Global news agency being held hostage in North Korea.

The dalliance between the Associated Press and the Korean Central News Agency, the world’s most mendacious news agency, has already fathered the global distribution of doctored photographs and some awfully dubious journalism by its correspondent, Jean H. Lee — and transmitted all of it to hundreds of millions of news consumers around the world. Recall that last summer, just after the AP first signed a joint distribution agreement with KCNA, the AP distributed this photograph of a flood in North Korea.


The picture turned out to have been doctored to make the water look deeper than it was, in the apparent hope of attracting more outside aid. The AP quietly killed the picture, but went right on with its public displays of affection with KCNA, the “news” agency that says that Kim Jong Eun could drive at age three, and that the heavens glowed, cranes circled, and storms stopped in their tracks when Kim Jong Il died.

You can usually spot a bad relationship long before the wedding. The aunts and the neighbors will hope that the aggrieved party will come to his or her senses before it’s too late. But in the history of human relationships, good judgment has almost never overcome emotional attachment. So just weeks after the most recent KCNA photoshop scandal, the AP is proudly showing off its wedding photo album.


Yes, they’ve held a ceremony — their word — to open their bureau in Pyongyang. How lovely.

In a ceremony that came less than a month after the death of longtime ruler Kim Jong Il and capped nearly a year of discussions, AP President and CEO Tom Curley and a delegation of top AP editors inaugurated the office, situated inside the headquarters of the state-run Korean Central News Agency in downtown Pyongyang.

The bureau expands the AP’s presence in North Korea, building on the breakthrough in 2006 when AP opened a video bureau in Pyongyang for the first time by an international news organization. Exclusive video from AP video staffers in Pyongyang was used by media outlets around the world following Kim’s death.

Now, AP writers and photojournalists will also be allowed to work in North Korea on a regular basis. [AP, of course]

… all while escorted by regime minders, kept safely away from almost anything legitimately newsworthy, while being spoon-fed the regime’s propaganda, and ever mindful of the fact that the content and tenor of their coverage is now a hostage to this regime’s approval of its continued presence. Perhaps one day the AP will get to film a coup through a hotel window. Maybe they’ll be able to show the film or tell the story weeks after the fact. Until then, I see little truth and a steady stream of lies issuing from the AP’s Pyongyang Bureau.

And who else sees a ribbon-cutting ceremony itself as ethically questionable? KCNA is North Korea’s official news agency — a propaganda arm of the most repressive regime in the world today, and probably the most repressive regime since at least the nightmare of the Khmer Rouge. Isn’t the AP’s function to fearlessly report the news, without cozying up to governments? Do you suppose the AP would have wanted to be seen in a ribbon-cutting ceremony with, say, the Voice of America?

If there is a better example of how the global news media have failed so miserably in covering the story of North Korea, I can’t think of one. The real story here is the triumph of media vanity and their lazy contentment at leaving out of mind the greater truths that the regime keeps out of their sight. It outdoes the breathy self-infatuation of Wolf Blitzer, Greta Van Susteren, and Christiane Amanpour at that fact that KCNA allowed them to be filmed in front of their propaganda statutes (though any member of the Korean Friendship Association could say the same thing). Laura Ling and Euna Lee can at least say they saw a few things that weren’t completely staged. For their trouble — which wasn’t inconsiderable — they even got a plane ride home with Bill Clinton and some book royalties.

Who supposes that the AP, now a hostage of its marriage to KCNA, will still fearlessly cover stories about snipers shooting down refugees at the border, or being sent to camps for not faking sufficient grief about the death of Kim Jong Il? Both stories have received broad international coverage recently. I found no reference to either story in the AP’s archives. Here’s a test for today, tomorrow, and next year: keep your eye on the AP’s news archive. Troll it for reporting about the most damning reports of human rights atrocities, and compare the AP’s editorial selections to those of other news agencies. I certainly don’t expect all reference to North Korea’s oppressive character to be Trotskied out of the AP’s reality, but do you really suppose that the AP’s self-censoring suppositions about North Korea’s opinions of its coverage will exert no gravitational influence over the AP’s coverage?

Neither did I.


  1. the condescension-o-meter went off the charts with this post, sir! unfortunately, i don’t think there was enough bc i share the doubt that AP has at least some good intentions (covering potential instability; refugees; concentration camps) by cozying up to the nk regime.
    this is a faustian bargain in a desperate plea for subscriptions/site-clicks while granting the nk regime more legitimacy and coverage than they could have originally dreamt of…and the problem with the faustian reference is that it assumes AP had a soul in the first place.
    shame on AP.


  2. Blowing things a bit out of proportion eh?

    To quote a Korean refugee featured in Kimjongillia “the regime will last, at most 5 years after his death”

    It’s just a waiting game now.


  3. I’d love to see the AP send their Pyongyang photographers across the Yalu and Tumen rivers to report on snipers and other border issues. In reality I suppose we’ll have to settle for possible pictures of Kim Jong Un holding a cello like a bass guitar.


  4. The reality is that is the way. It is not a standard what one is used from a point of an outsider. Maybe there is a thought to consider to understand what the reality is ? According the law of gravity, well, we made them that way – the division of Korean Peninsula was not made by Koreans. By the way it started with Japanese invasion(long history) and colonization against will of Korean people. Korean War was a civil war. Both side want unite by whatever means. Unfortunately the cold war did not help . Sixty years of division, sanction, isolation, famine and starvation will make anyone go crazy. Korea was a pawn between east and west as was among the big foursome. Well fed, rosy cheek, confident comfortable condescending curious seekers of maybe a sensation shows up asking unanswerable questions to the poor guides naturally bring suspicision. Simply they do not understand your way because they are not used to your standard. How the gap created by 60 years of division and undeclared war is utmost challenge for both Koreas as well as the world. The truth is that the North has neuclear technology and they may even have advanced technology now or in time. The question is how much do we really want peace and do we want enough to talk serious even a small talk. Talk is still better than war. Lets hope this time talk succeed.