Archive for Media Criticism

Five ways to spot a bullsh*t story about North Korea

Some people, including at least one TV station in Arizona, are reprinting reports circulating on the internet that North Korea claims to have landed a man on the sun. Those reprinting this report are giving it the too-good-to-check treatment — they imply that they don’t quite believe North Korea said it, but they’re also too lazy and sloppy to check. Follow the trail of links to the source, however, and you come to a blog post that’s an apparent parody, and not even a very funny one (unfunny parodies can seem more credible than funny ones). The post cites KCNA as its source, but there is no such report on KCNA. As with the recent Jang-fed-to-pack-of-dogs story, it doesn’t pass the test that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

This can be a hard rule to apply to North Korea, whose regime has put most of the evidence out of reach, and has set a very high bar for “extraordinary” claims. Its official media really did claim recently that “[a]rchaeologists of the History Institute of the DPRK Academy of Social Sciences … reconfirmed a lair of the unicorn rode by King Tongmyong.” (In other, unrelated reports, KCNA refers to “unicorn-lions,” and acknowledges that they’re mythical.) KCNA’s recitation of “natural wonders” coinciding with Kim Jong Il’s death is something to behold. Finally, this is, after all, a nuclear-armed state of 23 million miserable, hungry people whose 31 year-old leader has never met a foreign leader or diplomat, but has met Dennis Rodman three times.

If North Korea really had launched a large rocket, however, that would have violated multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions and drawn condemnations from governments around the world. Satellites would have detected the preparations for the launch and the launch itself. Governments would have confirmed it, and actual diplomats would be holding crisis meetings about the next U.N. resolution that they’d agree to pass (and tacitly, not to enforce).

The story, in other words, is obvious bullsh*t. Here, for the novice North Korea watcher, is a simple guide to calling bullsh*t on outlandish things you hear about North Korea:

(1) If the story sounds like bullsh*t and doesn’t cite a credible source, it’s probably bullsh*t. Because true things about North Korea can sound like bullsh*it, it helps to know something about North Korea’s behavioral history here. I’ve been doing this for ten years now, so I have that going for me, but it’s seldom possible to confirm reports from inside North Korea, and there will usually be room for argument about whether the outlandish things we hear are consistent with more credible reports. Example: The sun-landing story, or the unicorn story (Oh, sorry, North Korea really said that).

(2) If the story is sourced to someone who’s still inside Kim Jong Un’s court, then it’s probably bullsh*t. People working inside the royal court, unlike the vast majority of North Koreans, eat regularly, live comfortably, and even have access to entertainment. They have a lot to lose. They obtained their privileged positions after being vetted for any disloyal relatives or ancestors. They know that one false move will land them — and their spouses, and their parents, and their kids — in one of the worst places on the face of the Earth. People in those positions are extremely unlikely to have contact with foreign informants, and if they do, they’re even less likely to risk their necks to tell stories about what they see there, at least until they’re safely out of North Korea. Examples: A report alleging that Ri Sol Ju had an affair with the subsequently executed Jang Song Thaek, or the 2008 report that, following his stroke, Kim Jong Il was healthy enough to brush his own teeth.

(3) If the story alleges a fact that’s susceptible to verification, yet can’t be verified, then it’s probably bullsh*it. Examples: Once again, the “sun-landing” story, or a story that pornographic videos featuring Ri Sol Ju were circulating inside North Korea and China. If those reports were true, rest assured that those videos would be all over the internet by now. In addition, that story has a suspicious odor of disinformation to it. Which is a good segue to our next rule.

(4) If the story sounds like bullsh*t and reeks of disinformation, it’s probably bullsh*t. Recently, I’ve often suspected the South Koreans of spreading disinformation about the North, but any “press conference” held by the North Korean government qualifies. The most egregious example of this is the 2012 “press conference” put on by the North Koreans in Pyongyang, where a woman named Pak Jong Suk was paraded before the cameras to claim that South Korean spies had hoodwinked her into defecting to the South, and that she decided to return to North Korea after finding a miserable life in the South and missing the warm love of the Great General. The Associated Press reported the story with barely a hint of skepticism, and millions of readers around the world probably believed it. (By sheer coincidence, the AP had recently obtained the North Korean government’s permission to open a bureau in Pyongyang.) Reporters from a South Korean newspaper and The Washington Post report later did some digging in the Seoul neighborhood where Ms. Pak had lived, and found out that when the North Koreans learned that she was not dead (as reported) but alive and well in Seoul, they exiled her son, a musician, and his family to some bleak and hungry mountain village in the outer provinces. After Ms. Pak learned this, she returned to North Korea to turn herself in and plead for clemency for her son. The AP has never retracted the story. Nothing has been heard of Ms. Pak or her family since.

(5) If the story forecasts some major liberalizing policy change, is sourced exclusively to North Korean government sources, doesn’t fit with other known facts, and is related by a reporter/commentator who desperately wants to believe it, it’s probably bullsh*t. Actually, you’d never go wrong if you just put a period where I put the first comma in that last sentence. Examples: just about every cherry-picking and ultimately useless analysis you’ve read of a North Korean dictator’s New Year’s speech, or the 2012 story on agricultural reform that the North Koreans hand-fed to (you guessed it) the Associated Press, which generated much excitement in Washington and Seoul until nothing came of it.

Update: OK, I have to admit that the part where the astronaut “traveled at night to avoid being engulfed by the suns rays” was funny. This would not be even the second time that someone believed a parody story about North Korea. Last year, Xinhua was taken in by a report from The Onion, pronouncing Kim Jong Un the “sexiest man alive.” Apparently, all of Xinhua’s reporters and editors are straight men. Fat ones.

In case this isn’t self-evident, all analysis of North Korean New Year’s speeches is crap.*

In this year’s annual New Year’s Day message, Kim Jong Un boasted about his squalid little kingdom’s “brilliant successes in building a thriving socialist country and defending socialism,” its “upsurge … in production in several sectors and units of the national economy,” its “brilliant victory in the acute showdown with the imperialists,” and its “policies of respecting the people and loving them.” It’s crap like this that makes me proud of how little I’ve contributed to the torrent of junk analysis foisted on you after every one of these speeches.

To analyze a North Korean New Year’s speech is to embark on an intellectual misadventure. It can’t be otherwise when you start with an input that must be discounted by the mendacity of political promises in general, the mendacity of this regime in particular, and Kim Jong Un’s personal unsteadiness and detachment from declared principle. The meaning of the words degrades further under analysis that invariably veers toward wishful thinking, baseless speculation, or the ridiculous over-analysis of information that is almost entirely useless. Rudiger Frank provides an example of the latter by expending 4,039 words of sonorous, pedantic linguistic parsing on a 4,416-word speech, and even attempts to find year-on-year empirical trends in the frequency of usage of specific words. He might as well have counted the sand grains on a beach at low tide. If the Rain Man earned a Ph.D. in Asia studies, this is what I imagine he’d write.

The most typical error, however, is to turn each speech into a Rorschach test of that splotch on Gorbachev’s head. If, as is usually the case, the analyst’s bias is to believe that North Korea really wants glasnost, perestroika, and peace in our time, he can always find some confirmation for it among 4,000 words of vague and mutually conflicting language (though this year may be especially challenging in this regard).

This Rorshach fallacy has a good pedigree. A year ago, AP reporters Foster Klug and Sam Kim seized on the purge of Ri Yong Ho and the elevation of “moderates” close to Jang Song Thaek (enough said about that). Alexandre Mansourov, overlooking evidence of increased domestic repression and the disappearance of 30,000 prisoners in Camp 22, cited the New Year’s message as bringing “an end to the era of faceless joint party editorials” and ushering in a hopeful new era. (Since then, we’ve all gained a clearer view of what Kim Jong Un’s personal touch looks like.) The January 1, 2012 speech, Kim Jong Un’s first, promised a drive for prosperity (not so much). In the 2011 New Year’s message, the Wall Street Journal’s Evan Ramstad saw the threats (thankfully, unrealized), and the AP quoted South Korea’s Unification Minister and a South Korean academic, who saw an interest in talks (ditto). My favorite example, however, is this one, via CNN, circa January 2010:

North Korea stated its commitment to lasting peace and a nuclear-free Korean peninsula in an editorial published on New Year’s Day, state-run media reported.

“The Workers’ Party of Korea and the government … will strive to develop relations of good-neighborliness and friendship with other countries and achieve global independence under the unfurled banner of independence, peace and friendship,” KCNA reported. The editorial may be a hopeful sign as the international community tries to coax Pyongyang back to six-party negotiations aimed at ending its nuclear program.

Two months after this was published, North Korea sank a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors. Eight months after that, it shelled a South Korean fishing village, killing two Marines and two civilians. North Korea hasn’t shown up for six-party talks since 2008, and even then, only showed up to lie its way out of sanctions. A great philosopher — I believe it was Rutger Hauer — characterized it best: their words are like tears … in rain.

~  ~  ~

Because a lot of people are slow learners, this year, Yonhap is grasping at Kim Jong Un’s call for “an atmosphere for improving North-South relations,” and declaring it an “olive branch.” Within a day, it promoted this clause to a full-fledged “peace offensive.” To do this, however, it had to ignore Kim Jong Un’s inconvenient salute to his “compatriots in the south, who are fighting for independence, democracy and national reunification,” presumably including those currently on trial for “conspir[ing] to storm firearms depots to secure weapons, destroy oil-storage and communication facilities and assassinate unspecified figures” in support of a North Korean invasion. Had it swapped the words it quoted for those it ignored, its headline might have read, “Kim Jong Un calls for terrorist attacks in South Korea.” Sure, that would be a stretch, but it wouldn’t be any less silly than calling the speech an “olive branch.” And in South Korea, where it’s illegal to read the original speech on KCNA — which is ridiculous — this half-truth could deceive plenty of people. (I’ve pasted the full text below the jump in case you’re in South Korea and care to read it. Not that you should, if you’ve read this far.)

Another example comes from Bob Carlin, who finds hopeful signs in what he sees as North Korean media’s “surprisingly restrained … treatment of ROK President Park Geun-hye.” (Indeed, it’s been all of six weeks since North Korea called her a “political prostitute.”) Carlin finds that thin reed, but doesn’t find this thick paragraph:

The US and south Korean war maniacs have deployed legions of equipment for a nuclear war in and around the Korean peninsula and are going frantic in their military exercises for a nuclear war against the north; this precipitates a critical situation where any accidental military skirmish may lead to an all-out war. Should another war break out on this land, it will result in a deadly nuclear catastrophe and the United States will never be safe. All the Korean people must not tolerate the manoeuvres for war and confrontation by the bellicose forces at home and abroad but stoutly resist and frustrate them.

Carlin thinks that we can set the stage for talks by “agreeing to stop slander of the other.” But of course, North Korea’s definition of “slander” includes speech protected under Chapter II, Article 21 of the South Korean Constitution, and maybe even speech that’s protected by the First Amendment of our own. Carlin also overlooks North Korea’s implicit rejection of returning to six-party talks:

To resolve the reunification issue in keeping with the aspirations and desires of our fellow countrymen, we should reject foreign forces and hold fast to the standpoint of By Our Nation Itself.

The driving force for national reunification is all the members of the Korean nation in the north, in the south and abroad; only when we remain steadfast in this standpoint can we reunify the country independently in line with our nation’s interests and demands. To go on a tour around foreign countries touting for “international cooperation” in resolving the inter-Korean relations issue, the one related with our nation, is a humiliating treachery of leaving its destiny in the hands of outside forces. The north and the south should uphold the principle of independence which is one of the three principles for national reunification and has been confirmed in the north-south joint declarations, hold fast to the standpoint of By Our Nation Itself, and respect and implement the declarations with sincerity.

Does that mean North Korea isn’t coming back to the six-party talks? Hell if I know. My point is that vagueness times mendacity divided by selection bias times preconception plus confirmation bias equals garbage with the predictive utility of an asthmatic nonagenarian’s horoscope, if a lunatic wrote it. Not since the drafting of the United Nations Charter have so many keystrokes been wasted on anything so meaningless. Unless Kim Jong Un uses his next New Year’s address to announce his abdication, I look forward to watching the news media treat the next of these addresses as the non-event it will be.

You know what would be real news? If the next New Year’s address North Korea sees is delivered by Park Geun Hye.

This isn’t to say that the address was completely devoid of anything interesting. Kim conceded that “the circumstances were harsh and complicated last year,” which would still be mildly remarkable even if it wasn’t juxtaposed with Kim being callous enough to tell 23 million half-starved people that he’d just built them a ski resort, a war museum, and a water park.

Personally, I read these speeches for their humor, not their predictive value. In my favorite part of this year’s address, Kim Jong Un seemed to be promising a reign of terror to crush any hint of reform or dissent — the kind of promise North Korea usually keeps — before he revealed the entire speech to be a practical joke:

It is imperative to establish the monolithic leadership system in the Party, definitely ensure the purity of Party ranks and improve the militant functions and role of Party organizations. We should intensify ideological education among officials, Party members and other working people to ensure that they think and act at all times and in all places in line with the Party’s ideas and intentions with the steadfast faith that they know only the great Comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il and our Party. We should ensure that they approach with political awareness even the slightest phenomenon and element that infringe on the unity of the Party and revolutionary ranks and undermine their single-hearted unity, and eliminate them in a thoroughgoing way. They should wage a vigorous struggle to stamp out any sort of alien ideology and decadent lifestyle which may undermine our system and thus resolutely smash the enemy’s schemes for ideological and cultural infiltration.

Get it? Kim Jong Un had just flown in from his new ski resort.

Kim Jong Un ski

[We begin this year with a new entry for the gallery of unfortunate North Korean photo ops]

I’d like to think that when he got home after the speech, he emailed Dennis Rodman, surfed for some bondage porn, and then had a good laugh about the fact that people all over the world were actually going to devote hours of analysis to every meaningless word of that wretched crap he’d just read.

* Unless, maybe, the analyst is Jang Jin-Sung, “the man who used to orchestrate the nexus between internal policy planning and external presentation” before he defected. See comments.

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Elle Magazine makes a morally retarded fashion statement about North Korea

When I first saw the report here that an Elle Magazine columnist had declared “North Korea chic” to be one of this year’s top fashion trends, I immediately assumed that someone was failing to appreciate someone’s rather tasteless parody. When Americans do think of North Korea, they often infantilize it. Tasteless parodies may be our third-most common reaction to North Korea, after apathy and passive disgust. Sadly, having seen the screenshot of Joe Zee’s post, I think Zee was seriously suggesting that “North Korea chic” was a real trend:

This time, it’s edgier, even dangerous, with sharp buckles and clasps and take-no-prisoners tailoring.

Which made me laugh — because, you know, take no prisoners! And kill off the ones you have! Ha-ha! Get it?

As of last night, the offending page had been removed from the slide show and sent to Elle’s memory hole. All that remained were some reader comments (if one really “reads” Elle) that, given the venue, were encouraging for their relative moral depth.

This is disgusting and not funny. North Korea chic? Where are the starving and beaten children, women and men? Learn about what’s really happening in North Korea before you make stupid titles like this.

Not to mention ‘take-no-prisoners tailoring’. Way to cheapen the experience of people suffering in gulags up and down North Korea, Elle.

Leaving the slide for “N” nondescript only makes it more evident of the ignorant mistake you made. How about you stop hiring “fashionistas” and hire someone can use a dictionary or is actually aware of current trends? Nautical? Navy? Neon? I could go on if you are at a loss of ideas.

Elle does not acknowledge removing the image or apologize for publishing it in the first place, but does acknowledge its readers’ outrage in an unsigned post written in a shallow, bouncy style you’re more used to seeing in Tiger Beat (don’t try to deny it). I left a comment at that last link. Perhaps you’ll want to leave a comment of your own?

Max Fisher weighs in here, with the inevitable Asma Assad comparison. See also here and here.

How China and North Korea corrupt the people who report your news

Fred Hiatt, the Editorial Page Editor of The Washington Post, sounds the alarm about China’s selective denial of visas to journalists and academics to intimidate them into toeing the party line:

It is deeply systematic and accepted as normal among China scholars to sidestep Beijing demands by using codes and indirections. One does not use the term ‘Taiwan independence,’ for example. It is ‘cross-strait relations.’ One does not mention Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who sits in prison…. Even the word ‘liberation’ to refer to 1949 is accepted as normal.”

Academics understand the code, he added, “but when scholars write and speak to the public in this code, the public gets the impression that 1949 really was a liberation, that Taiwan independence really isn’t much of an issue, that a Nobel Prize winner in prison really is not worth mentioning.”

Increasingly, foreign journalists are subject to similar pressure. Paul Mooney, a veteran Asia journalist for Reuters, recently was denied a visa, with no reason given, according to the agency. Knowledgeable China hands for Bloomberg News, the New York Times and The Washington Post have met similar fates.

Hiatt also refers to the case of Bloomberg News killing a major story about official corruption in China, which makes me distrust Bloomberg, at least until I hear some other legitimate reason for killing the story, and maybe after that.

I agree with Hiatt. It’s unethical to allow questions of access and money to influence what facts are reported to us, and this ought to be a scandal. It should also have been a scandal when the AP signed undisclosed agreements with the North Korean government — agreements that for all we know included the transfer of money and editorial restrictions — and then filed fluffy, pro-regime reports (some of which contained outright disinformation) from the comfort of Kim Jong Un’s lap. Those misleading reports were then published in newspapers all over the world.

But even if the Times and the Post were not outraged enough about Pyongyang’s corruption and censorship of our media, kudos to them for shining a light on Beijing’s corruption and censorship of our media. At moments when it is convenient for them to do so, the media make much of their vital role in the public debate that informs democratic governance. The media tend to win these arguments because not just because of they control what we read, but because they’re right. But with this unique power comes the duty not to whore it away, especially because it’s really us they’re whoring away.

Pyongyang also uses access to cultivate academic types. For those who still remember him, Selig Harrison used to boast incessantly about the number of trips he’d made to Pyongyang, and about his unique access to regime officials. Harrison’s views about North Korea’s intentions, however, have been proven to be reliably wrong.

Here’s a good rule of thumb for North Korea watchers: their independence (and thus, credibility) is inversely proportional to the number of trips they’ve made to Pyongyang. A corollary to this rule is that a journalist or academic who is unwelcome in Pyongyang is more trustworthy than one who is welcome in Pyongyang.

The Daily NK: Keeping the promises that the Sunshine Policy couldn’t

In a land of scarcity, North Korea’s scarcest commodity is truth, and it is truth that is transforming North Korea.  In the last ten years, North Korea’s death-grip on the flow of food, consumer goods, and information across its borders was fractured, and probably for good.  This change is enormously consequential to how we ought to approach North Korea.  Even as inter-governmental “Sunshine” and engagement failed decisively–and probably exacerbated North Korea’s brutality–market-based engagement and information flows have been profoundly transformative.  The Daily NK was one of the first to tell of that change, and one of the key engines that drove the flow of out-bound information.  It was among the first to help the North Korean people tell us their story–to cry out to us for help.

Truth placed in the hands of its people will eventually cause the decay and downfall of this regime’s power structure, and truth in our hands will catalyze policy changes that will finally put an end to discredited policies that only prolong North Korea’s suffering.  The first ones to give practical effect to this concept were the Daily NK’s editors, reporters, and courageous sources–who risk their lives every day because of their compulsion to speak the truth.  The Daily NK is, in other words, the opposite of everything that I find so despicable about the Associated Press’s sellout to the North Korean regime.  You don’t have to share that contempt to agree that the Daily NK provides valuable information, even that it is a necessary counterweight.  I wish that a well-funded wire service would partner with them and make better use of its network of clandestine correspondents.

North Korea’s hacking of the Daily NK tells you that it has been effective.  It was the Daily NK, after all, that broke the story of North Korea’s currency revaluation, an incident that disillusioned (perhaps permanently) thousands of members of North Korea’s nascent middle class.

One of my personal regrets is my own failure to submit columns to the Daily NK recently, but I count myself as one its strongest supporters.  I hope you’ll consider supporting them at this link.


Giving Back to the Daily NK: Amplify the North Korea Info Flow

Daily NK Indiegogo Vimeo Video Screen Grab

The Daily NK has provided us North Korea watchers for the last 8.5 years with big scoops like the currency “reform” of late 2009 and lots of smaller stories that further our understanding of everyday life in North Korea.

Last month they launched their outreach campaign to the international community with a Nightout and a Meetup in Seoul, and this month they’re doing their first crowdsourcing campaign (click image above).

Traditionally, charitable giving was not practiced in Korean society. As such the Daily NK and other NGOs/non-profits in Seoul rarely have attempted (and are often even skeptical of) grassroots funding appeals that we in the West are quite used to and have come to expect. So booya to the Daily NK for venturing out into unknown territory, here’s hoping it’s a wild success!

Yes, as you may have suspected, that’s where we all come in — if you’ve benefited from reading Daily NK articles over the years (One Free Korea has linked to them hundreds of times, I’ve been guilty of it myself even), please check out their appeal and consider chipping in the cost of a few cups of coffee toward improving their website’s design & security.

While they receive funding from NED, it’s still a bare-bones operation and will certainly make the most of our contributions. Their reporting often gets picked up and passed on by much, much bigger news outlets — the New York Times, the Economist, etc.

Note, not sure of the time and the hour of Joshua’s hopefully imminent return, but this is not he. To avoid confusion I will sign my name to posts until he can modify his template to include the author field on posts.

I also must admit that while I’ve never officially worked for the Daily NK, it’s very close to my heart. I’ve worked for nearly three years for the group that started them, I’ve volunteered for them, and I continuously benefit from reading their work and being friends with their great staff. So what are you waiting for! –Dan Bielefeld

PS, thanks to Adam for reminding me to get this up.

#NIGHTOUT with Daily NK: Support Free Media in North Korea

Joshua’s still away, but this is a first attempt at getting back to posting at least occasionally here. — Dan Bielefeld

Daily NK Nightout poster

Even infrequent readers of One Free Korea will recognize the important role the Daily NK plays in deepening and broadening our understanding of North Korea. For those of you in Seoul, I hope you can come out Friday night in Itaewon for their first “Nightout.” For everyone else, why not send them a few bucks with an online donation. I can’t think of an organization that stretches 1000 won further than the Daily NK. And yet it’s the New York Times, the Economist, and other much bigger-budgeted operations that regularly quote them.

Here are the details for Friday night:

Dear Friends: Daily NK is hosting a community outreach event, #NIGHTOUT with Daily NK, next Friday, July 5 @ 8pm in Itaewon. The purpose: to connect the Seoul-based staff — including democracy activists, North Korean defectors, and international researchers — with Seoul’s dynamic international community. We look forward to meeting you!

#NIGHTOUT with Daily NK: Support Free Media in North Korea
//Turn the lights on in the North by empowering media democracy in the South//

Daily NK, an acclaimed news periodical reporting on all aspects of modern North Korea and cited by major international media — such as the New York Times, The New Yorker, Al Jazeera, and the BBC — will host a casual community outreach event on Friday, July 5, @ Scrooge Pub in Itaewon.


Organized in concert with the media company’s first-ever crowd funding campaign on Indiegogo, the event seeks to connect the Seoul-based staff — including democracy activists, North Korean defectors, and international researchers — with the city’s dynamic international community. #NIGHTOUT will include noted guest speaker Kay Seok from Human Rights Watch and the National Democratic Institute.

FROM MUFFLED VOICE TO INFLUENTIAL SPOKESPERSON — DAILY NK’S PRESIDENT PARK INHO TO SPEAK: A former student activist who campaigned against South Korean authoritarianism but was ultimately betrayed by the untruths the Kim Il Sung regime propagated, President Park speaks about his civil society-based organization’s mission to promote the free flow of information on the Korean Peninsula.

The entrance fee is a 10,000 won donation that includes one free drink.

RSVP at the Facebook event page.

Where: Scrooge Pub in Itaewon, Seoul
When: Friday, July 5, 8pm

Directions to Scrooge Pub: From Itaewon Station, take Exit 1 and walk straight and make a right up the second street to the foreigner food alley. Located on the street behind the Hamilton Hotel and across from 3 Alley Pub/Sam Ryans. 02-797-8201

Address: 119-28 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul

More info: dailynk at dailynk com
Press contact: development at dailynk com

FWIW/Disclosure – I work for the organization that started the Daily NK way back when.

Sure, he’s shooting a lot more people, but their widows have cuter shoes!

ABC’s Joohee Choe has written the single dumbest, most superficial thing about North Korea ever to dress itself in drag as journalism.

Attempting to forge a new image for himself and his country, North Korea’s youthful supreme leader Kim Jong Un is allowing women to wear pants, platform shoes and earrings, making more mobile phones available, endorsing previously banned foods like pizza, French fries and hamburgers — and he’s giving kids free trips to zoos and amusement parks.

The 20-something leader’s focus has been on the younger generation. Following in the footsteps of his late grandfather, the country’s founder Kim Il Sung, he has announcing plans to create a “children’s heaven nation.”

“It’s all part of his image making to imitate a warm, fatherly impression like his grandfather,” said Dong Yong-Sueng, North Korea specialist at Samsung Economic Research Institute.

I mean, seriously … for fuck’s sake.  What background research did she do about North Korea, or about what Kim Jong Un has done in the last six months, that she didn’t read on TMZ?

Who Else Flubbed N. Korea’s Rocket Launch? The Press, the U.N., and the Obama Administration

By now, everyone knows that the North’s missile test was a fiasco, but North Koreans don’t have this fiasco all to themselves. For example, until the day of the launch, the North had never done a better of job handling of the foreign press. It had successfully co-opted the largest wire service in the United States into a megaphone for its propaganda, and it had so effectively focused much of the rest of the U.S. media on its stage-managed rocket porn that the White House more-or-less called them tools. Even after Friday’s humiliation, the North Koreans are still writing their own narrative, portraying themselves as disciplined, spartan, and menacing, instead of revealing the pitiful anarchy that prevails where the cameras aren’t allowed to go:

The regime’s narrative went off-course, literally, when one bus driver took a wrong turn, showing reporters an unauthorized view of Pyongyang’s slums, potholes, and even people in wheelchairs. Even an AP reporter was candid enough in his observations to put the local Pyongyang bureau to shame. Then, when the rocket launched, the reporters who had gathered in North Korea were not only denied the chance to film the lift-off, they were the last ones to know that the launch failed … except for their North Korean minders. Was it really worth sending that many correspondents to North Korea for this?

They were cloistered in a hermetic hotel’s press room, which North Korean government chaperones would not let them leave for more than three hours. The minders provided no information about either the launching or its failure, participants in the tour said. Instead, the information went the other way, after the journalists learned about the event via messages, telephone and Internet connections from colleagues in South Korea and their editors at home.

“Now in bizarre situation our NKorea minders asking ME to tell THEM if rocket has launched,” Damian Grammaticas, a BBC News correspondent, wrote in a Twitter message. “Went up 4 hours ago but they have no information. Richard Engel, chief foreign correspondent for NBC News, wrote in a Twitter message that the “gov’t minders seemed to have no idea about the rocket launch … we informed them. [NYT]

And in a flash, the North’s media strategy backfired, more catastrophically and consequentially than the launch itself. Read more

White House Warns Media Not to Be Tools for North Korean Propaganda

They didn’t mention the AP specifically, but they didn’t really have to:

The White House is pushing back against the media for what it sees as oversaturated coverage of this week’s forthcoming North Korean missile test.

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know this is a propaganda exercise,” National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told me. “Reporters have to be careful not to get co-opted.

The long-range missile test, which Pyongyang is touting as a peaceful satellite launch, has given networks, newspapers and wires a rare opportunity to report from within the country. NBC’s Richard Engel, ABC’s Bob Woodruff and CNN’s Stan Grant are among those who have already produced curtain-raising segments on the days ahead. The Associated Press is turning out blow-by-blow coverage, and reporters are tweeting and filing frequently.
But Vietor fears that by flooding the zone in North Korea, U.S. media outlets are providing the country’s leadership with propaganda tools that will only embolden their efforts to enhance its intercontinental ballistic missile capability.

“North Korea is trying to sell this to the world as being about space exploration, when really it’s about testing missile technology,” he told me. “They’re using the press, using this angle of a space mission, to hide their real goal.

At the same time, he said, “they are tightly tacking the press into tight areas so they only see military hardware. They’re not allowing them to tour the countryside and see the people who are starving.     [Politico; HT]

I wonder if the Politico’s correspondent knows the half of it.