by Joe Concha, opinion contributor · February 12, 2018
Trust in media is at an all-time low. But loathing of it is likely at an all-time high. The latest example of backlash against the increasing tone-deafness among some of the Fourth Estate occurred over the weekend, during fawning coverage of North Korea’s presence at the Olympic Games in South Korea, particularly as it pertained to North Korea’s director of the Department of Propaganda and Agitation.
Who runs that department exactly? The new “it girl” for The New York Times, CNN, Reuters and ABC News, to name a few. Her name is Kim Yo Jong, the sister of dictator Kim Jong Un.
“Without a word, only flashing smiles, Kim Jong Un’s sister outflanked Vice President Mike Pence in diplomacy,” The New York Times gushed on Twitter to its millions of followers.
“Kim Jong-un’s Sister Turns On the Charm, Taking Pence’s Spotlight,” the paper of record’s headline reads.
A press release straight from the Hermit Kingdom couldn’t tweet it better, or as The Huffington Post and New York Magazine’s Yashar Ali asks, “Wait people are still tweeting this crap?”
Wait people are still tweeting this crap? https://t.co/K0eaRDg22w
— Yashar Ali (@yashar) February 11, 2018
Or as the conservative John Podhoretz mocked, “‘without a word, Kim Jong Yo has exposed the Western media’s moral depravity.”
“without a word, Kim Jong Yo has exposed the Western media’s moral depravity”
— John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) February 11, 2018
But it wasn’t just the Times. Pick your poison. As one respected reporter, one of the few truly nonpartisan ones left, wrote me on Sunday, “I find it appalling and media has been moving this way for awhile. It started with them treating Kim Jong Un statements about Trump as if they were uttered by another world leader. Now glowing press coverage. It is sick.”
An ABC News headline continued the unintentional comedy: “North Korea’s 200-plus cheerleaders command spotlight at 2018 Winter Olympics with synchronized chants.”
The whole “stealing-spotlight” thing was all the rage on this opening weekend out of Pyeongchang, as CNN was hammered from all sides for this headline on the aforementioned Kim Yo Jong: “Kim Jong Un’s sister is stealing the show at the Winter Olympics.”
Kim Jong Un’s sister is stealing the show at the Winter Olympics https://t.co/ian9ZiurVm pic.twitter.com/fBXuFEyXAj
— CNN International (@cnni) February 10, 2018
But the real outcry surrounded the story’s comparison of Kim Yo Jong to Ivanka Trump.
“If ‘diplomatic dance’ were an event at the Winter Olympics, Kim Jong Un’s younger sister would be favored to win gold,” the article begins.
“Seen by some as her brother’s answer to American first daughter Ivanka Trump, Kim, 30, is not only a powerful member of Kim Jong Un’s kitchen cabinet but also a foil to the perception of North Korea as antiquated and militaristic,” the story reads.
The reaction to these stories — and this is a rarity in 2018′s polarized environment — has been bipartisan condemnation.
Someone tell @CNN that their site has been hacked by the North Korean propaganda ministry. https://t.co/AoPS5tgVM5
— Garry Kasparov (@Kasparov63) February 10, 2018
.@CNN “She’s North Korea’s Ivanka Trump! “ if Ivanka Trump oversaw prison labor camps, tortured & starved citizens & ordered a few hundred executions, totally.
— Stephen Miller (@redsteeze) February 10, 2018
Remember: signal your virtue before the clock strikes midnight tonight by expressing your outrage over CNN’s coverage of Kim Jong Un’s sister. Then you can return to ignoring North Korea for the rest of the year.
— Blake Hounshell (@blakehounshell) February 11, 2018
Next up: An EXCLUSIVE @CNN investigative report on Kim Jong Un’s sister’s workout playlist, favorite boba tea flavors, and nighttime skin care routine. #SLAYGIRLFRIEND https://t.co/ofGWJ7iudh
— Michelle Malkin (@michellemalkin) February 10, 2018
CNN has had harsher coverage of Trump than they have of Kim Jong-Un. https://t.co/L8ZZY87ltS
— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) February 11, 2018
she’s literally the deputy director of the “Propaganda and Agitation Department” for one of the world’s most repressive regimes. https://t.co/fPs6UhdZ3X
— Jesse Lehrich (@JesseLehrich) February 10, 2018
Also stealing her country’s meager wealth to live in opulence while they starve. But doing it in style. You go, girl! https://t.co/VicDse7YkI
— Jonathan Chait (@jonathanchait) February 10, 2018
If I were working for CNN I would honestly resign before writing this piece. Beyond a certain point, no job is worth sacrificing your dignity or whitewashing true evil like this. https://t.co/k2qNfoV2zD
— Jeff B. (@EsotericCD) February 10, 2018
Devastating stuff. So what’s the motive behind such glowing coverage of a murderous country whose people are literally oppressed prisoners in their own country?
President Trump — and by extension — Pence, of course.
The sentiment and implication are clear: The U.S. president and vice president are unfeeling brutes who don’t embrace the concept of diplomacy or peace in general.
“Flashing a sphinx-like smile and without ever speaking in public, Ms. Kim managed to outflank Mr. Trump’s envoy to the Olympics, Vice President Mike Pence, in the game of diplomatic image-making,” the Times continued to gushed in its Sunday story that, amazingly, didn’t come from its editorial side but as an actual straight-news offering.
“While Mr. Pence came with an old message — that the United States would continue to ratchet up ‘maximum sanctions’ until the North dismantled its nuclear arsenal — Ms. Kim delivered messages of reconciliation as well as an unexpected invitation from her brother to the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, to visit Pyongyang, the North Korean capital,” it continued.
You get the point: The vice president isn’t hip to what all the cool kids are saying. Kim wants peace, Pence wants war or, at the very least, a continued cold war.
Forget the gulags and the mass murders and the starvation of the North Korean people. Forget Otto Warmbier, a U.S. citizen tortured before dying at the hands of the North Koreans. Forget the missile tests over Japan and the declaration of obliterating the United States and its allies in Asia and the Pacific.
What the media wants you to remember is Kim has a great smile and just wants peace and love and Taylor Swift, while Team Trump is evil. Or something …
Here’s what Pence had to say before departing for South Korea, a declaration maintained based on what the world witnessed on Saturday, “We’ll continue to seize every opportunity to ensure that North Korea does not use the powerful imagery and backdrop of the Olympics to paper over an appalling record of human rights and a pattern of developing weapons and conducting the kind of missile launches that are threatening our nation and threatening neighbors across the region.”
Upon returning home, Pence stressed “the maximum pressure campaign” will continue, but added that the U.S. is willing to sit down with the North Koreans.
“No pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that … represents a meaningful step toward denuclearization,” Pence told The Washington Post on Sunday.
“But if you want to talk, we’ll talk,” he added.
An old proverb that goes back thousands of years completely applies today, if this weekend’s subservient coverage of North Korea is any indication: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
CNN contributor and Washington Examiner reporter-columnist Salena Zito sums it all up with her usual sober perspective: “I am deeply saddened by how my profession has normalized and glamorized this murderous regime. And then we wonder why no one trusts us.”
I am deeply saddened by how my profession has normalized and glamorized this murderous regime.
And then we wonder why no one trusts us. pic.twitter.com/pMKVPEvOWP
— SalenaZito (@SalenaZito) February 11, 2018
Joe Concha (@JoeConchaTV) is a media reporter for The Hill.