It’s faint praise to say that Newt Gingrich would likely be an improvement over John Kerry as Secretary of State. I hardly count myself as Gingrich’s greatest fan. He’s intelligent and qualified for the job, and he certainly has grand policy visions, although I’d have concerns about putting a man of his ego and temperament into the nation’s top diplomatic position. I also think he’d have more trouble than Bob Corker or even John Bolton in his efforts to bend the State Department civil service to his will.
That being said, Gingrich deserves to be treated fairly, and it’s harmful to the interests of both the U.S. and South Korea when the state news services of allied nations raise panic in their capitals by mischaracterizing his views. So when I saw this written about Gingrich in Yonhap, something told me it couldn’t be right.
— Joshua Stanton (@freekorea_us) November 13, 2016
I can’t say where the reporter got this idea for certain, but if you google “Gingrich invade North Korea,” the first page of results includes a blog post of questionable credibility that makes a similar claim. I emailed the reporter and asked him for the source of the statement. The reporter didn’t respond, but a few minutes later, the sentence in question had been altered to this:
— Joshua Stanton (@freekorea_us) November 14, 2016
This still isn’t a quote, a correction, or even (as we’ll see) an accurate statement. It’s just a dilution of “invade” to “attack” and the insertion of the weasel-word “apparently.” This only made me more determined to find Gingrich’s original words. It probably took 15 solid minutes of googling before I found the original speech on video and sent it to the reporter (still no reply). It took 10 more minutes before I found a transcript of Gingrich’s speech on the Wayback Machine and suggested that a correction was in order (again, no reply). But for your edification, here is what Mr. Gingrich really said:
I think that in a sense, President Bush came very close to defining this twice. First was in the “Axis of Evil” speech, January 29, 2002, in the State of the Union, where essentially I believe he was right but in fact could not operationalize what he said. That is, it was an axis of evil; Iran, Iraq, North Korea. Well, we’re one out of three. People ought to think about that. If Bush was right in January of 2002 – and by the way, virtually the entire Congress gave him a standing ovation when he said it – then why is it that the other two parts of the axis of evil are still visibly cheerfully making nuclear weapons?
That’s because we stood at the brink, and looked over, and thought too big a problem. If Harry Truman had done that, the world today would be communist. If Franklin Roosevelt had done that in ’41, either the Japanese or the Germans would have won. If Lincoln had done that, we would’ve become two and then multiple countries. I mean there are moments in history when you have to stand up and say, okay, tell me the size of the problem, I’ll go get a solution of same size. I will overmatch the problem. That’s what Americans are all about; we overmatch problems with energy, creativity and drive. [Newt Gingrich, address at the American Enterprise Institute, July 29, 2010]
What Gingrich called for, then, was for President Bush to confront North Korea and stop its progress toward a nuclear arsenal. Gingrich never says how, exactly, we’re supposed to do this, leaving it to bloggers and reporters to simply stuff words into his mouth. This brings us to the reporter’s third amendment of the sentence, yielding this still-inaccurate statement:
— Joshua Stanton (@freekorea_us) November 14, 2016
But an invasion is only the most extreme possibility one could invent from what Gingrich said. Other equally plausible guesses include harder sanctions, a diplomatic deal with China to cut off financial support for North Korea, a limited strike against Pyongyang’s WMD facilities, information operations and other strategies to destabilize the regime from within, or some combination of these things. It’s a significant enough error that it demands an outright correction. Instead, we get weasel-words, mischaracterizations, and unjustified assumptions.
I’m a daily reader of this reporter’s writing, and I suppose (by default) I’ll continue to be. The slant on his reporting was always obvious from the way he’d make a news story of every solitary opinion by some “expert” who’d obviously never read a sanctions regulation — inevitably, a left-leaning or pro-engagement one — that sanctions wouldn’t work. This, however, is a whole new level of inaccuracy that has cost this reporter my respect. Is it any wonder that conservatives distrust journalists when journalists twist the words of conservatives this way?
Note that we haven’t even reached the greater absurdity — that the arch-conservative Gingrich cited the socialist free-love quasi-pacifist bon-vivant Albert Camus to justify a more muscular foreign policy, but I’ll let you work that one out on your own.