Lisa Ling Writes to Kushibo

Lisa Ling has written to Kushibo, responding to his criticisms. Kushibo, obviously wanting to choose his next words carefully, will respond in the coming days.

For the record, I think Kushibo’s fury is motivated by the best of intentions, but I respectfully differ with him on this point. I criticize Lisa Ling for absolutely nothing. Laura Ling, in the course of trying to tell an important story, also with the best of intentions, made a foolish decision to cross into North Korea that might have gotten other people hurt or killed — we’ll probably never know for sure. Without knowing that, it’s difficult to answer the question of what Laura and Euna Lee can do to redeem themselves. That leaves me feeling deeply ambivalent about both of them.

Lisa Ling has taken much more justifiable risks to tell another important story about North Korea, and she and her husband Paul Song have long supported LiNK and the cause of ending Kim Jong Il’s brutality toward his subjects. Some have suggested that Lisa Ling’s “Inside North Korea” may have set back access for other humanitarian groups to get into North Korea, but the evidence doesn’t support this view. This regime has long manipulated humanitarian aid, has never allowed in much of it, and has recently rejected most offers of humanitarian aid to the extent of mass expulsions of American aid groups and canceling a 500,000-ton aid commitment from the U.S. government. Far better, then, for some intrepid journalist to help Americans understand the terrible nature of this regime so that they can know the futility of their own generosity. “Inside North Korea” was intrepid and, for many viewers, profoundly enlightening.

Some of the criticism of Lisa Ling, not necessarily Kushibo’s, has implicitly criticized her for using her fame to gain publicity. This strikes me as more envy than principled criticism. For one thing, the publicity itself brought needed attention to this regime’s brutality. For another, there is no inherent evil in being famous or, to drive to the real emotional focus here, beautiful. In saying this, I certainly don’t refer to Kushibo, but I don’t doubt that fame and beauty are objects of resentment for some. But this is irrational, and if I were fortunate enough to be famous and drop-dead gorgeous with a loved one in distress, I’d sure as hell go on CNN to appeal for her release. It would be different if Lisa Ling had counseled her sister to cross the border, but I’ve seen no evidence to support that. Lisa Ling and Laura Ling are different people. Isn’t it at least fair to judge each by her own actions?