ribbons he may not have earned and he paid the ultimate price by committing suicide. Judge James Ware had to withdraw from consideration for a higher judicial appointment when the media uncovered the borrowing of a childhood racial incident onto his autobiography. Even Ambassador Larry Lawrence's remains were disinterred from Arlington for military service he claimed but apparently not served.

Telling the truth is sacred to the American culture. Thus the American media has been harshly critical of these men that otherwise had distinguished careers in public service. Why such standard does not apply to Wu, the most flagrant spinner of tall tales, is a puzzle that seems peculiarly American.

Last fall, Wu backed out of his speaking commitment to the Mountain View Rotary Club by claiming a sudden call to jury duty. When a World Journal reporter called his office the same day, she was told that Wu had to go to Los Angeles. That would make Wu the first northern California resident to serve in an L.A. jury.

During the holiday shopping season, Wu was seen on local television harassing Super K Mart on behalf of organized labor. If Wu can be believed, just about everything imported from China are prison made goods. Just last summer James Seymour of Columbia University, a human rights supporter and author of a recently published book on China's prison system, revealed in Washington Post that total production from Chinese prisons amounts to less than one-fifth of one percent of China's G.N.P. Hardly enough to account for even the toys imported from China much less apparel, house ware, engines and everything else Wu claims to be prison made.

In a Playboy interview (2/96 issue), he said, "I videotaped a prisoner whose kidneys were surgically removed while he was alive, and then the prisoner was taken out the next day and shot. The organs remain fresher that way. The tape was broadcast by BBC." Why doesn't someone ask him how did he get to do the filming? And why such a clip could not be found in the BBC program?

How long will this man continue to strut on stage without having to answer to the public for his lies? Why are others condemned for their incidental indiscretions but Wu is allowed unlimited blank checks?

Last year, ABC's Nightline presented "," a program on the power of urban tales from cyberspace. One Internet story warned the unwary that visiting strange bars in New Orleans can lead to their waking up next morning with their kidneys missing. The Nightline program indicated that even though there is no shred of evidence, the Internet story has resulted in dramatic cancellation of convention bookings in New Orleans. Certainly, Wu also understands the dramatic impact of kidney harvesting.

His latest escapade was his participation in an FBI sting resulting in the arrest of two Chinese nationals in New York. They were accused of offering kidneys for transplant. The Western media immediately made Wu a hero and concluded that the Chinese government has agents trafficking organs on the streets of New York. The attorney of one of the accused claimed that his client was set up by Wu. This was overlooked by most of the media. The arrest took place late in February. The wheels of justice grind slowly and the two accused organ peddlers have yet to be tried. When they are tried, we may yet find out where the facts lie. Of course when it comes to matters related to Wu, there is always less than initially meets the eye. We may not find out what really happened if the case drags on and is eventually dismissed.

Although some people are still willing to shift for grains of truths from Wu's skillfully constructed mound of plausible lies, the tarnish on Wu's persona becomes more evident with increasing public exposure. Erosion of his credibility began in November 1996 when an article in Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine revealed that Ramon Myers, Curator of Hoover Institution, repudiated Wu for his obvious lack of objectivity. Myers was quoted saying, "I regret, frankly, that he was ever at Hoover," and Myers was the one that gave Wu the original grant that launched his China bashing career.

Besides Wu's willingness to distort and exaggerate, he will go under cover to impersonate a Chinese policeman, pretend to be a businessman to steal documents from offices in China, pose as wealthy Chinese seeking a kidney transplant for a non-existing uncle to secretly video a hospital operating room--a patient undergoing open heart surgery became "background" for the BBC hit piece on kidney transplants.

However despite his strenuous efforts, public opinion is beginning to change because with the recent Hong Kong handover, Jiang Zemin's visit and President Clinton's return visit, the media now have real issues and events to cover. The substance they find just doesn't resonate with the stories that Wu tells.

Not to be underestimated, however, is Wu's backing. Organized labor, Christian right, knee-jerk liberals, both extreme wings of Congress are among the supporters. Many in the Chinese American community even speculate that Wu must be getting secret support from the CIA or some other undercover government agency. It is on the record (4/5/98, Yazhou Zhoukan) that Wu's laogai foundation received $73,600 from the National Endowment for Democracy in 1997. This endowment is funded by Congress.

With the support of the China bashing camp, Wu not only has financial support for a staff but access to media exposure that keeps him before the public. Eventually, of course, truth will outlast Wu. Preparatory to that day of reckoning, it's time to take note of all those that stand with this man, a man without scruples or veracity.