From the first Morning Jolt of the week:
The True North of the American Media’s Coverage of the Olympics
The ludicrous coverage of North Korea’s presence at the Winter Olympics suggests that for the metaphorical compass of many of the biggest institutions in America’s mainstream media, there is a new true north (no pun intended, but now that I think about it, I should have intended it): Whoever is in opposition to the Trump administration is the hero of the story – no matter the circumstances, no matter the stakes.
John McCain, Jeff Flake, Jim Comey, LaVar Ball, the intelligence community, corporate CEOs, kneeling NFL players, the North Korean regime – no matter what you’ve done in the past, no matter how much the media collectively previously hammered you, if you’re butting heads with the Trump administration, you will get the more sympathetic angle in the news coverage of that dispute.
No foreign leader has enjoyed coverage as good as North Korea’s Kim Yo Jong since Vogue profiled Asma al-Assad, first lady of Syria, back in 2011. (That was right before Assad’s regime killed tens of thousands of people and used chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war.) A sampling:
Reuters: “North Korea has emerged as the early favorite to grab one of the Winter Olympics’ most important medals: the diplomatic gold.”
CNN: “Kim Jong Un’s sister is stealing the show at the Winter Olympics!”
Business Insider: “From her “side-eye” of US Vice President Mike Pence to hints at Korean unification, Kim has stolen the spotlight at the Winter Olympics.”
Washington Post: “The ‘Ivanka Trump of North Korea’ captivates people in the South at the Olympics.”
In the name of Otto Warmbier, could we avoid variations of the term “captive” in praising North Korea’s leaders during the Olympics?
The New York Times wrote, “Her quietly friendly approach while in South Korea — photographers repeatedly captured her smiling — seemed to endear her to some observers.”
If all it takes to “endear” you to a regime as brutal as North Korea’s is a smile, you are an exceptionally cheap date. Could you lower the bar a little more? As I joked Sunday, I await the headline, “Kim Jong Un’s Sister Shocks, Delights World By Not Killing Anyone During Meeting.”
And why the heck has every reporter in South Korea suddenly developed a crush on those cheerleaders?
The Associated Press: “North Korean Cheerleaders Spark Fashion Envy”
The UK Metro newspaper gushed, “North Korea’s 200 cheerleaders could be the best thing about the Winter Olympics.”
ABC News: “Clad in coordinated outfits of red with white and blue accents, North Korea’s throng of more than 200 cheerleaders are stealing the spotlight at the 23rd Winter Olympic Games in South Korea as they chant, sway and dance in unison.
Give USA Today some credit for remembering some history, deep in a story:
In 2006, 21 members of a North Korean cheering squad that had traveled to South Korea for an international athletic event were sent to a prison camp for talking about what they saw in the South, the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported.
It was left to Buzzfeed – Buzzfeed! – to bring some sanity and perspective back to the situation:
In 2015, a South Korean report said that between 2000 and 2013, almost 1,400 North Korean citizens were publicly executed, reportedly as a means to “keep the population in line. Thousands of North Koreans were required to witness firing squad executions in public stadiums in 2013, according to a South Korean newspaper.
Some of these reporters will no doubt insist they’re not touting the charm of Kim Yo Jong and the North Koreans; they’re merely reporting on the reaction of some portion of South Korean public. The South Koreans live their daily lives in the crosshairs and no doubt have a strong cultural appetite for dreams of a peaceful reunification. Last month I wrote, “Sometimes South Korea feels like our buddy who’s still convinced he can patch things up and get back together with the crazy ex-girlfriend who tried to run him over with her car.” I suppose that if you live next door to a crazy dangerous psychopath long enough, you welcome the days the neighbor smiles instead of threatening you.