SO THE FIRST WELL-KNOWN AMERICAN to meet with Kim Jong Un is not an AP interviewer, a tribute-bearing Bill Richardson, a ransom-bearing Jimmy Carter, or first choice Michael Jordan. It is this man:
Strain, if you must, to make this into some sort of soft power diplomatic coup; it really looks like a tragic sequel to “Being There.” The very weirdness of it all is evident in some priceless exchanges from yesterday’s State Department daily press briefing.
Delectably, the AP’s part-time Pyongyang correspondent and photographer were scooped by Vice Media, led by Shane Smith, a man who is to journalism what The Dude is to alternative dispute resolution. Nate Thayer tells the story here. At least Smith, unlike the AP, does not ask us to take his brand of journalism seriously. What makes all of this even harder to explain is that Smith’s ventures into North Korea and North Korean logging camps in Siberia have portrayed North Korea as bizarre, controlling, brutish, and ridiculous. Smith, in other words, scooped the AP without (so far) having pulled any punches or sacrificed his objectivity. That’s why I’m willing to see the product Vice produces before I’m as critical as others have been, although I applaud another unlikely source, Gawker, for putting this circus into its rightful context.
You can’t help pity the AP which, for all its literary and literal prostrations – for all its willingness to make jarring ethical compromises to gain the regime’s favor – was frustrated in its priapistic lust for an interview with His Porcine Majesty. It looks like we’ll all have to wait a little longer to learn whether it’s briefs or boxers. Meanwhile, Jean Lee, the AP’s Korea Bureau Chief, must quote pesky upstart Vice to even report what Kim said to Rodman, and was otherwise relegated to tweeting pictures of sandwiches. No word yet on that AP expose on the starvation and cannibalism said to be ongoing a few miles to the south of Pyongyang. Maybe Vice will beat them to that, too.
I’ve been pondering why the North Koreans would snub such willing instruments as Jean Lee and Bill Richardson, people who could actually deliver things a wily regime could use to advance its coldly calculated interests. Instead, it left them all at the altar for a man who does, admittedly, look rather fetching in a wedding dress. The resulting publicity mostly portrays Kim Jong Un as a bizarre, detached hedonist in a kingdom of helots, a gluttonous man-child who is blithely apathetic about statecraft or the welfare of his pitiful subjects. Out west, where I’m from, our fathers teach us to take better care of our tools than this.
After consulting William of Occam, I offer this novel hypothesis: Could it be that Kim Jong Un is just an impulsive imbecile who happens to be the nominal leader of a state with nuclear weapons? Nothing we know about his academic history or his policy record contradicts my hypothesis.