Podcast: The John Liu Fundraising Scandal – The Top Political Issue for Asian Americans in NY

John Liu gets a hug from a longtime supporter at a recent fundraiser

John Liu gets a hug from a longtime supporter at a recent fundraiser. (Photo: Stella Chan)

An F.B.I. investigation into New York City Comptroller John Liu’s fundraising practices has had a chilling effect on Liu’s ability to raise money for a potential 2013 mayoral run. As revealed this week in his campaign filing report, he’s also been forced to spend thousands on legal fees related to the investigation. But John Liu remains a role model for New York’s Asian American community and still embodies the political aspirations of this growing segment of the city’s population. 

In this podcast, Fi2W executive producer John Rudolph interviews Sing Tao Daily reporter Stella Chan about her recent article for Fi2W concerning the conversations taking place about Comptroller Liu among Asian Americans. We also hear from Korea Daily Senior Reporter Danny Shin. Listen:

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Reporter’s Notebook: “Scandal” vs. “Issue”

Chinese vs. English Language Media and the Subtlety of Words. By Stella Chan.

When the F.B.I. investigation unleashed a flood of news about City Comptroller John Liu, I saw that the stories in New York’s English-language and Asian-language media were as different as day and night. In contrast to the mainstream English-language press which uses the word “scandal” to refer to Liu’s situation, Chinese newspapers were terming it a “fundraising issue,” while the Korean press used the word “allegation.”

On October 11, 2011, the New York Times ran a front page article titled “Doubts Raised on Donations to Comptroller.” The investigative article uncovered irregularities in Liu’s donor lists, and subsequently, the F.B.I. began a probe into whether Liu’s campaign was illegally bundling donations. Immediately, the Chinese media began to run articles concerning the negative impact of the investigation on Asian American political participation. Several community leaders expressed their concerns about the investigation and some of them wondered if Liu was singled out because of his race. These angles were muted in the English-language press until the recent NY1 report, “Asian-American Community Struggles with Liu Controversy,” on Jan 5, 2012.

Meanwhile, the English media was reporting that Liu may be involved in several irregularities apart from his fundraising scandal, including his appointment of John Dorsa, his decision on a pension fund contract and his own office renovation. The New York Post even called upon Liu to resign, writing that “John Liu was never suited for public office,” in a November 21, 2011 editorial.  An Asian reporter, off the record, told me that some English press were running negative stories in order to damage Liu’s reputation.

The different approaches of English and Chinese media were clearly shown in the reporting on a press conference hosted by Liu’s Chinese supporters on December 22, 2011. The New York Post, Daily News and New York Times joined a number of Chinese media outlets at the Chinatown meeting. The following day, The Post and The Daily News came up with the headlines “Liu in FBI cross hairs” and “Liu insists he’s still running for mayor despite probe,” while the Chinese media wrote articles about supporters calling for a united community to back up Liu.

After the press conference, Lotus Chau, Chief reporter of Sing Tao Daily, (where this reporter is on staff) wrote in a side bar that because Liu is the first Chinese American who holds a city-wide office in New York City, when the New York Post refers to Liu as a “Liu-ser,” it is seen as a personal attack and makes many Chinese supporters uncomfortable.

“Innocent until proven guilty,” said Danny Shin, senior reporter for The Korea Daily who wrote an exclusive report about the FBI investigation of Korean donors. According to Shin, Korean supporters had donated $100,000 to Liu as of July 2011 and Korean supporters hosted a big fundraising event this month.  Shin says while the mainstream English-language media has their own take on the scandal, “We are neither reporting it negative nor positive.”

Listen to Stella Chan speaking about John Liu on our partner WNYC Radio.

Stella Chan is a reporter for Sing Tao Daily and a Feet in Two Worlds reporting fellow. Her work, and that of the other Feet in Two Worlds fellows, is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Mertz Gilmore Foundation. Fi2W podcasts are also supported in part by WNYC Radio and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

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AboutStella Chan
Stella Chan is a reporter for Sing Tao Daily New York, covering politics, immigration and law enforcement issues. Upon receiving her B.S.Sc from Hong Kong Baptist University’s School of Journalism, she worked for several media outlets in Hong Kong before moving to New York in 2008. Her recent publications include a translation of work by Leo. F. Goodstadt in the most recent edition of “Uneasy Partners: The Conflict Between Public Interest and Private Profit in Hong Kong.”