“Obama went into this trip saying beforehand that he planned to do things a bit differently, that he was going to try to establish some mutual confidence and trust with the Chinese and to work in the long range sense on achieving things on a variety of different issues. This was pretty much declared prior to the trip and made explicit and it’s consonant with a number of things that we know about Obama’s style in other areas. So then to see the trip having almost not even been completed and people becoming very excited that he ‘Didn’t say this’ or he ‘Didn’t do that,’ meaning that he didn’t say this or do that publicly, strikes me as being rather forgetful of the premise that the president himself had tried to establish for his approach in this aspect of his foreign policy.

“I find that the Washington reporters tend to be typically the most subject to this instant scorekeeping. This is part of the game of Washington reporting. They’re at the bleeding edge of this phenomenon that I think is distressing in terms of the approach of the press to serious questions. Everything is shot through this prism of short-term political calculation as opposed to thinking seriously about stuff. You can’t be an expert on every question, and so you’re part of the Washington press corps and if you’re really good and really diligent, you’re going to be expert maybe in a few things and one of those things might not be China.

“And now you’re in China on a three- or four-day trip and all of a sudden you’re having to weigh in on in important things and you don’t speak any Chinese and you don’t know any Chinese people and you’re in the security bubble of the president and you’re traveling from stop to stop on a stopwatch with the guy and being pumped all the time by the president’s aides—and this is true of all presidents—and subject to their spin and you’ve got these short deadlines and you’ve got to write these things. So they operate within those constraints. It’s a very difficult process, so I’m being critical of the press but I don’t see any obvious ways around that particular piece of things. “

In Part II, hear French’s analysis of common misperceptions about China, Chinese media image control, and the most overlooked story from the trip.

Alexandra Fenwick is an assistant editor at CJR.