CNN reporter Steven Jiang, one of the most well-respected Western journalists in China, has unexpectedly found himself at the center of the story after a post on his Weibo account about a man smoking on a plane went viral.
Here's the original post (translated by Shanghaiist):
"Would China Eastern Airlines tell me, who was the man allowed to break airline safety laws so blatantly? On the evening of December 2, after the MU5127 flight took off, the male passenger at 1A/B of the first class section was smoking at his seat. The crew did nothing."
"After a passenger from the first class section took a photo of the smoker, an air marshal tried unsuccessfully to grab his/her phone and delete the photo. After the plane landed, several big guys boarded the plane. They surrounded and threatened the photographer, and forced him/her to delete the photo. The passenger was allowed to leave the plane only after the photo was deleted."
Jiang's post soon went viral, with over 36,000 reposts in just a couple of days, and soon major Chinese newspapers like the Southern Metropolis Daily picking up the story. After a year full of Chinese corruption scandals, any hint of rule-breaking by the Chinese elite carries a lot of interest online. On Weibo, many speculated that the alleged smoker was a high-ranking official.
There is a fair amount of skepticism over Jiang's account, however. Some observers have said that there is no first class in China Eastern Airlines, and the airline itself issued a statement on Weibo saying that there was no one in that seat on the flight:
“After we checked with December 2 MU5127 ‘s certain first class passengers and the airport’s concerned parties, we’ve confirmed that nobody sat at 6A/B (described as 1A/B in the original Weibo post) on that flight. The incident described didn’t happen. After the flight arrived in Beijing on 00:32, one airport ground staff followed normal handover protocols and boarded the plane. No other person boarded the plane.”
Jiang's statement first says that he had posted the message as an individual, and it should not be taken to be from CNN. He then admitted he should have been more precise, and said that he was not on the plane and the person who took the photo was hesitant to give more information after the scandal grew so big. Finally he said that the flight number he gave was wrong, and he had emailed new information to China Eastern Airlines.
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