Saturday 21 September 2019

Playing Top Trumps with North Korea

Kim Yo Jong
Kim Yo Jong
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

Are you one of those people staying up late to watch the Winter Olympics? Nope, me neither. My interest is directly proportionate to the danger the athletes face. So I have a bit of an interest in, say, the luge, where someone might die in a spectacular way, and zero interest in, say, the ice skating.

But the real fun has been taking place away from the athletics.

In fact the real blood sport is the diplomacy being conducted in front of the cameras and behind the scenes.

People feigned surprise when US Vice-President Mike Pence refused to stand when the North Korean delegation entered the stadium. People expressed disgust that he brought Fred Warmbier as his plus one.

Mr Warmbier's son, Otto, you may recall, was brutally tortured by the North Koreans, in ways which the US doctors still can't figure out, before being returned in a vegetative state to die in his parents' arms.

All of that is politics - the rough and tumble of carrot and stick diplomacy and well, politicians play politics. It's kinda the point. But what I did find genuinely remarkable was the sight of presenters and contributors on the likes of CNN and MSNBC condemning Pence for being 'disrespectful' to the North Koreans, while they delighted in reporting the fact that Kim Jo-Yong (pictured above), sister of Kim and head of the North Korean delegation, was so much more glamorous and was, according to one headline, 'stealing the show'.

Of course, if former Vice President Joe Biden had been VP and refused to stand for the delegation, he would have been praised for his tough stance. But because it's Pence, they pretended to be outraged.

This is the problem with what has become known as 'team sport politics', where even supposedly neutral observers drop their impartiality and are reduced to the level of cheerleaders.

Incredibly, there were plenty of Americans prepared to say that Trump is a worse individual than Kim Jong-un.

This frenzy of stupidity was so pervasive that even CNN's Jake Tapper was forced to distance himself from his own network's fawning coverage of the North Korean despot's sister.

The idea that all journalism has to impartial is a myth. Every writer, and every news organisation, has a particular bias - otherwise everything would be the same.

But there has to be a presumption of intellectual honesty and that has been markedly absent. To compare a democratically elected, albeit wildly divisive, leader to the worst regime since the Khmer Rouge is not just stupid, it's positively wicked. After all, anyone who has bothered to read the testimony of North Korean refugees surely knows that you simply cannot and should not compare the two.

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