As Thailand’s political situation has heated up, we once again see well-known “parachute writers” Paul Handley and Andrew MacGregor Marshall being quoted in the Western press as “experts” on Thailand.
We wish we were the ones who came up with the term “parachute writers,” but that distinction belongs to long-time expat educator Gerald W. Fry, who (unlike Paul Handley and Andrew MacGregor Marshall) speaks fluent Thai and has over 5 decades of experience working in Thailand. Fry uses the term “parachute writers” to refer to those journalists who spend only “brief periods in Thailand—weeks, months or less than a year or so—but still manage to pen tomes on the history of Thailand or mini-encyclopedic academic analyses.”
It quite frankly is impossible to deliver an insightful and even-handed reckoning of Thailand, its current protests, and past political history unless you are fluent in the Thai language and have spent many years working in Thailand, both in Bangkok and in the rural provinces. But that doesn’t stop journalists like Paul Handley and Andrew MacGregor Marshall from trying to set themselves up as informed commentators.
Western commentary on Thailand politics is dreadfully superficial at best, and deliberately misleading at worst. Both Paul Handley and Andrew MacGregor Marshall traffic in a specious mixture of fact, gossip, and innuendo peppered with healthy doses of Western elitism and wild conjectures. For a much more accurate view of Thailand politics, read Stephen Young’s interview with the Nation in 2009. It remains one of the best commentaries on contemporary Thai politics from a historical perspective: