Friday, March 04, 2005

The LA Times has run a few articles on North Korea over the last few days. Getting a lot of comment is one by Barbara Demick relating an interview with a North Korean assigned to help his country attract foreign investment. The other one getting some blog space is also by Ms. Demick and outlines what the North Koreans see as being the conditions necessary for proceeding with negotiations. Hugh Hewitt is strongly against these articles and doesn’t hold back:

The Times' "media relations" director, David Garcia, sent my producer an e-mail yesterday explaining that the Times' "has published as well the perspectives on the history, the living conditions, the point of view of the U.S. government and general Western view of North Korea." We can only conclude that today's piece is another from the North Koreans' "point of view," with a little "America" point of view added on at the end.

The trouble is, the "North Korean point of view" is really the "point of view" of a ruthless despot and deserves no more traction in a free press than Hitler's did in 1938. This is "moral equivalence" of the highest order, and a failure of imagination. Demick-Duranty evidently cannot find the time or the courage to report on the chilling conditions within the vast prison camp that is North Korea, but instead doubles down with a another article that will no doubt be well received in Pyongyang as an excellent example of "fair reporting."
In contrast to this view, it would seem to me that hearing the opinions and views straight from the proverbial horse’s mouth is great reporting. The role of reporters is to inform us of all the hues, opinions and angles to a story. Any reporting would be lapse in the extreme if they simply provided one standpoint (in this case the US point of view). Perhaps if more of Hitler’s words and opinions had been published in Western papers there might have been fewer people willing to try and appease him and more who would have recognized the words of a nutcase. That of course is pure supposition and not intended to generate discussion - maybe he would've gotten a wider fan base - the point is you never know and journalists shouldn't try and guess.

If journalists and reporters are there to inform us then it is their responsibility to tell us what each stakeholder is saying about an issue of interest and leave judgment to the reader. They should not make decisions about who is credible and who is not and they shoud certainly not print only those people they like or believe. They should, as a matter of necessity, disclose as much information as possible about who the person is, their role and background, and why they think their opinion is valid to read about. In this case, learning that the man is a North Korea assigned by the government tells us plenty about where he is coming from.

Hugh also takes offense at an article that questions the credibility of political prisoners claimng that chemical weapons were used against them. Defectors and refugees are notoriously not credible. David Hawk who oversaw publication of "The Hidden Gulag" noted this when he spoke last year at Stanford. Refugees often are looking for support and asylum in the country they flee to so it makes sense for them to embellish the hardship and danger they have faced. They may be looking for fifteen minutes of fame or they may hold a personal grudge against the establishment or there may be reasons for them to make up stories which we can't guess at. The Wapo also noted recently a sob-story they had published about an Iraqi woman which turned out to be mostly bogus.

The Iraqi case emphasises that stories from all sources need to understood in context and taken as hearsay (which is what it usually is). It is good sense to check facts, gain as many opinions as possible and take every story with a grain of salt. Just because someone says they have suffered horribly doesn't mean they are an honest broker. There is strong evidence to back up the stories of suffering we hear is going on in Korea but that doesn't mean that everyone with a story is telling the truth.

Also at issue is the fact that the article fails to talk about the human rights atrocities going on in North Korea. However, clearly the subject of the regime's atrocities is not the topic of the "Rancor" article, the nuclear issue is. It seems unjustified to suggest that all articles on North Korea should focus on human rights. Surely there is plenty of opportunity to write on different topics from different perspectives.

I think the story by Ms. Demick was great. The North Korean’s opinions seemed to fit mostly with what the US government has been saying about them. They story gives a perspective of how the North Koreans (who support the regime) see their position in this whole situation and how they expect things might progress. The North Korean’s opinion is obviously bias but his story in the context of what we have read on how US, Japan and South Korea see things, is very informative. Its also great that they are talking to US reporters and maybe being asked some tough questions that might provoke them to think more about what they believe and to ask the reporter for more information about what the US/others think of them.

Currently reading:

"Hell" by Yasutaka Tsutsui