A FRONT PAGE STORY in the March 1, 2005 Los Angeles Times
was headlined "North Korea, Without the Rancor." The author,
Barbara Demick, met with a North Korean businessman in a North
Korean-owned karaoke bar in Beijing. The article presented this
"businessman's" view of the world. His views were favorable of Kim
Jung Il, dismissive of human rights complaints about North Korea's
brutal treatment of its people, and silent about both the famine
(that is believed to have killed 2 million in the 1990s) and the
North Koreans' obstruction of international relief efforts.
The entire article should be read but these are the choice
* "There's never been a positive article about North
Korea, not one," he said. "We're portrayed as monsters, inhuman,
Dracula . . . with horns on our heads."
* "Now that we are members of the nuclear club, we can start
talking on an equal footing. In the past, the U.S. tried to whip
us, as though they were saying, 'Little boy, don't play with
* "We were hoping for change from the U.S. administration. We
expected some clear-cut positive change," the North Korean said.
"Instead, Condoleezza Rice immediately committed the mistake of
calling us an outpost of tyranny. North Koreans are most sensitive
when they hear that kind of remark."
* "We Asians are traditional people," he said. "We prefer to
have a benevolent father leader."
* "Is there any country where there is a 100 percent guarantee
of human rights? Certainly not the United States," the businessman
said. "There is a question of what is a political prisoner. Maybe
these people are not political prisoners but social
* "There is love [in North Korea]. There is hate. There is
fighting. There is charity. . . . People marry. They divorce. They
make children," he said. "People are just trying to live a normal
A STORM OF CRITICISM broke
out on the web in response to the Times's decision to cede
its front page to this one-sided view of North Korea. The name
"Walter Duranty" was thrown about, as Demick's whitewash reminded
many of the infamous New York Times reporter's glowing
reports from the Soviet Union in the 1930s.
After publishing Demick's piece, the Times went to ground.
Two days later they published exactly one letter--a complimentary
letter!--out of the avalanche of correspondence they received. Via
email, Demick explained that she had found the "businessman's"
account repellent (even though her article did not betray her
feelings). She and others said she ought to be judged not on the
basis of her paean to Kim Jong Il, but by the totality of her work.
(A review of her work over the past two years does not yield up
any extensive assessments of the life of North Koreans, but rather
sidelong glances at small parts of the story, such as a look at Kim
Jong Il's culinary excesses and the plight of women fleeing North
Korea across the border with China.)
The March 1 article mentioned the State Department's report on human rights in North Korea, but only in
passing, and with none of the detail that might have provided
readers with a grasp of how the life of ordinary North Koreans has
become under the crazed Kim Jong Il.
I SENT DEMICK SOME QUESTIONS, which she responded to in guarded
but revealing ways. She refused, for example, to answer in
straightforward fashion the question of whether Kim Jong Il is evil.
Asked about North Koreas nuclear proliferation, she replied that
while they may have violated the "spirit" of the 1994 deal with the
United States, there were "loopholes" in the agreement that made it
possible that they were in "technical compliance" with the deal.
(You can read all of her responses here.)
What the totality of Demick's work demonstrates is that neither
she nor her editors are in a hurry to detail the horrific nature of
the North Korean regime. In fact, they work to smooth over that
shocking picture, even to the extent of providing a front-page
WHAT CAN BE SAID of Demick and the Los Angeles Times?
First, favorable propaganda of this sort would never be written if
the regime in question were suspected of rightwing extremism. As one
commentator on Roger L. Simon's blog eloquently put it:
Imagine if the LAT had printed this story in the
'70s . . . "South Africa Without the Rancor": As I was traveling
in Kenya I came across this South African businessman. He did not
want to give out his name. We talked of the current strain in
relations between South Africa and the rest of the world. "The
press is always so negative. Every story is bad, bad, bad. Every
country has human rights problems, is your country perfect? We are
just like everyone else, we marry, we love, we fight, we're
charitable. You can't impose your western standards on everyone,
we are different and we should be allowed our own expression of
government. We come from a tribal society and we have needed
strong leaders and the idea of democracy is foreign to us. Our
blacks have their own autonomous states within the South African
structure and they really don't want independence or equality. Our
blacks thrive under our strong leadership and Botha is really no
different then any tribal king. It is the constant aggression of
the west that is the cause of friction between us." . . .
A lie about a Communist country is just not as bad as a lie
about a racist country.
Second, the hypocrisy of Times editor John Carroll knows
no bounds. It was Carroll who just last year blasted much of New
Media as "pseudojournalism." Carroll has yet to speak about the use
of his paper's front page to present the rosiest of views of the
North Korean gulag-state.
There are no circumstances that justify puffing an evil regime,
and no excuse for mistaking an obvious intelligence operative for a
"businessman." The Times's status as West coast tip sheet for
the Democratic party is annoying, but its shilling for Kim Jong Il
Hugh Hewitt is the host of a nationally syndicated radio show,
and author most recently of Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That
is Changing Your World. His daily blog can be found at HughHewitt.com.