American mainstream media outlets delivered plenty of propaganda on North Korea’s behalf this weekend. Somehow, as Kim Jong Un’s totalitarian regime continues to starve, torture and murder its own people—western news outlets are mesmerized by the dictatorship’s presence at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Take, for example, the following headlines – ones you’d normally expect to find in North Korea’s state-run media. On Saturday, I found them in my Twitter feed:
“Kim Jong Un’s sister is stealing the show at the winter Olympics”
“The ‘Ivanka Trump of North Korea’ captivates people in the South at the Olympics”
“North Korea’s cheerleaders steal spotlight at Winter Games with synchronized chants”
“North Korea is winning the Olympics—and it’s not because of sports”
With every headline, the media normalizes a brutal dictatorship that has earned the contempt of the international community.
The shameful coverage of this year’s Olympics began even before the opening ceremony. Last month, NBC’s Lester Holt caused a stir for his reporting from a North Korean ski resort in which he gleefully called it a “source of immense pride for a country trying to present a new and modern face to the world” ahead of the games. The flub prompted widespread criticism, but apparently that debacle was merely the precursor for what was to come once the games began.
As the opening ceremony unfolded in PyeongChang, television cameras were fixed on Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of dictator Kim Jong Un. Some in the media even compared her to Ivanka Trump. CNN noted that her “warm message” has apparently “struck a chord with the public.”
According to the U.S. Department of Treasury, Kim Yo Jong is the Vice Director of the Workers’ Party of Korea Propaganda and Agitation Department. Unfortunately, it seems that our press made her job exceptionally easy this weekend.
Kim Yo Jong initially swept headlines as she is the first in the Kim regime to visit South Korea since the Korean War. While it’s one thing to note the historic nature of her trip, it’s another thing to paint her as if she’s a respected dignitary hailing from an acceptable regime. With every headline, the media normalizes a brutal dictatorship that has earned the contempt of the international community. Even more unfortunate, North Korea will—no doubt—use American news coverage as propaganda to fuel their oppressive government.
And just in case fawning over Kim Yo Jong wasn’t enough, along came the North Korean cheerleaders.
Dubbed the “army of beauties,” the 230-person cheer squad danced in perfect unison and waved flags in support of their team. Within hours, videos of their routine were trending on Twitter. NBC posted the video with the caption “this is so satisfying to watch.”
There’s little doubt that the media response to their spectacle met the exact intentions of the regime that produced it. With all of Kim Jong Un’s unspeakable atrocities, doesn’t the world community owe it to the suffering people of North Korea to be alarmed instead of “mesmerized?” Shouldn’t we be heartbroken instead of entertained? The more that we’re charmed by their routine, the more we play into the hand of their oppressive government.
It’s ironic that the same people who lecture the American people about journalistic integrity and the importance of the media as a check on government are so easily manipulated by adversaries abroad. For all of the taglines about “facts first” and “democracy dies in darkness,” many in the media were awestruck by what is quite obviously a dictator’s PR campaign.
The press has a responsibility to see beyond the forced smiles. I’m not asking reporters to be foreign policy experts. I just hope they would exercise a little common sense.