The Associated Press brought us a heartwarming story last week — a story of overcoming adversity, of the importance of family, of the singular stupidity of one man and the two-bit writer who dared to sensationalize the tale. The story, ladies and gentlemen, will shock and dismay, awe and inspire. Shanghaiist is proud to summarize, as well as offer choice selections from, “Flight Across China Leaves Man Stranded“.
Eugene Nelson, who works for Intel in Dupont, WA, was supposed to board a plane from Hong Kong to Taiwan. Instead, he got on the plane to Taiyuan. It then took him an astounding five days to get home, as he only had American Express (hasn’t he seen those Visa commercials?) on him and could not withdraw cash from ATM machines because they were not “foreign enabled”. One would think that would be the end of the story. One would think that Eugene Nelson would have liked to keep his idiocy below the radar.
No no no … One thought wrong. Curt Woodward of the Associated Press was at Sea-Tac airport when Nelson arrived home, drawn to the opportunity for sensationalist media exploitation like a vulture to rotting carrion. Seizing the moment with pen in hand, he offers some gems for audiences worldwide. Take a gander:
[Eugene Nelson’s] first attempts at finding lodgings revealed the problems of the language barrier — Nelson said he ended up at a brothel, and had to “damn near fight my way out.”
He returned to the small airport in the city of about 1.5 million, but found it was about to close and officials would not let him sleep inside.
Nelson said he might never have found his way if not for a helpful young woman who spoke a bit of English and arranged for friends to loan the obviously distressed American money and give him a safe ride to a hotel.
“She probably saved my fricking life,” he said, nearly breaking into sobs.
The incredible tale continues:
After nearly endless hours of searching, Nelson said he found a bank that would allow him to draw the cash that American Express had wired him. Then he spent hours figuring out how to get his account information translated into Mandarin so that he could access the money.
In between, Nelson said he faced danger and indignity, injuring his legs and back leaping out of the way of a reckless car and enduring the spit that some Chinese hurled his way.
With Chinese people attempting to run him over and spitting at him everywhere he went, it is easy to understand why Nelson might be sobbing at the end of his “ordeal”. Then again, his sobs might have simply come from his own utter incompetence in the face of a little adversity. How could the Associated Press editors possibly print this rubbish? What do AP writers in China think of the story and its tone? How could Woodward possibly validate Nelson’s mind-numbing ineptitude when getting on a plane to Taiyuan instead of Taiwan?
Stories like this shiver our timbers. It’s not that Shanghaiist upholds a higher writing-standard than Woodward employs — we are not above our own sensationalism now and again. But Shanghaiist is a weblog and Woodward writes for the Associated Press, two institutions for which different quality standards for journalism should apply. How is a story like this even considered news? Both of these men, Nelson and Woodward, strike Shanghaiist as complete nincompoops, and the AP editors who gave this story the go-ahead aren’t short of that mark either.
Top photo of Taiyuan in Shanxi Province from China City. Profile of Eugene Nelson from the Associated Press via USA Today.