Open Sources, Jan. 12, 2013

AP WATCH:  Judging by his bio and his Wikipedia page, Nate Thayer is one of the most cantankerous and accomplished freelance journalists of our time. I was going to write about some of the things Jean Lee didn’t say in her report about Eric Schmidt’s visit to Pyongyang, but Thayer beat me to it and saved me the trouble. Contrast Lee’s work to this, from David Chance and Park Ju-Min of Reuters. Has opening a bureau in Pyongyang made the AP’s journalism better or worse? Lee reported the fact of the Schmidt-Richardson trip first, but how many hours would it have taken for another journalist based in Seoul or Washington or Santa Fe to tell us that? What real significance can we attribute to this visit anyway? What good is the privilege of telling “exclusive” half-truths and lies if your independence is the price you must pay for it?  Here’s a quote from an earlier post by Thayer:

The Associated Press Korea coverage is nothing short of a stain on, and an embarrassment to, the principles of a free press, and it is past time they  cut it out, close their bureau in Pyongyang and apologize.

Hear, hear. I saw that Thayer commented here one morning and linked to this post.  I was too busy to follow it at the time, but I’m glad I did today.  Hat tip to an anonymous journalist (aside from Thayer himself).


REALLY? ANDREW SULLIVAN LINKED ME and not one of us even noticed?


ONE COUNTRY AT A TIME:  Bienvenidos lectores españoles, y gracias a Eric Schmidt.  One-on-one, I can hold my own fairly well in Spanish, but I admit to cheating and using Google Translate to read this El Mundo editorial. Considering how badly Google Translate works for Korean (though it’s improving) I’m surprised by how well it works with European languages.

What I notice about articles in the European press about North Korea is that their readers seem to be learning for the first time things that most American news readers probably knew about North Korea five years ago. I suspect this is because the burden of translating information into so many languages restricts information flows. Once again, Google unwittingly spreads the word about North Korea’s atrocities by steadily breaking down those barriers.

European reactions also seem different to me — less desensitized, more outraged, and more polarized, with a strong contingent of assorted leftists who reflexively defend the regime, deny the evidence of its abuses, and impute imperial motives to its critics. Do you suppose it would change anything if they knew that that the author of this blog was such a strong advocate of a reduced U.S. military presence in Korea?

No, I didn’t think so, either.


VOA INTERVIEW:  For those who are interested, the Voice of America prints an excerpt of an interview it did with me about technology, cell phones, and the political implications of information flow in North Korea.

While I think most attempts to analogize North Korea to other places are flawed, there are moments when I find relevance in my own experiences. I remember life before the Internet in South Dakota, when world news was virtually unobtainable, and I would get it by short wave radio from the VOA and BBC Africa services (at night, I could pick up such “exotics” as Havana, East Berlin, Moscow, and apartheid-era Johannesburg). Before the invention of blogs, I started keeping a journal of the reports of rioting and demonstrations in the then-Soviet Republics, sensing then that this trend would grow, and that it would eventually mean the Untergang of the Soviet Union. For some odd reason, the Africa services came in well during the daytime. If you’re old enough to remember life before the internet, can you also remember how it changed your own way of seeing the world?


I’M ON RECORD AS OPINING THAT North Korea will not evolve toward reform or openness unless reform-minded officers or officials can pull off a coup, but I think evolution of this kind is possible in China. (A better question is whether Xi Jinping is the sort who’d permit it). China has just enough of a dissident culture and access to information that pressure will continue to build from within. This week’s events suggest that the pressure is still building, and that regime won’t be able to contain it forever.

Will one-party rule in North Korea outlast one-party rule in China, in the same manner that it outlasted the U.S.S.R.?



  1. I am not sure which I consider a greater compliment, being called “one of the most cantankerous” or “accomplished freelance journalists of our time.” Thanks for the kind words and the always great work on this site, which I might add has a stellar record of being appropriately cantankerous itself