TAKAHASHI Yoichi might have been the first to smell something fishy in the news media’s version of the second of former Economy, Trade, and Industry Minister Hachiro Yoshio’s two gaffes. Mr. Hachiro might have survived the first one, but the second resulted in his resignation.
Mr. Takahashi, a Finance Ministry veteran and a proponent of a radical reform of the bureaucracy, noticed there were variations in the Hachiro comment as quoted by the major media outlets. He provided the following list.
* “I’ll contaminate you with radiation.” Sankei Shimbun 9 September 23:51
* “I’ll contaminate you with radiation.” Kyodo 10 September 00:07
* “I’ll put some radiation on you.” Asahi Shimbun 10 September 01:30
* “I’ve put some radiation on you.” Mainichi Shimbun / 10 September 02:59
* “Hey, it’s radiation!” Yomiuri Shimbun / 10 September 03:03
* “How about if I put some radiation on you?” Nikkei Shimbun / 10 September 13:34
* “I’ll give you some of this radiation.” FNN 10 September 15:05
To be sure, the Japanese news media tends to be less rigorous than their Western counterparts about presenting direct quotes that precisely represent what someone said. One bad habit in particular is ignoring the use of the ellipsis when eliminating some of the quoted matter. Another is a failure to provide sufficient context.
Nevertheless, Mr. Hachiro’s statement was short and made directly to a small group of people. There should have been little, if any, variation.
Hasegawa Yukihiro, a member of the editorial staff of the Tokyo Shimbun, is another proponent of bureaucratic reform. He became radicalized after serving on what the Americans would call a blue ribbon panel during the Abe administration, when he saw first-hand how bureaucrats attempted to usurp the role of policy formulation from politicians and to destroy politicians that opposed them.
Mr. Hasegawa’s suspicions were such that he arranged for an interview with Mr. Hachiro about the incident. It appeared on the 13th in Gendai Business Online and was updated yesterday. The interview started with Mr. Hachiro’s admission that he did use the phrase “town of death” about the area surrounding the Fukushima nuclear plant. That was the first gaffe, and he apologized again for it. Here is most of the rest in English.
Hasegawa: Tell us about your informal discussion with reporters on the night of the 8th.
Hachiro: About five or six reporters were waiting for me when I returned to the lodgings for Diet members in Akasaka after my observation trip. I think they were all from the business/economy desk. Until then, I hadn’t had any relations with (reporters from) the business/economy desk, so I knew none of them by sight. I think there were two reporters from the political desk in the rear. I know them.
I had a radiation dosimeter when I was in the area of the nuclear power plant. My reading for the day was 85 microsieverts (N.B.: Higher than normal but not a serious dose.) I clearly remember telling the reporters those numbers. (The reporter who wrote) an article in the Asahi (on 13 September) said, “I peeked at the dosimeter and read the numbers.” That is not correct. I left the dosimeter in J Village (the base for the plant workers in Fukushima).
Hasegawa: Did you really say “I’ll contaminate you with radiation”?
Hachiro: I truly have no memory of saying either “I’ll contaminate you”, or “I’ll give you some”. I might have said, “Hey”, but I don’t even remember that clearly. There’s a report that I said, “Hey, radiation”, but I don’t know if I used the word “radiation”.
What I can say clearly is that I made no gesture of rubbing my work clothes (the overalls Japanese politicians wear at sites where a suit would be inappropriate) on the reporters. I might have taken a step toward the reporters, but I didn’t make any move as if I were going to rub against them. I would remember it if I had.
Hasegawa: Didn’t the reporters record your statements?
Hachiro: I don’t think they did.
Hasegawa: According to the Asahi article, the first report of the “I’ll contaminate you with radiation” statement was by Fuji Television (FNN). Was the Fuji reporter there that night?
Hachiro: FNN wasn’t there. The FNN reporter is XXX, a woman, so I would know if she was there.
Hasegawa: To ask bluntly, there is a theory that (you) were framed by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. What do you think?
Hachiro: That’s speculation. I have my own guess, but I don’t want to talk about it.
Hasegawa: Didn’t you have a dispute with the bureaucracy? A story is circulating that you were thinking of replacing some of the senior ministry personnel.
Hachiro: I’ve never discussed with anyone what I should do with the senior ministry personnel.
Hasegawa: What are your ideas for reducing the reliance on nuclear energy and energy policy?
Hachiro: There is a two-tiered arrangement for studying this issue. The government has the Energy-Environment Council at the ministerial level, and METI has the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy. The former is not based in law, but the latter is (the Ministry of Economy and Industries Establishment Act). The Advisory Committee will submit an interim report this year and a formal report next year.
In June, before I was appointed, an internal decision had already been made on the personnel for the Advisory Committee. There were 15, three of whom were opposed to nuclear energy, with the other 12 in favor. After the nuclear accident, I thought we would not gain the understanding of the people unless there was at least a 50-50 balance between those opposed and those in favor. So, I intended to add nine or 10 people opposed to nuclear energy to bring their total up to 12 or 13. The number of committee members was not fixed, so there would have been a balance of about 12 supporters and 12 in opposition.
Hasegawa: The bureaucracy opposed that, didn’t they?
Hachiro: Their answer was that they understood. I had already finished selecting the people from my list of candidates, and all that was left was to announce it at a news conference.
Hasegawa: I’ll ask again. Didn’t you have a sharp disagreement with the bureaucracy? Feigning obedience to your face and opposing you behind your back is one of their specialities.
Hachiro: My mind was made up from the start. I did not want a report with content that presented just one opinion. I wanted both support and opposition. In the end, the Advisory Council would make the decision, so (I thought) it would be a good idea to combine both positions in a report from the government. I gave my list to my successor Edano Yukio. Now the decision is up to him.
Hasegawa: One of the reporters at the news conference during which you announced your resignation shouted out “What are you talking about with this ‘creating a sense of distrust’? I told you to explain!” (N.B.: Other people in the news media have also criticized that unidentified reporter, and referred to his tone and word choice as being yakuza-like.) What did you think of that question?
Hachiro: That reporter and his superior just came to my office a while ago to apologize. I didn’t think anything of it. I said it wasn’t necessary to blame either the reporter or his superior. It’s just their job.
After the interview appeared on the web, the FNN public relations office called the Gendai Business editors on the afternoon of the 14th. The person calling said:
An FNN reporter was present at the conversation with Mr. Hachiro. It’s regrettable that you did not ask us about this.
Later that afternoon, Mr. Hasegawa again spoke to Mr. Hachiro. The latter said, “The female reporter wasn’t present.” When asked if a male he didn’t know might have been there, he answered, “I don’t think a male reporter was there either, but…”
You can see where Mr. Hasegawa is going with this. The lobby within METI that favors maintaining nuclear energy saw Mr. Hachiro as a threat and, perhaps sensing some weakness, moved quickly to be rid of him. That also serves as a warning to the Noda Cabinet and the DPJ.
Mr. Hasegawa explains that the bureaucracy considered the Advisory Committee within the ministry to be the critical group. The council at the ministerial level did not have a statutory basis and could be eliminated with a change of government. That would also dispose of their decisions. The Advisory Committee is a different matter, however. They would submit an official government report containing more than one opinion, which might have a major impact on energy policy. Therefore, Mr. Hasegawa suggests, they could not afford to ignore it.
Note that Mr. Hasegawa thinks it is very possible the ministry (or someone) manipulated the news media. Indeed, he has written an award-winning book (and many articles) explaining how the bureaucracy thinks the manipulation of public opinion through the news media, and the formulation of policy through the manipulation of politicians, is part of their job. Media outlets that don’t cooperate get shut out of the information loop. I’ve explained several times here how some believe the Finance Ministry deliberately created an environment that led to an upper house election loss during the Hashimoto administration when then-Prime Minister Hashimoto wanted to create an independent ministry for the oversight of the financial industry. In addition, when the Abe Cabinet moved forward with the privatization of the Social Insurance Agency, agency personnel revealed the mishandling of retirement accounts dating from a decade earlier. That effectively ended the Abe Cabinet.
Most noteworthy of all, however, is that neither Mr. Hachiro nor anyone in the DPJ is fighting back. It is as if they think this is a fight they can’t win.
This just in: New METI chief Edano Yukio has instructed another reform bureaucrat, Koga Shigeaki, to begin preparations for resigning.
A METI official, Mr. Koga has offered sweeping proposals for reform of Japan’s power industry in general and Tokyo Electric in particular. He’s also published two books within the space of a year. This has so displeased his superiors at METI that they first tried to force him to resign, and then treated him as a potted plant and stuck him by the side of the window.
When Mr. Edano was appointed to his position at METI last week, Mr. Koga sent him an e-mail saying that if he was not given some work to do, he’d quit. Mr. Edano said OK.
The media thinks this demonstrates that Mr. Edano is no reformer, but that shouldn’t be a surprise. He’s a long-time associate of Sengoku Yoshito, who barked out a gangsterish veiled threat at Mr. Koga during the latter’s Diet testimony last year.
In fact, the entire DPJ folded like the cheapest of suits on the issue of bureaucratic reform within weeks after forming their first government.
After rereading this, I saw that I left out an aspect of the story that has to do with Hachiro Yoshio’s news conference at which he announced his resignation.
The reporters from the political desk who attended also noticed the discrepancies among the various news outlets in their quote of Mr. Hachiro’s second gaffe. Rather than ask the other reporters who work at the same company about it, they tried to pin Mr. Hachiro down on what he actually said. He told them the same thing he told Hasegawa Yukihiro, but they didn’t believe him. The same reporter who was criticized for his gangsterish attitude (and who later apologized) accused Mr. Hachiro of deliberately obfuscating the issue. He started to harangue the former minister, saying of course it was clear in his memory; if it weren’t, he wouldn’t be resigning. The “I told you to explain” part came right after that.
In other words, younger political reporters saw the inconsistency in the reports of the outlets they represent and badgered Hachiro Yoshio about it instead of making an in-house inquiry.
On the other hand, Takahashi Yoichi and Hasegawa Yukihiro — both older than 50 and both well aware of the bureaucracy’s MO — saw the same discrepancy and what seems to be Mr. Hachiro’s attempt to deny his second statement without directly accusing the media of a high tech lynching, so to speak. Based on their professional experiences, they drew other conclusions.
Are the political reporters playing high stakes charades, or do they really fail to see what’s staring them in the face?
This is yet another example of why I don’t find it necessary to read fiction any more.
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