The Winding Road to Redemption

It may be the ultimate case of paving someone else’s road to hell with good intentions.

You may have heard it reported that on a lark, Laura Ling and Euna Lee crossed into North Korea and were captured while carrying video showing the faces of refugees and rescuers, whom Chinese police duly rounded up to send back to a firing squad or worse in North Korea.  Intentional?  Of course not.  Reckless?  Yes, perhaps fatally; yet it’s damage that can’t be undone now, and perhaps Ling and Lee can redeem themselves in some way that can save others from the same fate:

One of the two TV reporters who were freed after being imprisoned in North Korea said Wednesday she hopes her story will lead to more public awareness of …

North Korean refugees?  Political prisoners?  The kids who starved and the women who sold themselves into slavery while Kim Jong Il bought himself yachts, luxury cars, and palaces?  The people (you might faintly recall them) you were doing your original story about?

… the plight of journalists held captive around the world.  [….]

She added that she hopes her ordeal would bring more attention to the plight of other journalists placed under arrest.

“Euna and I are two of the lucky ones whose story of captivity resulted in a happy ending,” she said. “But there are so many journalists imprisoned around the world whose fate is still undecided.”  [AP]

After all, the only people already willing and able to bring attention to those issues are sympathetic colleagues who buy ink by the barrel, plus Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, etc.  Seriously — hasn’t it occurred to you that the fate of some other people somewhere is still undecided?  Or that you might be responsible in some way for putting them in grave danger, however unwittingly?  Or that by drawing the eyes of the world to their Chinese pursuers and North Korean executioners, you just might still save them?

Shouldn’t you at least say, “Sorry ’bout that?”

25 Comments

  1. This is why if I am a North Korean, I have zero faith in the willingness and ability of the United States to do any good for the imprisoned, impoverished citizens of North Korea. Clinton’s detesticalization by KJI as he groveled for forgiveness while begging for 2 journalists absolutley took the wind out of the sails of all the Nork resistors who had been emboldened by the balloon & leaflet campaigns.

    Ling & Lee’s vapid remarks are in a sense, criminal.

    Great post, Joshua. I would actually be edified by more impassioned indignation.




    0



    0
  2. This shows once and for all that these two women have not an iota of concern about the very North Korean refugees/defectors they were there ostensibly to gain publicity for.

    Mi Hwa – if you are reading this – what do you say now about “public awareness” re: North Korean defectors?




    0



    0
  3. I now have a sad feeling that from the beginning this entire experience was all about Ling and Lee and nothing to do with NK defectors in China.




    0



    0
  4. Ling and Lee might have had the “plight of the poor North Koreans” in mind when they started out their track to China, and they might even had it in their minds while they were being held in Pyongyang.

    True to form, though, North Koreans are nothing more than a distant news story for Ling and Lee now. After all, they are home with their families in the Bay Area and the North Koreans are…well…they are still in North Korea…but who cares about that…

    Seriously doubt telling the world the tales of North Korean refugees was the only reason, nor the primary reason, these two ladies had in deciding to do the story in the first place, regardless of what they may say in public.




    0



    0
  5. Personally, I was very disappointed by the job Reporters Without Borders did w/Ling-Lee, though perhaps they from the start viewed it as reckless. Certainly, they were nowhere near as active as they were on the Roxana Saberi front, and save for some vigil participation and a few boiler plate releases-quotes here and there, they were quickly overshadowed by the CPJ.




    0



    0
  6. You people are disgusting. Leave Laura and Euna alone. You have no idea what they went through. You all sit in your pretty little houses or offices and feel the need to criticize people. Get a life. How the f*** do you know what’s in their minds and their intentions? How do you know they endangered anyone’s lives. I find it disgusting that people just spew whatever the f*** is in their tiny minds. Of course, everyone has a right to say whatever, but the presumptive attitude is gross. I bet you’re “Christians” too.




    0



    0
  7. I too was a bit disappointed that Laura’s letter didn’t mention the North Korean refugees or people. But it was just a letter, not meant to be a complete recap. Let’s wait and see what happens in the next few months.

    I know I am in the minority opinion here in this forum but I am still hopeful that what has happened will in the long term benefit North Koreans because the amount of world attention on their plight has gone up 100 fold.




    0



    0
  8. PKIM:

    This is far more than petty criticism. The people who comment here (many of us anyway) as well as Joshua Stanton, who runs this excellent, informative blog, despise the North Korean authorities for precisely the same reason that Laura Ling and Euna Lee ostensibly went to China – because they generate human suffering on a monumental scale. Ling and Lee were there to report on that suffering.

    And while it is true that most if not all posters here have not necessarily experienced arrest and incarceration at the hands of the North Korean authorities, this by itself is no reason for us to stop debating the issue.

    Now, here is your question, “how do you know they endangered anyone’s lives?”

    Fact 1: Ling and Lee interviewed defectors in China.
    Fact 2: Ling and Lee did not blot out the defectors’ faces.
    Fact 3: North Korea claimed to have seized the video equipment Ling and Lee had when they illegally entered North Korea.
    Fact 4: Ling and Lee have never denied that their equipment was seized. And even if it was returned (which is unlikely), the North Koreans most probably kept the footage.
    Fact 5: the North Korean authorities who work on the border w/ China are notorious for their brutality. They have no mercy towards North Koreans they find trying to defect or to North Koreans who defect and are sent by by the Chinese police.
    Fact 6: South Korean relief aid workers who labor in Manchuria to assist defectors have expressed dismay at the actions of Lee and Ling. A Chinese police crackdown has resulted and it’s made things much harder for both defectors and relief workers.

    A friend of mine who is involved w/ North Korean human rights started his own relief organization. He met a South Korean relief worker last week. This worker operates in the border area, and he told my friend Lee and Ling pissed a lot of people off in the area, and they were so clumsy and clueless that the DPRK border personnel were already aware they were there. They were ready to pounce on them if they merely got close to DPRK territory – and they were stupid enough to enter North Korea. Why are they victims if they brought this upon themselves?

    Fact 7: it is reprehensible that more than 1 week after their liberation, Ling and Lee have said NOTHING about the plight of the North Koreans they were reporting on. All that the media and most Americans who are clueless about the wider ramifications are concerned w/ is treating these women as poor little victims and as heroines, when in fact they illegally entered the territory of a sovereign country. It’s now not about defectors; it’s about them.
    Fact 8: you come here as a first-time poster with disrespect and a profanity-laden post… a post which shows you are absolutely clueless about this issue. If you wish to discuss, please demonstrate better manners and acquaint yourself with the situation first. Stanton and others who post here (I’m new myself, but I’m serious about NK human rights issues) are better off w/o posts like yours.




    0



    0
  9. One more thing, pkim. You mentioned being Christian. Surely you know that Euna Lee, a former ROK citizen who married an American and thus became a US citizen, met her husband at a church in California? This leads me to assume Euna Lee is a Christian. Then how could she remain so silent in the fact of her actions? Does she care about the suffering of defectors, especially since she was born and raised in South Korea?




    0



    0
  10. It seems that a “tiny mind” is one who has a “poor me” attitude over and above concern for the safety and welfare of those whose plight they were supposedly trying to highlight. How many of those who were unfortunate enough to be on their videotapes are now buried somewhere in a mass grave, or enjoying their all-expenses paid vacation-for-life at Club Gulag?

    God alone knows how this whole pathetic escapade will set back the efforts of the underground railroad.

    But then again, a “tiny mind” probably doesn’t acknowledge this, and instead uses vulgarity to fret about the criticism the poor widdle reporter girls have brought upon themselves.




    0



    0
  11. pkim – Just for you.  Would you care to give us some full disclosure as to whether your company is involved in negotiating any book deals or rights, film rights, arrangements for speaking fees, or other transactions for Ms. Ling or Ms. Lee?

    Frank – Yes, I’m willing to keep my mind open. As I say, it’s a winding road to redemption. That doesn’t mean we can’t get there. Laura Ling and Euna Lee could still do much more good than harm on balance. I think Lisa Ling has. I hope it will be so.




    0



    0
  12. P Kim’s comment sounds like the standard 악성 댓글 (malign replies) that we see on all the South Korean news and blog sites — a lot of hot air “spew[ing] whatever the **** is in their tiny minds,” to borrow from P Kim’s deft choice of words, and no substance or contribution to the overall discussion.

    If you would like to disagree, please disagree and not berate.




    0



    0
  13. Great post, Joshua. I agree wholeheartedly. The efforts by Laura Ling and Lisa Ling to get a million-dollar book deal, one that focuses on sisterhood and journalism, indicate that we’re not likely to get what you hope will happen. The stupogance of Laura Ling and the opportunism her sister Lisa Ling borders on the appalling. As I mentioned elsewhere, since Euna Lee seems to be getting cut out of any would-be Ling-Lee book deal, maybe she will go in that direction you (and I and others) have suggested. One can only hope.




    0



    0
  14. I am a recent newcomer to this site, and I want to say thank you for the information I am getting from Mr. Stanton, the links, and the other posters on this blog. I have learned more in the last two days than I ever have from the more traditional blogs and websites. I would like to make a few observations, state a few opinions and ask some questions. These are in no particular order of importance.

    This is not meant to be a blanket indictment of 30 somethings, but the few I work with believe everything starts with them. They take break rules, call it “risk taking”, and act pretty much suprised when there are consequences for their actions. In this Ling case, the unintended consequences are far reaching and potentially tragic for others.

    When the State Department viewed the documentary “On the Border”, one official wanted to know how “the reporters shot the film on the dangerous Chinses-North Korean border. Did Current and the reporters not watch this documentary? Was Current trying to duplicate in a few days a documtary that took 10 months to complete? Thanks for linking to a site that shows a couple of clips. If there is a way to see the whole thing, or at least the British edit “Korea: Out of the North” I would appreciate information.

    Many things can be blamed on Laura, Euna, Mitch and Lisa, but I don’t blame them for using what influence the could to get themselves out of harm’s way. If our family was in the same situation, I believe we would act the same way. I hope, like most of you, that they turn this outword, and use whatever thay can to help others.

    On Larry King, Lisa said that Koss, “who essentially escaped” called his wife, and then the chain of calls began. Later in the show, she kept saying that Laura and Euna were the only two who knew what really happened. Was Lisa not able to talk to Koss? After the ladies were released, in a raw footage view of a Lisa Ling press conference, Lisa was asked if Laura felt she had made a responsible choice in crossing the border Lisa replied that Laura says it was a responsible decision. I want to know how she came to that conclusion.

    I understand the women not wanting to talk right now. I understand Koss not talking while they were hostages. I don’t understand the silence by Koss or Current now that the women are free. I want to know why Koss got away and the ladies didn’t. My uninformed speculation doesn’t paint him as a good guy. I want to make an informed opinion. My fear is all of the silence is leading up to a sugar coated, let’s all get our stories straight, story.

    Finally, my last thought is about Euna Lee. Why was she there? She was not a reporter, she was a film editor. This was her first assignment out of the office. She was supposee to be translating, and she did get to see her parents, but why would you sent a complete novice to that part of the world? Now she is cut out of the book deal? I want to hear her side of things as well. Was she treated differently being a South Korean? Why did she decline a lawyer?

    I know this is overlong, but this seems to be a place where if I get a response it will be substantial and thoughtul and informative, not the usual “stop hating on Laura and Euna” like I get at other sites.

    Again, thank you for having this blog.




    0



    0
  15. Although I agree Lee and Ling acted recklessly and irresponsibly in NE China, raising awareness about reporters around the world is not a bad cause. After all, a free press is an indicator of a society’s liberty. I just hope the case of these two young “journalists” raises awareness of the trade-offs between how reporters do their job and how that affects others in the noxious places they where they do it.




    0



    0
  16. “…how that affects others in the noxious places they where they do it. ”

    Should be: how that affects others in the noxious places where they do it.




    0



    0
  17. @Tim
    I will try to reply your questions to the best of my knowledge, but some of them are the same ones that I have left unanswered. We just have to wait for Laura’s editorial, the one her sister said was forthcoming 12 days ago.

    1. Did Current and the reporters not watch this documentary (On the Border)?
    I don’t know. It’s easy to conclude that they should have been better prepared for this assignment. I’m sure Lisa has her National Geographic DVD (Inside North Korea) inside her house somewhere. One would assume sister Laura even has her own copy. Likewise there was an article in National Geographic magazine’s February 2009 issue that reported on the same “North Korean refugees in China” story and even mentioned Rev. Chun Ki-won, who arranged Current TV’s China itinerary and was in touch with Euna every day while they were in China including the morning of March 17. Certainly Lisa has a complimentary subscritpion to NG, right? Wouldn’t Laura and Current TV have read that article since their assignment was practically the same?

    2. Was Lisa Ling not able to talk to Mitch Koss?
    They were in communication soon after he arrived back in California. That’s all I know.

    3. Lisa replied that Laura says it was a responsible decision (crossing the border). I want to know how she came to that conclusion.
    I somehow missed this quotation. Somebody mentioned it at Current.com on page 3 of comments under the Laura and Euna thank you video. I would sure like to hear Lisa and Laura elaborate on that idea, since I still believe it was either done on a whim or the guide led them into a trap. I’m leaning toward “whim” at the moment, but we haven’t heard anything from the guide. I’m hoping some investigative reporter will track down the guide, but the problem is that there are no investigative reporters in mainland China.

    4. Why Mitch Koss got away and the ladies didn’t?
    I assume Mitch Koss had his back to the China border while filming and thus did not have to run as far as Laura and Euna. Ling did mention briefly that there was some distance between them. The guide also escaped, and he should have served as the lookout scout since Mitch’s peripheral vision would have been affected by the act of filming.

    5. Why was Euna there?

    As you said, Euna is originally from South Korea and her parents still live there. The Current TV assignment began with a trip to Seoul, from there they flew to Yanji. Euna’s services as interpereter were probaby deemed most useful since the majority of interviews were conducted with North Korean women involved in the sex industry. It probably would have been inappropriate to employ a male interpreter for those interviews, and so Euna was a key team player. This was supposed to be a China assignment, so I don’t beleive they planned on crossing the border. If they had simply stayed in Yanji and then went to Dandong as scheduled, then the risks and dangers they encountered at the actual Tumen River boundary would never have happened. The excursion to the Tumen River border area was an extracurricular activity not necessary for their assignment. Most people don’t understand that aspect of this story; assuming instead that the Tumen River somehow flows by the city of Yanji and they walked out of their hotel and across the river.

    6. Was she treated differently being a South Korean? Why did she decline a lawyer during the trial?
    Fortunately for Euna, she was treated like a US citizen instead of a South Korean. Both Laura and Euna were treated well at their guest house, so unless Euna has a new story to reveal then I assume she was not mistreated for speaking native Korean. I believe Laura chose a lawyer because she needed an interpreter at the trial; obviously Euna did not need any assistance understanding the court proceedings.




    0



    0
  18. Spelunker,

    Thank you for your answers. I have really appreciated your work and effort in bringing out as much knowledge as you have. As far as Lisa saying Laura acted responsibly, that was not a direct quote, but my paraphasing of something Lisa said at an outside press conference held with Laur’s husband. Lisa was asked if with her experience as a reporter did she think Laura showed good judgement in going into North Korea. The answer, after some talk about reporting and what little Lisa knew was”from what I know, I don’t think they used poor judgement.” When I talked about this in my comments, it had been a couple of days since seeing the video,and I substituted my impression of what Lisa said, that it was a responsible decision, instead of using Lisa’s direct quote “I don’t think they used poor judgement.” I apologize for stating my interpretation as a direct quote.

    This is a 12:31 unedited version of that press conference outside of the home. Many of the quotes we have seen in print and video clips we have seen come from that press confereence. This video is the only record I have seen that has that question and answer, athough it is possibly somewhere else and I missed it.

    The site for this video is http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local-beat/Lisa_Ling_Talks_About_Sister_s_Return_Los_Angeles.html

    In one of your many comments on many sites you posted some Chinese newspaper articles that interveiwed locals about what they had seen. These were all written in Chinese. You posted the full version of the trial report in English. Do you have these particular articles translated into English?

    Again thanks for your answers and for your research, time and effort.

    Tim




    0



    0
  19. The Korean pastor who arranged for the Current TV crew to meet the refugee women and their children in orphanages has confirmed that a tape with footage of the women and the children was confiscated from Mitch Koss when he was detained by Chinese police at the border. I posted details from a Chosun Ilbo story at TMH.




    0



    0