Barrett: Media mistake North Koreans' tears of joy for mourning

Barrett: Media mistake North Koreans' tears of joy for mourning

January 1st, 2012 by Steve Barrett in Opinion Columns

Naiveté that would make the average toddler blush.

That's the charitable explanation for the tone-deaf, almost sentimental news coverage of departed mass murderer Kim Jong Il.

A less charitable one: criminal stupidity.

And the probably correct one: journalists' limitless capacity for downplaying left-wing savagery.

Take the lockstep descriptions of Kim and his late dad Kim Il Sung as "revered." It's as if an editor at every news organization in the universe had no job but to ensure that that adjective made its way into any article about the Kims. Santa's sleigh just crashed in Poughkeepsie? Never mind that, you. Just don't let the latest condolences for Dear Leader make it onto A4 without the "revered."

A sampler platter:

* "His father, Kim Il Sung, is still revered as the founder of North Korea." -- The Associated Press

* "[Successor] Kim Jong Un looks strikingly similar to his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea, who is still revered as a god." -- The New York Times

* "Kim Jong Il: Revered at home; remembered outside as repressive" -- CNN

* "[H]is grandfather, the revered national founder Kim Il-sung." -- The BBC

Revered by blankety-blank whom, exactly? (Other than Western media, that is.)

Don't hand me the pictures of people in Pyongyang beating their breasts and wailing after Kim Jong Il's death. They're oppressed, not idiotic. They know the faintest sign of insufficient worshipfulness toward the tyrant or his father buys a ticket to a forced-labor camp, if not an all-expenses-paid visit to the execution chamber. Mistaking their nervously conspicuous mourning for genuine signs of grief is all but slanderous.

When outside, independent media (No, NPR, you don't qualify) get unbridled access to North Korea and ordinary people there can speak freely without fear of losing their fingernails, we may have a clearer picture of how much they "revere" their "leaders."

And while we're on the subject of mindless deference to the Kims, could somebody please resend the bin Laden memo to The New York Times? When U.S. forces introduced bin Laden's Grecian Formulated head to the business end of a bullet last year, the Times at last dropped the "Mr." from in front of his name. The paper's style manual maven declared in a memo that no one was likely to argue "that we were being 'disrespectful' to Bin Laden." True. Lack of respect for bin Laden is not something of which anyone would accuse the Times -- particularly since it denied the honorific to the al-Qaida psychopath only after he died, when he could no longer relish it.

Yet the paper's March of the Misters at least partially goes on for the Kims -- who for exuberant cruelty gave bin Laden a run for his money. Kim Jong Il retained the courtesy title in some of the paper's coverage surrounding his death, while other articles dropped it.

The fear of "disrespecting" one of the most casually bloodthirsty despots since "Mr. Stalin" must be tough to shake.

Charles the green

Speaking of people The New York Times enjoys calling "Mr.," murderous cult leader and Beatles fan Charles Manson hasn't been terribly talkative in recent years. But he made an exception in 2011: He condemned global warming.

"[O]ur polar caps are melting because we're doing bad things to the atmosphere," he told a Spanish magazine. "The automobiles and fossil fuels are destroying the atmosphere and we won't have air to breathe. If we don't change that as rapidly as I'm speaking to you now, if we don't put the green back on the planet and put the trees back that we've butchered, if we don't go to war against the problem ... ."

What say we first go to war against the irony of Charles Manson getting bent out of shape over "butchered" plant life?

Double standard?

What is the difference between violence at city-owned Coolidge Park and violence at or near privately owned Mosaic church and Club Fathom?

I can see the arguments for seeking to shut down Mosaic and its club in response to violent incidents there the past few years. But what makes Coolidge -- the site of shootings, flash mobs and other violence -- exempt from any such consideration?

I'm most assuredly not advocating the closing of Coolidge. But if its problems and the issues at Mosaic and Club Fathom are strictly apples and oranges, I'd like to know why.