Nobody’s Perfect

The Los Angeles Times printed one of the strangest articles I’ve seen in a long time today. It is about North Korea–an apology for North Korea, actually–and is bizarrely titled “North Korea, Without the Rancor”. What rancor? The only meaning I can attribute to the headline is that the “rancor” is American hostility toward North Korea, which must be stripped away to get a true picture of that country.
The true picture, of course, comes from a spokesman for the Communist regime; anyone else who talked to an American reporter would be shot, if he or she were lucky. The Times article is by Barbara Demick; about her, more later. Let’s begin with the story. It is based on an interview that Barbara Demick did with a representative of the North Korean government in Beijing. This is the most remarkable aspect, really, of the article: Ms. Demick knows that she is talking with an agent of the North Korean government, yet she appears to take everything he says without a hint of skepticism:

He arrived at the entrance to a North Korean government-owned restaurant and karaoke club here in the Chinese capital with a handshake and a request. “Call me Mr. Anonymous,” he said in English.
This North Korean, an affable man in his late 50s who spent much of his career as a diplomat in Europe, has been assigned to help his communist country attract foreign investment.

So Mr. Anonymous has been “assigned” to spur foreign investment on behalf of the North Korean government, by, as Demick says later, “clear[ing] up misunderstandings.” What misunderstandings are those? Well, you know, about 2,000,000 North Koreans starved to death, hundreds thousands incarcerated in concentration camps, every known human right extinguished…that kind of “misunderstanding.” Mr. Anonymous is quite eloquent:

The North Korean, dressed in a cranberry-colored flannel shirt and corduroy trousers, described himself as a businessman with close ties to the government. He said he did not want to be quoted by name because his perspective was personal, not official. Because North Koreans seldom talk to U.S. media organizations, his comments offered rare insight into the view from the other side of the geopolitical divide.

No mention of the inconvenient reason why “North Koreans seldom talk to U.S. media organizations.” Only government shills can do so without being murdered.

“We were hoping for change from the U.S. administration. We expected some clear-cut positive change,” the North Korean said. “Instead, Condoleezza Rice immediately committed the mistake of calling us an outpost of tyranny. North Koreans are most sensitive when they hear that kind of remark.”

Especially those who work for Kim Jong Il. The ones in the concentration camps probably aren’t so “sensitive.”

He believes that Americans have the wrongheaded notion that North Koreas are unhappy with the system of government under Kim Jong Il. “We Asians are traditional people,” he said. “We prefer to have a benevolent father leader.”

How anyone can report this kind of nonsense straight is beyond me. Presumably Ms. Demick is aware of such Asian countries as Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, and–most problematic for Mr. Anonymous–South Korea. Somehow, when given a choice, Asians don’t seem to go for the “benevolent father leader.” One would have thought that the “benevolent father leader” school of political philosophy died with Josef Stalin; but not, apparently, at the Los Angeles Times.

He also said that U.S. criticism of North Korea’s record on human rights was unfair and hypocritical. In its annual human rights report on Monday, the State Department characterized North Korea’s behavior as “extremely poor.” It said 150,000 to 200,000 people were being held in detention camps for political reasons and that there continued to be reports of extrajudicial killings.
“Is there any country where there is a 100% guarantee of human rights? Certainly not the United States,” the businessman said. “There is a question of what is a political prisoner. Maybe these people are not political prisoners but social agitators.”

Sure, no country is perfect. I mean, who’s to say? Locking up “social agitators” is probably a good thing, as far as the Times is concerned. Maybe we should try it here. And if you think back on the Times’s Abu Ghraib coverage, weren’t they consistent? That was their theme then: nobody’s perfect. Right?

While Westerners tend to stress the rights of the individual, he said, “we have chosen collective human rights as a nation


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