A preacher, a poet, a Professor ... and a fighter for freedom of expression who appreciates that free speech can be taken too far.
Joseph Bosco has "the courtliness of a son of the Old South," wrote Los Angeles Times reporter Bill Boyarsky in a 1998 column. He's "a slow-talking man who, without warning, can be carried away by his emotions, including his temper."
Boyarsky became "fascinated" with Bosco during the O.J. Simpson criminal trial, which Bosco spent two years attending as part of the press corps.
"I've never known anyone with troubles quite like those that have afflicted Bosco," wrote Boyarsky. "There were the physical afflictions — a dislocated shoulder suffered in an after-hours bar fight over the Simpson case and the broken neck he suffered when he dove into the shallow end of a swimming pool during a Fourth of July party. Added to these were Bosco's legal troubles...."
Bosco nearly had to do time in the Los Angeles County Jail. "I was as scared as I've ever been in my life," he told a TV interviewer. Questioned in the OJ trial, Bosco had refused to name the member of the Los Angeles Police Department who'd given him information for a story he'd written for Penthouse magazine. Luckily for him, Judge Lance A. Ito ruled that the information in the story was wrong, so Bosco would not have to reveal his source because it was immaterial. On his website, Bosco lauds his own contribution to the defense of First Amendment freedoms in America.
Boyarsky reports how in a later court case Bosco was also involved in, "a bailiff grabbed Bosco's arm and evicted him from a courtroom after a display of the Bosco temper that included shouting at a deputy district attorney."
Bosco had had a meeting with the prosecutor, deputy District Attorney Alan Yochelson, because Bosco wanted to give him information Bosco felt would harm the prosecution's case. But Bosco claimed that in the course of their private meeting, information had also flowed in the opposite direction. According to Bosco, Yochelson had, for some reason, told Bosco some things that would damage Yochelson's entire case.
And Bosco presented his strangely obtained information to the court.
Yochelson testified that he had never told Bosco such things.
As Boyarsky recounts the story:
Bosco met in private with the prosecutor ... and, [Bosco] said, passed on the information, friend to friend. Bosco said Yochelson made statements that called into question the prosecution's entire case.
Bosco told me he regarded Yochelson as an old buddy from the Simpson trial [where Yochelson had been part of the prosecution team]. Obviously Yochelson did not reciprocate the feeling. "I did not make the statements attributed to me," he said in court. After court was adjourned, Bosco pointed a finger at Yochelson. "Alan," he said, "You know you said that to me." That's when the bailiff grabbed Bosco's elbow and ejected him. I followed ... Bosco to the courthouse cafeteria, where I heard Bosco's side of the story. Bosco angrily asked how Yochelson could, in effect, call him a liar when he, Bosco, was working with the D.A.'s office on "a reinvestigation of certain aspects of the O.J. Simpson case."
That's interesting, I said. Continue. Bosco, after looking around to see if anyone in the cafeteria was eavesdropping, told me that during one of his many journalistic investigations, he interviewed a state prison convict who alleged that in January 1994, he had been hired by a "very close associate of OJ.'s" to follow Nicole Brown Simpson and then to shoot her to death.... I told Bosco that this imprisoned felon doesn't sound like a very credible witness. Bosco conceded the point but said he had corroborating evidence, which he declined to share with me.
I asked the district attorney's office about it. Spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons replied, "From time to time, Joe Bosco has contacted various people in the district attorney's office claiming to have information on a variety of cases. On those occasions he has been referred to the appropriate investigative agencies."
As Bosco sees it, the D.A.'s office has damaged his credibility and he wants to redeem his honor. Who knows how far the redoubtable Bosco will go with this one?
["The Man With the Bloodied Nose for News," by Bill Boyarsky, Los Angeles Times, Jan 12, 1998.]
I don't know how far Bosco went with that one. But his honor is still a serious matter to him, and six years later, blogs ("web logs," a new mass phenomenon akin to public diaries) are his vehicle for defending it.
Coming upon a mild criticism by fellow blogger Adam Morris, Bosco swoops in:
My, my, a little testy today, eh? Why so dismissive of my piece? And why do you pat yourself on the back so publicly when the good people at China Digital News linked to my post and Mr. McCarthy's, not to you?
Bosco has come far from L.A. He's discovered China — and, like many Western teachers before him, prestige.
The Chinese crave insight into the West. Students spend many years doing bloody battle with the English language. And very few of them would be likely to notice when Bosco's dignified phrasings occasionally surmount his grammar ("I am writing this in the apartment ... which you visited with Ellen and I"). Western teachers are a scarce commodity, and the Chinese are happy simply hearing a true Western speaker's inflections.
Chinese university administrators encounter a range of eccentricities among the foreigners they hire, but if a teacher exhibits nothing worse than self-importance, they have no problem lavishing nourishment to a degree the teacher will seldom have experienced before.
Some simple problems that beset a foreigner in China are unaccountably intractable. But flattery is free, and administrators are glad to serve it to a teacher who cooperates and believes the things he's supposed to believe, or at least acts like he does.
Bosco may, as his website has it, have been a "roustabout on off-shore drilling rigs," a "cab driver and 'radical poet' in New York City," a bar manager, a car salesman, and ultimately a "totally freelance" author and journalist. He may be remembered by the millions who watched the O. J. Simpson trial as "the guy on the witness stand with this ugly, tortuous brace around his neck and up the backside of his head" (due to the swimming pool incident). But now he breathes a more rarefied air. He is a "Visiting Professor of Media & Foreign Policy" at an "elite" university — and he is treated with "professionalism, warmth and kindness" by "a fine group of dedicated Chinese educators" and administrators who "reward and appreciate good teachers" (like himself).
Bosco has also acquired some strong opinions on Chinese politics — in particular, on what the Chinese Communist Party thinks about Taiwan, and what they would be sure to do if Taiwan were to declare independence. So it was quite provoking for him when his web surfing recently brought him to an article on the subject by one Daniel McCarthy which contained "major fallacies" — though the article had apparently been published nowhere but on a web "blogzine" (network of participating blogs).
Responding to McCarthy's contention that China would not attack Taiwan, Bosco wrote:
Come to Mainland China and talk to the people, Mr. McCarthy.... 99% of my students, some of the most elite and best-educated of China's young adults swear with palpable commitment that they would "swim across the Straits with only a knife in [their] teethe to keep [their] countrymen from deserting the motherland." That is not hyperbole, it is a direct quote which was endorsed by virtually every student I taught at three prestigious Chinese Universities over the past two years.
Ah, the unanimity of the "elite" students! I have had occasion to marvel at it as well. They'd all believe one thing. And the next day, they'd all believe the opposite. I saw it myself, at the self-same "elite" university where Bosco is enjoying "professionalism, warmth and kindness."
For, as it happens, I taught at the same institution, the year before Bosco.
Bosco's irksome fellow blogger, commenting on Bosco's assertions about Chinese government reactions to hypothetical events, had asked: "Why trust the word of university students as to what will happen? They are about as involved in policy formation as I am. Isn't that like interviewing taxis drivers?"
Bosco retorted on the fellow's blog:
Oh, I don't "interview" my students; and if you paid attention to details as you normally do, you would know that my students are not just "students," they are handpicked to go into government service by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and spend four years immersed in world politics with many of the world's leaders and shakers coming to the China Foreign Affairs University to lecture them on many different world views....
I am going to write your unusual snappishness off to you having a bad day. I respect your work too much to dismiss you over this little rant you went on.
But the vexatious blogger did not submit gracefully — and the Bosco temper threatened to erupt:
You really do not want to carry this petulance further--you are overmatched.... You my friend have no patience with the written word or the techniques of journalistic or even civil discourse.
You are a terribly insecure young person who feels completely threatened whenever your self-appointed position as the artbiter of all things having to do with Chinese politics comes into question. This is particularly true when it comes from someone who just might be in possession of information and sources you don't have and will not have until you have spent several decades learning the skills of a journalist.
Now, we can end this silliness or you can continue and I will take it further publicly and embarrass you greatly.
That was petrifying enough. The young fellow's follow-up consisted of a solitary sentence: "I am, quite literally, speechless."
And Bosco granted that he had been appeased: "Good, keep it that way in regards to this matter and this silliness will end now."
But Bosco can be gracious, even unctuous, when he sees something he likes. Phil, another member of the China blogging community, posted a draft of an article he was preparing for the UK press that featured Bosco quotes. The article concerned the estimated 300,000 blogs now operating in China, and it showed Bosco again drawing on his insight into Chinese Communist Party thinking as he propounded his views to the reporter:
I do not believe the government will stop blogging. I do believe they are going to monitor it and trim it back frequently for some years yet.
The significance of Chinese blogging is more symbolic than actually effective or influential. However, symbolism in this regard is very important. The fact that there are a reported 300,000 main land Chinese bloggers is powerfully prophetic of what could be.
Bosco was pleased with the article, and promptly posted his comment:
Excellent work, Phil. You actually managed to render my ramblings intelligible, which is not easy to do. Seriously, it's a fine piece. You took a complex issue and bundled it up coherently while using a fairly large number of quoted sources with differing viewpoints in a limited amount of space.
I never heard of Bosco until a few days ago, when I discovered the "Living in China" community of bloggers. Those 300,000 Chinese blogs are, of course, generally written in Chinese, but "Living in China" seems to be English-only and currently includes just 47 bloggers. I emailed a brief note to a few of them to let them know about "Inside China's Diplomacy School," my account of my experiences at the China Foreign Affairs University (CFAU).
One, Richard Burger, replied, telling me he'd referred to it on his blog, which he calls "The Peking Duck." There he'd provided a link to my CFAU story for his readers, with the comment:
Now this is an interesting story. It was sent to me by a reader, and I have no way of knowing whether it's true or false, exaggerated or understated. What I do know is that it's certainly shocking. And bizarre. And I can't really imagine someone going to so much trouble to make it all up (but who knows?). Be sure to click the link at the end to get to the second chapter. That's where things get interesting, and ugly.
I'm still in the middle of reading it, and I'm up to my head in work at the moment so I can't even think about trying to summarize it — it's just too elaborate. So I wanted to put it out there and hopefully receive your comments. Could it really be this sinister, this duplicitous? If so, it's good material for a scary book, or even a movie.
I'll return to this tomorrow after I've read the whole thing.
Shortly after Burger posted this, Bosco visited Peking Duck. When he saw the reference to my CFAU story, the volcano erupted. It turned out he'd already seen my story a year earlier — or claimed he had. And he did not appreciate one bit the way "Inside China's Diplomacy School" portrayed the "elite" university that had named him "Visiting Professor of Media & Foreign Policy."
Bosco, a man I didn't know and had never had any contact with, promptly catapulted a lengthy blast to Peking Duck:
[T]his infamous and exceedingly unstable individual ... has been trying with all of his sick might to peddle this "story" all over Beijing and China.... Unfortunately ... you have given him what he craves obsessively, an audience that has no chance to fact-check his over-long, obtuse ravings.... He is a pariah at every school that mistakenly hired him.... I can assert with authority, and direct sources, that his story is flat-out lunacy and paranoid fabrications stemming from his inability to teach or communicate with "normal" human beings.... Please, all who read this, do not accept this slandering of a fine university and a fine group of dedicated Chinese educators--it simply is not true.... I know that by publicly debunking this sick fool I will now become a target of his bizarre abuse.
This defender of First Amendment freedoms then added an ominous warning:
Damn you, Uriel--go away. For your own sake. Before you go too far and get yourself into serious trouble, if you are still in China.
My response to Bosco (also posted to Peking Duck) was more concise. I took aim at the main allegations of fact.
Regarding my being "a pariah at every school that mistakenly hired him," I pointed out:
I taught at Tsinghua University ... through the 2001-2 academic year. The English department chair provided a recommendation letter for me the following year. (I requested it when a subsequent employer, Lanzhou University, asked me for references. I subsequently obtained favorable references from Lanzhou U. as well.)
On my "inability to teach," I referred readers to my story of CFAU, which includes quotations of favorable messages from my students (e.g. in chapter 24).
As to my "paranoid fabrications," I offered:
[A]nyone on a "foreign expert" contract in China might be interested in what happens when the contract's arbitration clause is invoked. My story reports the outcome factually and in detail.
Though I didn't mention it, Bosco's own blog shows that at least one of the relatively minor problems described in my CFAU story is not "flat-out lunacy," and continues to bedevil foreign faculty today.
CFAU is indeed a significant school, and as such plays host to lectures by noteworthy statesmen and intellectuals. But my Western colleagues and I (there were ten of us at CFAU) would be left oblivious of such visits because signs were posted only in Chinese, and no one in the administration bothered to inform us.
The school's foreign affairs office always affected great concern for the well-being of the foreign faculty members. Yet it would have been virtually effortless for someone in that office to send all ten of us a simple email message when noteworthy English-language lectures were to take place. Chapter 17 of "Inside China's Diplomacy School" describes how, after my prodding, a reluctant office staffer agreed to do just that.
This elementary courtesy apparently did not outlast my departure from CFAU. A Bosco blog entry dated June 28, 2004 reports:
Thomas Friedman, a writer and thinker I'd very much like to spend some time jawboning with, was at the China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing (where I am a visiting professor of "Media & Foreign Policy") last week and delivered a lecture that was exceedingly well-received by students, many of whom asked quite probing, intelligent questions and received answers that impressed them. I know, because they told me so in follow-up discussions in class. Now, I was of course delighted by this turn of events--but not nearly as much as if I'd been present for his lecture and visit to our tiny campus!
Yes, I missed it. Such are the vicissitudes of teaching at three universities and not being able to read Mandarin. While my schedule ostensibly precluded my attendance, I might have been able to alter it had I been able to read the hand-written posters that accounts for most of the intra-campus communication here.... While I have a wonderful relationship with the Chinese faculty, they forget that we "Foreign Experts" cannot read Chinese....
So, I missed a wonderful opportunity to listen to and chat with a colleague whom I much admire.
But my response to Bosco on Peking Duck didn't mention the visiting speakers issue. I figured my rebuttal of the main points in Bosco's vituperation dealt with his comment fairly effectively. Bosco's arrogance was mighty indeed, but not mighty enough to overpower plain facts.
This turned out to be a bit optimistic, however. It transpired that Burger, the Peking Duck blog operator, was great friends with Bosco — they frequently posted mutually supportive comments on each other's blogs — and appeared to regard him as a mentor.
One case in which Burger offers solace, after Bosco is assailed by a critical commentator on Bosco's blog, is illuminating.
At the time blogger Adam Morris had aroused Bosco's ire, Bosco had not been content to leave his comments on Morris's blog, but had also copied some of them to his own blog under the heading, "What's Up With the Attitude, Adam?" Included there was his assertion that
my students are not just "students." Each is handpicked to go into government service by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and spend four years immersed in world politics with many of the world's leaders and shakers coming to the China Foreign Affairs University to lecture them on many different world views.
This provoked a comment from an anonymous poster who identified himself as "a middle rank law enforcment officer." My CFAU story is evidently not the only time Bosco's complacent view of his students has been called into question:
one thing i want to tell you all:
not all people can enter the forign affairs department,most of them are sons and daughters of very connected or highly corrupt CCP officer, SO NOW YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE TALKING TO,JOSEPH!!!HAHA
WHY NOT TALK TO SOME PEOPLE IN VILLAGE, PROFESSOR JOSEPH
WHY STAY IN BEIJING
WHY NOT USE YOUR TALENT AND TIME TO CONFRONT CCP MEMBER
WHY NOT TELL SOMETHING USEFUL TO YOUR STUDENTS
WHY NOT TELL TAIWAN PEOPLE THAT USA PEOPLE WILL ABANDON THEM IF THEY CHOOSE TO STAND UP
WHY NOT TELL IRAQ PEOPLE DEPOSING SADDAM IS A BIG MISTAKE
WHY NOT TO PETITION TO UN TO FREE SADDAM
IT IS HYPOCRISY,STUPID
Admittedly, this was less than tactful. But it is a fact that Chinese people with whom I discussed my negative CFAU experiences — in Beijing, Guangzhou and other places — frequently offered the identical remark: Most CFAU students are "sons and daughters of very connected or highly corrupt CCP officer."
Bosco's sarcastic response suggests his regard for his "elite" students was unperturbed:
You are certainly right that most if not all of the students who are invited to attend the China Foreign Affairs University come from well-to-do parents. As to their parents being corrupt CCP members, that I can only guess at, but I am certainly willing to take your word on it since you are an expert in the law enforcement field in China.
But to his other readers he confessed, in a separate note: "Great, the police officer thinks I am an elitist stupid hypocrite. And someone else thinks I am insane. This has not been a good day."
Then Burger came to extend a comforting hand:
Great replies, Joseph, and a great post.
It's fine for us to disagree with one another, but is it really that hard to do so with respect and courtesy? I made a point on my own site recently that prompted a commenter to snipe "So what?" How about, "I see where you are coming from, but I see it differently...."? But maybe you and I are from an older school. I love a spirited debate/argument, but we mustn't forget about protocol.
Bosco was appreciative:
Richard, Thank goodness there are still folks around such as us; however, you are a good deal better of a human being than I am as yet.
I learned of the affinity between Bosco and Burger shortly after I'd posted my rebuttal to Bosco's attack on Burger's Peking Duck blog. On returning to Peking Duck to see any follow-ups, I found that all commentary on CFAU — from Burger's "Now this is an interesting story" onwards — had disappeared. In its place was a new message from Burger: "I have deleted this post and its comments as I had serious cause to doubt its authenticity. My apologies."
I asked Burger via email: "What on earth were you afraid of? Debate?"
It seems that Bosco, the fighter who'd risked imprisonment defending free speech in America, had convinced Burger that discussion of this subject "would not be productive." As Burger explained it to me:
I'm sorry, but there are some people I know and trust, and I believe what they tell me. Joseph seems to know your story well, and as one of my closest friends I believe him. I can't risk using my site as a platform for the complaints of others unless I sincerely believe in their complaint. In this case, Joseph convinced me that debate on this point would not be productive and could cause unnecessary harm.
I expostulated: "Richard, this is the very essence of censorship.... If the Bosco bumpkin's allegations were true, he could answer my rebuttals and make his case."
But to no avail.
On originally presenting my story at Peking Duck, Burger had remarked to readers that he had "no way of knowing whether it's true or false, exaggerated or understated." My story had prompted Peking Duck, in under a day, to adopt a radically new policy. Peking Duck would henceforth be a most singular blog indeed. It would present only links leading to information that the blog operator "sincerely believed."
So it was unavoidable. Burger was obliged, regretfully, to expunge his link to my story. The story was unbelievable to him. Because he knew and trusted his friend, Joseph Bosco.
There's been a development in my Joe Bosco tale.
I've learned that at the university where Bosco was teaching during the
2002-3 academic year (China's Xiamen University), he left such an outsized
impression that the teacher who replaced him the following year was actually
driven to begin a novel last fall with the title, "Correcting Mr. Bosco."
The teacher's name is David Hill and he's on the urielw.com Mailing List. I learned of
his connection to Bosco when he responded to my original Bosco article above. He has permitted the use of his name.
David reports that Bosco's classroom teaching dwelt on the topic of OJ a
little more than some students might have wished. David also volunteers
unkind remarks about Bosco poetry that appeared in the school's literary
journal, as well as additional colorful comments which of course urielw.com
is too dignified to repeat (even if they did stir my shameful sense of
His novel has a pompous Bosco delivering an appallingly bad lecture before
an audience of admiring Chinese students who treat him like a celebrity.
Afterwards, David's fictional alter ego does what he's been wanting to do
the entire lecture: "I throttled him until he begged me to stop."
The modest author avers that his fiction "sucks," but if you're interested,
chances are good the author would provide a copy. His address over at
hotmail is transvan79 (indirectly indicated to avoid spam).
Anyway, Bosco seems to be quite an inspiring character, even more than I
realized at first.
Bosco, Peking Duck Point At Each Other
Both free speech warriors deny responsibility for deleting debate
As reported above, I'd never had any contact with Bosco when his florid denunciation appeared on the Peking Duck blog. Nor did we communicate subsequently — until a couple of days ago. By that point, word of this essay having inevitably reached him, Joe could no longer contain himself. A 950-word missive landed with a thud in my mailbox — opening, characteristically, with the words, "You silly little fool."
I was a fool, he wished to tell me, for imagining that he would "take umbrage at anything you write about me." My missiles had backfired. As a writer, he benefitted from any and all publicity:
I have been attacked and lauded on every major TV network, broadcast and cable, in America--and now China. That's life in the big leagues. Larry King loves me--Jeffrey Toobin hates me. I've had great reviews in The New York Times Book Review, and I've been slammed by the Los Angeles Times Sunday book section. It is all good.
So he wanted me to "please continue writing about me."
Of course, there were grounds to be suspicious of such a plea. How much sense did it make, given his assumption that my wish was to cause him displeasure?
My reply (a mere 800 words) made Bosco realize that, actually, this was not a discussion he really wanted to have.
"We will not communicate beyond this reply," his response to my response announced. "The last thing I ever wanted to do in this life was to get into any kind of discourse with you--and here I have done so. I AM THE STUPID ONE. Please stay out of my mail-box in the future, and I will stay out of yours."
But first, he had numerous additional points to make.
The certitude of his insights into Communist Party thinking, for example, which my essay (above) had mocked, was actually well founded:
My god, man, almost all of the Chinese people I work with and spend free time with are Party members, including at least one-fourth of my students. It is not terribly difficult for me to report what they say about issues important to them. I also do a great deal of political commentary for CCTV 9 International, where I am on panels with highly placed government and academic officials from whom I learn a great deal.
Regarding the deletion of the diplomacy school discussion from Burger's Peking Duck blog, Bosco offered a remarkable claim:
I did not tell Richard to take your post down; in fact I advised against it since it was already "out there" and I could shoot it all down because I do have the "sources" to counter your silly story--Richard chose to take it down when your comments began to concern him personally.
This was quite curious, since Burger had claimed, in his email to me, that he'd deleted the discussion because "Joseph convinced me that debate on this point would not be productive and could cause unnecessary harm."
Despite Bosco's adjuration to stay clear of his mailbox, I permitted myself a brief reply. His claim, I wrote him, was "directly contradicted by Richard's email to me, which I quote in my essay about you."
But only fuming silence emanated from Bosco.
I also forwarded Bosco's message, contradicting Burger, to Burger himself.
Burger promptly replied. But the conflicting claims between himself and Bosco did not appear to have caused him any consternation, and he made no attempt to resolve them.
Like Bosco, however, he was convinced that my overarching desire was to cause grief — and that the more grief I felt I could cause, the more pleasure I would derive. So to preclude further pleasure on my part, it was important that he make one thing abundantly clear to me:
Uriel, I will never open any email from you again, and will instead instantly delete it.
This quite frankly strikes me as something approaching an open commitment to darkness.
Message to Bosco and Burger (in case you happen to return here): Feel free to write me. I will be glad to read it.
It's not true, of course, that I derive pleasure from causing pain or suffering. But I suspect this assumption by both Bosco and Burger reveals something about their own motivations.
Links / References
- "Inside China's Diplomacy School," Uriel's account of his experiences at the China Foreign Affairs University (CFAU).
- "The Man With the Bloodied Nose for News," by Bill Boyarsky, Los Angeles Times, Jan 12, 1998.
Available at the Los Angeles Times archives for a fee, or here for free.
Bosco's site does not feature that particular article, but does offer a kinder piece by the same columnist: "A Shield Battered but Not Broken," Los Angeles Times, Aug 10, 1995.
- Bosco's self-description, including job history and notes on his struggles on behalf of the First Amendment.
- Adam Morris blog mentioning Bosco
- Bosco blog on Adam: "What's Up With the Attitude, Adam?"
- Bosco blog on China attacking Taiwan
- Blogger Phil's draft article re China's 300,000 blogs
- The "Living in China" community of bloggers
- Peking Duck, August 2004 archives: Aug. 9 entry explains disappearance of CFAU discussion.
- Bosco blog on missing Thomas Friedman lecture