The inscrutable Barbara Demick

Reader Jerry Hurtubise has forwarded his correspondence with Los Angeles Times reporter Barbara Demick regarding her Durantyesque article “North Korea, without the rancor,” about which Rocket Man wrote last night in “Nobody’s perfect.” Hurtubise wrote:

That is the stupidest thing I have ever read. Are you a moron, or was it satire?

Demick responded:

I’m sorry if my story was seen as an endorsement of the North Korean point of view, but believe me, it wasn’t.
I found it interesting to hear how a North Korean official tried to rationalize his country and thought my readers should hear what I did. Especially on the area of human rights, his remarks were truly repellent and I so I quoted them in full, giving him enough rope to hang himself. If I got an interview with Kim Jong Il, I’d certainly quote him as well, but all I had was this guy. In my long experience as a foreign correspondent, I’ve found that even the vilest war criminals justify their actions and that we have to understand their twisted logic to fight back.
I have probably written more in the last three years about human rights a abuses in North Korea than any other U.S. journalist. I broke one of the first stories on chemical testing on political prisoners, did a lengthy expose last year on how much money Kim Jong Il spends on his food while his country starves and another on trafficking of women. I frequently speak on North Korean human rights. If you’re interested in North Korea, I can send you the pieces.
Best, Barbara Demick

We find Demick’s email message hard to square with Demick’s article. If this article was supposed to be satire, it was too subtle for us. It’s true that Demick never says, after quoting Mr. Anonymous, “and I agree with him.” But there is nothing in the tone of the article that we can discern that suggests that his comments should be viewed skeptically. And she does say that Mr. Anonymous spoke “in an effort to clear up misunderstandings,” which seems to endorse the view that the common perception of North Korea is a misunderstanding. And how about the headline? “Without the rancor”? Doesn’t that mean that criticism of North Korea constitutes “rancor”? If not, we can’t figure out what it does mean. And how about the sub-headline: “A businessman speaks his mind about the U.S., the ‘nuclear club’ and human rights issues.” Again, if the Times is distancing itself from this shill in any way, we can’t see it. It looks to us like the headline writer read the story the same way Hugh and Rocket Man did.
As to the articles on human rights violations, we didn’t run across them, but we didn’t undertake anything like a comprehensive search or try to read everything. She’s written a lot of stuff. That said, it didn’t jump out at us from the Google search that she is on some kind of a human rights crusade vis a vis North Korea. The Palestinians, yes; North Korea, not that we noticed.


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