Google Chief’s Teenage Daughter Blog Puts AP North Korea News Bureau to Shame: A Comparative Analysis

21 Jan

Amateur Journalism of Teenage Daughter of Google Chief Puts AP North Korea Reporting to Shame: A Comparative Analysis

Exactly one year ago, the Associated Press was granted permission to open a news bureau in North Korea, becoming the first western media agency to set up an official operation, providing what was to be a major propaganda coup for the repressive Pyongyang regime and what has evolved into an equally major blow to the reputation of, and an embarrassment for, the  AP.

On January  10, while Google chief Eric Schmidt and his delegation were in North Korea engaging in a very secretive and odd mission of which they refused to offer any substantive comments on their objectives, accomplishment or purpose, Associated Press  vice president  John Daniszewski  told the Voice of America that the AP Pyongyang bureau was not subject to state censorship and strictly follows the AP standards and rules used to produce the same stories in its global network  of bureaus that make it the largest media organization in the world.

Why then did an amateur teenage college student accompanying her father on the same Google trip deliver a knockout blow in her blog posting of the high profile top world story, putting to shame with substance, detail,  quotations from key participants, color, and written presentation the entire AP Korea coverage, despite the AP Pyongyang Bureau Chief, Ms Jean H. Lee being physically present at every event of the 4 day visit, even accompanying the official delegation on the airplane from Beijing?

But what Ms. Jean H. Lee, the AP Pyongyang Bureau Chief, the AP management, the North Korean government, Governor Richardson, and Ms. Sophie Schmidt’s own father, Google head Eric Schmidt, apparently didn’t realize was they had a stealth citizen journalist who had wangled her way on to the trip as a member of the delegation—Google head’s 19 year old daughter, college student Sophie Schmidt.

On January 3, AP Pyongyang bureau chief Jean H. Lee—reporting from Seoul not incidentally—released a story that AP headlined “APNewsBreak: Google exec chairman to visit NKorea” which led with the sentence “Google’s executive chairman is preparing to travel to one of the last frontiers of cyberspace: North Korea.”

The story went on to contend that “North Korea is in the midst of what leader Kim Jong Un called a modern-day “industrial revolution” in a New Year’s Day speech to the nation Monday. He is pushing science and technology as a path to economic development for the impoverished country, aiming for computers in every school and digitized machinery in every factory. However, giving citizens open access to the Internet has not been part of the North’s strategy. While some North Koreans can access a domestic Intranet service, very few have clearance to freely surf the World Wide Web.”

The AP story concluded saying “Last year, a group of North Koreans even visited Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. And government-affiliated agencies already use at least one Google product to get state propaganda out to the world: YouTube.”

What was not mentioned in the story was that a Korean American broker who makes his living taking money from wealthy corporations and officials to be a fixer to arrange access to the North Korean government, was not only the source of her story, but was paid tens of thousands of dollars by the Associated Press over a period of years to broker the agreement that allowed AP to open the Pyongyang Bureau in the first place. Mr. Tony Nam Chung was also on the delegation, who the AP referred to simply as an “Asian expert.”

Let’s compare the reporting of the teenager, Sophie Schmidt and that of the AP bureau chief, Jean H Lee, own dispatches, both having witnessed exactly the same events, met the same players, and analyzed the significance of the newsworthiness of the high powered delegation that grabbed world headlines for days.

Having the only western bureau of a press organization in Pyongyang has its perks. Ms Lee was the only journalist given a visa to accompany the Google delegation on the flight from Beijing to Pyongyang.

The delegation left Beijing airport where a scrum or reporters managed to get the only on the record comments of substance from delegation leaders, former U.S. politician Bill Richardson and Google head Eric Schmidt.

On that day, Jan 7, upon arrival in Pyongyang, AP Pyongyang Bureau chief Jean H. Lee tweeted “Jean H. Lee ‏@newsjean We’re here. #Google executive chairman arrives in #NorthKorea http://bo.st/TG57Di”

Another AP official tweeted “Were they on same flight as @newsjean & @dguttenfelder? MT “@AP: BREAKING: Google executive arrives in NKorea on controversial trip”

Lee tweets in reply: “Jean H. Lee ‏@newsjean @adamjdean @dguttenfelder @AP Indeed. Last photo posted was of Schmidt on left, Richardson on right on Air China.”

Here is the AP picture taken by Lee on the airplane and the AP picture released on arrival at Pyongyang’s Sunan airport:

AP Korea Bureau Chief Tweets Jean H. Lee ‏@newsjean @adamjdean @dguttenfelder @AP Indeed. Last photo posted is of Schmidt on left, Richardson on right on Air China.”

AP Korea Bureau Chief Tweets Jean H. Lee ‏@newsjean @adamjdean @dguttenfelder @AP Indeed. Last photo posted is of Schmidt on left, Richardson on right on Air China.”

AP’s  January 7 story on the arrival in North Korea was titled “ Google big arrives in North Korea” datelined PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP), and written by Ms. Lee. The lead sentence was “The Google chairman wants a first-hand look at North Korea’s economy and social media” adding that “Schmidt, a staunch proponent of Internet connectivity and openness, is expected to make a donation during the visit” and that “Computer and cell phone use is gaining ground in North Korea’s larger cities. However, most North Koreans only have access to a domestic Intranet system, not the World Wide Web. For North Koreans, Internet use is still strictly regulated and allowed only with approval.”

And here is excerpts from the blog of the untrained teenage college student, Mrs. Schmidt, titled “It might not get weirder than this”:

It starts with a Disclaimer: I am a North Korea amateur and can only share what it’s like to be part of a NK-bound delegation. Straightforward trip report here: no discussion of meeting details or intentions–just some observations.”

“This was how it started: A Chinese media pack saw us off at Beijing Airport. “Gov” is unfazed, a pro. The level of media attention prior to the trip raised the stakes and definitely affected the calculations on both sides.

We flew Air China in, on a full flight.  Mostly Chinese businessmen, Western NGO types and assorted diplomats, all looking appropriately battle-hardened.  An Ethiopian attaché assured me there was “never a dull moment” in the hermit kingdom.”

Google delegation at Beijing airport preparing to depart fro Pyongyang

Google delegation at Beijing airport preparing to depart fro Pyongyang

Schmidt accompanied her comments with a photo of the North Korean Custom form that both she, her dad, and the AP’s Ms Jean Lee filled out upon arrival in Pyongyang, with the comment “Do note #1 and #6: leave your “killing device” and “publishing’s of all kinds” at home.  Got it. We carried a ton of cash (USD) since that was the only way to pay for anything.”

"My favorite form. Do note #1 and #6: leave your "killing device" and "publishings of all kinds" at home.  Got it."

“My favorite form.
Do note #1 and #6: leave your “killing device” and “publishing’s of all kinds” at home. Got it.”

She then detailed the ambiance of their arrival.“An aside: For a country that banned religion, and has sent thousands of practicing Christians to prison camps, the Christmas trees were rather incongruous. When asked, Minder 1 chuckled and offered, “New Year’s trees?” We picked up visas at the check-in desk: slips of paper with our pictures taped on, which they then took back upon arrival at Pyongyang.  Deprived of our deserved passport stamps, we soldiered on.

Sophie Schmidt's North Korean ID card

Sophie Schmidt’s North Korean ID card

Our flight was the only one coming into Pyongyang that day. Small press swarm upon arrival, including media from NK, China and the AP, who have a small bureau in Pyongyang. We also met our handlers, two men from the Foreign Ministry, whom we gave code name. As minders go, they were alright.  They were affable, but would frequently give noncommittal answers to our questions…or just not answer us at all. I’d like to think they grew a little fond of us, though realistically, they were probably just as happy to see the back of us as we were to leave.”

Google delegation arrives at Pyongyang

Google delegation arrives at Pyongyang

Ms Schmidt then added what it would seem to be a crucial question on the delegation of the head of a company whose name is synonymous with the global borderless information age and free flow of information on a visit to the world’s most censored country ranked dead last on every list of world nations on issues of free press and free speech. “It was a nine-person delegation in total. We left our phones and laptops behind in China, since we were warned they’d be confiscated in NK, and probably infected with lord knows what malware.”

GOOGLE GROUP SHOT

Ms. Schmidt then made sure to include what is universally confirmed pertinent background context: “Ordinary North Koreans live in a near-total information bubble, without any true frame of reference.  I can’t think of any reaction to that except absolute sympathy.  My understanding is that North Koreans are taught to believe they are lucky to be in North Korea, so why would they ever want to leave?  They’re hostages in their own country, without any real consciousness of it.  And the opacity of the country’s inner workings–down to the basics of its economy–further serves to reinforce the state’s control. The best description we could come up with: it’s like The Truman Show, at country scale. “

She inserted a caveat for the readers benefit and in the interests of full disclosure—something starkly absent from all the Associated Press reporting: #1 Caveat: It’s impossible to know how much we can extrapolate from what we saw in Pyongyang to what the DPRK is really like.  Our trip was a mixture of highly staged encounters, tightly-orchestrated viewings and what seemed like genuine human moments.  We had zero interactions with non-state-approved North Koreans and were never far from our two minders (2, so one can mind the other). The longer I think about what we saw and heard, the less sure I am about what any of it actually meant.”

GOOGLE AT E LIBRARY

Ms Schmidt then offered a portrait of the city and what she saw—which was limited to the hotel and being chauffeured to pre staged events and places She gave an overview of the arrangements of which they were to operate under during the visit, a portrayal that is consistent with the accounts of virtually every foreign visitor to the DPRK, and certainly every professional journalist: “We were told well ahead of time to assume that everything was bugged: phones, cars, rooms, meetings, restaurants and who knows what else.  I looked for cameras in the room but came up short. But then, why bother with cameras when you have minders? After a day in frigid Pyongyang, I was just thankful it was warm. Long, empty hallways. My father’s reaction to staying in a bugged luxury socialist guesthouse was to simply leave his door open. Since we didn’t have cell phones or alarm clocks,  the question of how we’d wake up on time in the morning was legitimate.  One person suggested announcing  “I’m awake” to the room, and then waiting until someone came to fetch you.”

"Long, empty hallways. My father's reaction to staying in a bugged luxury socialist guesthouse was to simply leave his door open."

“Long, empty hallways. My father’s reaction to staying in a bugged luxury socialist guesthouse was to simply leave his door open.”

Long, empty hallways. My father’s reaction to staying in a bugged luxury socialist guesthouse was to simply leave his door open.

As for the ambiance of the accommodations, the teenager wrote: “We stayed at a guesthouse a few kilometers from Pyongyang that was really like a private hotel, in that we were the only guests.  Food overall? Solidly decent.  Like Korean food, only with less pizzazz and more corn (?). Inside, the place was a bizarre mix of marble grandeur and what passed for chic in North Korea in the 1970s.

Photographs of the Hotel:

Hotel Lobby

Hotel Lobby

Main lobby (above): Grecian statues, pirate ship appliqué, TV playing patriotic broadcasts.

In case you were wondering where tacky fake floral arrangements went when they went out of style: they're all in North Korea. (Ditto for gaudy light fixtures.)

In case you were wondering where tacky fake floral arrangements went when they went out of style: they’re all in North Korea. (Ditto for gaudy light fixtures.)

In case you were wondering where tacky fake floral arrangements went when they went out of style: they’re all in North Korea. (Ditto for gaudy light fixtures.)

And those beds? Hard as a rock.  Very little in North Korea, it seemed to us, was built to be inviting. Not a rug in the place.

And those beds? Hard as a rock. Very little in North Korea, it seemed to us, was built to be inviting. Not a rug in the place.

Three channels on the TVs: CNN International, dubbed-over USSR-era films, and the DPRK channel, which was by far the most entertaining.  My tolerance level for videos of Kim Jong Un in crowds turns out to be remarkably high.

Ms Schmidt then described the ambiance of the city of Pyongyang that put the AP’s Jean Lee to shame: “You could almost forget you were in North Korea in this city, until you noticed little things, like the lack of commercial storefronts. No street-level commerce, either. I didn’t realize that I hadn’t seen any plastic bags yet until I saw one person with a bag of apples and thought it looked out of place. Our trip coincided with the “Respected Leader” Kim Jong Un’s birthday. On that day, the little stalls that dotted the city and sold small sundries had long lines as they distributed treats.”

On the requisite tour to pay homage to the Great Leader at the palace, she writes:“Large, gilded gates outside the Palace. Heavily guarded, military types everywhere. This country has the 4th largest standing army in the world  (1.4 million)  and it's the size of Pennsylvania.

On the requisite tour to pay homage to the Great Leader at the palace, she writes:“Large, gilded gates outside the Palace. Heavily guarded, military types everywhere. This country has the 4th largest standing army in the world (1.4 million) and it’s the size of Pennsylvania.

 We weren’t allowed to bring anything in–no coats, gloves, cameras, hats, etc. (“No contents!”) We entered a series of tunnels with those moving-walkways you find in airports, which we slowly rode for probably 20-30 minutes.  The walls were lined with portraits of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung looking at things, which turn out to be rather important: Because the Leaders are god-like figures, when one provides “on-site guidance” (which they always can, because they are experts in all things) it’s like a benediction.

Some favored the portrait of Kim Il Sung behind a gynecologist's chair (insert "on-site guidance" joke here). I preferred the one of him sitting behind a desk double-fisting ears of corn.

Some favored the portrait of Kim Il Sung behind a gynecologist’s chair (insert “on-site guidance” joke here). I preferred the one of him sitting behind a desk double-fisting ears of corn.

Behind us in line were at least 600 North Korean soldiers of various rank, for whom this was a solemn occasion and precious opportunity–they may be allowed to visit once more in their lives.

On the ubiquitous lectures that every visitor to Pyongyang is mid numbingly subjected to, including the AP chief of Korea news coverage, are all too familiar, Sophie Schmidt observes: “And open with a familiar speech: It was only due to the instruction/vision/guidance of Our Marshall/the Respected Leader/ Awesome-O wunderkid Kim Jong Un that we were able to successfully __________ (insert achievement here: launch a ballistic rocket, build complicated computer software, negotiate around US sanctions, etc.). 

Reminded me of the “We’re Not Worthy” bit from Wayne’s World. Just another example of the reality distortion field we routinely encountered in North Korea, just frequently enough to remind us how irrational the whole system really is.”

And Sophie went on to describe with a keen eye for detail and color the transportation system: “Metro Station. Rather less grand than the mausoleum, but also our best shot at seeing a non-staged group of ordinary North Koreans. The lines are probably twice as deep in the ground as an ordinary city’s, designed to withstand bombing raids. Cars are old but clean. Portraits of the Leaders? Check. Revolutionary music? Check. In the station, they had the day’s newspapers on display; there are four papers and all are state-run. In a fantastic bit of timing, as we exited the train, the station’s power cut out (above right).  The commuters around us immediately pulled out flashlights, which they presumably carry all the time.  Can’t win ’em all, minders.”

In a fantastic bit of timing, as we exited the train, the station's power cut out (above right).  The commuters around us immediately pulled out flashlights, which they presumably carry all the time.  Can't win 'em all, minders.

In a fantastic bit of timing, as we exited the train, the station’s power cut out (above right). The commuters around us immediately pulled out flashlights, which they presumably carry all the time. Can’t win ’em all, minders.

The AP’s Jean Lee, was also at the hotel, and her sole contribution on the ambience was tweeting from her twitter account: Jean H. Lee ‏@newsjean “Snacks for sale at #NKorean hotel outside Pyongyang where #Google delegation stayed this week. @apklug http://twitpic.com/bu17ia” and posting this photograph:

Jean H. Lee ‏@newsjean “Snacks for sale at #NKorean hotel outside AP picture of range of food available: "Pyongyang where #Google delegation stayed this week."

Jean H. Lee ‏@newsjean “Snacks for sale at #NKorean hotel outside AP picture of range of food available: “Pyongyang where #Google delegation stayed this week.”

It would seem quite apparent that the account of Ms. Schmidt, the college teenager, of the Google delegation’s first day was considerably more substantive, informative, detailed, without bias, fear of repercussions from Pyongyang government thugs and colorful than that of the Associated Press journalist in charge of the world’s biggest news organization’s Korea coverage.

Then we move on to day two, the highlight of the world headline grabbing delegation’s visit to Pyongyang—their visit to the computer center and universities where North Korean’s allegedly have access to use computers and, according to the AP, surf the internet.

Here is the AP report in its entirety:

“Google exec gets look at NKoreans using Internet.”

By JEAN H. LEE, Associated Press – Jan 8, 2013

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — Students at North Korea’s premier university showed Google’s executive chairman how they look for information online: They Google it.

But surfing the Internet that way is the privilege of only a very few in North Korea, whose authoritarian government imposes strict limits on access to the World Wide Web.

Google’s Eric Schmidt got a first look at North Korea’s limited Internet usage when an American delegation he and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson are leading visited a computer lab Tuesday at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang. Other members of the delegation on the unusual four-day trip include Schmidt’s daughter, Sophie, and Jared Cohen, director of the Google Ideas think tank.

Google looks at NK computers

Google looks at NK computers

Schmidt and Cohen chatted with students working on HP desktop computers at an “e-library” at the university named after North Korea founder Kim Il Sung. One student showed Schmidt how he accesses reading materials from Cornell University online on a computer with a red tag denoting it as a gift from Kim Jong Il.

“He’s actually going to a Cornell site,” Schmidt told Richardson after peering at the URL.

Cohen asked a student how he searches for information online. The student clicked on Google — “That’s where I work!” Cohen said — and then asked to be able to type in his own search: “New York City.” Cohen clicked on a Wikipedia page for the city, pointing at a photo and telling the student, “That’s where I live.”

Google executive Jared Cohen surfs the internet in Pyongynag

Google executive Jared Cohen surfs the internet in Pyongynag

Kim Su Hyang, a librarian, said students at Kim Il Sung University have had Internet access since the laboratory opened in April 2010. School officials said the library is open from 8 a.m. to midnight, even when school is not in session, like Tuesday.

While university students at Kim Chaek University of Science and Technology and the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology also have carefully monitored Internet access — and are under strict instructions to access only educational materials — most North Koreans have never surfed the Web.

Computers at Pyongyang’s main library at the Grand People’s Study house are linked to a domestic Intranet service that allows them to read state-run media online and access a trove of reading materials culled by North Korean officials. North Koreans with computers at home can also sign up for the Intranet service.

google computer room

google computer room

But access to the World Wide Web is extremely rare and often is limited to those with clearance to get on the Internet.

At Kim Chaek University, instructors and students wishing to use the Internet must register first for permission and submit an application with their requests for research online, Ryu Sun Ryol, head of the e-library, said.

But he said it is only a matter of time before Internet use becomes widespread.

“We will start having access to the Internet soon,” he said in an interview last month. He said North Korea is in the midst of a major push to expand computer use in every classroom and workplace.

New red banners promoting slogans drawn from Kim’s speech line Pyongyang’s snowy streets, and North Koreans are still cramming to study the lengthy speech. It was the first time in 19 years for North Koreans to hear their leader give a New Year’s Day speech. During the rule of late leader Kim Jong Il, state policy was distributed through North Korea’s three main newspapers.

There was a festive air in Pyongyang for another reason: Kim Jong Un’s birthday. Though Jan. 8 is not recognized as a national holiday, like the birthdays of his father and grandfather, and his official birth date has not been announced, North Koreans acknowledged that it was their leader’s birthday Tuesday.

Waitresses at the downtown Koryo Hotel dressed up in sparkly traditional Korean dresses and decorated the lobby with balloons.

Follow AP’s bureau chief for Pyongyang and Seoul on Twitter at twitter.com/newsjean.

Copyright © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Now here is where the teenage Ms Schmidt, who wrote with the tone of anyone familiar with teenage girls living in a free society, who (and I totally guessing here) was probably loudly chewing gum during the events, excels: reporting on the actual details and state of North Korea’s digital capabilities and future.

First Ms Schmidt posted the same AP photograph but included her own caption: She posted a picture of  North Koreans using computers which was broadcast worldwide by the Associated Press but given absolutely no explanatory commentary, leaving readers wondering whether these were actually North Koreans using the internet, a capability strictly banned in the country.

She captioned the photograph:

"“The Kim Il Sung University e-Library, or as I like to call it, the e-Potemkin Village”

““The Kim Il Sung University e-Library, or as I like to call it, the e-Potemkin Village”

She offered an insert box to the main bar story that any professional journalist knows as crucial to packaging a story to make it more readable and keep the news consumers attention, not to mention reinforce the stories credibility:

Top Level Take-aways:

1. Go to North Korea if you can. It is very, very strange.

2. If it is January, disregard the above. It is very, very cold.

3. Nothing I’d read or heard beforehand really prepared me for what we saw.

I can’t express how cold it was. Maybe 10-15 degrees F in the sunshine, not including wind chill.  The cold was compounded by the fact that none of the buildings we visited were heated, which meant hour-long tours in cavernous, 30-degree indoor environments. It is quite extraordinary to have the Honored Guest Experience in such conditions: they’re proudly showing you their latest technology or best library, and you can see your breath. A clue to how much is really in their control.”

Sophie Schmidt then wrote a story of the events that, in comparison, made the AP’s Jean Lee look like, well, a North Korean state propagandist:

“Inside, we were shown through study rooms like the one above, maybe 60 people diligently at desks.  Were they bussed in for our benefit? Were any of them actually reading? All I know is that it. was. freezing.”

“Looks great, right? All this activity, all those monitors. Probably 90 desks in the room, all manned, with an identical scene one floor up. One problem: No one was actually doing anything.  A few scrolled or clicked, but the rest just stared. Of all the stops we made, the e-Potemkin Village was among the more unsettling. We knew nothing about what we were seeing, even as it was in front of us. Were they really students? Did our handlers honestly think we bought it? Did they even care?  Photo op and tour completed, maybe they dismantled the whole set and went home.  When one of our group went to peek back into the room, a man abruptly closed the door ahead of him and told him to move along.”

“Looks great, right? All this activity, all those monitors. Probably 90 desks in the room, all manned, with an identical scene one floor up. One problem: No one was actually doing anything. A few scrolled or clicked, but the rest just stared. Of all the stops we made, the e-Potemkin Village was among the more unsettling. We knew nothing about what we were seeing, even as it was in front of us. Were they really students? Did our handlers honestly think we bought it? Did they even care? Photo op and tour completed, maybe they dismantled the whole set and went home. When one of our group went to peek back into the room, a man abruptly closed the door ahead of him and told him to move along.”

She continued with more crucial first hand detail, saying “Looks great, right? All this activity, all those monitors. Probably 90 desks in the room, all manned, with an identical scene one floor up. One problem: No one was actually doing anything.  A few scrolled or clicked, but the rest just stared. More disturbing: when our group walked in–a noisy bunch, with media in tow–not one of them looked up from their desks.  Not a head turn, no eye contact, no reaction to stimuli. They might as well have been figurines.  Of all the stops we made, the e-Potemkin Village was among the more unsettling. We knew nothing about what we were seeing, even as it was in front of us. Were they really students? Did our handlers honestly think we bought it? Did they even care?  Photo op and tour completed, maybe they dismantled the whole set and went home.  When one of our group went to peek back into the room, a man abruptly closed the door ahead of him and told him to move along.”

Then the teenage Ms. Schmidt offered what neither her father or the Associated Press were willing to regarding the technical realities of North Korea in the information age.

“On the tech front: Everything that is accessible is accessible only in special tiers. Their mobile network, Koryolink, has between 1-2 million subscribers. No data service, but international calls were possible on the phones we rented. Realistically, even basic service is prohibitively expensive, much like every other consumption good (fuel, cars, etc.). The officials we interacted with, and a fair number of people we saw in Pyongyang, had mobiles (but not smart phones). North Korea has a national intranet, a walled garden of scrubbed content taken from the real Internet.  Our understanding is that some university students have access to this.  On tour at the Korea Computer Center (a deranged version of the Consumer Electronics Show), they demo’d their latest invention: a tablet, running on Android that had access to the real Internet.  Whether anyone, beyond very select students, high-ranking officials or occasional American delegation tourists, actually gets to use it is unknowable.  We also saw virtual-reality software, video chat platform, musical composition software (?) and other random stuff.” 

“What’s so odd about the whole thing is that no one in North Korea can even hope to afford the things they showed us. And it’s not like they’re going to export this technology.  They’re building products for a market that doesn’t exist.”  

 

“Those in the know are savvier than you’d expect. Exhibit A: Eric fielded questions like, “When is the next version of Android coming out?”and “Can you help us with e-Settlement so that we can put North Korean apps on Android Market?”  Answers: soon, and No, silly North Koreans, you’re under international bank sanctions.”

“They seemed to acknowledge that connectivity is coming, and that they can’t hope to keep it out.  Indeed, some seemed to understand that it’s only with connectivity that their country has a snowball’s chance in hell of keeping up with the 21st century. But we’ll have to wait and see what direction they choose to take.”

 "We can leave, really?  Thank you, Kim Jung-un. No, really, thank him, because it was only with his expert instruction and inspirational vision that I was able to make this slideshow."


“We can leave, really? Thank you, Kim Jung-un. No, really, thank him, because it was only with his expert instruction and inspirational vision that I was able to make this slideshow.”

The Sophie posts a picture of herself captioned: We can leave, really?”

“No, really, thank him, because it was only with his expert instruction and inspirational vision that I was able to make this slideshow.

The end.”

On January 16. 2012, the official Korean Central News Agency announced “AP Pyongyang Bureau Opens” located within the offices of central nervous system of the considerable North Korean Propaganda machine, the KCNA. “Present there were the delegation of the Associated Press headed by its President and CEO Thomas Curley” adding “Thomas said the opening of the bureau would bring hundreds of millions of people around the world the cultural understanding and access to stories of political and economic development of the DPRK” adding “He has great expectations for good journalism, he said, adding this is a great opportunity to just understand and report.”

Prior to January 2012, it took The Associated Press almost a year to finalize terms to open a full-time news bureau in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang during which time AP head Curley supplicated himself to the leaders of arguably the most repressive government on the planet, coming in last 9 out of the last 10 years in world government rankings of “Enemies of Press Freedom by the independent Reporters Without Borders. On March 8. 2011, KCNA ran an article headlined “Americans Pay Homage to Kim Il Sung” which said in its entirety: “Thomas Curley, president of the Associated Press of the United States, and his party visited the statue of President Kim Il Sung on Mansu Hill on Tuesday. The guests laid bouquets before the statue and paid homage to the President.” Three days later, on March 11, 2011, KCNA reported “General Secretary Kim Jong Il received a gift from Thomas Curley, president and chief executive officer of the Associated Press of the United States on a visit to the DPRK. It was handed to an official concerned on Friday by Thomas Curley.”

The AP news executives had years of direct experience to understand just what the consequences, compromises, capabilities and professional ethical terms were of cutting a deal to allow for access to North Korea. The Television branch of the Associated Press has had a bureau in Pyongyang since 2006. The head of Associated Press Television News behaved similarly in selling the integrity of the news operation in exchange for permission to access the state controlled by a government that regularly ranks dead last, in comparative indexes of nations on human rights, religious freedom, economic freedom, press freedom, and economic health.

On March 22, 2002 KCNA ran a story headlined “Performance “Arirang” praised”, referring to their mass performance propaganda games where hundreds of thousands perform flawless robotic paeans to the Kim Family dynastic dictatorship. “Foreigners were deeply impressed to watch the all-round rehearsal of the mass gymnastic and artistic performance “Arirang”. Nigel Baker, director of content of the London bureau of the Associated Press Television News, said that all scenes of the performance were wonderful, adding that it is hard to enjoy such show elsewhere.  It is something unbelievable that human beings can provide such huge and beautiful background scenes, he noted, calling on the people of all countries to come and see the performance. “

When the AP opened its bureau in January 2012, located inside the building of the state-run news agency, they were assigned by the Pyongyang regime a North Korean “reporter” and “photographer”,  who they AP caricaturized as “under the supervision of two Americans who will make frequent trips to Pyongyang.” It is widely accepted that both are, in fact, trained agents of the North Korean intelligence and propaganda services.

The head of the Korea Central News Agency, Kim Pyong Ho, was quoted at the ceremony as saying the AP promised to report on North Korea “with fairness, balance and accuracy.”

The AP’s Executive editor Kathleen Carroll, speaking from Pyongyang,  assured world news consumers that the AP would operate under the same standards and practices as it did at all its bureaus worldwide. “There’s not a government that we cover that doesn’t occasionally read a story or look at a picture or a piece of video and have an opinion about it, that they may not like it,” she said. “We have those conversations all the time and I don’t expect they’ll be any different here when they occur.”

The AP has refused to release what the terms of their agreement to open the bureau were and have adamantly refused to allow their management or reporters to speak on the record regarding the operations and the conditions and restrictions they work under in the year since the opening ceremony.

In a September interview with the Columbia Journalism Review, the Pyongyang AP bureau chief, Jean H Lee,  offered a few answers to a series of remarkably softball questions. The CJR, in a question and answer format, offered a very brief overview saying that the AP was “the first international, independent journalism agency with a full-time, full-format bureau in the North Korean capital. At the time, the AP refused many requests for interviews with the journalists involved to give them time to get established. Now, seven months on, Lee tells CJR about reporting from a country where visiting international journalists are usually required to relinquish their cell phones, work without Internet access, and submit to constant surveillance.”

CJR asked “How have things changed since the bureau opened in January?” to which Lee responded “We’ve been in North Korea for seven months now, through the challenging early stages of the move. At the moment we’re still concentrating on building the operation, training local staff and building a network in North Korea. I visited here a dozen times in the last two years, especially leading up to January, and I have had incredible insight into how things work here. But it is a very difficult place to work.”

CJR:What are the biggest challenges?”

Jean Lee: There are very strict rules for foreign visitors in North Korea, which includes journalists. The rules require all cell phones to be left at the airport, and foreign visitors must be accompanied by a host at all times. I can’t think of another place in the world where that is the case. You can’t even leave your hotel to go for a walk. There is no interacting with locals unless you’re in the presence of a North Korean. Many journalists have previously entered the country on the invitation of the foreign ministry or by pretending to be an academic or a tourist, but that can have implications for their companies if they get caught. The issue with cell phones is a big one—it’s very difficult to get a cell phone here, and there isn’t much Internet access. Simple things like filing become an issue for journalists.”

CJR:Do you feel like you’re being watched?”

Jean Lee: “I operate under the assumption that everything I say, everything I write, everything I do is being recorded.”

CJR: “You share an office with the Korean Central News Agency, which is state-run. How much do you work with them on stories?”

Jean Lee:We do work with the local news. It’s quite amazing to be included in the local press corps with the local media, and to be invited to state press conferences alongside them. It’s a real coup to be the first Western news organization there.”

CJR: “Is there any resistance to training North Korean journalists to work for the AP?”

Jean Lee: “There is no resistance. They are keen to learn how Western journalism works, and they see it as an opportunity to practice their English. I’ve also seen them adopt Western reporting techniques over the last year. They take what they need and they try and learn from it. It’s really important to build these relationships. North Korea is a closed country and they are suspicious of outsiders, so it takes time. There is quite a lot of training involved!”

CJR:Why did the AP get the gig?”

Jean Lee: “Our TV office did the hard work when they opened a bureau here in 2006. We went in as their partner, but it is clear to the North Korean regime that we are one company. Aside from that, there are two main reasons: firstly, my colleagues and I have been working here for years, so we have a certain longevity. Secondly, AP is the largest news organization in the world. We are completely independent and funded by international subscribers. If the regime wanted to make a political statement about the direction it is heading, this is it. North Korea is taking a big risk in working with us. Technically the US and North Korea are still at war—to reach out to an American company goes against decades of policy. Hopefully we can pave the way for other media.”

Compare AP chief Korea correspondent’s comments to teenage cub reporter Schmidt:

Schmidt: “Trucks equipped with loudspeakers roam the streets. “For the propaganda, “Minder 2 told me, with a tone that suggested You idiot.”

Schmidt: : “Palace of the Sun, Kim Il Sung’s former office and now the national mausoleum where Kim Il Sung’s and Kim Jong Il’s embalmed bodies lie in state.  When a government meeting was cancelled, they decided to let us visit to pay respects (a rare honor). I can barely describe how strange an experience it was. The mausoleum part had all the dramatic doom and gloom you can imagine: red-lit marble halls, severe-looking guards, sweeping, lamenting orchestral music.  The soldiers would line up in threes at each side of the bodies, and bow deeply.  Stone-faced. Also lying in state: the late Leaders’ cars, train compartments and even a yacht, all preserved in their former glory.  Even Kim Jong Il’s platform shoes were on display.  I was delighted to learn that he and I shared a taste in laptops: 15″ Macbook Pro.  We weren’t allowed to bring anything in–no coats, gloves, cameras, hats, etc. (“No contents!”) We entered a series of tunnels with those moving-walkways you find in airports, which we slowly rode for probably 20-30 minutes.  The walls were lined with portraits of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung looking at things, which turn out to be rather important: Because the Leaders are god-like figures, when one provides “on-site guidance” (which they always can, because they are experts in all things) it’s like a benediction.”

Schmidt: “Also on our flight out? The North Korean national women’s soccer team. 20 little North Korean women in tracksuits and sneakers, and presumably no intention to defect.

Here’s a North Korea joke:

Q: Did these athletes play indoor or outdoor soccer?

A: Trick question. They have no heat, so what’s the difference?”

Schmidt: “We heard just one song that wasn’t patriotic North Korean music while in the country, first in a promotional video for the e-Potemkin village and again over the speakers on our return flight on the national airline, Air Koryo.  It was a remastered version of The Cranberries’ “Dreams.”  It’s cool, I’m sure they secured the rights first.”


Immediately after the departure of the Google delegation and their stealth citizen reporter, Sophie Schmidt, AP Vice President Daniszewski arrived to celebrate the one year anniversary of AP’s presence in Pyongyang. Upon his departure he admitted to Yonhap news that the AP’s American Pyongyang bureau chief, Jean H. Lee, “hasn’t had good luck getting out of Pyongyang and doing stories. When we want to cover a story, we have to request interviews, request permissions to go to places either to government offices involved or KCNA, which arrange things,” he said.

AP’s Pyongyang bureau is located in the offices of the North Korean official state propaganda Korean Central News Agency, and employees two North Korean reporters handpicked by the Pyongyang regime, which the AP described as “When the AP opened its bureau in January 2012, located inside the building of the state-run news agency, they were assigned by the Pyongyang regime a North Korean “reporter” and “photographer”,  who they AP caricaturized as “under the supervision of two Americans who will make frequent trips to Pyongyang.”

The head of the Korea Central News Agency, Kim Pyong Ho, was quoted at the ceremony as saying the AP promised to report on North Korea “with fairness, balance and accuracy.”

The AP’s Executive editor Kathleen Carroll, speaking from Pyongyang,  assured world news consumers that the AP would operate under the same standards and practices as it did at all its bureaus worldwide. “There’s not a government that we cover that doesn’t occasionally read a story or look at a picture or a piece of video and have an opinion about it, that they may not like it,” she said. “We have those conversations all the time and I don’t expect they’ll be any different here when they occur.”

The AP has refused to release what the terms of their agreement top open the bureau were and have adamantly refused to allow their management or reporters to speak on the record regarding the operations and the conditions and restrictions they work under in the year since the opening ceremony.

The AP’s Executive editor Kathleen Carroll, speaking from Pyongyang,  assured world news consumers that the AP would operate under the same standards and practices as it did at all its bureaus worldwide. “There’s not a government that we cover that doesn’t occasionally read a story or look at a picture or a piece of video and have an opinion about it, that they may not like it,” she said. “We have those conversations all the time and I don’t expect they’ll be any different here when they occur.”

The AP has refused to release what the terms of their agreement top open the bureau were and have adamantly refused to allow their management or reporters to speak on the record regarding the operations and the conditions and restrictions they work under in the year since the opening ceremony.

"“This

AP Vice President Daniszewski said last week North Korea appears to be opening up to the West, citing airing foreign television programs.  “Our correspondent (Jean Lee) mentioned that there are some new TV shows, some interesting films like ‘Madagascar,'” he said, referring to the American cartoon film. This year “We want to see more of the country and talk more with the people.”

I would suggest that if the Associated Press wants to improve their abysmal reporting record to date on North Korea, they should consider closing down their bureau and contracting with youthful tourists at the Beijing airport arrival gate from Pyongyang , who are free of fear of upsetting the most egregious regime on earth responsible for obscene institutional abuses of the rights of their citizens and get away with it by bullying, not just governments, but apparently reporters into giving credibility to their Orwellian narrative in exchange for—well in exchange for apparently not much. Hire a teenager to write a blog of their experiences. They probably could use the cash and the Associated Press could certainly use the credibility to their news operations it has pathetically, cynically, and transparently caused entirely self-inflicted damage.

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3 Responses to “Google Chief’s Teenage Daughter Blog Puts AP North Korea News Bureau to Shame: A Comparative Analysis”

  1. Edward January 23, 2013 at 4:10 pm #

    I don’t know why you call Eric’s daughter “teenaged” when there are clearly pictures in your post that indicate she is not teenaged.

    Like

    • Nate Thayer January 23, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

      I called Sophie Schmidt a teenager because that is what she is, according to her available records and according to her. The Associated Press, which interviewed Ms. Schmidt in Pyongyang and accompanied her there on the flight from Beijing, identified her as 19 years old. The New York Daily News Said yesterday: “It might not get weirder than this.”Those were the prescient words of 19-year-old Sophie Schmidt, the daughter of Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, who accompanied her father on his secretive trip to North Korea earlier this month.”

      International Business news, in an atricle titled “Five things you should know about Sophie Schmidt”, said: “Meanwhile, the million-dollar question still lingers: Who is Sophie Schmidt? Here are 5 things to know about the Google Chairman’s daughter.

      1. Sophie Schmidt is a 19-year-old college student.

      2. She lives in Atherton, California with her parents, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and mother Wendy.

      3. Sophie has a sister named Allison.

      4. Sophie loves to travel and take pictures. Her “It might not get weirder than this” blog shows a lot of images taken from her North Korean trip. She has been photographed admiring the displays on the National Museum in Baghdad on November 24, 2009.

      5. Sophie Schmidt should not be mistaken with the Canadian footballer who plays as a midfielder for Sky Blue FC in the National Women’s Soccer League for they have the same name.”

      However, I also have questions about that, and you bring up a good point. She is listed as having been a student at Princeton University in 2007. That would mean, even if she was then a freshman, she would have entered university at the age of 15–possibly 16–which would be obviously quite unusual.

      Her father is 57, which means, if Sophie is 19, he would have been 38 when she was born. All plausible but certainly requires further inquiry

      Like

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  1. ONE FREE KOREA » Teenage girl’s blog post more interesting, informative, and balanced than AP Bureau Chief’s report. - January 21, 2013

    […] Nate Thayer does it again.  Don’t miss this one: […]

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