With all due respect to contrary opinions apparently held at the New York Times, ABC News, Reuters, CNN, and some of our other media colleagues, this editorial page feels comfortable declaring that North Korea, inasmuch as it is a murderous dictatorship threatening nuclear war, is the bad guy in today’s geopolitical struggle.
“North Korea judged winner of diplomatic gold at Olympics,” Reuters reported. “Without a word, only flashing smiles, Kim Jong-un’s sister outflanked Vice President Mike Pence in diplomacy,” the New York Times declared, in a news story that never mentioned that the sister, Kim Yo Jong, is literally the head of North Korea’s propaganda department. A supposed news story from CNN chastised Vice President Mike Pence for “a ‘missed opportunity’ for North Korea diplomacy.”
The argument: Pence “‘degraded the image of the United States as a superpower’ by meeting with North Korean defectors along with Otto Warmbier’s father, and by speaking strongly against North Korea on multiple occasions.”
Otto Warmbier is the American murdered by the North Korean government during his imprisonment for trying to steal a poster.
The CNN article, which also praised Kim Yo Jong, was based on a single anonymous “diplomatic source.”
The liberal Center for American Progress ran a headline, “Despite Mike Pence’s sabotage, North Korea’s ‘charm offensive’ appears to be working.’”
“North Korea’s cheerleaders steal spotlight at Winter Olympics,” ABC News smilingly reported on women who are, in effect, slaves. “The squad of young women continuously sang, clapped and danced with gusto and unified precision.” Some reporters apparently find the unified precision of a militaristic society with no individual liberty uplifting.
The excuse we’ve found for this sort of coverage? The outlets aren’t praising North Korea, they’re reporting on the impressions the North Koreans left, compared to Pence.
There’s something a bit meta about the people who create the storyline — CNN, Reuters, ABC, and the New York Times — claiming to be only reporting on the storyline. The “impression” a dictator’s apparatchik leaves is largely determined by how these media titans cover the apparatchik.
There was a story to be told here, no doubt. Sending a diplomatic envoy to the Olympics, as well as the precisely trained cheerleaders, was newsworthy as an ambitious public relations effort. Our media, however, just reprinted the press release.
Here’s a tip for journalists: If you find yourself charmed by a communist dictatorship’s propaganda minister, don’t start gushing, take a step back from the puff piece that springs to mind, and apply some professional skepticism. Remember Hamlet’s admonition that “one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.”
A news corps more skeptical of communist dictators, and less viscerally hateful of Pence, might have covered the northern’s tyranny’s efforts something like this:
The North Korean government, in an effort to bolster its image and drive a wedge between United States and South Korea, mounted an ambitious public relations push at the Winter Olympic Games opening ceremony aimed at winning plaudits from South Korea and other members of the global community of nations.
The lead figure in North Korea’s attempted charm offensive was Kim Yo Jong, sister of dictator Kim Jong Un and deputy director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Communist dictatorship’s ruling party. She met with South Korean leaders to call for a unified Korea, but said almost nothing in public.
The North’s diplomatic and PR efforts included a squad of hundreds of cheerleaders who, reflecting the militaristic and regimented nature of the country, dressed identically and sang in unison throughout various early events …
Such a report would avoid the pitfall of promoting a dictator’s propaganda without veering away from straight news coverage. Since we are an editorial page, we’re not afraid to go out on a limb and express an opinion: North Korea, which enslaves its people, kills its own citizens and ours, kidnaps South Koreans and Japanese, and threatens nuclear war against its neighbors and the U.S., is worse than Mike Pence.