BEIJING - Chinese Internet users rose up in anger Tuesday after the televised prostitution and gambling "confession" of a woman who embroiled the China Red Cross in scandal -- but condemned the media, rather than her.
Guo Meimei, now 23, triggered a wave of public ire in 2011 when she flaunted her wealth online and claimed she was the general manager of a firm called "Red Cross Commerce", which web users took to mean she had received embezzled funds.
"Guo Meimei Baby", as she is known online, posted photos of her opulent lifestyle to nearly two million followers on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo, posing in front of a Maserati or sipping a drink in business class on a plane.
The China Red Cross denied any ties to Guo, and the actress and singer later insisted that she had made up her job title.
Guo was detained last month on suspicion of illegal gambling during the football World Cup, and on Monday, state broadcaster CCTV aired her lengthy televised "confession".
In it, clad in an orange prison vest, she acknowledged that she had helped organise a gambling ring and had "many times" engaged in sex for money.
"I made a very big mistake just to satisfy my vanity," Guo said.
"I want to express my deep apologies to the Red Cross Society of China. And to the public and those in need of help, I feel even sorrier."
State-run media also featured interviews with Guo's former boyfriend, 42-year-old businessman Wang Jun, and her assistant.
Guo is only the latest suspect to be paraded on Chinese state television before going to trial, in what critics call politically motivated public shaming by the ruling Communist authorities.
Other instances include Chinese-American billionaire blogger Charles Xue, journalist Gao Yu and Peter Humphrey, the British founder of a Shanghai-based risk advisory company that did work for embattled pharmaceutical firm GSK.
Is Guo Meimei important?
Much of the online anger in the wake of the CCTV report was directed at China's state media, rather than Guo.
Several users noted that in the hour after news of her formal arrest broke, the People's Daily newspaper sent out 12 consecutive tweets about Guo, while CCTV sent out 10 and an official Xinhua news agency account posted 11.
During that time, none of the outlets posted about the two major news stories in the country: an earthquake in southwest China that has killed more than 400 people and a factory explosion in which 75 workers were killed.
"At a time of national crisis, why are our mainstream media focusing on (Guo) rather than on things of significance?" one Sina Weibo user wrote.
"Is Guo Meimei important to the People's Daily?" wrote another. "Forget about the Yunnan quake, they're still tweeting about a woman who made a few missteps in life."
The US-based website China Digital Times, which tracks Beijing's propaganda directives, posted what it said was a message from authorities telling media to promote Guo's confession.
"All websites are kindly asked to prominently display Xinhua and CCTV coverage of Guo Meimei, and to actively organise and direct commentary," read the message.
On its verified Sina Weibo account, the China Red Cross implored the public to "forget about Guo Meimei" and instead "redirect all of our limited resources and energy to the disaster zone".
Some commentators argued that the assault on Guo would do little to restore the credibility of the organisation, which has faced accusations of misspent donations totalling tens of millions of yuan.
"The crisis of confidence in the China Red Cross didn't happen overnight; Guo Meimei was just the straw that broke the camel's back," columnist and microblogger Lian Peng wrote, in a tweet that was forwarded more than 600 times before it was deleted by censors.
"If the China Red Cross is only trying to pull a fast one on us by using Guo Meimei's scandal to whitewash itself rather than actually redouble its efforts at reform ... then it will just become an even bigger disgrace," he added.