Tom Plate and the charm offensive

01Jun10

An atypically critical state media review of Tom Plate’s new book on Lee Kuan Yew.  Today:

Mr Plate tries to get under the skin of this man during two interviews over a total of four hours, especially in the second part of his slim, soundbite of a book. The result is a 211-page rewind of the Lee story, which many of us know already.

Based on interviews done at the Istana in July last year, the book is littered with Mr Plate’s impressions of the man and his policies as well as several very private moments capturing Mr Lee’s demeanour and behaviour at the Istana.

There are references to Mr Lee’s persistent cough, the heat pad that was changed regularly by people waiting along the corridor because of the physiotherapy Mr Lee was undergoing and a rare moment – a hug that Mr Plate gives the Minister Mentor.

In journalism, this is generally referred to as adding colour to a story.

Serious-minded journalists would say that this technique is used when you want to jazz up a story that either lacks depth or detail. …

Mr Plate is in awe of the Minster Mentor, and he doesn’t hide it.

He refers to Mr Lee as a “helpful and patient tutor in the all-important subjects of politics, governance and international relations”.

There are several times when the journalist’s instincts are kept in check with Mr Plate on the verge asking that difficult, searching and probing question. But he lets it go.

In one instance, he tries to explain it away by saying that he did not want to sound like a tabloid journalist, especially in front of his “guru”.

The journalist in Mr Plate, again, takes the back seat when Mr Lee drops a bombshell, saying that three ministers quit because they could not accept Mr Goh Chok Tong’s style soon after the latter took over as Prime Minister in 1990. …

“Within six months, three ministers left because they didn’t like his style. I talked them out of it. I said, give him time; he needs time to settle in.

“They stayed on and he carried on for 14 years. I helped him. He appointed my son deputy, who helped him succeed,” said Mr Lee.

Who were the three?

What was it about Mr Goh’s style that the three didn’t like?

How did Mr Lee’s son – current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong – help Mr Goh succeed?

Alas, there is nothing to show that Mr Plate asked the follow-up questions. …

What is sorely missing in our bookshelves is a view of Mr Lee Kuan Yew from the centre, warts and all.

And don’t miss the comments at Today, many of which castigate the author for being insufficiently respectful:

MM is God’s greatest gift to us—-as modern Singapore’s founding father. … MM is one terrific exemplar in almost all respects of human life. He is a great leader and communicator.



2 Responses to “Tom Plate and the charm offensive”

  1. 1 Rajiv N

    Tom Plate’s ‘Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew -Citizen Singapore positions the respected former Prime Minister as a missionary with serious intent. Lee definitely came across as a master strategist with unwavering focus and massive perseverance. A very good book for honing strategic thinking but may not be a book for readings on wholesome leadership. His respect,understanding and leveraging of culture and history stands out as a beacon of wisdom.

    ‘Kingdom builder vs People’s leader’- there was no attempt in the conversations to explore whether such a balance existed under Lee’s dharma. The book was awefully quiet on Lee’s views on people happiness, aspirations and social security. Also his views on addressing ‘voices of dissent’, something he was always under fire by media outside S’pore – or whether ‘the elite’ who in Lee’s view should control policy also be proponents of compassion and care? Can responsible adult style behaviour be brought about by a controlling parent leadership? These are things we will never know. Guess Tom was being extra careful:-)

    Tom’s Lee comes across as a proponent of ‘do your duty predict the future’. There was no attempt to explore the EQ side of the man who transformed a fishing village to one of the richest nations in the world. Was it was a full time obsession for securing the future given the insecure beginnings or consequence of being made to feel small by the Malayan federation, one would never know. A run up to the ‘big picture’ leaving the present as an outcome in the process comes across as a theme. Lee saw the whole but not the pieces. He saw the future not the present. He saw the economy but not the people. Thats the flavour Tom’s book gives.

  2. 2 Khanh

    The world has many problems awaiting to be solved or talked about. What is the purpose of Tome’s book? To propagate a leading figure so others can imitate? Tom seems to interest in the face values of society rather than what’s really happened underneath. It’s sad that he does not write or doesn’t want to know about the saga of boatpeople, for instance, on what the ‘great Chinese leaders’ have done to their own people and, another instance, to Tibetans.

    Writers do not need to ‘add a color to their own life/career’ by writing about prominent figures. The writing justifies itself. Spending months or years to write about facts everyone knows while a starving child is standing there, alone, unheard is a waist of time and paper.



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