On my drive into work every morning, I bounce between several Sirius XM news channels. By the time I pull into the parking lot and shut off the car, I feel I’ve been pretty well introduced to the most important news circulating around the present cycle until I tune in again for the drive home.
One morning this week while listening, I felt myself getting physically ill.
It was almost as if I had been teleported back to 2003, the year we invaded Iraq based on lies, legerdemain, and a corporate ratings-driven media beholden to salacious drama and pathos.
This time it was about North Korea.
The recent United Nations sanctions against North Korea have the world on edge. Sanctions have to capability to coerce a country into conforming to certain requirements, and in that respect they are preferable at times to war.
But what I heard was a media licking its chops. I could hear it saying,
“Sanctions are fine… For now. Our ratings will only last so long, though. If we are to survive, it is to war we must go.”
Mike Chinoy is a Senior Fellow at the U.S.-China Institute at the University of Southern California, the creator of the documentary series Assignment China, and the author of the books Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis and The Last POW.
In his piece Cipher Brief piece titled “Why the U.S. Media Gets North Korea Wrong,” he argues the media is able to actively seduce people into capitulating to the prospect of conflict with North Korea because of short-sighted reporting.
He cites a recent New York Times article, “How Trump’s Predecessors Dealt with the North Korean Threat,” in which the author attributes to Pyongyang’s dishonesty the 2002 collapse of the 1994 Agreed Framework deal that froze a North Korean nuclear program.
The article states:
“The United States spent millions in aid and only briefly delayed the North’s weapons program. President George W. Bush [then] confronted the North for secretly building a bomb and violating the terms of the agreement.”
We “spent millions” and North Korea fucked us over, then.
It isn’t as facile as that.
According to Chinoy:
“Just days after the Clinton administration signed the Agreed Framework, the Republicans took control of Congress. Promised aid was delayed, in some cases for years. Proliferation-resistant light water nuclear reactors, which the North had been promised as part of the deal, were never built. Nonetheless, Pyongyang froze activity at its Yongbyon reactor, which remained shut until early 2003. Had that not happened, the North would likely have had enough fissile material for more than 100 plutonium-based nuclear bombs – a fact critics of the Agreed Framework often ignore.
“When George W. Bush took office, he declined to reaffirm a communique the Clinton administration had signed with Pyongyang in late 2000 pledging ‘no hostile intent’ towards North Korea. Bush then included the North in his famous ‘Axis of Evil,’ and, as the U.S. prepared to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein, senior administration officials openly talked of regime change in North Korea.”
In 2002, when U.S. intelligence confirmed Pyongyang was developing uranium, the Bush administration spurned North Korean negotiating attempts and threatened to withdraw from the Clinton-era Agreed Framework. This motivated North Korea to restart its Yongbyon reactor.
Most probably don’t know that. It should have been included in the Times piece. It wasn’t.
Most are also unlikely to know about the 2005 Six Party Talks in Beijing, at which North Korea committed “to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning, at an early date, to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.”
But if we simply went by the Times piece “Making Kim Jong-un Sweat,” we wouldn’t think this was such a seminal moment after it implies North Korea never intended to fulfill this commitment.
“Both journalists ignored a crucial fact. The same week as the signing of the deal, which set out principles for the eventual denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and included a pledge from both Pyongyang AND Washington ‘to respect each other’s sovereignty, exist peacefully together, and take steps to normalize their relations,’ Washington hardliners imposed sweeping sanctions on a Macau bank where the North had dozens of accounts.”
I have never been to North Korea, and probably never will, so all I have is the media, the same as you.
We have a historic tendency to play the victim while the Big Bad Wolf is cresting the hill intent on blowing our house down–a tendency aided and abetted by a corporate news cycle that neglects to provide the whole story as it used to.
Image credit: wesh.com