Accuracy in Media

As I commented in the last Media Monitor, an ABC news crew recently went to North Korea for a Nightline episode, and segments on World News Tonight and Good Morning America. They were the first American news team there since Madeleine Albright’s trip in 2000. ABC director of foreign news Chuck Lustig told Daily Variety that though they were closely monitored, they had been allowed to go nearly every place they had requested. The once exception was the Yongbyon nuclear facilities, which is where, it is believed, that they produce their weapons-grade uranium.

After explaining how the North Koreans tell their people that the Korean War was started by the U.S., correspondent Bob Woodruff said that the North Koreans feel like they’re under a real threat from the U.S. and says it began with President Bush labeling them an axis-of-evil country. What really frightened them, Woodruff reported, was when they read Bob Woodward’s book, Plan of Attack, in April of 2004 when it came out. Woodruff said that the book led them to believe that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was planning a secret invasion of North Korea. He said that they came away with the idea that if they had nuclear weapons, the U.S. wouldn’t invade, but if they didn’t, we would. Woodruff said that was the point at which they decided to go ahead with their nuclear program.

The North Korean vice foreign minister and lead negotiator told Woodruff that they do have nuclear weapons and will continue to build more. ABC News producer Clark Bentson said the whole diplomatic confrontation was because the N. Koreans had their feelings hurt by being called an “outpost of tyranny.” That was stated over and over, he said. What they want from us is an apology, and to start treating them like equal partners.

And here is where ABC let its viewers down. They made no effort to explain that the North Korean claim that they decided to resume their nuclear program in 2004 was patently false. The 1994 Agreed Framework that the Clinton administration had negotiated, with the help of former President Jimmy Carter, had failed long ago. The basic agreement was that the North Koreans would freeze its nuclear program at Yongbyon, and the U.S. and South Korea would build them light-water reactors and provide them with massive fuel and food aid. In the following years, North Korea continued test-firing missiles over Japan, and selling missile technology to other rogue nations.

It became clear to many in Congress and the CIA in the mid and late 1990s that the North Koreans were violating the agreement, but the Clinton administration claimed the agreement was working. The agreement finally came to an end when the North Korean officials admitted to having had a nuclear weapons program in an October 2002 meeting with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly and again in 2003. While some critics questioned the validity of these claims by the Bush administration, the former Secretary of State under Clinton, Madeleine Albright, said on Meet the Press in 2004, when asked by Tim Russert as to whether or not they had developed a nuclear weapon under Bill Clinton’s watch: “No. What they were doing, as it turns out, they were cheating.”

On the same day this Nightline episode aired, Democratic Senators Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin co-authored a column in the Washington Post calling for a massive aid program for North Korea. They wrote, “Thus, while the administration wrangled internally about whether to negotiate seriously with North Korea, Pyongyang was using the time to break out as a nuclear power.” Hillary claimed that the North Koreans had used these past five years to become “a nuclear weapons state.” And she called for an aid package, saying, “Seriousness is demonstrated by spelling out a package to the North Koreans that addresses their fundamental need for economic assistance. It is demonstrated by rhetorical restraint.”

So here we have Hillary Clinton calling for another appeasement package for the North Koreans, though the last one allowed them to continue with their program while becoming the largest recipient of U.S. aid in all of Asia. Clearly they could use a serious aid package, but based on past experience, it would again be used to further entrench the tyrannical government while enabling the continued repression of the people. What is really needed, somehow, is regime change. Ideally it would come in the form of reunification, under the capitalistic and democratic South Korean government, and without war.

Foreign news director Chuck Lustig told Daily Variety that “I hope we prove that ABC News is fair and objective in its reporting on North Korea and we will be invited back.” I suspect North Korea will feel that way and invite them back. But how about fair and objective reporting for the U.S. as well.

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