The Dear Reader: DPRK Observations & Musings


The Daffy Mail

The guiding principle behind the Twitter feed @LiberateLaura has always been to pass along information that goes beyond my own personal beliefs. Which means I don’t always agree with the opinions being expressed or contend, by sharing something, that I am also suggesting it is entirely accurate.

However, even by those broad standards, an August 9th article in the British newspaper The Daily Mail entitled “In Peril in Pyongyang?…” is a stretch. I tweeted about it because I knew it was going to quickly become part of the LingLee public discourse, but some things in this latest article by frequent Daily Mail collaborators Sharon Churcher and Caroline Graham just don’t sit right. It took a while to get all the footwork done, but I can now categorically state that 99.9% of the new information shared in this article is as wrong as Kim Jong-il’s bouffant hairdo.

For starters, you’d think that a UK newspaper could get the closest thing to a countryman right. But instead of listing Laura Ling’s husband Iain Clayton as being in his early 40s, Australian and a quantitative analyst, they’ve got him at 35, Scottish and working as a financial analyst (a big difference in that business). In addition, the front lawn quote attributed to him is false.

The $1 million book deal offer from Harper Collins? As of the end of this work week, there has yet to be any contact between the publisher and the Ling family camp. Overall, it was the publishers who came prematurely calling while the Burbank Airport solar powered hangar was still warm. Not the other way around.

Six figures for the first TV interview? Anyone who knows Laura (or has even simply watched a few of her globe trotting reports) can quickly glean that this is not a payola gal. The first interview, when it happens, will be for gratis. And if either of the Daily Mail article authors had taken the trouble to properly query American university professor Dr. Han S. Park, they might have been able to get a better handle on the circumstances of Ling and Lee‘s Pyongyang accommodations.

The 0.1% kernel of truth in the piece is the assertion that Euna Lee was holding the camera. That’s because there was more than one camera in the field at that time of the group’s capture.

Beyond that, stay tuned for the upcoming first-reveal chat with Laura Ling and Euna Lee about what really happened at the ChinaNorth Korea border in the early morning hours of March 17th, 2009. It’s bound to be Must-See TV.

Update01/29/10: There was, of course, no big paid TV interview with Ling and Lee. Rather, Lee signed a book deal with Random House late in the year, for low six figures, while Current TV confirmed on January 22nd, 2010 that Ling is leaving the network to concentrate on starting a family and working on a book with sister Lisa.


Filed under: Euna Lee, Laura Ling, Media

15 Responses

  1. Spelunker says:

    Euna Lee held a small digital camera. Mitch Koss held the video camera. Both cameras are listed as material evidence in the North Korean post-trial report. I am 100% positive about which camera Euna was holding and believe Mitch somehow let go of the video camera in his struggle to escape capture by North Korean border sentries.

    In accordance with your guiding principle I now present LiberateLaura award winning blog EPICANTHUS and their latest article detailing allegations of sexual assault by Reverend Chun Ki-won. This information is based on sources from Korean language media based in New York, where Chun Ki-won appeared for questioning in July.

    It was Reverend Chun Ki-won who arranged the China itinerary for Current TV’s crew and also was responsible for introducing the ethnic Korean guide in China who led Mitch Koss, Laura Ling, and Euna Lee to the Tumen River border area.

    In another recent EPICANTHUS article there is an interview with an anonymous award-winning investigative reporter who has filed stories from both North Korea and China and he offers this impression of Reverend Chun:

    “We worked with the same guy Current was using as a fixer, the Rev. Chun (Ki-won). I don’t think he’s the cleanest character in the world. Could he have introduced them to a guide who wasn’t properly vetted? Definitely possible. Some people we talked to weren’t sure if Chun doesn’t play for the other team.”

    I actually left a comment on this particular article but EPICANTHUS and WordPress were malfunctioning on that day (August 10). Here is the relevant part of my comment on August 10 concerning Rev. Chun Ki-won:

    It’s about time somebody brings Durihana’s Reverend Chun Ki-won to the witness stand. He did not reply to my e-mail concerning the questions I posted on Durihana’s bulletin board.

    I wonder if Lisa Ling still has a complimentary subscription to National Geographic magazine. If so, she would have said “Ah so!” when reading what NG reporter Tom O’Neill has to say about Rev. Chun Ki-won in the February 2009 issue:

    “But the pastor, now in his 50s and beginning to gray, is no storybook saint. His missionary contacts in China sometimes chafe at what they consider his bossy, reckless decisions; his top guide is a former drug smuggler; and Chun is not above resenting what he sees as ingratitude.”

    Could that former drug smuggling top guide possibly be Kim Seung-cheol, who Rev. Chun referred to Current TV’s crew for their March assignment? Pray it ain’t so!

    It was Reverend Chun Ki-won who on the morning of March 17 made the suggestion for the Current TV crew to visit the Tumen River border area, according to Chinese news reports:


    It’s my belief that the Current TV crew acted on a whim when crossing the China border into North Korea. The only question is whose whim was it?

    1. Laura Ling? Sister Lisa has maintained all along that it was not Laura’s intention to cross the North Korea border when she left California for this China assignment. Did Laura’s intention change after she completed the interviews with refugees in Yanji? We’re still waiting, Laura!

    2. Mitch Koss? I wonder if the reason Mitch is still silent after Laura and Euna’s return is because he initiated the idea to cross the border? Hey Mitch! Joan Rivers wants to know: “Can we talk?”

    3. Euna Lee? No. I don’t think it was her idea.
    However I would like one of those Korean media paparazzi stationed outside Euna’s Los Angeles home to ask Euna what her initial impression of that ethnic Korean local guide was. Did she have any suspicions about Kim Seong-cheol when looking him in the eye?

    4. The local guide, Kim Seong Cheol? Did he persuade the Current TV crew to cross the border at a location he was familiar with? If so, then who was the first Current TV crew member to voice their support for his idea? The “OK, sounds like fun; let’s do it!” line had to come from someone among the Current TV trio. Is any reporter diligent enough to try tracking this guide down?

    5. Reverend Chun Ki-won? No. I don’t believe he specifically told Current TV’s crew to cross the border because he previously warned them not to get too close to the actual boundary. Perhaps he had suggested they visit Mapai village and then the arrest occured on the way there or on the way back. (The specific spot along the Tumen River where Laura and Euna were arrested is located between Mapai village and the town of Tumen in Yueqing township.) I hope somebody will fly to South Korea and interrogate Rev. Chun about this matter. Ask him if the guide was familiar with the Mapai village area from previous Durihana assignments. Ask him if he can provide any leads that could assist in finding the guide’s current whereabouts. Ask him why he did not reply to Spelunker’s e-mail.

    Well, maybe now we know the reason he did not reply to my e-mail is because I sent it on July 16. Perhaps he may have had more important matters to attend to that week!

    • liberatelaura says:

      Speaking of the guide, have you heard if he is still in Chinese captivity?

      • Spelunker says:

        It’s very difficult for me to track him down with just my computer. His name in Korean is “김성철”, and in Chinese is “Jin Chengzhe”
        My Google news search is complicated by the fact that this appears to be a common Korean name.
        It’s almost like looking up “Richard Williams” on the Internet… who is the father of Venus and Serena Williams, the chief sports writer for the Guardian, the Oscar winning animation director for Roger Rabbit, and also the owner or a portrait photography studio in Glendale, California.

        I have maintained all along that somebody needs to track the guide down and that Chun Ki-won likely has sufficient contact information to facilitate a thorough investigation. Unfortunately no reporter in China will try to find him, as investigative reporters do not even exist in China! An ambitious South Korean reporter would be the ideal candidate.

        Does anybody else remember the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman saying that China’s government was conducting their own investigation? This is from a March 20 article:

        In Beijing, where North Korean Premier Kim Yong Il met Thursday with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said officials were “investigating the issue involving relevant U.S. nationals on the border between China and North Korea”

        Even Chun Ki-won admits the guide might not have been looking out for the best interests of Current TV’s crew:

        But Chun believes that the Chinese guide might have gotten “too ambitious” and “ended up trying to make a deal with the North Korean border guards” across the frozen Tumen River soon after they had left Yanji.

        “What is likely to have happened is that the North Koreans probably tricked the American journalists to come to their side of the river and detained them for ransom.” Chun said that is a common tactic of North Korean soldiers.

  2. FLAIR MEDIA says:

    People wonder why there’s a lack of confidence in media reporting of any issue. This is appalling – thank you for calling it out!

    • liberatelaura says:

      The UK tabloids are shameless; almost as shameless of those Republicans who insist Obama was not born in the U.S.

  3. liberatelaura says:


    Yes, I remember reading early on about the independent Chinese investigation. I guess working backwards from the little we currently have, you have to start to wonder – if the guide is indeed in Sino captivity, incarcerated or worse – why would the Chinese not want him to tell his side of the story?

  4. seonghuhn says:

    Richard, thanks for this article and clearing up some of the facts.

    Spelunker, thanks for your informative response. My personal theory was that Laura and crew went into NK to follow up on the rumors that trafficking of NK women originates in NK. This is based on this article which Richard tweeted about earlier,

    • liberatelaura says:

      That 8/10 article you mention, by Jin-Yeon Yuh (co-founder of Alliance of Scholars Concerned About Korea), has received a lot of attention and blogger rumination.

      My favorite stat is the range of estimates about how many NK refugees are currently in China. China says 10,000; activists think it could be as high as 300,000!

    • Spelunker says:

      Your theory is that Laura, Mitch, and Euna deliberately crossed the border to do actual reporting? The link you provide does not work.
      I’m sorry but your theory doesn’t match the evidence.
      Keep in mind the fact that the Current TV crew was scheduled to go to Dandong on March 17, so this was supposed to be a relatively quick morning excursion from Yanji. I truly believe the border crossing was done on a whim; now it’s just a matter of determining whose whim it was. They were only going to film themselves on North Korean territory and grab a souvenir rock; not report on human trafficking. The act of stepping across the border had absolutely nothing to do with their assignment. This is why I get so annoyed when I read statements like this one on right now:

      “On March 17, 2009, our colleagues, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, were arrested by
      North Korean guards while reporting along the China-North Korea border.”

      Reporting? What were they reporting along the border? Are you kidding me?
      “We just entered North Korean territory without permission” “Hey; this rock will be a great souvenir paperweight on my Vanguard office desk!”

      Don’t drink’s Kool-Aid. There wasn’t anything to report on the actual border itself. The real story was in Yanji where they interviewed North Korean refugees. Who were they going to interview on the frozen Tumen River away from any Chinese towns or villages? North Korean border sentries? Does anybody actually believe they went there to wait around and film a refugee coming across from North Korea?

      • seonghuhn says:

        Sorry the link didn’t work. The auto-linker added the period to the end of the link. Here it is again.

        If what you say is true that they crossed the border on a whim then that is truly damning. Personally I find it hard to believe that anyone would do that, especially people who are aware of the situation.

        Hopefully the truth will come out soon.

  5. Spelunker says:

    Thank you very much! That’s actually a very good article providing useful insight into the human trafficking problem involving North Korean refugees in northeast China. In fact the only problem with that article is the misleading headline: “What Were Laura Ling and Euna Lee Looking For in North Korea?” That website should should change the headline to read “…Looking For in China” because that is where the Current TV crew’s assignment was.
    The article does not imply that Current TV’s crew deliberately crossed the border into North Korea to do more reporting on that story. Their work in Yanji was already completed and the excursion to the border area was an extracurricular activity.

    I wish every article about Current TV’s caper would include a regional map showing where exactly the city of Yanji is in relation to the Tumen River.
    People need to understand that the Tumen River does not flow by the city of Yanji. The town of Tumen is located on the river as well as the village of Mapai further upstream. All of the interviews with North Korean refugees were conducted in Yanji, which is about 45 minutes by car away from the border at Tumen.

  6. Bo says:

    Well, I think that a quick shot of Laura in North Korea fits right in with most of her other stories at Current–it’s toe-touch journalism, much of the time. “Look at me! I’m in a scary place”, which matters to the Current audience, who identify with maverick acts, as long as nothing bad happens. No one at Current compares to people like the BBC’s Alan Johnson, for example.

    And yes, the Mail on Sunday is a tabloid rag, but I think there’s some nuggets there, and at least the writers avoided the “poor brave girls” tone which is getting old.

    I doubt that Ling or Lee will sell an interview,but Ling’s already talked about a book with her sister.

    • liberatelaura says:

      I think the best book that could be written would be one that, a la TRAFFIC, interwove the separate, parallel POVs of Lisa, Laura, Swedish Ambassador Mats Foyer and VP Al Gore.

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