Thursday, November 26, 2015   

Yahoo in the dock

Dana Milbank

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Yahoo founder Jerry Yang is worth about US$2.2 billion (HK$17.16 billion), according to Forbes magazine. The internet giant's general counsel, Michael Callahan, received cash and stock options worth about US$10 million last year.

This week the pair came before the US Congress to explain why they had paid not one penny to help the family of an innocent Chinese journalist Yahoo had turned over to Beijing's thought police to serve a decade in prison.

It did not go very well for Yang and Callahan.

"While technologically and financially you are giants, morally you are pygmies," Tom Lantos, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the corporate titans.

Representative Christopher Smith said he saw a parallel between Yahoo and companies that helped the Nazis locate Jews to be sent to concentration camps.

"It is repugnant," Representative Dana Rohrabacher told the executives. "It would be funny if it weren't so sickening."

Somewhere the late Kenny Boy Lay of Enron is smiling. There's a new corporate villain in town - and he's quite a Yahoo.

In a scene usually reserved for tobacco executives, big oil bosses and other traditional robber barons, Yang and Callahan sat sullenly through three hours of abuse and offered up weak excuses: "We did not have sufficient information. It's obviously a very complicated issue."

Actually, it's not complicated. Shi Tao, 39, a mainland journalist, used his Yahoo e-mail account to forward a central government directive forbi
dding journalists from covering the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. When the central government asked Yahoo to unmask the account holder, Yahoo did - and Shi is serving a 10-year prison term.

Worse, Callahan gave a phony story to Congress last year, saying that "we had no information" about the case against Shi.

Hauled in to testify again, Callahan claimed that he did not know all the facts last time and apologized for failing to inform the committee even after learning that his testimony was bogus. Topping it off was Yahoo's failure to help the journalist's family. "Shi Tao's mother is sitting in the first row right behind you," Lantos told the pair. "I would urge you to beg the forgiveness of the mother whose son is languishing behind bars due to Yahoo's actions."

Callahan waited a bit before moving slightly and making a perfunctory nod in the direction of Shi's sobbing mother.

In his opening statement, Callahan made no apology for handing over Shi in response to a "lawful order" from the Chinese.

Furious, Lantos interrupted. "These were demands by a police state to make an American company a co- conspirator in having a freedom-loving Chinese journalist put in prison," he said. "Will you continue to use the phrase `lawful orders,' or will you just be satisfied saying `orders'?"

"I can refer to it that way if you like," came Callahan's insolent reply. Pressed further, he added: "It's my understanding that Chinese laws are lawful."

Yang fared no better on his corporate citizenship test. "Yahoo collaborated with the Chinese police apparatus in the imprisonment of a freedom- loving Chinese journalist. Do you agree?" Lantos asked.

"Mr Chairman, I understand where you're coming from," the laconic billionaire answered.

Lantos was just beginning. "Mr Yang, why is it that after craven cooperation with the Chinese state security apparatus, the provision of false information to Congress, the failure to correct the record ... the only person punished is an innocent journalist?"

Yang answered quietly: "At the end of the day I feel that everybody was doing the best they can."

Lantos, usually a mild questioner, was not finished. "You still have done nothing," he said, "to help the family whose breadwinner your behavior put in prison. Can you explain why?"

Yang adjusted his glasses. "I think that Yahoo could do more," he allowed.

"It couldn't do less," Lantos pointed out.

Other members of the panel joined in the abuse. Smith asserted that Yahoo had also helped the Chinese authorities unmask dissident Wang Xiaoning, now a suspected victim of torture.

Representative Lynn Woolsey hectored the two about their failure to punish anybody for Callahan's false testimony ("The individuals involved have apologized," explained Callahan). Rohrabacher tried unsuccessfully to secure a promise that Yahoo would not give in to similar demands by totalitarian regimes in the future. "It's complicated," Callahan explained.

As the hearing stretched on, Yang and Callahan busied themselves with their drinking glasses, consuming almost an entire pitcher of water between them.

Finally, after three hours, they made a grudging offer to consider payments to the families of Shi and others Yahoo has turned over to the Chinese authorities - because of "its importance to the committee."

Lantos erupted anew. "Look into your own soul and see the damage you have done to an innocent human being and to his family," the chairman said. "It will make no difference to the committee what you do, but it will make you better human beings if you recognize your own responsibility for the enormous damage your policies have created."


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