AP Exclusive: North Koreans say Kim Jong Il is like Jesus, only bigger!

I think we’ve just reached the point at which reality is just too absurd for parody, so I’ll just let you read the latest and judge for yourself. Somehow, I don’t think comparing Kim Jong Il’s birth to the nativity at Bethlehem is quite the angle KCNA should have chosen to win over the hearts and minds of middle America. I would, however, like to commend Jean H. Lee for (1) putting her byline on the story, (2) helpfully acknowledging that “[s]ome foreign historians dispute parts of Kim’s eight-volume memoirs as well as the official biography published by North Korea in 2001,” and (3) keeping it classy when responding to criticism of the reporting from her bureau.

Some friendly advice for the AP, since I can see you in my visitors’ log, over there in Ryugyong-Dong, Pyongyang: snark won’t answer the questions about your coverage and its compromises, or make them any less compelling to your increasingly squeamish colleagues. Why not offer a frank and transparent defense of the exact nature of your relationship with the regime you’re covering? Of course, that defense can only begin when you fully disclose the terms of your agreements with that regime.

Update:   So what I wanted to show you at that second link has since vanished, but I kept a screenshot:

screen-shot-2012-04-09-at-95227-pm.png

11 comments

  1. Jim says:

    Link three “(3) keeping it classy when” is pointing to http://www.freekorea.us rather than its intended target, http://www.twitter.com.

  2. Fred says:

    That paragraph beginning with “Freedom of religion” appalled me.

  3. kushibo says:

    There’s writing propaganda, and then there’s writing about propaganda.

    Joshua wrote:

    I don’t think comparing Kim Jong Il’s birth to the nativity at Bethlehem is quite the angle KCNA should have chosen to win over the hearts and minds of middle America.

    Precisely. Having grown up in Christian churches of various denominations, I’d have to say that most would find it appalling, not endearing.

    I’m also not sure how well AP is towing the Worker’s Party line when Ms Jean Lee is writing things like this:

    Defectors say those who oppose the party and state face imprisonment. Amnesty International estimates as many as 200,000 people are being held in North Korean labor camps today, based on satellite imagery and defector accounts. North Korea denies the existence of such gulags.

    Kim also turned isolation into part of North Korea’s creed through a “Juche” philosophy, which calls on his people to summon self-reliance even during hard times, such as the famine of the mid-1990s that killed hundreds of thousands of people.

    Surely, these are not the words they’re looking for, and it points to either (a) independence about content, and/or (b) a pragmatic realization by some in Pyongyang that a tightly controlled script is simply not feasible. Both of those are good things.

    For those of you more familiar with North Korean hagiography than I, I have a question about this paragraph:

    Kim also started going by the nom de guerre “Kim Il Sung,” meaning “Kim, the sun.” Kim wasn’t the first warrior to pick that name — there were 16 well-known “Kim Il Sungs” in the previous decade with a reputation as fierce fighters, historian Song said.

    Is this description of sixteen other well-known people with moniker Kim Ilsung a blasphemous deviation from the official script?

    Anyway, I’d rather see “the Jerusalem of the East” over “the Bethlehem of the North.”

  4. Joshua says:

    Yes, I noted that mandatory disclosure, buried deep in the middle of a very long article. Do you really defend this as an example of balanced, objective, truth-seeking journalism? Don’t you have any curiosity about the terms of the AP’s agreements with North Korea, written or tacit, and whether those might flavor its coverage?

  5. kushibo says:

    I’m not “defending” it per se. If I were in a Pyongyang-based news bureau and I was tasked with writing about the hagiography with which millions of North Koreans are apparently mesmerized, a week ahead of the centennial of that idol’s birth, I’d have written something a bit more critical about the man’s decades of abusive power.

    But at the same time, I don’t think this particular example is as bad as you’re making it out. Not only is there direct mention of hundreds of thousands dying from famine and 200K people in a gulag of labor camps, the entire myth construction is something of a big negative.

    And yes, I am curious about the AP’s agreement with North Korea and whether it might flavor its coverage. At the same time, even if there were no tacit agreement to flavor anything, I’m also not deluded about two things: (a) stories such as this are not meant as “news,” and (b) the American public has the ability to scrutinize and process North Korean propaganda or stories about North Korean propaganda.

    As I’ve already stated elsewhere, I see some value in a Western news bureau being in Pyongyang. In fact, I’d like a bunch of them to be (though I also realize that they are constrained by ground rules in order to be there), because (a) I think a sort of Hawthorne effect may be at work here, (b) if things really start to go south at any time, it’s good to have feet on the ground there, and (c) the existence of a news bureau like AP erodes North Korea’s elite’s own fear of exposure to the outside, as the see that the sky does not indeed fall down (so far).

    In short, the cost to the West is very minimal, whereas the potential payoff is considerable.

    I think over time we’ll see the AP stories evolve as they get a feel for how much they can say. Eventually they will go either toward general freedom to say what they want in print media outside North Korea, or they will feel a leash tightening, to the point that it feels like a noose, and then maybe AP will bow out. We shall see which direction, but at the same time, I see great value in you and other bloggers (including me), making an issue of this. AP needs to know people are watching and paying attention.

  6. Gary S. says:

    The stories I’ve read so far very much resemble party propaganda, and do not resemble objective reporting. The “anti-US feats” bit is a good example. No genuine news story would use that language.

    A more recent example: “Kim Jong Un named to top party post” as headline, five paragraphs of Kim dynasty propaganda before the missile launch is even mentioned, then six more paragraphs of Kim praise and banal commentary before any worldwide objection is mentioned. Then the objection is rebutted. Then more praise of Kim Jong Un.

    Something else I’ve been wondering: who is the intended audience for these stories? I fear they are, at least secondarily, for domestic consumption. If these stories are being put out within North Korea with an AP byline, as if to lend the credibility of an international media organization to this obvious state propaganda, then AP is doing the people of North Korea a horrific disservice.

  7. kushibo says:

    Gary S. wrote:

    A more recent example: “Kim Jong Un named to top party post” as headline, five paragraphs of Kim dynasty propaganda before the missile launch is even mentioned, then six more paragraphs of Kim praise and banal commentary before any worldwide objection is mentioned. Then the objection is rebutted. Then more praise of Kim Jong Un.

    Gary S., to which AP/Jean Lee article are you referring? The closest I could find to your description is this one (“Kim Jong Un Named to New Top Party Post”), which starts out with “Defiant North Korea fueled up a rocket Wednesday.” Granted, they didn’t elaborate until a number of paragraphs later, as you described, but it was an article focusing on Kim Jong-un being’s ascension, not about the questionable launch.

    Methinks some of you are not as much upset with AP’s coverage as you are with AP covering it at all. Toward that end, it seems as if you’re looking for something to be offended by and you’re missing the forest for the trees. I mean, come on, in the second paragraph Kim Jong-il is actually, seriously named as “eternal general secretary.”

    In the trade, those are known as “jokes that write themselves.” Jean Lee and her AP staff don’t need to take the journalistic equivalent of a highlighter and mark up your morning read for you. It’s all there: the solidified ascension, the absurd pomp, and the international qualms about their actions.

    Now, you might be on to something with whether or not AP is being used for domestic consumption, but that should be pretty easy to verify. And if so, so what? Do you read the Rodong or the KCNA? It’s been chockfull of foreign institutions and individuals giving praise (and therefore credibility) to Juche, Kim Ilsung, and Kim Jong-il for years. The AP doing the same would hardly be noteworthy.

    That is, if the AP is doing the same. If the AP article I linked above were printed in North Korean newspapers in its entirety, not only would that NOT be a horrific disservice to the people of North Korea. Rather, it would be wonderful if they read over morning soup the following:

    The United States, Japan, Britain and others say the launch would constitute a provocation and would violate U.N. Security Council resolutions banning North Korea from developing its nuclear and missile programs, …

    Experts say the Unha-3 carrier is similar to the type of rocket that could be used to fire a missile mounted with a nuclear warhead to strike the U.S. or other targets. …

    U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that the launch would be a direct threat to regional security and that the U.S. would pursue “appropriate action” at the Security Council if North Korea goes ahead with it. …

    North Korean officials say the 2009 satellite reached orbit, but the U.S. and other outside observers say they have seen no evidence that it did. …

    “North Korea is less monolithic than it looks from the outside, and, particularly as a new top leadership establishes itself in the wake of Kim Jong Il’s death, there will be as many questions raised as answers provided by the political choreography,” said John Delury, an assistant professor at Yonsei University in Seoul who has made several trips to North Korea in recent years.

    But if all that has been cut, well then, per usual, it’s the DPRK authorities that have done the people of North Korea a horrific disservice, not AP.

  8. kushibo says:

    On a separate but related note, I wonder how many have been catching other American news agencies’ in-country coverage surrounding the launch. NBC News has been going big with this, sending Richard “Arab Spring” Engel into North Korea for the launch.

    As with AP, I wonder what deals they made with North Korea over coverage in order to get access.

    My biggest qualm so far is that they cut off their rocket export who they had in tow, quoting him only as saying “technically it’s not weaponized” without elaboration (meaning it easily could be weaponized? or it hasn’t been technically altered so as to be weaponizable?).

  9. kushibo says:

    For a mental exercise, compare Jean H. Lee’s article from the AP bureau in Pyongyang with Chico Harlan’s Washington Post piece on the exact same news, regarding the criticisms and concerns made about the AP articles.

  10. Gary S. says:

    The closest I could find to your description is this one (”Kim Jong Un Named to New Top Party Post”), which starts out with “Defiant North Korea fueled up a rocket Wednesday.”

    That was the one I meant. Sorry I overlooked the brief mention of the launch in the opening paragraph. I don’t think it undermines my point that much though.

    it was an article focusing on Kim Jong-un being’s ascension, not about the questionable launch.

    The article pinballs back and forth between the two topics. It’s so poorly organized, and wastes so many paragraphs praising the Kim dynasty, that it suggests someone other than a professional western journalist wrote and/or edited it. That’s what offends me about this arrangement. I don’t expect western-style press freedom, but I do expect AP to not so blatantly perpetuate the self-serving myths of an evil regime.

    I mean, come on, in the second paragraph Kim Jong-il is actually, seriously named as “eternal general secretary.” In the trade, those are known as “jokes that write themselves.”

    AP must really like that joke; they’ve sure used it a lot so far. So much, in fact, that it almost looks like they’re just repeating Pyongyang’s bluster non-ironically. But maybe I lack the necessary sense of humor.

    It would be wonderful if (North Koreans) read over morning soup the following

    Fair point, but see next item:

    Now, you might be on to something with whether or not AP is being used for domestic consumption

    I thought about that further, as well as my “AP lending credibility to regime propaganda” point, and… I don’t think it’s worth hand-wringing about. Here’s why:

    The Associated Press is just a feed of news stories. Local media outlets that subscribe to it are free to use, or not use, AP stories as they see fit. So if the regime is picking and choosing favorable AP stories for domestic consumption, they’re exercising the same rights your local fishwrap has to determine their content. Pyongyang’s reasons would be far less noble, but that gets into matters of nationwide press freedom, a far broader topic tha subsumes the AP/NK agreement.

    In other words, the domestic journalistic abuses I was concerned about are just inherent to the nature of news feeds, and things we can’t really blame AP for.

    it seems as if you’re looking for something to be offended by

    I am concerned about the pro-regime tone, and terrible news judgment, in much of what AP has filed so far. Having said that, the “wrong turn” story is a very positive sign. I’m still skeptical that this arrangement will ever do much good for the people who need it, but I’m willing to give it a chance.

  11. james says:

    here’s an interview with Jean H Lee in the Koream:

    http://iamkoream.com/april-issue-reporting-from-pyongyang/

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