In yesterday’s New York Times I read two stories about Google. The first, a majorly boring puff piece on page A1, was about Tan Chade-Meng, a Google employee who likes to have his picture taken with the celebrities who stop by the Googleplex in California.

The Times called Mr. TanColin Powell, the hippie activist Wavy Gravy, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Gwyneth Paltrow, Robin Williams, Jane Goodall, Tom Brokaw, George Soros and James D. Watson, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, have all posed with Mr. Tan,” writes Steve Lohr.  “the company’s in-house Zelig,” who celebrities now clamor to see when the visit the site.  “It is an eclectic group.”

It’s a quirky and fun piece that might have found a good home in the Technology section in the middle of the week, but what was it doing on the front page of the Saturday Times?  Maybe Labor Day weekend has something to do with it.  But this completely uncritical piece of puffery is the kind of article that makes you wonder how the relationship between Google and the Times got so cozy.

And then, buried on page A7 of the same paper, is an article about YouTube agreeing to block (read: censor) anti-monarchist videos in Thailand.  Apparently there are pretty harsh laws in Thailand about making fun of the king, and after Thailand blocked YouTube completely, the company found a way back into the market by promising to block offensive material.

“Any clip that we think is illegal, we will inform YouTube and YouTube will have a look independently,” minister of information Sittichai Pookaiyaudom said.  “If YouTube agrees that it is illegal for Thailand or against Thai culture, they will block it from viewers in Thailand.”

Only in the 13th paragraph does the article mention Google, which happens to own YouTube.  And even there, it refers to Google’s ownership implicitly, in the context of its dealings with the Thai government.  Writer Seth Mydans never explicitly says that Google owns YouTube, and that it was Google, not YouTube, that made the decision to censor videos in Thailand. 

Mydans compares the censorship to Google’s blocking of Holocaust denial and hate sites in Germany and France, where there are laws against such speech, but this is different.  In Thailand, Google isn’t censoring hate speech but legitimate political protest in the form of making fun of the King.  I fear it’s becoming more and more comfortable with these sorts of policies.    

So it needs to be asked: why the puff piece on A1, and why approval of censorship in Thailand on A7?  Why did the Times go out of its way to paint such a rosy picture of Google?  And am I missing something about the Thailand case?

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