The actions of the shadowy rulers of North Korea are rarely transparent, but the general outlines of Monday’s violence in Yeongpyeong island are clear enough. North Korean artillery lobbed over 200 shells into the island, which hosts a military base and a population of fishermen and their families. Two South Korean marines died in the attack. Many homes burned to the ground, and the charred bodies of two civilian victims were discovered Tuesday. Eighteen people suffered injuries.
The South Koreans, who had been conducting a military exercise on the island, returned fire. There’s no indication of any casualties by the North.
For all its antic reputation, the North Korean regime is quite adept at murder and blackmail. It represses, imprisons, and starves its own population into submission. In March, it torpedoed a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors on board. Earlier this month, it revealed to an American scientist a sophisticated and hitherto unsuspected capability for enriching uranium – threatening nuclear Gotterdammerung to an appalled world.
There’s a history here. Yeongpyeong is the latest in a long list of atrocities perpetrated by the North Koreans for reasons best known to themselves.
Unless one looks at the world through the eyes of the New York Times.
The NYT’s tendentious “coverage” of the incident, committed by Mark McDonald, stands out as an atrocity of the journalistic kind. In his initial report, McDonald seems perplexed about who fired first – although a literal reading might indicate it was the South Koreans.
The North blamed the South for starting the exchange; the South acknowledged firing test shots in the area but denied that any had fallen in the North’s territory.
One side says this, the other that, who’s to tell what happened? Only the South, suspiciously, is forced to “acknowledge” anything.
The same approach is used when referencing the torpedoing of the South Korean warship. The North’s responsibility for the attack has been established by a panel of independent experts, and accepted by most of the world. But this is how the Solomonic McDonald comes to judgment: “Seoul blamed a North Korean torpedo attack; the North has denied any role.” How can an honest reporter decide?
Later in the report, McDonald rambles on at length about how “analysts” believe the artillery attack was really a desperate North Korean plea for food aid, which has been “strangled” by US sanctions. One “analyst” gets more space than any other voice in the report:
“It’s a sign of North Korea’s increasing frustration,” Mr. Choi said.
“Washington has turned a deaf ear to Pyongyang and North Korea is saying, ‘Look here. We’re still alive. We can cause trouble. You can’t ignore us.’ ” [. . .]
“They’re in a desperate situation, and they want food immediately, not next year,” he said.
Here at last we are told who is to blame: we are. The North Koreans, led by their “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il, feel frustrated, ignored, and finally driven to desperate acts by America’s indifference and strangling power.
McDonald’s report on the following day is even more egregious. Once again he appears to wash his hands in the matter of blame: “The Koreas blame each other for instigating the artillery barrages on Tuesday afternoon,” is his coy starting proposition. But it soon becomes clear, from listening to McDonald’s “analysts,” that in fact the South bears the brunt of responsibility for being attacked.
“What has been missing in all the analysis is that we’re not listening to what North Korea says,” said Michael Breen, the author of a book about the two Koreas and a biography of Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader. “Because of the blustering language the North Koreans always use, you tend to dismiss it.
“But if the North was holding live-fire exercises five miles offshore from South Korea, it wouldn’t just be business as usual. These waters, they consider theirs. What’s the point, anyway, of doing these live-fire drills so close to North Korea?”
The point of the live-fire drills, of course, might be to defend the island against just such an attack as took place – but this isn’t the kind of logic “analysts” indulge in. Anyway, a South Korean Defense Ministry official “acknowledged Tuesday night that the South had fired artillery close to North Korea,” and all that acknowledging probably adds up to a guilty verdict.
McDonald fairly sputters over news that, in a gesture of support, the US will be sending an aircraft carrier group to South Korea. Yet another “analyst” gets trotted out to do the NYT’s vicarious opinionating:
Mr. Breen called it “foolishness.”
“The whole idea is just to give them the bird,” he said.
North Korea scholars in Seoul said the arrival of the aircraft carrier, as a potent symbol of gunboat diplomacy, would likely bolster the hardliners inside the North Korean regime.
“These guys want aircraft carriers,” Mr. Delury said. “This is exactly the response they want.”
Beyond boilerplate statements by the US military, no contrary voice is heard anywhere in the report.
Nor is consideration given to the difference in character of the two governments, North and South. One is a brutal and aggressive despotism, the other a democracy lately inclined to appeasement: no matter. The only discussion of character McDonald engages in is a vigorous defense of Kim Jong Il’s.
“He’s not a foolish man at all,” Mr. Breen said. “He’s not crazy, not at all. He’s not nuts. That’s a very shallow analysis.
“If he was here on a conference call with us, he’d say, “Look, if there’s a war, my country will be finished within a week. I know that. I’m not trying to start a war, I just don’t like enemy states holding live-fire exercises within stone-throwing distance of my coast.”
So there we have it. The US is foolish for giving North Korea the middle finger. Kim Jong Il, however, is not foolish – he’s a reasonable guy, concerned about those live-fire drills. Killing four people and destroying a fishing village is just his personal communications style, the Dear Leader equivalent of a conference call.
A Manichean vision seems to inspire the NYT approach: self-loathing and self-abuse on one side, generosity if not admiration for moral monsters on the other. Those who recall the work of Walter Duranty while “covering” Stalin’s purges will understand that the vision long ago conquered the soul of the newspaper, and like a cognitive affliction controls the facts its staff can process and regurgitate.
Print all the news which fit the mold.