New York Times Columnist Parrots North Korean Propaganda from Pyongyang

North Koreans dance in Pyongyang celebrating the 69th anniversary of North Korea's national day, on September 9, 2017

The New York Times has made a string of bizarre efforts to rehabilitate the image of brutal Communist regimes during the past few weeks, earning particular mockery for asserting on Monday that China’s mass-murdering Communist revolution had a bright side because it “taught Chinese women to dream big.”

Now columnist Nicholas Kristof is going for the Walter Duranty Useful Idiot Lifetime Achievement Award by filing a string of Instagram posts that cheerfully and uncritically repeat North Korean propaganda.

Kristof is visiting North Korea at the moment, posting photos to document the great time he is having. He gushed over the water park, dolphin show, and amusement park provided for “citizens,” without bothering to mention that access to such amenities is strictly controlled by the brutal dictatorship, and politically inconvenient citizens tend to have their “fun” at forced labor and rape camps, when they are not enjoying their laugh-a-minute starvation diets:

Everyone was whooping it up at the amusement park Kristof visited:

North Koreans even love to tuck into a slice of pizza, just like us! When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s a-Juche…

Now, I love North Korean pizza as much as the next guy, but there is deep dishonesty in touting any of the amenities provided by an evil dictatorship for its chosen few, especially when the entire country would collapse into abject poverty (and cannibalism!) without massive shipments of humanitarian aid. If other countries weren’t feeding Kim Jong-un’s brutalized and brainwashed population, they would have long ago run out of pizza and started eating the pizza delivery guys. 

Even worse, much of that aid has been coerced from responsible nations with military threats and nuclear blackmail or provided by hostile nations like China and Russia that use North Korea for their own dark strategic purposes. Rhapsodizing about North Korean amusement parks is like visiting the home of someone who cheated the welfare system out of millions of dollars and admiring the awesome flat-screen TV in his living room.

It is strange that a reporter for a publication that never stops running out of nits to pick with unfair and unequal American society would encourage looking past the rough edges in North Korea to appreciate the political elites having fun at their water parks. Talk about “checking your privilege!”

But Kristof’s most controversial messages from Mordor are the ones where he uncritically repeated North Korean propaganda about a tidal wave of citizens rushing to volunteer for service in the military so they can fight Donald Trump. As Kristof wrote on Instagram:

Every kid at this North Korea high school supposedly signed up to join the army after the Trump speech to the UN. They said they’ll keep studying until war breaks out, which some say could happen any time. It’s all part of a mass ideological mobilization–yet here the kids are still practicing their singing. At a factory, the manager likewise told me that all 1500 employees had signed up for the army in Monday, yet they were still at work.

This is precisely the message North Korea’s state-controlled media have been broadcasting. What Kristof failed to mention is that military service is already mandatory for almost all North Korean citizens, men and women alike. The people of North Korea are literal slaves to their regime, and they are all military conscripts. They do not “volunteer” for anything.

North Korean media gin up reports about citizens rushing to enlist in the military every time strong action is taken against them; as the Washington Free Beacon notes, they ran the exact same story, with slightly smaller claims of 3.5 million eager military volunteers after the last round of U.N. sanctions was imposed against them.

Kristof conceded, in response to a question on Twitter, that the situation is “far more tense [sic] than on my previous trips to North Korea, and even more circumscribed. And that’s saying a lot.”

When another user asked point-blank if his tweets were “reviewed/approved by DPRK authorities,” Kristoff’s unsettling response was, “No. But I have a longstanding policy that as long as I’m in a place like North Korea, I think of my family before I tweet.”

In other words, he knowingly went to a place where he knows his freedom, and perhaps his very life, will be forfeited if he does not toe the line, and he is posting the dictatorship’s propaganda on social media anyway.

At a moment when “normalizing” unacceptable ideologies is a hot talking point on the left, here is a New York Times reporter normalizing North Korea by treating it like a semi-respectable country with appealing tourist destinations and admitting he is under some degree of duress only when directly asked. That is a strong argument for not going to North Korea at all, or at least not saying anything about the trip until you’re home safe and can speak freely.

Dictatorships are adept at playing Western media this way. It is reminiscent of the media’s belated confession that they played ball with Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq because that was the price of having news bureaus in Baghdad. It is long past time to consider the alternative of telling the world that some places are so twisted and evil that it is impossible to report from there honestly and accurately, so no news is better than bad news.

The waterparks and pizzerias of North Korea count for nothing, absolutely nothing, against its dungeons, torture chambers, labor camps, indoctrination centers, conscript armies, and weapons of mass destruction.


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