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Hayward: CNN Runs Pence-Bashing Piece Attributed to ‘Senior Diplomatic Source Close to North Korea’

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, wife Karen Pence and Fred Warmbier attend the Men's 1500m Short Track Speed Skating qualifying on day one of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Gangneung Ice Arena on February 10, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

The media’s bizarre swoon over the crisp black suits, aristocratic poise, and “deadly side-eye” of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong was stunning and offensive to sane people everywhere, but it is not difficult to understand. The media hate President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence and will reflexively make common cause with anyone who can make them look bad. Along those lines, CNN ran a Trump and Pence-bashing piece on Monday morning sourced entirely to “a senior diplomatic source close to North Korea.”

In other words, CNN ran North Korean propaganda as a straight-up news story, without reservations or a single word of criticism. It’s tough to riddle out the strange way the source is identified, but it certainly does sound like a roundabout way of saying “senior North Korean diplomat.”

For instance, the “senior diplomatic source” said Vice President Mike Pence “degraded the image of the United States as a superpower” by meeting with North Korean defectors and Fred Warmbier, the father of Otto Warmbier, the American student whom the North Koreans abused and left to die during a year in their custody before President Trump arranged his return to the U.S.

The source further accused Pence of “undignified behavior” and taking “the low road instead of acting like a big brother” for refusing to stand and applaud the North-South Korean unified team at the Olympic opening ceremony. Asked what might bring North Korea back to the negotiating table, CNN’s source replied that “denuclearization could mean many things” and suggested “limited recognition or acceptance of its nuclear status” might persuade Pyongyang to suspend further missile and nuclear tests.

“Even a small gesture of respect, the source said, could have led to a diplomatic opening between North Korea and the US that would have helped to increase trust between the two countries. Instead, Pence was criticized by North Korean media, accused of not respecting the ‘Olympic spirit,’” CNN writes, displaying an impressive command of the North Korean newspaper beat.

If the CNN source is not a North Korean official, he or she has perfectly mastered the art of talking like a North Korean official, right down to proposing the kind of time-wasting “negotiations” Pyongyang has been using to run out the clock since the Clinton administration. One can only wonder why the source was not identified as a senior South Korean, American, or other national official with a deep understanding of North Korean thinking if such were the case.

The entire CNN piece is built around a half-dozen direct quotes and paraphrases of this single source, padded out with gushing praise for Kim Ivanka Yo-Jong’s charm offensive; she signed the Blue House guest book in Seoul with a message wishing for a “future of prosperous unification!” Squee! – and crabbing about Pence’s “stony” facial expressions as the charm offensive rolled along.

There is criticism of mixed messages the Trump administration is supposedly sending to North Korea, as well as a reminder that the administration has said a North Korean commitment to denuclearization is needed to restart negotiations – and lo and behold, the “senior diplomatic source” appeared to be offering just such a commitment, provided one is willing to grant that “denuclearization could mean many things.”

How can this piece possibly be of news value to readers without a less oblique identification of the source? A news report with a single named, or at least carefully identified, source can be fairly presented as an interview, albeit usually with more direct quotes than CNN offered in this case. It’s curious how often it paraphrases this enigmatic senior official or neutrally present information that was probably suggested by the source, such as what North Korean media are saying about grumpy Mike Pence and his insults to the “Olympic spirit” of Pyongyang.

“Whoever thinks that meeting defectors who bravely escaped from the world’s worst prison state degrades us must either have some strong affection for totalitarianism or just a knee-jerk hatred of Pence, with heavy emphasis on jerk,” Ed Morrissey of Hot Air mused about the CNN piece on Monday morning. The public needs to know a lot more about the jerks our media use as anonymous sources in the Trump era.

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