Glamour Magazine Names Laura Ling and Euna Lee Two of Its “Women of the Year”

1103-euna-lee-laura-ling_at.jpgAll emphasis mine:

Current TV’s Laura Ling and Euna Lee went to Asia this spring to investigate a chilling situation: the plight of women who cross the border from North Korea into China to escape starvation, only to fall prey to human traffickers. Then, suddenly, the journalists became the story, arrested for stepping into North Korean territory and thrown into jail.

[….] “Laura and Euna’s commitment to expose a terrible situation led to their arrest,” says Clothilde Le Coz of Reporters Without Borders USA. “But we depend on women like them to make sure the truth gets told. And that truth is brutal. “Refugee women are sold like livestock,” forced into prostitution or to be the wives of peasants, says Lee. Adds Ling, “They’re trading one horror for another.

[….] I hope Laura and Euna’s experience propels people to address the humanitarian crisis of trafficking. Laura Ling wants no sympathy, just change: “To take risks to draw attention to these women is part of our job. It’s why I do what I do. [Glamour Magazine]

Risks to your own safety are one thing; I can’t accept such a glib justification for risks to the safety of the vulnerable people you’re reporting about. (And yes, how quickly we forget — it’s the governments of North Korea and China that are the real villains here, and if refugees died because of this incident, it’s because the North Koreans killed them with an assist from China.)

Maybe this isn’t the time or the place for another “sorry we endangered peoples’ lives.” The womens’ apology, the interest of the greater humanitarian cause, and the support both women have offered for LiNK since their release dictate that my criticism is probably counterproductive. My admiration for Lisa Ling is undiminished; I’d have done nothing differently if I found myself in her place and had a loved one in North Korean captivity. But I don’t think I’ll ever get over my deep ambivalence about Laura Ling and Euna Lee.

It’s good to see them bringing attention to the issue … but at what cost?

Hat tip to a friend.

22 comments

  1. Jeremy says:

    The Glamour Magazine award is already garnering them renewed criticism and negative comments elsewhere online (including on the Glamour site), but it’s a done issue for me. No amount of attacking Ling and Lee is going to bring any closure nor save any more refugees.

    I had no problem with Lisa Ling working to bring her sister and Euna Lee home (I’m a fan of hers myself), although I think it might have been Lee who generated the most sympathy for their case.

  2. kushibo says:

    Oh, dear God.

    Well, I’ll just tell myself it’s a mindless fashion magazine and mentally write it off that way.

  3. Richard says:

    Part of the problem here I think is the semantics trigger-word “Glamour,” since there was absolutely nothing glamorous about the events of March 17th.

    If for example Utne Reader had declared Laura and Euna to be Women of the Year, I don’t think the naysayers would be quite as vocal.

  4. kushibo says:

    I would be.

    But not as vocal as I would be if Mitch Koss were named Woman of the Year.

  5. Jeremy says:

    Richard –
    I agree.

    kushibo –
    Your opinion about Laura and Euna aside, why all the animosity towards Lisa Ling? I agree with Mr. Stanton that targeting her was/is unjustified.

  6. kushibo says:

    Jeremy wrote:

    kushibo –
    Your opinion about Laura and Euna aside, why all the animosity towards Lisa Ling? I agree with Mr. Stanton that targeting her was/is unjustified.

    I don’t recall doing that recently, so I’m not sure what you’re referring to.

    If you’re talking about something I’ve read in the past, I’m pretty sure it would have an explanation attached to it about my misgivings toward Lisa Ling.

  7. kushibo says:

    read in the past –> written in the past

    Sorry.

  8. Jeremy says:

    Well, yes, I’m referring to past comments you’ve made (on your blog).

  9. kushibo says:

    Well, it would seem you should either ask me there (if I don’t adequately explain it there), or point out here which ones you mean through a link. I’d rather not write a whole treatise from scratch on my misgivings about Lisa Ling.

  10. kushibo says:

    And it’s announced that Euna Lee now has a book deal of her own. Don’t buy this book.

  11. Jeremy says:

    kushibo, do you think leaving Laura Ling and Euna Lee to rot in North Korea would somehow make everything even or better? Is continuing to attack them (and puzzlingly enough, Lisa Ling) every time they get media attention going to save any refugees?

  12. Jeremy says:

    And seeing how Lee probably needs the money more, I don’t really blame her.

  13. kushibo says:

    I must be going senile. I could have sworn I wrote something like this:

    Now I’m not entirely misanthropic, so I think eventually it will be necessary to do what has to be done to secure their release (thanks again, Lee, Ling, and Koss), but their suffering should go beyond the inconveniences one would expect from, say, a lengthy stay at an H1N1 quarantine facility in Seoul.

    Yep, looks like I did. But you might have missed that if you stopped at the deliberately hyperbolic “So let them rot.” As the next paragraph or so makes clear, I never really thought they would or should rot in the Pyongyang Palazzo. Ditto with pulling out Mitch Koss’s fingernails.

    Oh, and I can imagine a situation where them publishing their books just might put more refugees in danger, so chew on that.

  14. kushibo says:

    At least two of the three stupogants didn’t think it imprudent to carry with themselves videotape of the North Korean refugees they had interviewed when they entered North Korea illegally.

    With such utter lack of sense, I shudder to think what deadly foolishness might spring from Lisa Ling’s Laura Ling’s or Euna Lee’s book. I could see them laying out a bunch of information that will be pored over closely by North Korean authorities for clues.

    Really, is this in anyone’s best interest who isn’t making a dollar from it?

  15. Jeremy says:

    Alright, well, I apologize for overlooking that.

    But at the very least, I don’t think Lisa Ling deserves any blame in this at all.

    And it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that Lee pursued a book deal partly out of economic necessity (i.e. debt, not to mention the possibility of being laid off).

    Yes, that could be a problem with their books, but I think they both know at this point not to do or write anything that could incriminate anyone, not to mention there’s arguably nothing else they could say that isn’t already known.
    But who knows? Lee’s book might also get put on indefinite hiatus like the Lings’.

  16. Jeremy says:

    “At least two of the three stupogants didn’t think it imprudent to carry with themselves videotape of the North Korean refugees they had interviewed when they entered North Korea illegally.”

    But wasn’t it the evidence from Mitch Koss’s seized camera that was used to crack down on refugees instead?

  17. kushibo says:

    Jeremy wrote:

    But wasn’t it the evidence from Mitch Koss’s seized camera that was used to crack down on refugees instead?

    I think Laura Ling and Euna Lee covered this in their Los Angeles Times op-ed:

    After we were detained, the two of us made every effort to limit the repercussions of our arrest. In the early days of our confinement, before we were taken to Pyongyang, we were left for a very brief time with our belongings. With guards right outside the room, we furtively destroyed evidence in our possession by swallowing notes and damaging videotapes. During rigorous, daily interrogation sessions, we took care to protect our sources and interview subjects. We were also extremely careful not to reveal the names of our Chinese and Korean contacts, including Chun. People had put their lives at risk by sharing their stories, and we were determined to do everything in our power to safeguard them.

    I have snarkily suggested that Mitch Koss was able to get out of their because Mr Chivalry wasn’t weighted down with all the incriminating videotape, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he had some on his person as well.

  18. kushibo says:

    out of their –> out of there

    It’s late. Need sleep.

    But in the meantime… Jeremy wrote:

    But at the very least, I don’t think Lisa Ling deserves any blame in this at all.

    Why should Lisa Ling get criticized over this? That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? And this million-dollar question has a seven-figure answer.

    Frankly, I don’t know what the deal is with the Ling & Ling book being held up, but I find Lisa Ling trying to find an angle for making money off this to be highly distasteful. By trying to make a buck off this situation that likely had tragic consequences for innocent people, she is drawing herself into a situation where she deserves blame.

    I must admit that I have not see Lisa Ling’s own apparently wondrous reporting from North Korea, which may in fact be so earth-shattering that all my reservations about here would melt away. But without having seen it, I must say it sounds to me like she put others at risk doing it the way she did.

    I don’t recall if I said this here or elsewhere, but I have seen other work by Lisa Ling, namely some spot she did on pedophiles for “Oprah.” A serious topic, to be sure, but the way she presented it just made me want to gag. A major feature of this feature was Lisa Ling’s expressions and narrative about her feelings while she viewed the child porn that the authorities had confiscated. It wreaked of being made by an ego-driven reporter who was trying to insert herself and make herself a key element in the story. My work has brought me in frequent contact with such people, and after a while you can spot them easily.

    Between the type of reporting she’s done that I’ve seen and her attempt to turn her sister’s captivity into financial gain and fame for herself… I just have a very bad vibe about her. And I think that the security of the refugees and the would-be defectors is only a tertiary concern to her self-aggrandizement.

  19. Jeremy says:

    So as I suspected, you already had a negative view of Lisa Ling.
    I normally don’t watch Oprah, but is there really a proper way to do a news story on child pornography and react to it? You certainly can’t say she wasn’t personally horrified by what she saw.
    Also, consider the show and audience she was doing it for…that type of reporting is unfortunately its bread-and-butter. And I don’t think there’s a reporter alive who hasn’t inserted themselves in their stories in some way.

    Oh, and here’s Mr. Stanton’s review of Inside North Korea.
    http://freekorea.us/2007/03/05/inside-north-korea-tonight-dont-miss-this-one/

  20. kushibo says:

    Jeremy wrote:

    So as I suspected, you already had a negative view of Lisa Ling.

    You say that as if having a prior negative opinion of her makes my current negative opinion invalid.

    Certainly the opposite could be applied to those whose prior positive impression of her for North Korean exposé has clouded their judgement such that they fail to see that her opportunism at taking not hers but her sister’s and her sister’s co-worker’s experience in North Korean confinement and turning it into a money-making opportunity and career-enhancer is a sign of the self-aggrandizer that she may actually be.

    I am not a person whose opinions are set in stone. People about whom I’ve had a generally positive opinion have sunk to the negative side of the ledger; people about whom I’ve had a negative-leaning viewpoint have surprised me to the point that I significantly changed my opinion. I keep an open mind. I have to for the things I do when empirical evidence demands it.

    Case in point, Laura Ling has sunk quite a bit since her release, whereas Euna Lee has climbed considerably, even as I implore people not to buy her book. Mitch Koss, is hovering a little lower than before.

    I normally don’t watch Oprah, but is there really a proper way to do a news story on child pornography and react to it? You certainly can’t say she wasn’t personally horrified by what she saw.
    Also, consider the show and audience she was doing it for…that type of reporting is unfortunately its bread-and-butter. And I don’t think there’s a reporter alive who hasn’t inserted themselves in their stories in some way.

    On occasion I will listen to Oprah as background noise, particularly when I’m visiting my parents. My mother likes Oprah, and I generally like the tone of her program, and I think it’s laudable the way she brings some hard-hitting issues home to viewers who might otherwise not be so comfortable listening to them.

    That said, I don’t think the venue in any way necessitated the heavy focus on Lisa Ling herself reacting to the porn. I’m trying to find the video, but my dorm connection at the moment is quite slow, so all I can find is a text-containing link to the segment I’m talking about.

    It was clear from Ms Winfrey’s own words and those of the police and experts shown in the segment that Oprah was going for a sobering view of something that was considerably more shocking than most viewers might be aware. Laura Ling’s reaction to it was just… distracting and awkward. It was superfluous.

    I’ve worked with enough media people to recognize certain types. My initial or second impressions are not always correct and I change my views accordingly. But I trusted experience-informed gut instincts on Mitch Koss, Laura Ling, and Euna Lee, and it turned out I was right in the end. I predicted a book deal — a no-brainer that everyone else also predicted — but Lisa Ling inserting herself into her sister’s own book deal and crowding out Euna Lee in the process was so over-the-top it made the self-aggrandizement paradigm seem like a poorly written script.

    Journalists and reporters are fallible people with imperfect personalities. But there are types for whom the story is the most important thing and there are types for whom their career, fame, and bottom line is the ultimately the driving force. I would put Barbara Demick, certainly not a perfect reporter, in the former, but Lisa Ling is so obviously in the latter it baffles me that this is open to discussion. It is not that she inserts herself into the stories that’s the problem, it’s that the way she inserts herself reveals (to me at least) the kind of media figure she actually is.

    And such people are dangerous to the people they report on. Laura Ling and Mitch Koss and Euna Lee endangered the lives of the people they’d interviewed or would have used that crossing point, thanks to their self-aggrandizing stunt. Lisa Ling used a medical NGO as cover to gain access to tell a story those of us paying attention already know. I wonder how many such NGOs will have been denied access in the future thanks to that stunt, thus adding to the suffering of those in need.

  21. Glans says:

    Lisa and Laura Ling’s book “Somewhere Inside”, published by Harper Collins, will go on sale 5/18/10.

    http://www.earlyword.com/hcbuzz/somewhere-inside/

  22. kushibo says:

    Thanks for the heads up, Glans.

    Don’t buy this book. There’s blood on their hands, and you might get some on yours.

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