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August 28, 2008

Stryde Hax Beats the Times

Blogger Stryde Hax has exposed an age scandal involving the Chinese Olympic women's (or should it be girl's?) gymnastics team by cleverly hacking into search engines like Google and Baidu. It sounds like a neat little triumph for citizen journalism, and it kind of is—Hax managed to uncover the gymnasts' real ages—or at least the ages the government had previously assigned them—using tools available to anyone with a brain and an internet connection. But his work wasn't exactly original.

Olympics Day 5 - Artistic Gymnastics
The New York Times reported on much the same thing about a month ago. Strangely, though the story appeared in a major media outlet, it managed to fly under the radar until Hax commenced his hacking. Why? It might have something to do with the language.

The Times piece wrote of how the two gymnasts, He Kexin and Jiang Yuyuan, "raised questions" because they appeared underage. In the second paragraph, the paper notes that Chinese officials immediately provided passports showing the gymnasts' ages to be 16. The Times article does go on to discuss doubts as to the veracity of said passports, but at no point does it appear conclusive. Hax, on the other hand, posts screenshots, writes of documentation, and concludes that "any reasonable observer already understands that age records have been forged."

It's somewhat ironic that a blogger is getting credit for a story that the mainstream media broke, and we do think Hax should have referenced the NYT at some point. However, it also speaks to the mainstream media's limits—the New York Times, which has an interest in appearing impartial and a stake in maintaining cordial relationships with the Chinese government, could never come right out and say that the age records had been altered. This even though the evidence supporting China's case consists of passports provided by China which, obviously, China could have forged unbeknownst to the rest of the world. Hax, being an anonymous blogger, had the freedom to point this out in no uncertain terms, and so now the story belongs to him (or her).

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