Sunday 20 May 2018

Liberals turn their anger on wrong man

Dictator: Some media outlets in the US sided with Kim Jong-un over white American college student Otto Warmbier
Dictator: Some media outlets in the US sided with Kim Jong-un over white American college student Otto Warmbier
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

This week the unimaginable happened; I admired candy floss-headed Donald Trump.

It was a fleeting moment but, nonetheless, for a brief juncture I thought he handled something well - and that was acknowledging the tragedy of Otto Warmbier's life.

In the liberal press, there had been a marked lack of empathy towards Warmbier - a white college student who, during a brief adventure holiday to North Korean, stole a poster.

A stupid prank and a juvenile transgression, admittedly, but one that he would ultimately pay for with his life. When he was arrested in 2016, several sites posted articles which seemed deliberately to interpret Warmbier's obvious naïvety as a combination of white privileged arrogance and frat boy stupidity.

Salon.com published an article titled 'This might be America's biggest idiot frat boy: Meet the UVa (University of Virginia) student who thought he could pull a prank in North Korea'.

The Huffington Post ran an article claiming his arrest was an "unfortunate side effect of being socialised first as a white boy, and then as a white man in this country (the USA)".

Reminder: he stole a poster.

It's a strange turn of events when liberals become so blinded by their own rhetoric, they side with Kim Jong-un over a 21-year-old student.

It seemed these articles were implying that the decisions of the dictator of North Korea, a brutal dictatorship with one of the worst human rights records in the world, were understandable when the victim was a middle-class white boy. There was a sense of satisfaction in their coverage of Warmbier's arrest and sentencing.

He certainly was punished for his crime: 15 years of hard labour in a North Korean work camp. I've never been in one myself, but I imagine conditions in one of these institutions are not great.

Footage of a terrified Warmbier on trial received mocking comments online. Some bloggers denounced him as a crybaby.

Reminder: he had just been sentenced to 15 years in a labour camp.

It's hard to find an excuse for this lack of sympathy but perhaps there's some sort of explanation. Warmbier studied at the University of Virginia, which had been the focus of Rolling Stone magazine's infamous article, 'A Rape on Campus'. This article purported to describe a gang rape in one of the university's fraternity houses. It was later retracted as there was no evidence of rape. The subsequent court case cost the magazine in excess of $3m in damages.

There is always disbelief and residual resentment when a story people had invested so heavily in proves to be unfounded.

Perhaps some of that anger was deflected on to Warmbier. When he was finally released, it was during Trump's presidency, and apparently through his intervention. And liberals hate Trump and everything he stands for.

It may be true that Warmbier was born male, white and into a middle-class family. But the articles written about his arrest were also based on an assumption of privilege.

The authors believed Warmbier's whiteness would result in his early release, and he could go back to his comfortable heteronormative white life.

With that presumption, coupled with the knowledge that bashing frat boys is on trend these days, a series of 'I tell it like it is' articles, tweets and Facebook posts circulated.

The thought process seems to have been that "it's safe to write because he's sure to get out".

And he did - but in a coma with severe neurological injuries. He died six days later. As Trump said "at least we got him home". Sentencing someone to 15 years hard labour for stealing a poster is positively medieval.

Trying to justify that by blaming a 21-year-old for their lack of cultural awareness is arguably worse. It showcases a complete lack of compassion and basic decency.

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