Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Dan Rather and North Korea

I happened to catch a few minutes of 60 Minutes on Sunday, which featured Dan Rather in North Korea (transcript is here). I have to say what I saw was so disgusting that after several minutes of yelling at the TV, I had to turn it off. No, it wasn't the oppressive barbaric regime of Kim Jong Il that I found so repellent; it was Dan Rather's despicable reporting.

Now, while I'm no fan of big-name journalists, I've never really watched the major networks and never really cared one way or the other about Rather. But his reporting on North Korea refused to portray the "Hermit Kingdom" for the murderous, human rights violating, torturous, monstrosity that it is. I was reminded of the revelations that CNN had intentionally covered up reports of atrocities within Saddam Hussein's Iraq in order to maintain its access in that country.

Here are some of the best (worst?) parts of Rather's report:

"Somehow North Korea, which is the size of Mississippi, manages to afford the third largest army in the world." Somehow? How does Rather think North Korea affords such a large army? Maybe by denying its people such basic luxuries as food? Maybe by conscripting every able-bodies male for almost 4 years? Does Rather wonder how North Korea can afford such an army when it can't even afford 24 hour a day electricity for its capital city? No. Rather such poses this question as if it is an unanswerable puzzle.

"When Kim Il Sung died, his son, Kim Jong Il, took control. He's not as popular as his father, but we noted the crowd's adulation when he showed up to review the troops. Whether because of fear or true devotion, North Koreans can't seem to get enough of him." Seriously? In a country where people, even babies, are sent into reeducation camps for the smallest of "dissent" (three generations of families can be jailed on a mere denunciation) and starved into submission, Rather wonders whether the people's "love" for this monster is genuine?

"There were no tours available at any price to areas where mass starvation has been reported. We were allowed to go into the countryside, but not to the jails that have been called gulags for political prisoners." There are only reports of starvation? The US Institute of Peace estimates that 2-3 million people died of famine between 1994 and 1998. The average daily food ration during the famine was estimated to be 600 calories, or 1/4 what is needed. People are often reduced to eating grass and bark. Entire generations of children have had their development stunted. And Rather tells us that there are "reports" of starvation? And that the jails are "called gulags?" No mention of the forced abortions, the testing of biological and chemical agents on prisoners, the 20-25% death rates, the arrest and imprisonment of entire families for the "crimes" of one member, or any other of the barbaric conditions mentioned here in a NBC special report, here in The Aquariums of Pyongyang, here in a report in the San Diego Union-Tribune, on in any other of the innumerable reports on North Korean gulags. No, Rather only mentioned reports of mass starvation and that some people call these prisons gulags.

The entire report is nothing more than a whitewash of North Korea's crimes against its own citizens. Rather does deign to tell us that people can't afford cars or bikes, that one can be arrested for allowing strangers into one's home, that Pyongyang has so little electricity that it can't even run traffic lights, and that the government controls "many aspects of life here: where you live, where you work, where you get medical treatment, where you go to school." But this is about the extent of the evil that Rather reveals.

Rather concludes his report by asking "Where does [Kim Jong Il] want to take his country? To the future or the past? To peace or to war?" Is this even a serious question? Can any sane person really wonder if Kim Jong Il wants to do anything but profit off of the blood of his people?

I find it very difficult to understand how Rather can call this report serious journalism. I wouldn't have thought he was some kind of Stalinist sympathizer, but this report makes one wonder. If CBS and 60 Minutes are producing a whitewashed report so that, a la CNN, they can maintain access to North Korea, they should be ashamed of themselves and be boycotted by any and all. If Rather seriously believes that his report accurately portrays North Korea, then he is more deluded than his critics have made him out to be. Either way, I now find Rather to be reprehensible and to have lost any credibility he may have ever possessed.


stefan moluf said...

Ugh. And people wonder why I don't watch mainstream media.

Dan Harris said...

Dan Rather is incapable of critical thought. You are overestimating him to ascribe a motive.