For the first time since 1988, the Republic of Korea is hosting the Olympic Games in PyeongChang. Seventeen-year-old Redmond “Red” Gerard has added to the excitement by winning the United States’ first gold medal and making history by becoming the youngest American snowboarder ever to win an Olympic medal. Nevertheless, Gerard’s success does not explain the current giddiness of various media outlets. Their glee stems from Kim Yo-jong’s visit to PyeongChang. Many members of the media have expressed a fascination, even an infatuation, with the younger sister of North Korea’s despotic leader Kim Jong-un.
The New York Times reported that sending Kim Yo-jong to PyeongChang as part of the North Korean delegation was a stroke of diplomatic genius. Noting the comparisons that South Korean newspapers made between Ms. Kim and Ivanka Trump, the journalists that authored this report offered a startling one of their own. According to them, Kim struck a conciliatory chord and displayed an unmistakable duende during her historic trip to the South whereas Vice President Mike Pence reiterated the United States’ old threats of “maximum sanctions” against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea over its refusal to dismantle its nuclear arsenal.
Reuters also presented its spin on the events. According to the news agency, not only did North Korea score a major diplomatic coup, but it also succeeded in putting distance between the United States and its ally, South Korea, by using the Olympic Games.
In light of the stark accounts of human rights abuses, however, such media coverage comes across as a whitewashing of the unrelentingly grim reality that North Koreans face daily.
In 2014, the Guardian reported that the United Nations Human Rights Council had established a Commission of Inquiry (COI) to investigate “systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” The report that resulted from this fact-finding mission raised great alarm.
Chairman of the Inquiry Michael Kirby, who is an Australian retired judge, said, “When you see that image in your mind of bodies being burned, it does bring back memories of the end of World War II, and the horror and the shame and the shock. I never thought that in my lifetime it would be part of my duty to bring revelations of a similar kind.”
More recently, the tragic story of Otto Warmbier reminded the world that virtually nothing has changed since the issue of the COI’s report. The 2018 Human Rights Watch report has further confirmed this. According to the findings of the nongovernmental organization, North Korea is “one of the most repressive authoritarian states in the world.” The government “restricts all basic civil and political liberties.”
Flattering coverage of North Korea, therefore, is a gross romanticization of the country. It is even arguably tantamount to propaganda. What is equally unfortunate, however, is the criticism of such coverage to score political points.
Journalist Michelle Malkin makes a good point about the media treatment of Kim Yo-jong, but its validity gets lost, ironically, in its politicization.
There was also an unnecessarily overt political tone to some of the observations of Ben Shapiro, who is equally a journalist.
There exists another problem, though. While Malkin and Shapiro might have some knowledge of the North Korea government that extends beyond headlines, many that have made similar criticisms do not.
Furthermore, given the extent of the outrage over the glowing press that North Korea has received, one would expect to see more mention of the regime on social media in general, especially from those that have been particularly aghast at the coverage. Unfortunately, however, the current focus on the human rights abuses of Kim Jong-un’s government will fade with the emergence of the next cri de coeur. Moreover, many will sadly only give attention to the dire situation of North Koreans again when the same newspapers that they now so happily savage run their next round of stories on this autocracy.