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» » Joel Brinkley sorry for labeling Vietnam aggressive

OPINION - Stanford University professor and Pulitzer-winning journalist Joel Brinkley told Tuoitrenews he “incorrectly” phrased an argument in his recent controversial article that named Vietnam “an aggressive country” just because the Vietnamese eat meat. Now he wants to label Vietnam as “robust” instead.

He told Tuoitrenews that he would change that “badly phrased… part about meat and aggression” if he had a chance.

“I would call the Vietnamese more robust than their neighbors,” the professor said.

His article, published February 1 on the Chicago Tribune, has caused an online outrage from Vietnamese and other people around the world.

Some protested that Brinkley, a former New York Times reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner, was directly attacking Vietnamese culture while others said point blank that he exaggerated what he had seen in the country.

One person even created an online petition to call for his resignation as a professor of journalism at Stanford.

Chicago Tribune then released a note saying that his piece “did not meet our journalistic standards” and “all the required steps did not occur” even though it “has a rigorous editing process for its content.”

In the op-ed “Despite increasing prosperity, Vietnam's appetites remain unique” published, Brinkley said that the Southeast Asian country’s long history of warfare is tied to its penchant for eating meat, especially rats, dogs, and birds.

The professor tried to create an impression that Vietnamese have gobbled down nearly all animals in the country after hearing anecdotes about locals’ eating habits from “many people, mostly ordinary citizens” during his ten-day visit to Vietnam in late December 2012 and early January 2013.

The man could not tell Tuoitrenews how many people he had met here prior to writing the controversial article because he “didn’t count.”

He wrote in the op-ed that “You don't have to spend much time in Vietnam before you notice something unusual … No dogs out for a walk … Where'd they all go? You might be surprised to know: Most have been eaten” because “the favored dish is dog” in this country.

Brinkley then revealed to Tuoitrenews he “didn't conduct a survey” to conclude that dog meat is a local favorite but was told about it by, again, “many people.”

Below is an interview between Tuoitrenews and Joel Brinkley following the publishing of his article:

How many times have you visited Vietnam so far? When did you last visit this Southeast Asian country? How long did you stay here before writing the controversial article?

Four or five times, and this column came off of a ten-day visit in late December 2012 and early January 2013.

What do you think about the angry reactions to your article by Vietnamese and international readers? Did they misunderstand you?

I've been writing about foreign countries for nearly 40 years, including nearly 25 as a foreign correspondent for the New York Times and six years as a syndicated columnist.

Lots of people dislike some of the things I write. A journalist, especially an opinion columnist, expects that. But never in my long career have I ever received a reaction as intense as this. Never. Someone started a petition at to have me fired from Stanford, and as of now about 750 people, most of them Vietnamese, have signed it. As I said, I have never experienced anything like this.

Did you meet or interview anyone in Vietnam before writing the article? How many people did you meet here?

I traveled from Saigon to Hanoi in the trip last month and spoke to many people, mostly ordinary citizens. I didn't count.

What are you going to respond when people complain that your piece of writing paints a wrong picture of Vietnamese wildlife? Foreigners who once visited or are living in Vietnam say that Vietnamese do not “eat up” animals in the country as you claimed. Do you want to clarify anything?

I know this is not a universal habit nationwide, but I know what I saw with my own eyes from the people I spoke to. I was traveling with some others, and we all remarked on the dearth of wildlife.

What is the basis for your argument that eating meat makes people more aggressive?

That was badly phrased, and I am sorry for that. Meat does not make you aggressive all by itself. But Vietnam's diet does make people more robust than their counterparts in neighboring states. I know because I've spent a great deal of time in Cambodia, and some in Laos. I just published a book about Cambodia and spent many months traveling around that country, meeting and interviewing people. I've also spent some time doing the same in Laos.

In response to criticisms, you said that “eating a diet rich in protein will make you more robust than others, in Laos, Cambodia and other Southeast Asian states who eat rice and very little else. After all half of Laotian children grow up stunted, even today. In Cambodia the rate is 40 percent. That means they grow up short and not so smart.” A large number of people have voiced their online protest against this, saying you sounded even more offensive to Cambodians and Laotians than to the Vietnamese. What is your opinion?

As I said, I know a lot about Cambodians. That's the dictionary definition of stunting. I have written it many times in many forums. No one has ever complained about that formulation before.

Where did you get the information that “the favored dish is dog” in Vietnam? Did you conduct any survey on that?

No, I didn't conduct a survey. But many people told me that, and many people, Vietnamese and others who have lived there, have written that.

You seemed to repeatedly address Vietnamese eating habits in a not-so-nice way. What do you think when online comments dismissed that as ethnocentrism?

What prompted me to write that was the World Wildlife Fund report last year saying Vietnam mistreats wildlife more than any other state on earth. That, to me, made the eating habits newsworthy.

If you had a chance, would you change what was written in that article given such harsh criticisms?

I would have rephrased the part about meat and aggression. I phrased that incorrectly.

How should you have changed it? Would you still call Vietnam "an aggressive country"?

I would call the Vietnamese more robust than their neighbors, most of whom eat rice and not much else. They ingest little protein. In the many months I spent in Cambodia writing my book on that state, I found passiveness and lassitude among so many people.

A common phrase I heard in Vietnam was this: "Vietnamese grow rice. Laotians watch the rice grow. Cambodians listen to it grow."

Source: Tuoi Tre News

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