AP Watch

AP’s coverage of North Korea strikingly similar to The Onion’s

So once again, KCNA has turned its AP propaganda amplifier up to eleven, informing us of that, according to “rare interviews … with Pyongyang residents,” North Koreans don’t trust the Americans to keep the post-Groundhog Day Agreement. The correspondent quotes a grand total of five North Koreans, including one soldier, one lieutenant colonel, a Foreign Ministry official, and two women whose occupations are not listed. Typically for the AP’s recent reports from Pyongyang, it invites more questions than it answers, such as how the correspondents located this scientific random sample of North Korean citizens, and how many regime minders were standing on each side of them taking careful notes during the interviews. Then, based on this dubious sample, the AP report suggests that these views are representative of the North Korean people as a whole. That has to be the implication, because there wouldn’t be anything remotely newsworthy in reporting that 100% of North Koreans interviewed in the presence of regime minders remain deeply suspicious of America’s intentions.

And of course, the AP isn’t the first news agency — not including KCNA — to broadcast man-on-the-street interviews as evidence of North Korean public opinion:

Kim Jong Il Announces Plan To Bring Moon To North Korea

We should at least be thankful that the AP felt compelled to inform its readers, with breathtaking understatement, that “North Koreans are subject to daily propaganda,” and that “the views of those interviewed often reflected what is said by the government.” And to be completely fair, this is indeed a fact that The Onion did not report first.

I presume this report was filed by the AP’s Pyongyang correspondent, Jean H. Lee, although her byline doesn’t appear on the story. Since the AP signed a content-distribution deal with KCNA, followed by a ceremony opening its new Pyongyang bureau, it has published at least one fake KCNA photo, filed a stunningly naive report on a North Korean “press conference” that was widely panned by New York Times readers, and a report on Kim Jong Il’s first post-mortem birthday that was strikingly similar to this Onion report.

No doubt, both reports are a reflection on Kim Jong Il’s high approval rating before his death:

In The Know: Kim Jong-Il’s Approval Rating Plummets to 120%

On the more positive side, AP television appears to have finally published a report on China’s repatriation of North Korean refugees, on the same day I published a post criticizing it for failing to cover the story. On the same day, I emailed the AP and asked them for copies of their subscriber agreement with KCNA, and any agreements relating to the opening of its Pyongyang Bureau. The AP has yet to respond. Transparency is for other people, I guess.

Anyway, since I brought up the refugee repatriation story, I’ll link this piece by Melanie Kirkpatrick, writing at the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal.


  1. Even if five people constituted a sample,

    Even if there were no government minders around,

    Even if they were chosen at random,

    Even then, AP should have been completely aware that Pyongyang residents are selected for loyalty and are the opposite of being representative.


  2. What’s funniest about this is not the lack of a random or reliable sampling, but the lack of anything newsworthy. Of course North Koreans don’t trust the US – thank you, Captain Obvious. Next up, Iranians are suspicious that Israel might be up to no good.


  3. Since Norks exist in an alternative universe, even getting five people educated enough to read their lines means at least eight more people have been exposed to an alternate thought:
    -senior propagandist
    -assistant propagandist
    -5 ea pigeons

    they may have even been exposed to thoughts – plural.

    If the “scientifically representative sample” should amazingly include the same five people in the future, I will be (yet again) slightly disappointed.

    Perhaps it’s a DPRK “inoculation” plan to start exposing a few folks at a time to outside thoughts. Five today, seven tomorrow, nine a year from now… who knows.

    And outside of a relatively small group of DPRK followers, and Onionerati, the majority of the world doesn’t have the context or even care about the degree or scope of DPRK’s control on everything coming into or out of DPRK.

    For most of us, the coverage is remarkably unnews-worthy, but at least it’s bringing exposure to the greater unwashed masses. Mao said, “it only takes one spark to set the prairie on fire”.

    I personally have been grappling with the “merciless sacred war” DPRK promised. As they go through their Juche dialectics, what did the “merciful secular peace” look like? And who will the war be sacred to?


  4. Commentary carried a piece regarding an alleged Iranian nuclear test in North Korea.


    Certainly within the realm of the possible, but there are also a few holes in the story (it’s disputed, in other words). Anyway, I for one would be curious to get your thoughts on this at some point, or will just have to enjoy crawling through the extensive “Iran archive” on OFK as time permits.

    On the refugee hearings today, I believe the whole thing (though not yet with a transcript) is available here: http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2012/03/04/north-korea-nuclear-warhead-test-for-iran/

    Thanks Joshua


  5. True, but in fairness, KCNA and The Onion do seem to share certain key aspects of their respective approaches to journalism, right down to the (probably) fabricated “man on the street” interviews and the absence of a comment section below articles posted on the web. Make of that what you will, but personally, I know I have referred to KCNA only half jokingly as “Korea’s Finest News Source” on more than one occasion.


  6. That AP vox pop story was a shocking lapse in standards. What next, an in-depth interview with the guise on the USS Pueblo?


  7. So a sample of North Koreans doesn’t trust the US government. How about this sample: does the Republican base trust the US government? And here’s a sample of one: does Joshua Stanton trust the US Department of State?

    [Do I trust our State Department? Do you actually read this blog? – Joshua]


  8. Re: 2010 nuclear test:

    Was there any seismic confirmation? The peninsula is, I gather, pretty well monitored for even small explosions. Some sources claim that the seismographs did not show anything unusual.



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