Hayward: U.S. Media Falls for North Korean Propaganda About Otto Warmbier’s $2 Million Hospital Bill

Trump's 'great chemistry' with Kim Jong Un put to test at summit
AFP/File SAUL LOEB

The American media’s lazy reporting and obsessive hatred for President Donald Trump have given us years of sloppy, biased, misleading, and often completely false news coverage.

White House Special Assistant Steven Cheung called the media out on Thursday for uncritically pushing North Korean propaganda.

Cheung was responding to the Washington Post’s widely circulated “scoop” on Thursday that North Korea saddled the United States with a $2 million invoice for the medical care of hostage Otto Warmbier, an American college student brutally imprisoned by the communist regime who died from his mistreatment shortly after President Trump secured his release.

The Washington Post treated the story like a dark secret kept by an embarrassed Trump administration, a “ransom” payment handed over by the same president who frequently criticizes his predecessor Barack Obama for paying a vastly larger ransom in cash to Iran. It was meant as a “gotcha” story that would make Trump look hypocritical and weak.

One problem with this gambit, seemingly unnoticed by many who ran wild with the story, is that even the original Washington Post story admitted the North Korean bill was not actually paid. The Post tried to keep hope alive by tacking an ellipsis on the end of this particular fact and suggesting maybe the administration paid the ransom later when Trump was trying to get Kim Jong-un to summit tables in Singapore and Vietnam:

The presentation of the invoice — not previously disclosed by U.S. or North Korean officials — was extraordinarily brazen even for a regime known for its aggressive tactics.

But the main U.S. envoy sent to retrieve Warmbier signed an agreement to pay the medical bill on instructions passed down from President Trump, according to two people familiar with the situation. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

The bill went to the Treasury Department, where it remained — unpaid — throughout 2017, the people said. However, it is unclear whether the Trump administration later paid the bill, or whether it came up during preparations for Trump’s two summits with Kim Jong Un.

It is a matter of personal taste whether this was an exceptionally brazen gambit by Pyongyang, which has insisted all along that Warmbier’s death was an unfortunate accident and its doctors did everything they could to save him. In fact, at the end of its lengthy article, the Washington Post undermined that talking point by admitting the North Koreans do this sort of thing all the time. They almost always attempt to bill Western hostages for medical care and upkeep.

President Trump himself addressed the issue on Twitter Friday morning and clearly indicated he will not be intimidated out of talking about the Obama administration’s cash payments to Iran as former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign chugs to life:

The real story makes Trump look even better, because multiple sources told CNN the North Korean bill was not paid, even though former State Department Special Representative Joseph Yun was told to sign an agreement to do so in order to secure Warmbier’s release. According to these sources, the North Koreans were later told “they were never going to get anything,” and they did not repeat the demand after nuclear diplomacy began in earnest in 2018.

The best CNN could do to keep the story alive was float speculation the $2 million demand might be repeated by North Korea later, especially since “the ministry of foreign affairs in North Korea is gaining influence at the negotiating table, and they are the ones who handed Yun that bill.”

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