The Dear Reader: DPRK Observations & Musings


Acknowledging the Ling-Lee Backlash

The night before this week’s latest round of Laura LingEuna Lee vigils, @lisaling proved once again how useful it is in these trying times to have the toolset of a hardened journalist.

Not once but twice, during a half-hour interactive TV and online appearance in Sacramento with @SharonItonNews10, she calmly responded to the latter’s relaying of cruel online comments about the fate of the two journalists. Ling insisted that the expression of such opinions is a necessary aspect of this country’s freedom of speech provisions.

And make no mistake; since the State Department first confirmed on June 12th that Ling, Lee and producer-cameraman Mitch Koss did indeed step across the Chinese-North Korean border, the number of articles, blogs and online comments stating that the punishment fits the crime has increased exponentially. Though some of these items are tempered with a desire to see the pair released, others are anchored in a firm belief that no sympathy is in order here (especially considering the risk taken was one that was not germane to the story these journalists were reporting).

Which is why this week’s shift from a humanitarian LingLee plea to one of amnesty is in some ways the first time the matter has felt completely aligned. After months of debate about whether or not Ling and Lee crossed the border on March 17th and how cognizant they should have been that North Korea falls into the category of countries that does not detain-and-deport members of the fifth estate, it comes down to Laura Ling this past Tuesday making statements such as the following one to husband Iain Clayton: “We have been tried, we have confessed, we have been sentenced and we need to start from that position.”

In short order, a Wednesday conference call between the families and the State Department has been followed by official requests of amnesty for Ling and Lee by State Department spokesperson Ian Kelly yesterday and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today. You can’t blame the families and politicians for playing the humanitarian card (especially given Ling‘s pre-existing medical condition).

But let’s face it, bargaining from the starting point of an admission of guilt seems to be a strategy that has a much higher chance of breaking through the North Korean government’s intransigence.


Filed under: Euna Lee, Laura Ling

33 Responses

  1. LBJ says:

    Regardless of what these young women did or did not do – and do or do not confess to – I am shocked that as a people we are not all united in asking for them to be brought home.

    At the very least, assuming that confessions and convictions are legitimate “b/c NK says so” is woefully ignorant and gullible. In Laura and Euna’s shoes I’d say whatever I had to to get home.

    Let’s bring them home and learn the facts before rushing to judge.

    • liberatelaura says:

      Agreed. Beyond aspects of the case that relate to the crossing of the Tumen River borderline, any confessional element tied to “grave crimes”, “smear campaign,” etc. is transparently suspect.

      Twelve years of hard labor was not so much a sentence as a North Korean govt throw down against the new Administration.

  2. Edward says:

    I think that Kim Jong-il is playing politics with this situation, hoping to use Euna and Laura as pawns in getting his way with the United States. While Iran released Roxana Saberi, thanks to the pressure put on by North Dakota Governor John Hoeven and the Austrian United Nations Ambassador, North Korea remains belligerent. I believe the North Koreans have forced a confession out of Euna and Laura by threatening them with some fate that could be beyond cruel and unusual punishment. As far as I’m concerned, they are innocent!

    • liberatelaura says:

      Ironically, the very considerations that would make Ling and Lee innocent in the real world – e.g., journalists performing a job – are the ones that North Korea finds objectionable.

      Just this week, University of Georgia prof Dr. Han S. Park – who has visited NK 40 + times – returned from Pyongyang with the news that the North Koreans were-are upset that the @Current team was there to portray them in an unflattering light. Even though they were reporting… just the facts.

  3. Nikita says:

    I don’t understand why it matters whether they trespassed or not. I also don’t understand why there is an obligation on part of the civilized world to respect the North Korean government as legitimate given that it did not come of the people, nor does it work in its people’s best interests. As far as I am concerned, the tolerance of the regime is only out of pragmatic political and economic realities, however immoral such a stance may be.

    Consequently, I still don’t understand why the developed world has not simply made consequences for the North Korean government significant from holding journalists. We are talking about taking two journalists and depriving them of their fundamental rights. And somehow we are ok with North Korean doing that to its civilians, but nevermind that. However terrible public ignorance and its consequences may be, we are now in a situation when it’s two of our own that have been wrongly detained beyond reasonable limits. I feel like the politics (or at least coverage thereof that’s trickling down to me) of this situation are stuck in the previous century.

    • liberatelaura says:

      It’s important to know if the journalists crossed the border so as to understand the mindset of the North Koreans. E.g., there is little an insular society worries about more than its borders, so by crossing, Ling-Lee-Koss wandered into the scariest part of the regime’s ID.

      And by all accounts, the country beyond Pyongyang is stuck in the last century on most fronts, so you’re correct about that.

  4. Shamey Reed says:

    One of the greatest gifts we have in the USA is the small vocal minority we call journalists. Though we rarely acknowledge their importance to our ‘way of life’, they are none the less a cornerstone of all the freedoms our democracy provides. Journalists are important to us. Blessings to the Lee and Ling families.

  5. Spelunker says:

    That online chat session with Lisa Ling, moderated by Sharon Ito, was so annoying. LiberateLaura and I both typed in quite a few intelligent questions and Sharon Ito seemed to deliberately choose naive online folks with a single uninformed inquiry.

    While feverishly typing one smart question after another, I looked at the accompanying video and saw Sharon Ito reading my barrage, pausing for a moment, and then suddenly deciding it was time for a separate e-mail. She turns away from her monitor and says “I want to read one e-mail from norcal-1…” and proceeds to recite some idiot’s diatribe calling Laura and Euna “morons”.

    In fact as soon as I heard Ito say the word “moron” I immediately typed the comments from William Stanton (US embassy in South Korea) and Mike Chinoy (former CNN Beijing correspondent) who called Laura and Euna’s actions “stupid” (Stanton) and “foolhardy” (Chinoy).



    Excuse me now, I’m getting another serious headache just typing this frustrating memory down. Freedom of speech means nothing when Sharon Ito exercises her freedom of choice.

  6. Dream says:

    From the beginning, I thought Lisa Ling, especially, wanted to play it both ways: that her sister and Euna Lee were tough, brave journalists, and that they were “girls”. Neither is true. Current TV’s toe-touch, parachute journalism doesn’t stack up against the real work done by seasoned professionals, as shown in recent coverage of Iran’s elections. Yes, Current and Vanguard do show the 18-25 year old demographic (who don’t watch network news and don’t read newspapers) about the world. But this isn’t nuanced reporting.

    A press pass isn’t a “get out of jail free” card anywhere in the world. And, to be completely honest, they entered China by giving false information on their visa applications. Do that in the US, and you’re deported.

    And I think that the “mean” commenters wonder why the US government is supposed to charge in and rescue grownups who got themselves into a stupid mess. Admitting the action is a good start.

  7. Dream says:

    Why is Lisa Ling now protecting her updates? Too much heat?

    • liberatelaura says:

      As long as I have been following @lisaling (late April), her updates have been protected. Not sure about before that.

  8. Dream says:

    And I just watched the Ito/Ling thing–ulcers are caused by a virus. Stress isn’t the cause, and ulcers aren’t exacerbated by stress more than anything else is. Lisa’s an actress more than she is a journalist, and I have to say–she doesn’t actually make me more sympathetic.

    Laura asked for sunblock?
    Gore’s been working tirelessly, but no one has known what to do?

    I notice that she claims that when they left the US, they weren’t planning on crossing the border. So is that meant to get the execs. at Current off the hook for planning this assignment. Euna was “passionate” about this story, according to Lisa.

    I predict that Current TV will forgive the girls for this lapse in judgment, and that Euna will find another job. Laura will probably retire for a while as well.

  9. Spelunker says:

    Yes, Laura asked for sunblock because she thinks she’ll be working outdoors if sent to a labor camp.
    This is her quote according to sister Lisa: “I need sunscreen for my face and body in case I go to a labor camp.”
    If you are curious about what else was on Laura’s wish list I happen to have it right here in front of me: pens, hair ties, dark-colored T-shirts, socks, razors, dental floss, toothpaste, Chinese language books, and an English dictionary.
    Laura’s mother has already sent the above items, but you can send a postcard if you want to help.

    It will be interesting to see if we ever learn the truth about when the decision to cross the border was made. Laura and Euna had already completed their interviews with refugees in Yanji and were scheduled to go to Dandong on the day they were captured. They were supposed to keep Pastor Chun Ki-won in Seoul informed of their daily itinerary, so was the decision made on a whim the night before or at 3 a.m. on March 17?

  10. Dream says:

    I understood about the labor camp and working in the sun, but does she really think jailers are going to let her keep razors? If I was doing hard labor, I’d have other things on my mind than sunblock and body hair. Make her sound a little not quite realistic. How about protein bars, vitamins, calcium pills, aspirin, disinfectant and bandaids?

  11. Spelunker says:

    Breaking News Flash: Ling-Lee Backlash No Longer Being Acknowledged!

    Laura and Euna’s new website no longer accepts comments and all previous comments have been deleted!

    Just the other day I was wondering what my own wish list would be if sentenced to 12 years in a North Korean prison: English-Korean dictionary, Hershey’s chocolate Bubble Yum bubble gum, Game Boy Tetris DX, a harmonica, and 12 consecutive copies of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

    • liberatelaura says:

      Interesting. Though the families are still being very careful about “upsetting” North Korean government, and therefore perhaps feel hosting negative comments falls under this aegis, I’m really not sure at this point that the cautious approach is still necessary.

  12. seonghuhn says:

    Honestly I don’t understand the backlash. No one deserves 12 years of hard labor just for crossing a border.

    • liberatelaura says:

      Sacramento Bee editor @melaniesill addresses the topic towards the end of her 7/12 Op Ed, suggesting that journalists must take risks to do their job properly… However, our friend Spelunker comments that the risk they took had nothing to do with the story they were covering. E.g., to report on NK refugees, they had to go to safe Chinese locations such as Yanji. NOT the NK border.

      So part of the backlash comes from the fact that it was an unnecessary risk taken.

      • Nikita says:

        Many people seem to focus on the fact that they are journalists, which, to me is quite irrelevant. They are two human beings from a society that I am a part of and a society that has committed to protect its members from injustice. So, perhaps I am an ideologue, but whether they were two tourists who strayed or two serious journalists who trespassed on purpose, it’s irrelevant. The society at large agrees (or should agree) that there was no crime committed. Recognition of covering taboo subjects may be imposed as a crime by North Korea, but it is NOT a crime by our standards and we are not under any obligation to respect North Korean laws that the world as a whole agreed to be incorrect. Application of moral relativism would indicate a lack of understanding of the fundamental fibers of society that are implicitly agreed upon by civilian population in the developed world.

        I think that whoever makes a statement that the two girls should do 12 years of hard labor needs to rethink the issue treating it as if this happened to them or their loved one.

  13. Spelunker says:

    Melanie Sill has jumped into the stands and is now swinging at commenters. Will she dare take a swipe at Spelunker? Follow the fun at!

  14. Dream says:

    Nikita–while we’re under no international obligation to respect NK’s laws (which cuts both ways, which is why criminals flee to Brazil and Switzerland), do you really think the US is going to war to free these two? They’re not girls, by the way. Thus the need to proceed politically, if not diplomatically.

    I think everyone, even those who think the two were ninnies, wants them to come home safely and soon. But pretending that they weren’t grownups who didn’t know what they were doing isn’t going to work, either.

    I want to see Current TV execs. and that includes Al Gore take some responsibility for sending them out on this assignment.

    And the negative comments reflect the public’s lack of enthusiasm for journalists in general. If they’d been selling Amway or used cars, I think people would be more supportive.

  15. Spelunker says:

    I sincerely apologize if this reply tangles up the fundamental fibers of society. I never thought for one second that Laura and Euna would serve even a single year of their 12 year sentence so I’m sure things will get straightened out shortly.

    Please pardon me, Nikita, but the journalists did illegally enter North Korean territory by stepping over the border. How can you say trespassing is irrelevant? That’s not a crime? The North Korean law that the US State Department must now seek amnesty for is indeed illegal entry. We can argue all day if it was accidental but I believe that rock that was picked up was not meant to be a souvenir of China. If I swam naked across the Rio Grande from Texas to Mexico do you think the Mexican authorities would welcome me with a poncho and sombrero?

    • Nikita says:

      Spelunker, thank you for your reply. I feel like with everything there are essentials and there are non-essentials. The line between the two may be blurred and difficult to identify, but the extremes are very clear. Consequently, a discussion on whether there was a crime committed can be reasonable if the consequences are reasonable. But, if consequences (in this case 12 years of hard labor) are unreasonable, then whether or not the crime was committed becomes a moot point.

      So I am pretty sure that if you swam naked across the Rio Grande, you would not face what we would call unreasonable consequences.

      If the North Korean government said “we had trespassers and we will extradite them after detaining them for 2 months”, then we, civilians, would not be overly upset. We would then debate whether 2 months is appropriate or not, whether they did indeed commit a crime, etc. But we are not at all in such circumstances – instead we are faced with two members of our society having their lives destroyed over something that, clearly, should not have such consequences.

  16. Dream says:

    I don’t think they’ll be there a lot longer. And then they can take hiatus from Current, write a book or two, and if Euna Lee is smart, she’ll quit Current (with a really big severance) and work someplace else. Laura Ling, however, can either use this as a springboard to improve her career or to enhance her position at Current.

    Cynical I may be, I think that Current can’t very well pretend that these two decided all on their lonesomes to take the good Rev’s advice, even if Current execs didn’t order them to cross into NK, beforehand.

    • Nikita says:

      I dunno, but I feel like until this happens, I for one can’t take this scenario for granted as the consequences if this doesn’t happen is far too high.

  17. Spelunker says:

    Nikita, Nikita, Nikita.
    Let’s try something else, shall we? A little role play perhaps.
    Pardon the interruption; now suppose you are Hillary Clinton and my face-on-a-stick is Kim Jong-il.

    Kim: On March 17 two female American journalists are literally dropped into my lap. There really is no historical precedent for U.S. journalists to go rock collecting in my backyard as we previously have only detained military personnel and a drunk mentally disturbed civilian who committed suicide after we let him go.
    Now I don’t want to babysit these 2 sick girls in my guest house for more than four months, but I have to give them a 12 year hard labor sentence in order to have significant leverage when I call you at 3 a.m.

    Hillary: Thanks a lot, Kim Jong-il. Now you see why I didn’t want to take this job in the first place. Yes, I know you don’t want these troublesome girls in your hair so I will give you the gesture you’re demanding. You can have the token apology for illegal entry and a 5 gallon tub of remorse, of course. Thanks for not sending them to one of your gulags; FOX News and CNN have been telling lots of horror stories about those camps.

    Kim: Sorry to embarass you in front of your husband. Say “Hello” to Bill for me, OK? You know if we just held them for 3 months and then let them go after the trial then it would have made your civilians happy but North Korean government officials would think I’m out of my mind! This way works out best for all of us, I’m so glad you agree.

    Hillary: By the way, you still going to fire a missile at Maui?

    Kim: No, I was just kidding. But you can still use that threat to justify increased defense spending. It’s doing wonders for me over here; I’ve got a new swimming pool with a water slide!

    • Nikita says:

      Spelunker, I am sorry but I am not amused and am surprised that you script out strange vignettes that seem detached from reality when there are two lives (at least) that are in jeopardy. I am also not sure I understand why you think of North Korea as this happy benign country and why everything will be ok given the complexity of the situation and respective interests.

      I would imagine that North Korean government is concerned with their survival due to volatility introduced internally, as well as externally. There is no respect for humanitarian aspects for both domestic and foreign citizens by their government. Instead there is calculation by the government for how to maintain their position and survive in a very dangerous environment. On the other hand, the developed world attempts to balance humanitarian interests with political and socio-economic. Having China and Russia as major powers more concerned with internal stability than humanity further complicates the question.

  18. Bart says:

    Let’s not get all dramatic. NK has no reason to actually throw them into a chain gang–if anything, NK would want to keep Euna Lee, speaker of Korean, as far away from anyone who might actually understand her as possible.

    Spelunker is giving you a dose of Realpolitik. He’s on the money, even if you don’t like his humor.

  19. Bettie says:

    What’s this rumor I hear that Laura doesn’t want to get any mail from Mitch Koss? Maybe he wasn’t the chivalrous gent of story and song, but in a modern work environment, is a man really supposed to get arrested just to keep his female colleagues company?

    He made her freaking career. He made her sister’s career. I know, I know, no one knows what really happened, but I know whining when I hear it.

    Or maybe it’s all BS.

    • liberatelaura says:

      That’s a heck of a rumor. I blogged way back that Mitch Koss, as a man, would not help but feel awful about “abandoning” two women to captors. And I suppose four months of imprisonment would tweak anyone’s feelings about the incident. Interesting.

    • epicanthic says:

      May I ask where you heard this rumor? Was it at one of the recent vigils? Could it be from somebody who is acquainted with a former or current employee at Current TV?

      Let’s not turn LiberateLaura into a rumor mill. If you don’t have reliable sources then please take your Bologna Sandwiches, Bamboo Shoots, and other B.S. to Perez Hilton’s gossip forum.

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