Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Awful State of US Punditry on the North Korea Crisis: Bill Richardson called Kim Il Sung ‘Kim Yun Sum,’ or something like that, on CNN Yesterday

My favorite from the pundits on CNN was the retired General who said there are no plans to unify Korea and that the UN Command exists to ensure that north and South Korea continue to exist.  (And of course UN Security Council Resolutions 83,84, and 85 say nothing about ensuring that north Korea still exists (only the defense of the ROK and establishment of the UNC)  and the Armistice Agreement paragraph 60 calls for a political solution to the "Korea question" which is directly referring to the unnatural division of the Peninsula, but I digress).  Some interesting punditry critique below.  

The Awful State of US Punditry on the North Korea Crisis: Bill Richardson called Kim Il Sung ‘Kim Yun Sum,’ or something like that, on CNN Yesterday
Posted on April 13, 2013

I know what you’re thinking, I’m being a show-off area specialist, Asian language names can be hard for anglophones (and vice versa), and who cares about KIS anyway, because this crisis is about Kim Jong Un? All of that is true of course, especially the first one, but come on…

Richardson isn’t just any old hack like me on North Korea. (Here’s my take on the crisis.) He has been a regular point man for the  US on NK for more than a decade and markets himself as such on the talk-shows. And if you study NK in even the most basic way (here’s a good place to start), you know who KIS is. He’s everywhere. He founded the state in 1948 and ruled it until 1994 as his own personal fiefdom. The whole country is built around his personality cult. The regime even started calling its ideology ‘Kimilsungism,’ giving up the fictions of Marxism, communism, etc. KJU has called NK ‘KIS country’ and explicitly models himself after KIS in his clothing, hairstyle, and girth. Statues of KIS are everywhere, and Richardson has been there apparently eight times. I went there just once, and I’ve got my propaganda down pat about the Great Korean Leader, Comrade KIS’ heroic construction of socialism in our style under the revolutionary guidance of the Korean People’s Army defending the peasant and workers against the bourgeois imperialist Yankee Colony..… (I could keep going like that for a few more sentences if you like).

So why is Richardson making this undergraduate error on Piers Morgan? At first, I thought he was actually saying Kim Young Sam, a former president of SK, then I wasn’t quite sure what he actually said. Worse were Morgan’s other two guests, Wesley Clark, whom I actually like, but was totally out of his depth, and Nicholas Kristof, whose admirable, but relentlessly self-congratulatory, human rights advocacy seems to have convinced him that he is an authority on autocracies everywhere now.

And Morgan clearly hadn’t been prepped at all. When I do media on NK, I spend up to 30 minutes with producers talking about ideology, marketization from below, corruption, and the rationality of NK acquiring nukes (to defend itself against regime change) and trying to shake-down its neighbors (so that it does not have to change, which would call into question why it still exists at all apart from SK). But Morgan would have none of that; he just winged it completely. It was cringe-worthy. The questions were the standard undergrad-neocon-video game take on the place – North Korea as a strange, weird, erratic, unpredictable; KJU as a maniac nutball, and so on. Basically, you learned nothing in 8 minutes.
I can think of so many well-qualified, well-published NK experts in the US, vastly better than I’ll ever be: Lankov, Cha, Kang, Cumings, Anderson, just to name a few. But you never see these guys on CNN. It’s the just same generalists again and again – Zakaria, Amanpour, ex-generals, and so on. And Fox is even worse where its just Bolton, Hannity, and Jennifer Rubin. Yikes. And don’t forget the guy who blamed gay marriage on the Norks.
(Continued at the links below)

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