U.S. media sugarcoats North Korea at Olympics

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The media’s coverage of North Korea at the Winter Olympics plays into North Korea’s propaganda.
Jessica Wade

No CNN, Kim Jong-un’s sister is not “stealing the show at the Winter Olympics,” she is not “North Korea’s Ivanka,” Washington Post, you’re better than that. The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, NPR—U.S. media that seems to have forgotten that Kim Yo-jong is not a celebrity, she is a member of one of the world’s most oppressive regimes.

Strange that out of the nation’s most renowned news organizations, it was Buzzfeed that finally pointed out the obvious. The site’s news sector posted an article titled “PSA: Kim Jong Un’s Sister Is Not Your New Fave Shade Queen. She’s A Garbage Monster.” It posed the question, “What the hell is wrong with you people?”

A fair question, and one that South Korean and former UNO student Hk Ku finds himself asking.

“I think we should not have her here,” Ku said. “This has happened before, we have worked on a unification and in the end, they back stab us. I think what this government does is really crazy, I do not have any other word to describe it.”

Kim Yo-jong is likely the most powerful woman in North Korea and is, ironically, the director of the party’s Propaganda and Agitation Department. In North Korea, rejection or questioning of the propaganda deployed by the Kim regime can result in prison time or death for multiple generations of a single family. The Olympics has been one giant show of self-promotion for North Korea, and the U.S. media has helped them along.

“A few days ago when the Olympic games were started, some North Korean fans used signs to create the face of Kim Jong-un’s grandfather who established North Korea as it is today,” Ku said. “It was sickening.”

Journalists that write about Kim Yo-jong with a tone of celebrity and glamour undermine the seriousness of the reality North Korean citizens face. A reality where concentration camps the size of Los Angeles hold generations of families, where American college student Otto Warmbier was tortured and where, for decades, the oppression of the North Korean government has snuffed out freedom in nearly all forms.

“People are saying ‘this is a step toward peace’ but I don’t think so, I think that is delusional,” Ku said. “Looking back in history, time and time again we have peaceful moments between North and South Korea, they always back stab us.”

The decision to participate in the South Korea-hosted Winter Olympics wasn’t a move toward unity by North Korea, it was a strategic power play to keep up the façade of a strong and vibrant country.

The decision to write about Kim Yo-jong in such a positive light likely had more to do with increasing internet traffic than reporting with integrity. News organizations chose to feed off the massive response social media users had to Kim Yo-jong being seated near Vice President Mike Pence during the opening ceremony.

It is disheartening that in the United States, where freedom of press is an almost entirely inalienable right, journalists chose to aim for a number of clicks instead of aiming for the truth.