The Dear Reader: DPRK Observations & Musings


Hopscotch Journalism

The July 9th musings of a U.S. scholar, Dr. Han S. Park – after the latest of nearly four dozen visits to North Korea – lead to an incorrectly optimistic headline in the July 12th editions of the New York Daily News as well as a misleading syndicated piece originating in today’s @Sacbee_news. An uncorroborated July 13th missive by a South Korean cable TV channel has half the world authoritatively now assuming that Kim Jong-il is dying of pancreatic cancer.

These are but the latest examples of how the run-and-gun nature of today’s wired media world, when combined with the public’s renewed appetite for news about the world’s most secretive regime, can lead to reporting that fails to adhere to even something as basic as the three-source rule. Laura Ling and Euna Lee may go to Pyongsong Prison; no, wait, it actually might be another relatively mild labor camp near Pyongyang in Sariwon; oops, hold that thought, the pair are at a medical facility in the for-show capitol; darn, per the aforementioned Park (who has yet to reveal the names-nature of the “officials” he spoke to in North Korea), it is in fact a comfortable guest villa, probably the same one that the two American journalists have been in all along. (Even all that fearful coverage of a possible July 4th North Korea missile launch towards Hawaii was based on a single, unnamed source article in a Japanese newspaper.)

As someone who has been closely monitoring the ebb and flow of LingLee information and tweeting the most relevant and interesting new developments, I can honestly say that the media coverage has been no worse for the factual wear than that of Michael Jackson’s death or the Air France tragedy over the Atlantic Ocean. These are the times we live in; 24-hour cable news channels, blogs that are ten time zones ahead and the smorgasbord known as the Internet all feverishly stir the topic du hour.

In the case of Ling and Lee, much of the coverage has been necessarily speculative, first because their employer, families and the State Department maintained a complete, strategic silence, and then due to the muddy nature of their cross-border trail. Even when North Korea’s state news agency KCNA released a far more detailed LingLee post-trial explanation in Korean than it did in English, all people in the U.S. got were excerpts from the less expansive and revealing latter report. So, as we wade through yet another critical juncture of the LingLee saga, just remember to take any breathless new report with a grain of Tumen River sand.

Filed under: Media

16 Responses

  1. Spelunker says:

    This is a topic that’s been on my mind recently too. I think there are too many secondary news reports and not enough primary sources. The Internet has facilitated amateur news sites like “Examiner”, which should not be listed in Google news searches. They often take secondary news sources and then publish it as a third source, further diluting the actual facts.
    I’ve been trying to educate a journalism student in Sacramento who in the last couple of days has reported that China and Korea are at war and that North Korean government officials actually say they are eager to release Laura and Euna.

    The 24 hour cable news channels unfortunately do not report news 24 hours a day. At night CNN does shows like Nancy Grace, Larry King, and Anderson Cooper. Last month Anderson Cooper’s AC360 show chose to show YouTube video of a waving goat instead of pictures of the China/North Korea border where Laura and Euna were arrested. I have the transcript right here:

    Recently Doug Ling said that he didn’t know about Dr. Han Park’s Pyongyang interviews until he saw the CNN ticker. How much information can the Ling family get from reading tickers?
    The other cable TV news networks are guilty as well, as MSNBC and FOX also fill the evening hours with talk and entertainment. You have to wait for the morning news shows to learn what happened overnight on the other side of the world. We really live in a 14 hour cable news cycle, because you can’t get news updates on TV between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m.

    The other problem with journalism is that there is nobody trying to get first-hand information any more. Hong Kong’s Phoenix network sent a TV crew to Mapai village last month to see the area where Laura and Euna were arrested and interview local people. Why couldn’t CNN or BBC do that?
    Hit squads of Japanese media follow the eldest son of Kim Jong-il around when he shows up in Macau or Beijing. Where is ABC, NBC, or CBS when Kim Jong-il’s son is giving away free English language interviews?
    Pastor Chun Ki-won in Seoul is the Christian leader who was responsible for coordinating Current TV crew’s March 2009 itinerary in China, but only South Korean and Chinese media have interviewed him. Who are the Korea correspondents for major English language media and why aren’t they pursuing this critical source of key information?
    The name of the local guide (Kim Seong-cheol) was not revealed until North Korea gave it to us in the June 8 trial report published on their propaganda website. Why didn’t anybody just ask pastor Chun in April or May what the local guide’s name was? The name of the small Chinese village where Current TV’s crew crossed the border (Mapai) STILL has not been published in any English language news media. Am I the only person in America who wants to know the specific location where 2 Americans were arrested? Of course I know most people never heard of Yanji and Tumen anyway, so perhaps the geographic name was deemed unnecessary but it’s still a detail that helps us understand a complicated situation.

    • liberatelaura says:

      I agree that some western media organization should have by now done heck even a phoner with Pastor Chun Ki-won. He has a lot of interesting info to share.

      And like you, amazed people don’t want to pinpoint exact location of Mapai. I blogged about it, based on your tip, and to me it is one of the crucial elements. Especially if you look at the satellite map, there is a sandbank surrounded on all sides by a bifurcated Tumen River. Maybe somehow the @Current crew thought they were on safe ground still by only going on that “island”.

  2. Bart says:

    I think that CNN et al consider this a minor story. And when there’s no one in the US willing to talk, other than the family members (and who isn’t sick of Lisa Ling?), there’s not much to cover. Yes, Spelunker is right about crews going to the site where they were last seen, but it’s that compelling, esp. with Iran breaking and all. Does CNN even have a local bureau in China?

    • liberatelaura says:

      CNN has a Beijing and Hong Kong bureau, so Beijing would have to be the coverage start point:

      Also, disappointing that CNN hasn’t touched base about Ling-Lee with one of the most knowledgeable people about being a female foreign correspondent in dangerous areas – their own reporter, Christiane Amanpour.

  3. Spelunker says:

    Amanpour has been a little busy lately with Iran, but she did go to North Korea last year with the New York Philharmonic and stayed for the grand finale; the explosion of a cooling tower. It would be neat if Amanpour could visit Pyongyang again next month; I already submitted that idea to Anderson Cooper 2 months ago.

    Perhaps CNN’s Beijing bureau couldn’t get permission to go to Yanji and Mapai because China is not keen on having the refugee problem broadcast around the world. It might have been easier for the Hong Kong TV network crew to visit Mapai because they broadcast on a Chinese satellite network.

    I’m working on getting somebody to interview Pastor Chun Ki-won in Seoul with questions I have prepared. I have a media contact planning a trip to South Korea soon. Meanwhile I’ve been posting on Durihana’s bulletin board, trying to get the pastor’s attention.

  4. Bettie says:

    I think Amapour, et al, aren’t quick to embrace Current TV’s employees as “real journalists”–if Lisa Ling hadn’t already known Anderson Cooper, I doubt he would have been on this story. Has The View done an hour with Lisa about this? (I’m not a regular viewer, so I don’t know.)
    And while Lisa’s some sort of correspondent on Oprah, has she done a show on the situation? Or is this silence all part of Current TV’s “master plan”?

    • liberatelaura says:

      @TheViewTV has discussed the situation sporadically in its hot topics section, mostly in connection with vigils or TV appearances by the family. And to her credit, Lisa Ling’s former @TheViewTV co-host @StarJonesEsq has been a tireless twitterer for the Ling-Lee cause.

      Yes, the smaller nature of @Current has been mentioned several times, especially in terms of the lack of legal, airwave and other resources-reach that a bigger network or @NYTimes has at its disposal to deal with these kinds of situations. Still, wouldn’t it be great if brand new @Current CEO Mark Rosenthal lifted the silence of his network re: Ling-Lee and issued some sort of statement? Would be a good way to start off his term.

    • Spelunker says:

      Psssst! Bettie! Down here! It’s me, Spelunker!
      I have a confidential mission for you: go to Google, enter the name “Mitch Koss” and then click the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button. Got that?
      Now that you understand the relationship between Anderson Cooper and Current TV’s executive producer, you know, the one who escaped capture at the North Korean border. That’s why you won’t hear Mitch’s name mentioned on CNN; not by Anderson Cooper, not by Rick Sanchez, not by Larry King, etc. Shhhh;it’s a secret? I guess so!

  5. Bettie says:

    Oh I doubt he’ll do much. I think Hyatt got the axe because he went to a rally.

    “Meanwhile, from the release, some big words: “The announcement comes on the heels of four years of explosive growth for Current Media…The youngest television network ever to win an Emmy Award(R), Current TV recently passed the 60 million cable and satellite television household mark in April, and the successful launch and explosive growth of enjoys over 7 million unique visitors each month.” Can I laugh? If they were at least sober about the changes, people would believe them more.”

    There’s no way that site gets any 7 million hits. And Rafat Ali agrees

    • Spelunker says:

      Pssst, Bettie! Me again! Joel Hyatt wasn’t axed (or “booted” if Belinda is reading this too). He still lurks as vice chairman and co-founder even though his day-to-day duties no longer involve recycling the office’s aluminum cans.

    • liberatelaura says:

      Agreed on the inflated hit count; TMZ for example gets about 10M uniques a month.

  6. Bettie says:

    Oh and Current TV’s Emmy? “interactive TV services”.

    Here’s a suckup story from Fast Co.

  7. Bettie says:

    It might be available in 60 mil. homes, but that doesn’t mean any of those homes actually watch. Love Schneider, but he’s suckered.

  8. rain boots says:

    So it seems that the feud has come full circle.

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