Media Criticism Useful Idiocy

Christine Ahn: Above Criticism! (Or, “Help! Help! I’m Being Repressed!”)

Christine Ahn is feeling picked on, reports the Oakland East Bay Express, an alt-lefty rag with a room-temperature circulation.  Writer Kathleen Wentz informs us that Ms. Ahn guards the privacy of her views jealously when she’s not on CNN, a book tour, the lecture circuit, or hectoring congressional staffers:

As a longtime peace activist and progressive, Christine Ahn was used to being on the ideological fringe. But even she wasn’t prepared to be red-baited and called a supporter of dictatorship.

It started in 2004. Ahn, then an activist working for Food First, an Oakland nonprofit that looks at the root causes of hunger around the world, was invited to give a speech about North Korea at the Human Rights Commission in South Korea. In her talk, she criticized the American passage of the North Korean Human Rights Act, arguing that increased sanctions against the communist country were choking its people and exacerbating their human-rights crisis. Ahn advocated peace and engagement. She also pointed out US hypocrisy. “I said some provocative things,” she recalled, calling out American human rights violations at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, racial biases of the US criminal justice system, and the persistent hunger and poverty of a meaningful segment of the American population.

That is, Ahn did what she always did when the subject of Kim Jong Il’s crimes against humanity comes up:  she deflected.  And when the audience ate it up, Ahn and Wentz pronounced the speech good.

The crowd’s response was overwhelming. “My perspective was obviously very fringe and a bit left, but the Korean people loved it,” Ahn said, recalling her surprise. “I was, like, paparazzi’d. …. But it was just like people opened their eyes for a moment here. Okay, let’s just stop for a moment here, all this propaganda about North Korea, and just like think about it here in a more pragmatic way. And, obviously, it had resonance.”

But there were heretics lurking in the temple:

But one month later, she received an e-mail that tempered her excitement. It was a message from a friend, pointing her to a blog called One Free Korea. A post entitled “The Alternative Reality of Christine Ahn” criticized her viewpoint, labeled her a “North Korean apologist,” and detailed facts about her life and her beliefs. Ahn was creeped out. “I mean it was so freaky to have this ten-page article about me,” she said. It was authored by Joshua Stanton, a lawyer with the Department of Homeland Security who currently serves as the department’s deputy chief for tort litigation. In a recent interview via e-mail, Stanton said he blogs as a private citizen, but added, “I think Ms. Ahn is a reprehensible apologist for mass murder, and for the deliberate, discriminatory mass starvation of men, women, and children.”

The incident horrified her. “It freaked me out so much that I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t think I’ll continue doing this peace work,'” said Ahn, who lives in Oakland and is now a fellow at the Korea Policy Institute.

It pains me to wonder how Ms. Ahn manages to drag herself to the privacy of a television studio five years after the infliction of the grievous trauma called “criticism from a low-traffic blogger.”  Wentz, having failed to inform her readers of the full extent to which Ahn has made a globally conspicuous imbicile of herself, leaves the impression that I got the goods on Ahn’s “fringe” views — her word — from the false compartment in the bottom of her underwear drawer, or by using my super-secret Homeland Security data-mining powers (psst!).  For the record, that inference, which commenter “Fred Yong” drew as intended, is libel.

Incidentally, we’ve learned a new definition for “red-baiting:” quoting the public statements of a person as she advocates replacing the private marketplace in food with collectives that grow approved foodstuffs in strict accordance with the on-the-spot guidance of block committee leaders:

They point out that the definition of hunger overlooks the huge number of Americans who eat a diet of fast food and heavily refined snacks lacking in nutrients, since that is usually cheapest and easiest to access in poor neighborhoods where corner stores have largely replaced groceries. The common perspective on hunger also overlooks the larger issue of people’s disenfranchisement from food production and lack of control over their own food supply and health.

With these factors in mind, a recent report from the group Food First, called “Beyond the Food Bank,” criticizes problems in the traditional food distribution model and calls instead for support of alternative, empowering food production projects like community gardens and urban household gardens, buying collectives and cooperative organic farms.

“We need to revisit what kind of society we want to have,” said Christine Ahn, one of the study’s authors and a staffer at the Women of Color Resource Center in Oakland. “We need to look at why these social programs [like food banks] were put in place in the first place, and how can we fund more alternative projects.

I can hardly wait to hear what those could be.

Growing Power derives funds from Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares. In a CSA program, subscribers — sometimes known as shareholders — pay a set amount in order to receive regular food baskets of current produce. Often CSAs, which exist all over the country, include more affluent members who help subsidize lower-income members.

Hey, it worked in North Korea, didn’t it?

Another organization, Victory Gardens, based in urban New Jersey and Athens, Maine takes the concept to a wholly different level, not only introducing organic farming to low-income city dwellers but also using the operation as a vehicle for political awareness and activism. The project was founded by incarcerated Afrikan Liberation activist Herman Bell and environmentalists Carol Dove and Michael Vernon, based on the Black Panther Party’s survival programs and Malcolm X’s belief that all revolutionary struggles are centered around land.

Really?  Would there be criticism sessions, too?  Why, what a vivid portrait she paints of a world in which I would secretly beseech a forbidden god each day for the sweet release of death.

Just let me know if you think I’ve been unfair in my deployment of Ms. Ahn’s own words here.  A point of order: I have called Ahn “far left,” but not a communist.  Elsewhere, I’ve given credence to Brian Myers’s view that North Korea is as fascist as it is communist.  Not only do I stand by my characterization of Ahn as “a reprehensible apologist for mass murder, and for the deliberate, discriminatory mass starvation of men, women, and children,” I’m delighted to have driven her to paroxysms of whining.  For my next acts, I’ll try for introspection, shame, and repentance.

Returning to Wentz’s “piece,” we learned that the more Ahn said, the more people seemed to recoil in disgust and horror:

Meanwhile, her list of critics grew. The following year, Ahn said one of her colleagues in South Korea received a call from the US embassy demanding to know “Who the hell invited Christine Ahn to speak at the panel?” She’s now listed on, a web site by conservative author David Horowitz that she describes as an “online database of all these cells, like terror cells of academics, think-tanks, foundations, Hollywood stars.” She’s described as a “Supporter of the Communist dictatorship of North Korea.”

For the record, I’ve never met David Horowitz or had either direct or indirect contact with him or his organization, suggesting an alternative theory:  other people have independently arrived at the conclusion that Christine Ahn is a tool.

Anyway, since the censors apparently denied Wentz permission to link my original criticism for her readers to judge, I will oblige.  I wrote it years ago, and it took a good chewing from the html furies when I migrated to WordPress.  No doubt plenty of the links have gone dead (I sent Wentz a link to a more recent fisking, but we’ll get to that).

In the end, Ahn and her mouthpiece, Wentz, still can’t debate how this regime treats its people without the deliberate ignorance of damning facts … and it’s hard to write something that pointlessly long-winded while still ignoring them. They can quibble about how many people live in these huts or behind these walls, but they can’t deny what the images show, and they can’t claim any greater knowledge than the witnesses do.  Don’t they believe the questions are worth asking, especially of Kim Jong Il?  For all their righteous anger about a couple hundred overweight terrorists at Gitmo, have they no concern left for the children of Camp 22?  Do they dispute that, even without Kim Jong Il’s permission to take a census, the number of huts there must have a capacity of thousands?  How do they deny this while going to such lengths to evade the truth?  In the end, their only defense for Kim Jong Il is to hide behind his secrecy.

Considered this way, the article’s first lie is its title.

If a reporter ever contacts you, by the way, you can tell you’re dealing with a hack when the reporter is interested only in details about your private life and completely uninterested in the substance of your criticism.  I cheerfully offered to expand on these and even sent Wentz a link to this more recent criticism of Ms. Ahn.  That, too, is a side of the story that didn’t clear the Oakland East Bay Editorial Board.  Wentz never took me up on the offer, and judging from her article, she never showed any interest in getting anyone’s side of the story but Christine Ahn’s.  When Wentz asked me about my day job, I declined to comment.  What does that have to do with the price of corn in Chongjin?  I do my blogging as a private citizen on my time and on my computer, exercising rights that are protected under the First Amendment.  Not that there’s any overlap between my work and what I write here, but if there was, you wouldn’t read about it here.  All of this, mind you, is in the context of my criticism of Ahn’s public statements which are publicly available on the Internet.

Just so that you can count all the levels of irony there.  Another point of order:  I’ve never discussed or made an issue about Christine Ahn’s private life, because I don’t care and neither do you.  But then, let’s not confuse the ownership of a printing press and an editorial board for the possession of editorial standards.

In any event, my blog isn’t a secret from anyone where I work.  Some of them might even have seen my name in papers that people actually read.

Anyway, feel free to go to their comments section.  Just try to show a litle more class than Wentz did.


  1. Dang man, I just saw this being dropped at a newsstand in Berkeley and almost crashed my bicycle. I rushed home to be the first guy to show it to you but you’re just too fast.

    I know John Cha well and love him immensely, know Elaine Kim just well enough to know the vanity license plate was surely just her sense of humor, and know Christine Hong well enough to like her as well. As for Ms. Ahn, we’ve never met but she’s like, saying “like” a lot.

    I don’t even know where to start with this article, other than to say it’s absolutely breathtaking. One thought…

    Taking issue with the source for the number of prisoners is valid, but in some ways it reminds me of an interview I was witness to between foreign journalists and some former comfort women many years ago. When one of the ladies said she’d had to “take” upwards of 70 Japanese soldiers a day, one of the journalists insisted on asking each and every comfort women how many times, on average, they were raped each day. Later, he told me that the lady who’d said she’d been raped 70 times a day was probably exaggerating, but also that the women who’d said they had to endure it only twenty times a day hadn’t had it so bad.

    One shouldn’t exaggerate the numbers of political prisoners there, and many do or feel tempted to methinks, and furthermore it’s true that you shouldn’t trust defectors for concrete stats. But really, does the fact that some, for argument’s sake, might want to round up in a big way make even a far lesser number acceptable? Doesn’t trusted source Bruce Cummings say they lock up your whole family? Certainly falls into the “you do the math” category of rhetoric – any way you spin it there are just too many to ignore, so morally speaking the number doesn’t matter so much. To me anyway.

    And oh, minor point but it’s just the East Bay Express, sans “Oakland,” thought thanks to you I just learned it’s based here in Oaktown. Given how white it is (in a Berkeley liberal kind of way) I’d never known. Certainly different from the Oakland Post ( Anyway FWIW some East Bay Express articles that might be worth your time:

    Oakland’s Koreatown Isn’t Your Typical Ethnic Enclave

    Young, Asian American, and Christian


  2. Joshua, Fred Yong called you a “sophist blowhard.” It’s amusing he had nothing to say to your comment or to a NK human rights activist who asked what Christine Ahn and others would say on the day North Korea is liberated and the survivors ask why we did nothing to help them.

    Joshua, keep up the good work. I’m a daily reader – your website’s value is immeasurable.


  3. “My perspective was obviously very fringe and a bit left, but so the Korean people loved it,” Ahn said



  4. So, why don’t you call her a communist? She obviously is. And where does her employer, The Korea Policy Institute, get their funds? Probably from the Reds in Pongyang.


  5. So this woman got all paranoid because you simply googled her up and read what she has actually said and what she has stated in public along with her public various interviews which are available both online and off ? Ms. Ahn if you are reading this all I have to say is that once you go on CNN and discuss issues such as North Korea then you become public domain for anyone to research. Making yourself look like a Nork agent also does not help. You would never be allowed to speak to any inhabitant of North Korea outside of Pyongyang, and only minders or guides within. This is not because of Imperialist America, its because a Korean is keeping them all held hostage.


  6. I know its hard to believe for you Ms. Ahn, but the Kim family has surpassed Emperor Hito when it comes to brutalizing Koreans. They are not going to feed there people if it means giving up power. Keeping the elite and loyal fed is there strategy, no amount of aid is going to change them.


  7. Joshua, your link to the East Bay Express brought back old memories of my Berkeley days. Christine Ahn and Elaine Kim sound more like 60s radicals, but Oranckay’s links recall the changes that I was already seeing in the decade of the 80s.

    I’ve linked to you concerning this online altercation, and I agree with your position . . . though I wouldn’t want to poke anybody with a stick.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *


  8. While I generally agree with your take on this situation (at least the its ridiculous and unethical to ignore how bad things really are in NK part), for what its worth, as a person who has lived in repressive communist regimes and done CSAs and Community gardening in the U.S., its a pretty big stretch to compare the two. among a thousand reasons, mostly these are never anywhere near government involvement and at least half of people I know that worked in them or used them couldn’t even be remotely referred to as a socialist. the word Co-op in no way equates to “commie” nor even “leftie.”

    “calls instead for support of alternative, empowering food production projects like community gardens and urban household gardens, buying collectives and cooperative organic farms.”

    “calls for support” to voluntary gardeners and moderatly self-sufficient food production is not “replacing the private marketplace in food with collectives that grow approved foodstuffs in strict accordance with the on-the-spot guidance of block committee leaders”

    oh, the sinister heart that lurks beneath “urban household gardening”

    These are of course my own (but also many other gardeners) sentiments. I have not done (nor will I do) any research on ms. ahn’s views of these things, but based on your quotes for that section, your comments seem either unfair, ill-informed about what a CSA or Co-op is, or both.


  9. Sad thing though over at EBE to see so many seriously deluded, reality-challenged people. I guess hey don’t call it fringe for nothing.


  10. I can’t recall a better example of true, wingnut, California style, infantile politics being taken to task. VERY well done Joshua. If you hadn’t been able to eviscerate the underbelly of her whole pathetic act, I’d have come away thinking that you couldn’t hit a barn door. But you made quick work of her.

    It’s a lesson in Silly Semantics, too. Taking a ‘more contextualized view’ on NK means placing its badness in an imaginary context that noone but she accepts. A quick shortcut to sheer nonsense.

    It’s so disturbing to see that, in many quarters in the US, ANY argument that bases itself on the idea that the only moral agency in Int’l relations that is to be held accountable is the US, finds credence among a dedicated lot of morons.

    My favorite quote: room temperature circulation


  11. It makes me wonder what Christine Ahn will do when this so called “low-traffic blogger” starts to get allot more hits.

    And/or what will she think when the big guns like “Hot Air” and “Gateway Pundit” start to get a whiff of all the mental flatulence she’s been spewing forth!


  12. Your sarcastic joke about CSAs fell flat. CSAs originated in Japan and are nothing more than a prepaid seasonal supply of produce. As you might have guessed, yes, I once belonged to one.


  13. Freedom of speech is great – until aimed at you…

    …and of course here I’m referring to Anh…

    Why is it people further left frequently seem to jump to the victim complex and talking about how they are being oppressed and their speech repressed when people simply respond to usually inflammatory statements they make?

    Why are they so thin-skinned when their own views are so strong and claims so bold and damning?


  14. It’s so disturbing to see that, in many quarters in the US, ANY argument that bases itself on the idea that the only moral agency in Int’l relations that is to be held accountable is the US, finds credence among a dedicated lot of morons.

    I’ve never understood this tendency either. It’s the Bruce Cumings complex.

    It should be easy to just limit yourself to attacking the United States — without becoming an apologist for the likes of North Korea. Why do so many of the great critics of the US end up — being the champions of third world dictators?

    Here is where a discussion of what Bill Ayers calls “small c communism/communist” has to come in. In the end, no matter how inept and even illogical and even unrealized they are in it, what people like this are doing is — advocating for a socialist/communist way over that of others – particular Western capitalism/industrialism as exemplified by the US and the US government.

    These same people and type were much more clear and direct about this back in the 1970s and back into the 1930s. They just lost their ability to openly announce (or even mentally recognize) their allegiances when global communism collapsed and the people from those states were able to fully tell the world what a repressive crap-hole their societies had been for decades….


  15. So, Juche was just a reaction to the oppressive policies on the US that hemmed NK in and destroyed it…..North Korea’s isolation is a product of American policies – policies that so affected Pyongyang, it kept its people isolated from even its communist buddies…

    (And of course, Juche has no connection to the Hermit Kingdom status dating back centuries…)


  16. Why, what a vivid portrait she paints of a world in which I would secretly beseech a forbidden god each day for the sweet release of death.

    You totally crack me up. That’s a fantastic sentence.


  17. Christine Ahn isn’t a communist. Not even a fascist. Because of her commendable desire to critique American social and foreign policy, and perhaps also because a sense of ethnic solidarity, she is pretty close to being a holocaust denier.

    This episode reminds me of a quote from Black Panther Party Eldridge Cleaver.

    “I’m telling you after I ran into the Egyptian police and the Algerian police and the North Korean police and the Nigerian police and Idie Amin’s police in Uganda, I began to miss the Oakland police. The last time I saw them suckers, I was shooting at them; and they were shooting at me. But regardless of what our standards are in this country, we do have some laws; we do have some principles that to a certain degree restrain our police.”



Comments are closed.