Oops….Sorry About that Austin, Texas: An Otherwise Excellent Example of Great Journalism was Also a Tad Off
The Korean Central News Agency Friday sent out one of the thousands of meticulously staged propaganda photographs they do each year, this one with a caption which included the description of an “urgent operation meeting on the Korean People’s Army Strategic Rocket Force’s performance of duty for firepower strike at the Supreme Command in Pyongyang.”
The picture showed Kim Jong Un sitting at a table with military commanders standing behind him. In the upper left, on the wall, was world map obscured in the background with some barely visible Korean language characters and several arrows pointing to different parts of an unmarked global map.
NKNews reporter James Pearson, with the eagle-eyed attention for out of the box details and curiosity which makes for a great reporter, didn’t focus on the staged people in the photo but on the aspects not designed by the propagandists who produced it to draw attention. One was the map in the top left hand portion of the photo. He translated the writing on the map which turned out to read “U.S. Mainland Strike Plan”.
While this photo was released on the English language service of KCNA, whose target audience is enemy foreigners, it originally had appeared in the main North Korean Worker’s party organ, Rodong Sinbun, which targets North Korean citizens, and which often includes entirely different messages that the ruling party wants to send to its own population. What propaganda that appears in the North Korean language domestic press is very different than the propaganda meant for foreign consumption. Niether the map nor caption was either translated or highlighted in the KCNA English language broadcast photo.
Pearson said: “Shortly after breakfast, I called my NK NEWS colleague in D.C. to tell him I’d spotted a KCNA picture that showed Kim Jong Un and his generals studying a not-so-subtle map with the title ‘US MAINLAND ATTACK PLAN’ crudely printed on it. It could’ve been satire but, knowing how most (if not all) NK propaganda is very much intended for an internal audience, it made sense given reports on the ground in North Korea that the state was trying to create a ‘war-like’ atmosphere domestically.”
Pearson, who is in Seoul, also noted three blurry arrows pointing to spots on an unmarked outline of a world map. He, in coordination with NKNews journalists in Washington, superimposed a Google map of the U.S. on the KCNA unmarked map and located where exactly the arrows were pointing to. One pointed at Hawaii; one at San Diego, California; one at Washington, D.C.; and one at Austin, Texas.
Austin Texas? The home of Willie Nelson, hipsters, the South by Southwest music and cultural festival, and great barbecue?
Yep, that Austin.
At least that’s what the NKNews team decided late Thursday night –or rather the wee hours of Friday morning D.C. time–spurred by the work and in conjunction with the crack sleuth reporter James Pearson, who spotted and broke the excellent story, who is in Seoul.
Friday, NKNews.org published a map with the translated words in English “U.S. Mainland Strike force Plan” under the Korean text and superimposed the map of the U.S. from Google maps and annotated the various arrows and Korean text and U.S. targets which showed exactly which U.S. cities and facilities the North Korean’s were zooming in on.
Given the map wasn’t translated for English distribution it was likely intended only for North Korean consumption when it was published in the Party organ earlier. But the excellent efforts and keen observations of NKNews, with reporting abilities, linguistic knowledge, and depth of historical knowledge of the wacky folks who run Pyongyang and their propaganda nuances, made what would probably have been an un-remarked upon news item into the major and significant news story it deserved to be.
Although like happens in the real world, there is a back story.
According Pearson “Turning to Google Maps, I overlayed a screenshot of the US and the Pacific over the bleached-out map in the propaganda photo, trying to make sense of the ‘trajectory lines’ on the North Korean version (the lines are straight, that’s a clue for a start). Not really knowing my US geography beyond patchy corners of the East Coast, we estimated that D.C., San Diego and Hawaii were probably targets, real or imagined, since they’re all home to military bases. The line that ended in Texas, we decided, was more confusing. “Where is that?” I asked my colleague. “Not sure – Austin maybe? Not sure”, he said. “OK, Austin it is, it’s probably Austin then”.
I was out until the wee hours last night with NKNews.org colleagues and we discussed how the blow by blow story evolved. In the process of trying to identify which cities the arrows targeted, in back and forth conversations between Washington and Seoul, it appeared, rather oddly, that one arrow was pointed at Austin Texas.
Hawaii was pretty easy to determine. As was San Diego. And Washington fit perfectly (and logically) with the Pyongyang military arrows.
But then there was a bit of an odd target.
“That looks like Austin, Texas to me,”said one NKNews.org correspondent.
“Yeah but why would Pyongyang have a beef with Austin, Texas?” asked another.
“Who knows? Why does Pyongyang do anything they do? Just say Austin because that is where the arrow is pointing at,” concluded another.
So Austin it was, the photo was published, and the details noted above and photo were published in a story that made global headlines.
The story that did go out, after considerable editorial discussion, referred to the North Korean military arrow targeting remote South Texas as “probably Austin.”
The NKNews.org story that went out read: “In a photo published in the Korea Worker’s Party (KWP) paper the Rodong, plans for a strike on the U.S. mainland are clearly –and therefore probably deliberately– visible. The newspaper is widely distributed in cities, and often displayed in public places for easy viewing […] A composite overlay [of the map] appears to show San Diego, Washington D.C., Hawaii and possibly Austin as being primary targets in a North Korean attack plan”. (http://www.nknews.org/2013/03/breaking-north-korean-photo-reveals-u-s-mainland-strike-plan/)”
As America woke up (and our article got picked up by the early editions in Europe and America) the headlines in Texas were: NORTH KOREA WANTS TO ATTACK AUSTIN (http://www.click2houston.com/news/Article-claims-North-Korea-wants-to-attack-Austin/-/1735978/19522828/-/4x4d4lz/-/index.html), WHY AUSTIN IS ON NORTH KOREA’S HIT LIST (http://www.kvue.com/news/Why-Austin-is-on-North-Koreas-hit-list-200605711.html) and, to the credit of people in Austin, the whole thing started an amusing Twitter trend, ‘#WHYAUSTIN’ (http://www.ora.tv/newsbreaker/north-korea-targets-austin-tx-twitter-ask-0_6777gdnp).
Now Texan’s, in general, don’t have a sense of humor generally about people with guns even from the next town messing with them, little less foreigners, and even less the last communist country on earth, North Korea. Hell, a lot of Texans want the entire State to secede from the U.S. and be their own sovereign country.
But Austin, Texas, is a hipster town, the home of Willie Nelson and has a sense of humor.
When the news broke, social media lit up with North Korean plans to nuke Austin Texas. A twitter hashtag went viral: #whyaustin.
The Austin City Government tweeted “Not to worry Austin…we’re prepared” and linked to a cartoon from YouTube Austin Texas @austintexasgov Not to worry, Austin…we’re prepared: http://ow.ly/jzZ66 #whyaustin –which was the 1951 ‘duck and cover’ instructional video on how to behave during a nuclear attack.
Slate ran a story titled “Kim Jong-Un’s Latest Unbelievable Threat: Bombing Austin, Texas”
The Drudge report bold headlined: UN-HINGED: KIM TO BOMB D.C., LA—AND AUSTIN?
The Digitaltexan.net headlined “Austin Texas targeted for destruction by North Korean missiles”
“Is Austin ready to handle a nuclear missile attack?
Austin is one of four cities that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his generals have slated for destruction by long range nuclear missiles.
Austin is seen targeted on a chart labeled “US Mainland Strike Plan” in pictures released Friday by the state-run Rodong newspaper. The pictures of Kim and his top generals is supposed to be from and emergency meeting.
The state of Hawaii, Washington DC, and Los Angeles are also going to be taken down along with Austin.
Why would Kim target Austin? What did we do?
Perhaps Kim is jealous that he couldn’t get a comped badge for SXSW. Or maybe he has heard that Austin always makes the top of someone’s top 10 list, and he wants to take the city down a notch.
Austin’s best defense would be to pay Dennis Rodman to move into the W Hotel . Kim and Rodman are buddies. That might spare us from a nuclear holocaust.
The images are more than likely just your standard commie-prop, a staged meeting to show the North Korean people that Kim Jong-un is doing something other than playing video games and watching porn.”
Texas commentators had a couple choice comments:
“Why would North Korea attack a city filled with NK allies & sympathizers?,” said one who obviously views the city of Austin, Texas as a bastion for pinko sympathizers.
“I doubt they can hit anything they aim at. It’ll probably strike Waco instead,” said another referring to the notorious botched U.S. federal government raid on the nutty Christian cult in a compound in Waco in the 1990’s.
Then a couple of people noticed that the arrow, despite being identified as Austin by our otherwise crack NKNews.org editorial team in the wee hours of the morning (“Yeah…what the fuck, go with Austin” was the last editorial directive given prior to publication), was likely slightly off and the intended target was actually the nearby U.S. military base of Fort Hood. north of the city.
But Austinites were seriously scratching their heads all day today.
“Austin Texas Residents Respond To Kim Jong-Un’s Bizarre Nuke Threat,” was one headline.
“A map in Kim Jong-Un‘s North Korean war room shows a map of the US mainland with targets for missile strikes like Hawaii, Los Angeles, Washington, DC and, um, Austin. Yeah, Austin. Seriously.
If you’re a crazy mad dictator, attacks on places of military importance like Hawaii make sense. An attack on an important center of commerce like Los Angeles makes sense. Disrupting order in the nation’s capital makes even more sense but bombing the home of the South by Southwest conference?
Austin residents are baffled by the news that their city is on the kill list of the reclusive North Korean communist. One resident told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that Kim must want to “wreck a couple of music festivals.”
Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell has said that the local authorities are watching the situation closely but “they do not believe the threats are credible at this time.”
One knucklehead academic decided to offer the balanced view with the following said with a straight face to a local Texas newspaper.
“A foreign affairs expert at the University of Texas downplayed the concerns about an attack on Austin saying that though the choice of Austin is surprising the threat isn’t from North Korea isn’t very real. “They have no serious threatening capability to the United States’ mainland,” said Jeremi Suri, Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the University of Texas. The choice of Austin isn’t totally surprising though because of its place as a major cultural hub and the presence of a company with deep South Korean ties, Samsung, says Suri.
“Austin has a lot of international cache. It’s seen as a center of music, as a center of exciting technology, and they want to show they can threaten that. They want to show that they can do something to get attention,” said Suri.”
Others took the threat with more of a reasonable response to the gravity it deserved.
“They’re cornering the global BBQ market by taking out the competition,” offered up as opinion one Texan.
“I for one will miss their delicious Tex-Mex,” said another lamenting the impending loss to regular access of local cuisine.
“If it ever came down to a real war, I think North Korea would give Austin some trouble but would ultimately crumble with Willie and the troops marching into Pyongyang singing “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” North Korea, however, could potentially–with some hard work–defeat some of the tiny townships in that area, like Luling, where Kim Jong-Un could finally win the town’s annual “Thump Queen” contest,” was the conclusion of another crack Texan policy analyst.
“I dunno, some of those cats can spit seeds further than Pyongyang can shoot its rockets. I however, volunteer to protect Luling’s favorite daughter, stone cold fox, Tamron Hall,” said another.
“Maybe he’s trying to take out Rick ‘Oops’ Perry?” asked one, referring to the much joked about Texas governor whose presidential aspirations crashed and burned when he was found not to be very bright.
“Kim Jong Un knows that Perry is unstable. He may just ooopps our entire nuclear arsenal on North Korea if he were president,” agreed another.
“North Korea plans to bomb Willie Nelson” headlined the Washington Times.
The London Daily Mail, in a baldly plagiarized and typically sensationalist take on any news regardless of its merit and truth, of course chimed in too.
“So why does North Korea want to bomb Austin? Twitter users mock Kim Jong Un’s ‘U.S. mainland strike plan’ that targets the hipster capital of the Lone Star state” was the Mail headline.
Why does Kim Jong Un seem to have a problem with Austin, Texas?
That is the question that Twitter users and foreign affairs analysts alike have been asking themselves ever since the release of North Korea’s ‘U.S. mainland strike plan’ Friday.
The secretive regime made public photographs of Kim Jong Un inside his military command center signing the order to put rockets on standby to attack the U.S. mainland.
Commentators seem to agree that Kim Jong Un was upset he wasn’t invited to the annual music and multimedia festival South by Southwest.”
“You know who is angry about missing Prince during SXSW? Kim Jong Un. No Purple Rain = Reign Of Terror,‘ Tweeted Sweet John.
In the wee hours of this morning, as the NKNews.org team assessed our professional performance, we were rightfully quite proud of the yeoman sleuthing work of Seoul based correspondent James Pearson.
But we did agree to promptly update our contact list to include expert cartographers and military mapping analysts and spookery.
So on behalf on NKNews.org, I want to apologize for upsetting Austin Texas.
While we are a top notch news outfit for all interested in North Korea, we are not trained cartographers and we were a tad off on that Austin bit.
The target was probably really, upon a bit of sleep and a closer analysis, probably Fort Hood (a U.S. military facility, not coincidentally, a major facility for U.S. cyberwarfare operations) just a bit north of y’all.
Sorry about that.