AMSTERDAM It's not often that you go to a broadcast convention -- in this case, the International Broadcast Conference (IBC) -- and find yourself reminiscing about Soviet collective farms and "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich."
But it happened to me last week right here. Let me explain.
During the 1950's, despite being aware by then of the ghastly depredations wrought against the people of the Soviet Union under the merciless rule of Premier Joseph Stalin, many of America's starry-eyed leftists continued to find tortuous and ingenious ways to absolve the sadistic Communist dictator of his crimes against humanity.
Stalin's Western apologists expected that, given time and a little leeway, Stalin would finally taper off from his tendency to starve and slaughter his countrymen; he would liberate the gulags and inaugurate a worker's paradise in a glowing burst of political amnesty, burgeoning prosperity and brotherly love.
The failure of that pipe dream, and the accumulated revelations of the bloodshed and terror that sustained Stalin -- and eventually doomed Soviet Communism -- discredited the American left for, virtually, all time.
I found myself recalling the collapse of that nave American left while attending a panel discussion on broadcasting in China at IBC.
The panel consisted of three British "China hands," one Chinese ex-pat journalist from London and one actual China-dweller, media professor Ju Ma.
As comments accumulated from this group, the consensus began to sound eerily reminiscent of those Socialists, fellow travelers and Stalin apologists who hadn't been heard from since the Eisenhower administration.
Nary a one of the IBC China experts was willing to even tweak the Communist autocrats for their numerous political sins. No one dared mention, for example, the Tiananmen massacre of 1989 or the recent government murders connected to the outlawed "Free Tibet" movement.
There was no talk about myriad cover-ups by the Chinese government -- abetted by Chinese broadcasters and the Chinese media -- from the SARS epidemic to lead-painted toys, to human trafficking, slave labor in Chinese gulags and the tons of tainted food shipped all over the world from China.
Although the Beijing Olympics were Topic No. 1 among the IBC panelists, no panelist brought up the Chinese government's suppression of even minor protests during the Games, its arrests of everyone who even applied for a permit to object, its banning of at least one athlete who was reputed to have pro-Tibetan sympathies and its swift jailing of the few Western protesters who dared to speak up.
Neither the Chinese government's refusal to enforce international copyright standards, nor its manipulation of Chinese currency to accumulate dollars and skew trade imbalances in China's favor came up in the discussion, not to mention human rights -- especially not to mention human rights.
This, after all, was a conversation about money.
When, toward the end, a member of the audience broached the issue of TV, press and Internet censorship by the Chinese government, the members of the panel leapt to Stalin's -- er China's defense.
One proceeded to criticize the overzealous Western media for seeking to soil China's escutcheon with "negative" coverage.
Perhaps in Britain, homeland of three of the panelists, there has been negative coverage of China. In the U.S., however, the majority of coverage, especially in the business press, has glowed, simpered and pandered.
A typical pander came from panelist Dennis Baxter, hired by the Chinese as sound designer for the Beijing Games.