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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.

The Death of Credible Media in the Internet Age: Media More Dead Than Non Existent GF of Sports Celebrity

18 Jan

The Death of Credible Media in the Age of the Internet: Media Standards More Dead Than Non Existent Therefore Not Dead Girlfriend of Football Celebrity

 By Nate Thayer

For months, major news outlet once known for being credible, reliable sources of information with rigorous internal standards ensuring accuracy and quality control, from the New York Times to CBS to Sports Illustrated, have all highlighted repeatedly a riveting, wrenching story of a rising American football hero and his inspirational reaction to the tragic death from leukemia of his longtime girlfriend.

The only problem, it was revealed yesterday, it is all a breathtaking lie and hoax, with TV, print, radio and Web media stories reporting for months on someone who never existed and splashing headlines about events that never happened.

Although it’s still not clear who created the heroic-sports-star-and-his-tragically-dead-girlfriend hoax, it is exactly clear that the media repeated the fraud, victimizing news consumers, since last September without  engaging in even rudimentary inquiries challenging a narrative that, only a few years ago, would have waved so many red flags even Jimmy Olsen, Clark Kent’s hapless boy reporter in the Superman comic book series, would have been skeptical.

So a celebrity and sports star lied; no news there. That every major media outlet in the country fell for it, repeatedly and without exception, is a very big story, indeed.

Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o’s non-existent dead-from-leukemia girlfriend, whose tragic death he said inspired him to play harder and was the catalyst to his team winning the national college football championship, has some explaining to do.

But much more important than the fact the dead girlfriend of a celebrity sports star was never alive and, by extension, never his girlfriend,  was that virtually every respectable trustworthy media outlet in the U.S. wrote repeatedly creating this fictional, evolving narrative for months.

Now scores of reporters, major media outlets, the multi-billion dollar football industry and the universities who profit from them, are going through what would be comical acrobatics trying to point the finger somewhere-anywhere-as long as it away from themselves, if the wholesale indictment of what used to be a reputable free press was not so deeply exposed as the real hoax that in the age of internet news, and is such a sadly false presumption.

Another example of the effect of the absence of journalistic standards that happened at the same time as the non death of the non girlfriend of the sports celebrity almost caused world war three. Details on that story, which falls smack comfortably into the same roots and causes of this football sports embarrassment to journalism but actually was serious as cancer, are further below in this story.

Here is an interactive map that shows the impact last September of the power of the the new news media to throw the world into convulsions within moments:

<iframe width=”425″ height=”350″ frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no” marginheight=”0″ marginwidth=”0″ src=”https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=201645180959880549419.0004c9a894dfb66defab9&msa=0&ie=UTF8&t=m&source=embed&z=3&output=embed”&gt;
View Muslim Protests by John Hudson in a larger map

manti_te_o__playing_through_tremendous_adversity__hd_-1

The universities say it was a hoax perpetrated against him. Football star Te’o say he is the victim. The reporters who trumpeted the story say they are the aggrieved ones, and the major news organizations who published this transparent fiction, which never would have made the news under pre-internet quality control systems, are all silent.

While the girlfriend was clearly a hoax in this convoluted story, the bigger hoax was perpetrated on the news consumer; another example in what is now routine shoddy reporting that passes as news. Not long ago, any half bright half trained idiot would have seen the inconsistencies, and, if they didn’t, there would have been editors employed to scrutinize the sausage making process that used to ensure such a ruse never saw the light of print.

Play reporter like you had a fake girlfriend die today

Play reporter like you had a fake girlfriend die today

As a journalist, I get lied to every day for a living. A good chunk of my life has been spent waiting in hotel lobbies for someone to come downstairs and lie to me; trekking through Godforsaken jungles or warzones to talk to people who lie to me; paying for someone’s bar bill so they can get drunk on my dime ir order to lie to me; or, increasingly and mind numbingly annoyingly true these days, being forced to talk to some overpaid nitwit with far too large of a hair care budget, usually with the title of spokesman or press officer, whose very existence and job description is that of a professional liar charged with preventing me access to the truth regardless of what the issue at hand is.

The uninterrupted theme here is people lie to journalists and it is the journalists job to disassemble these collection of various degrees and shades of dishonesty and create a credible version with a minimum threshold of veracity of whatever newsworthy event is at issue, so that issues worthy of common knowledge of the masses is available in its as accurate and unvarnished truth as can be presented.

Our job is to make sure those lies are sifted through, balanced between other lies, tweaked, massaged, challenged, rejected, exposed, and then all pieced together like some Satanic inspired Rubik’s Cube, to form something as close to being accurate and true as possible.

ny post twitter

Before the internet and the collapse of journalism as we knew it, there were internal standards and policies in place to ensure that process worked pretty well, if a news organization was committed to it. Those job positions, and the commitment to quality and accuracy of reporting they were responsible for, have virtually all been eliminated from every major news organization in the free world. Those not in the free world very job is to lie to us. That is why there is the North Korean state media and no one else allowed there to operate, as one example.

When journalism consists of believing and repeating people’s statements and contentions of versions of events without a strict internal process of fact checking, verification, qualification, confirmation, balanced opposing views and an inviolable internal system of rigid structures of quality control, it ceases to be a credible profession.

It becomes a hobby, political platform, bully pulpit, or venue to deceive or manipulate public opinion driven by an agenda different from providing quality accurate information in the form of news for consumption for the common good.

The dirty little secret is there is today, essentially, no such thing as journalism as we have known it, having been stealthily transformed by the unstoppable tsunami of the new digital information age and, left in the equally as profoundly positive as utterly negative of its equally as constructive as destructive path, the dead carcass of what was once quality, reliable journalism.

Let’s be honest with ourselves. Quality journalism as an institution is officially dead.

But unfortunately there is no one now employed in a position to report this fact.

It was killed by the rise of the internet, and no one has come up with a viable business model to create what will its inevitable rebirth, because a reliable, trustworthy, honest, quality free press is a vital institution to free societies and free people. And it will rise again.

But the ugly truth is, today, don’t believe anything you read. Anywhere.

And the sad fact, and dirty little secret, is that applies to virtually every former bastion of the credible free press and such heralded names as the AP, Reuters, AFP, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, anything that Rupert Murdoch owns, the BBC, and so on and so forth and etc etc.

AP report saying "Jewish Money" financed anti Islam Film

AP report saying “Jewish Money” financed anti Islam Film

The quality of journalism has been mortally wounded by layoffs of tens of thousands of professionals in the last five years. Experienced reporters and editors have been thrown out of newsrooms across the world. Foreign budgets, stringer budgets, editor positions, and those responsible for ensuring accuracy and quality control have been summarily eliminated.  Seasoned journalists and editors, whose job it was to act as gatekeepers to sound journalistic standards and ethics, were deemed expendable by the executives who only care about the bottom line.

Remember, quality journalism, by definition, has to be independent from governments and their restrictions and money. There can never be any government imposed restrictions on an unfettered free press to publish whatever garbage or heroic truth, regardless of how important or offensive, full stop.

This means it is a private enterprise run by businessmen whose objective is to make a profit. The honest truth is these media owners don’t care whether they are selling toothpaste or the unfettered truth of news of issues vital to the common good of free societies. If they can’t make a profit doing so, they will stop making that product.

And by and large, in the business of producing and selling quality news, they have.
The fictional story of the pathetic football celebrity presented as fact and truth is the result of all of the thousands of budget cuts that have eviscerated quality news reporting since the dawn of the internet.

This kind of sloppy reporting is not an anomaly; it is the new journalism and will only increase in the years to come. The consequences of that are bad for societies of course, and is increasingly viewed as it well should be, as bad for the news media industry.

Credibility used to be the backbone of the free press, which is, by its very nature, a for profit business. Now credibility is an expendable luxury, and thousands of laid off journalists remain unemployed, under threat of being so or have transitioned into other careers.

Here are some of the stories facts:  Te’o first said he met this woman on the Stanford University Campus. Now he says it was a pure online only relationship. The photo Te’o used was stolen from a real girl’s FaceBook account. Te’o’s family stated several times they met the girlfriend in person in Hawaii. Te’o now says he never met her in person during what he has long publicly claimed was a three year relationship and he was in love with her, during which time she was in a car accident, but he never went to see her; She was diagnosed with leukemia, but he never went to see her; and she died, but h e never went to see her.

No one checked to see there was no record of an obituary, no one contacted her family of which they would have found didn’t exist, there was no public death notice, no records of her alleged graduation from Stanford University, and no one could produce a photograph of her because there are not pictures of people who, well, aren’t.

“In retrospect, you can see where some of those things weren’t adding up to make sense,” said the ESPN reporter who covered this story prominently for months. “It’s easy to say now, but at the time it never enters your mind that somebody was involved in that kind of hoax. We wanted to believe it so much.”

MTeo_5 Manti Te'o 22 Nov The best reporter ever @JustineBWard lol happy thanksgiving Justine! pic.twitter.com/oidWJeOb

MTeo_5 Manti Te’o 22 Nov The best reporter ever @JustineBWard lol happy thanksgiving Justine! pic.twitter.com/oidWJeOb

In October, Te’o told ESPN that Kekua was “the most beautiful girl I’ve ever met,” He added to the ESPN report that “Faith is believing in something that you most likely can’t see, but you believe to be true. You feel in your heart, and in your soul, that it’s true, but you still take that leap.”

The Associated Press reported on Sept. 22, 2012 that Kekua’s funeral was held in “Carson City, Calif.,” a city that does not exist, probably meaning Carson, California, but, according to the Los Angeles Times, Te’o skipped the funeral, saying Kekua insisted he not miss a scheduled football game.

In December, CBS news reported Te’o suffering “unimaginable anguish” from the deaths of his grandmother and nonexistent girlfriend. CBS refused to comment saying only “Like many other news outlets, we are now aware of the circumstances.”

Sports Illustrated wrote how Te’o would speak on the phone with Kekua as she lay dying in her hospital bed, perk up at the sound of his voice, but didn’t bother to inquire what hospital that was. The magazine even wrote that Te’o would fall asleep on the phone and wake up in the morning with Kekua still on the line.

Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated Oct. 1 issue, above the headline, “The Full Manti” in a story describing him as a devout Mormon who led his Catholic university, Notre Dame, to football victory after suffering personal tragedies of as Sports Illustrated wrote, the death of his grandmother and his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, within six hours of each other in September,

22 years old Lennay Kekua was seriously injured in a car accident only to then be diagnosed with leukemia, wrote Sports Illustrated Pete Thamel, who said the football players comforting phone calls to her hospital room were crucial. “Her relatives told him that at her lowest points, as she fought to emerge from a coma, her breathing rate would increase at the sound of his voice,” Thamel wrote.

Te’o appeared on ESPN’s and spoke of the letters Kekua had written him while dying and how he would send letters to parents of sick children imparting his comforting tale of personal grief. The South Bend Tribune wrote the couple met when she was a Stanford student and he a Notre Dame football star, after a football game at Stanford.

Notre Dame University released a statement yesterday, January 16, that their football coaches were informed by Te’o on Dec. 26 that he was duped had been the victim of his nonexistent girlfriend who “apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia,” adding “the proper authorities” are investigating a “very cruel deception to entertain its perpetrators.”.

The Sports Illustrated writer, Pete Thamel tweeted yesterday: “The big question here is whether Te’o was involved or not. Notre Dame is staking a loud claim that he got duped and had no involvement.”

No, Mr. reporter Thamel, the big question is why you wrote this ridiculous, easily verifiable fiction and published it without employing the rudimentary journalism 101 fact checking processes and duped your readers into believing the story to be true.

Even today, after all this was revealed, the football star is digging himself even deeper. “This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online,” he said. “We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her. To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating.”

Indeed. But so what? Another very young celebrity on the verge of making millions does something really really stupid. But it is the reaction of the media and so called reputable institutions that are unacceptable and of far more disturbing consequence.

In the age of the internet, the truth is that the system of internal structures that assured basic credibility of news stories in reputable media outlets have been discarded under the pressure of competing for being first in the new era of instant news.

There use to be a reason why one read and gave credence to a story written by the Associated Press and was skeptical when it was published in the London Daily Mail. Now, the unpleasant truth is the rush to be first means there is a precious little sunlight to differentiate the two.

The absurd and even more sad story about the troubled football star and the rightfully embarrassed so called reporters that pass for what is now still called journalism could be a source of amusement if it didn’t represent the norm of media standards on stories of far more consequence to a peaceful world and the institutions that are vital to democracy and civil society.

On Sept. 11, 2012 a crude, 14-minute trailer of a hateful anti Muslim movie, “Innocence of Muslims,” was the most volatile internet event in 2012, sparking violent riots that left hundreds dead and spread like wildfire, engulfing two dozen countries after being broadcast in Egypt, culminating in the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya, where four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, were killed. The uproar over the video sparked furious protests from Somalia to Egypt to Sudan to Tunisia to Libya to Bangladesh to Indonesia to Pakistan.

behead

Dead American Ambassador to Libya

Dead American Ambassador to Libya

egypt riots google_chrome067 largeMUSLIM PROTESTS riot like an egyptian

There was a rush to find out who was behind the clearly intentionally incendiary movie, and the first to break the news was the Associated Press, which dominated headlines as the top world story as the entire middle east threatened to be engulfed in violence.

The Associated Press, the world’s biggest news organization first broke the story which defined the narrative of who was behind the obviously intentionally incendiary movie, naming him as Sam Bacile, an “Israeli-American real-estate developer” adding “Bacile, a California real estate developer who identifies himself as an Israeli Jew, said he believes the movie will help his native land by exposing Islam’s flaws to the world.”

The Wall Street Journal reported on September 12: “The movie, “Innocence of Muslims,” was directed and produced by an Israeli-American real-estate developer who characterized it as a political effort to call attention to the hypocrisies of Islam. It has been promoted by Terry Jones, the Florida pastor whose burning of Qurans previously sparked deadly riots around the world. … [The] film [is] about the Prophet Muhammad, portions of which in recent days have been circulating on the Internet. Contravening the Islamic prohibition of portraying the prophet, clips from the film show him not only as flesh and blood—but as a homosexual son of undetermined patrimony, who rises to advocate child slavery and extramarital sex, for himself, in the name of religion.”

Both the AP and the Wall Street Journal reported interviewing a Bacile, who claimed to be a California real estate developer who raised $5 million from Jewish donors to make his anti-Islam film. According to the Wall Street Journal “Mr. Bacile said he raised $5 million from about 100 Jewish donors, whom he declined to identify.”  The AP reported on September 12, as riots and attacks spread throughout the middle east and beyond, and before the murders of US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three others were confirmed, that “An Israeli filmmaker based in California went into hiding Tuesday after his movie attacking Islam’s prophet Muhammad sparked angry assaults by ultra-conservative Muslims on U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya, where one American was killed. Speaking by phone from an undisclosed location, writer and director Sam Bacile remained defiant, saying Islam is a cancer and that the 56-year-old intended his film to be a provocative political statement condemning the religion.”

The AP story dominated the world headlines on a story that had now caused violence in dozens of countries. It continued “Bacile, a California real estate developer who identifies himself as an Israeli Jew, said he believes the movie will help his native land by exposing Islam’s flaws to the world. “Islam is a cancer, period,” he said repeatedly, his solemn voice thickly accented.”

As it turned out, within days it was shown that Bacile didn’t exist, the film makers were not Jewish, and there was no Israeli money involved. The real man was Egyptian with American citizenship and a Coptic Christian, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, who lived outside Los Angeles. The AP said the cell phone number it called for a telephone interview with Bacile in their original story matched Nakoula’s address.

By that time violent attacks had spread to dozens more countries, hundreds of thousands were prepared to murder millions of others, all based on misinformation and the absence to access to credible and accurate news.

So, instead of focusing on the prurient entertainment and shadenfreude of watching an inconsequential man with sporting talent implode in front of us, perhaps it might be useful to ponder the same causes that allowed that to occur could spark world war three. Then maybe we might make it a matter of national priority, on par with landing a man on the moon, to recreate a credible institution of a viable profitable business model for a free press, which is vital to a healthy and peaceful free society.

AP Exclusive: U.S. News Agency Sells Reputation to North Korea for Access to Exactly No News

2 Jan

AP Exclusive: U.S. News Agency Sells its Former Good Name to Serve as a Propaganda Arm of the World’s Most Repressive Govt in Exchange for Access Which has Produced Exactly  No News and Undermined the Principles of a Free Press

The Associated Press Korea coverage is nothing short of a stain on, and an embarrassment to, the principles of a free press, and it is past time they  cut it out, close their bureau in Pyongyang and apologize.

And I say this as a former AP reporter (who spent a month in North Korea as their correspondent) and was the AP bureau chief in Cambodia–a country whose modern series of governments are as equally as egregious as Pyongyang, albeit minor league amateurs in comparison to the Kim family regime, simply not as accomplished or sophisticated in their thuggery.The Kim family dynastic criminal syndicate which operates currently under the protection and privileges of a recognized nation state, will make Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge look like Mother Theresa when the unspeakable truth comes out what has happened inside North Korea over the last fifty years when they inevitably will implode and collapse.

It is the unspeakable which the AP refuses to speak about–the central moral and professional mandate of its existence–in its coverage of North Korea which is, in itself, unspeakably offensive.

The AP just released an “exclusive” that the head of Google is planning a trip soon to Pyongyang, the only country in the world that has a blanket ban on use of the internet, headlined “APNewsBreak: Google exec chairman to visit NKorea”, datelined Seoul with the byline of correspondent Jean H. Lee.

What is the outrage are the several things missing from the story that violate the most basic ethical standards and AP’s own formal–and now formerly– inviolable ethics, standards and rules, a concept they have repeatedly abandoned when it comes to Korea coverage since opening a “bureau” in Pyongyang last year.

Among the most glaring absences is that there is no mention of, or reference to, any input from AP’s own Pyongyang Bureau in the story, the existence of which is a rank embarrassment and scandal in itself.

AP cut a sweetheart deal with Pyongyang to open the bureau a year ago, the contents of the written contractual arrangement they have kept as tightly secret as if they were a third world dictatorship themselves.

In the year since they opened the bureau, in a pomp and ceremony propaganda excersize orchestrated by the same North Korean government architects that are charged with maintaining  the Kim family dictatorship personality cult, not a single substantive news story has been produced from the AP Pyongyang bureau.

In fact, on numerous occasions, the AP bureaus and their competitors based in other countries have consistently first broken virtually every significant top world North Korean story and informed the world, the AP in Pyongyang remaining entirely in the dark about every important news event happening under their very nose.

These include both the April and December launches of the long range missile tests designed to carry nuclear weapons that can reach the continental U.S., which were first reported by foreign media in Tokyo, Beijing, and Seoul, to the purge of the top army commander in July, to a series of stories regarding top personal changes and policy statements.

This is because the AP bureau in Pyongyang is a wholly owned and staffed subsidiary of the the intelligence and propaganda arms of the North Korean regime. The foreign reporters can go nowhere, meet no one, or see nothing without the permission of the Pyongyang government.

In fact, the AP staffers, both the “reporters” and “photographers” are entirely handpicked by the North Korean government and widely known to be nothing short of trained operatives of the regime intelligence services.

The entire function of the bureau is to give credibility to Pyongyang’s rank manipulation of events of import and twist, suppress, or blatantly create a false narrative of the life of North Korean citizens and the conduct, actions, and intent of its brutal elite who are in power.

Regarding this story of the head of Google–a Company whose name is so firmly ubiquitous it is now both a noun and a verb absorbed irrevocably in popular international linguistic usage it is synonymous with the power, good, and importance of freedom of, and free access to, information–visiting Pyongyang, the irony is so rich it would be cut from the script of a third rate daytime TV soap opera.

Specifically, the story made only a comically brief, frightened reference in passing to the most obviously important news of the story that was so transparent one could almost visualize the AP bosses fleeing from the terror of upsetting their Pyongyang choreographers by reporting a truth: That North Korea is the only country on earth that outright bans the entire internet technology that has transformed life in literally every other piece of real estate on the planet. And failed entirely to mention the  fact that North Korean citizens are routinely imprisoned if caught using any communication devices to access information from, or communicate with people in, countries outside the borders of the worlds saddest, most repressive, most despicable gulag posing as a government and given the benefits rights and benefits of a a seat at the table of the rest of the properly organized nation states.

These are facts so ubiquitously known, that is outside the borders of North Korea, and so obvious that a good chunk of the American population that couldn’t name who their own current vice president is are aware of this news. But not if they were forced to rely on the AP for their news and information.

And in a further inexcusable breach of ethics, the AP censored the title of the job of the author of this story, editing out the fact that Ms. Jean Lee is also the “Bureau Chief” of the Pyongyang AP bureau simultaneously with her same function in Seoul–two countries formally at war with each other.

If this story involved any other country, or the AP wasn’t running fully scared of upsetting the Pyongyang authorities, they would have had input from the Pyongyang bureau, obtained some comment from a regime official or, more probably, confirmation of the very country the entire story was the subject of. But not one word. Not even the obligatory “No Pyongyang official could be reached fro comment.
In fact the sources for the entire story were all anonymous, in itself a violation of AP’s own rules requiring two named sources for publishing a story.

But the biggest outrage, among the aforementioned and several more, is buried deep in the story, in a reference  that the Google chief will be merely a member of a delegation with Kun “Tony” Namkung who they say will “also (be) leading the trip” and identified him as “an Asian affairs expert who has made numerous visits to North Korea over the past 25 years. Namkung also has been a consultant to the AP.”

AP made no reference to how Mr Namkung is “an Asian affairs expert” or what he had been in the employ of the AP “consulting” about.

In truth, Mr Namkung is a broker who makes his living taking large amounts of money from people such as the AP and Google in exchange for getting them access to meet with North Korean elite government officials and taking  a cut from business deals being negotiated. In fact, Mr. NamKung was central to the deal negotiated with the Pyongyang propaganda apparatus to open the AP bureau itself, which is so cowed, ineffectual, and counterproductive it is unwilling to shed the most mundane of light on even this what normally would be a wholly innocuous and non controversial news piece.

AP should be ashamed of themselves and quit shilling for the most offensive, oppressive dictatorship in the world and knowingly misleading their readers as part of a deal to pimp for the thugs in power in Pyongyang. Not to mention soiling the reputation of the free press, and by extension, me.

Here is a link to the just released AP story: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gqBQsr0HoEAxofMe8hK-3v5GkDcA?docId=624f23a869cc46f1be68afbc96977083

How White Are You? And What The Heck is a “Cornball Brother”?: Important Questions in Sports Journalism

15 Dec

How White Are You? And What The Heck is a “Cornball Brother”?: Important Questions in Sports Journalism

By Nate Thayer

An American sports journalist for ESPN, Rob Parker, got fired today for comments he made yesterday calling into question exactly how black the Washington Redskins football star quarterback Robert Griffin 3rd is, calling him a “Cornball Brother.”

Parker accused Griffin of not being black enough: “Is he a brother, or is he a cornball brother? … He’s not real. OK, he’s black, he kind of does the thing, but he’s not really down with the cause. He’s not one of us. He’s kind of black, but he’s not really, like, the guy you want to hang out with because he’s off to something else.” Parker also raised the issue of Griffin’s white fiancée and reports he may have voted republican.

These comments did not go down well, in general. Parker was fired.

Now this immediately perked my attention on two key issues.

First, what the hell is a “Cornball brother”?

This then raised the alarming question of: “How white am I?’

So, I found just the tool that will let me know at http://howwhiteami.com/ where one can take a simple yes or no answer quiz and bingo!….it tells me how white you are.

I took the test and scored 62% white.

I think I could do well at howblackami.com too, but I haven’t taken that one yet. I bet a score pretty high on how much I think like a girl as well, and am eagerly awaiting someone to come up with a simple test I can take for that.

I could not find a similar test for how Asian I am.

Thayer Passes Racial Litmus Test--Barely

Thayer Passes Racial Litmus Test–Barely

Parker’s comments came after Griffin, who has said he doesn’t talk about “race, religion or politics”, said Wednesday: “I am [aware] of how race is relevant to [some fans]. I don’t ignore it. I try not to be defined by it, but I understand different perspectives and how people view different things. So I understand they’re excited their quarterback is an African American. I play with a lot of pride, a lot of character, a lot of heart. So I understand that, and I appreciate them for being fans.”

Well, as it turns out, I am not alone in my ignorance of what “Cornball brother” actually means. It became an entry in the Urban Dictionary only yesterday, apparently not by coincidence.

New Urban Dictionary Entry for "Cornball Brother"

New Urban Dictionary Entry for “Cornball Brother”

Cornball Brother:

  1. A classy, intelligent African-American athlete. The kind of guy who dominates his enemies and doesn’t fall in line with the opinion of douchebags–a freethinker and warrior.

2. n pl Cornball Brothers (kôrn’bôl’ brəT͟Hər)

a. An African American male who chooses not to follow the stereotype. This includes, but is not limited to, being educated, well spoken, a role model, a leader, selfless, an upstanding member of the community and above all – humble.

b. life choices include marrying white women, being republican, and not being “down with the cause”.

c. a rare breed of African American males who should be praised, not chastised by their own race.

d. a term where MLK would be rolling over his grave for

“Dat RG3 got himself a becky. He a cornball brother (brotha) – na’mean?”

3.A black person who acts white, is possibly Republican, marries white women, and graduates         from college with Honors. This person is not down with the black cause of ebonics and the hatred that Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson often spew.

“Robert Griffin III is a smart, educated man, and he likes white chicks, what an a$$hole   cornball brother! “He’s not one of us”, says the moronic sports anaylist Rob Parker from ESPN(a   Disney Network).”

 

4. A brother who has balls made out of corn.

“You won’t be having kids if you hook up with my brother, he’s a cornball brother”

On December 13, 2012, the ESPN commentator broached the subject after Robert Griffin III made comments at a press conference on December 12. In the press conference, Griffin was asked about his race and being a quarterback in the NFL. Griffin said: “For me, you don’t ever want to be defined by the color of your skin. You want to be defined by your work ethic, the person that you are, your character, your personality. That’s what I strive [for]. I am an African American, in America, and that will never change. But I don’t have to be defined by that.”

Sports journalists being, well, the idiots they generally are raised the topic on ESPN and “journalist” Rob Parker was asked, ‘What does this say about RGIII?”

“This is an interesting topic. For me, personally, just me, this throws up a red flag, what I keep hearing. And I don’t know who’s asking the questions, but we’ve heard a couple of times now of a black guy kind of distancing himself away from black people. I understand the whole story of I just want to be the best. Nobody’s out on the field saying to themselves, ‘I want to be the best black quarterback.’ You’re just playing football, right? You want to be the best, you want to throw the most touchdowns and have the most yards and win the most games. Nobody is [thinking] that. But time and time we keep hearing this, so it just makes me wonder deeper about him. And I’ve talked to some people down in Washington D.C., friends of mine, who are around and at some of the press conferences, people I’ve known for a long time. But my question, which is just a straight honest question. Is he a brother, or is he a cornball brother?” ”

“Is he a brother, or is he a cornball brother”, and then proceeded to state Griffin wasn’t “down with the cause.”

His colleague sports journalists thought this was an important topic and asked Parker for further explanation:

Cari Champion: “What does that mean?”

Skip Bayless: “Explain that.”

Parker: “He’s not real. OK, he’s black, he kind of does the thing, but he’s not really down with the cause. He’s not one of us. He’s kind of black but he’s not really, like, the guy you want to hang out with because he’s off to something else.”

Champion: “Why is that your question?”

Parker: “Well because that’s just how I want to find out about him. I don’t know because I keep hearing these things. We all know he has a white fiancee. There was all this talk about how he’s a Republican, which, I don’t really care, there’s no information at all. I’m just trying to dig deeper into why he has an issue. Because we did find out with Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods was like, ‘I’ve got black skin but don’t call me black.’

Then Journalist Skip Bayless asked about the quarterback Griffin’s hairstyle, which involves braids:

Parker: “Now that’s different. To me, that’s very urban and makes you feel like…wearing braids, you’re a brother. You’re a brother if you’ve got braids on.”

Parker continued to put his foot in his mouth. “We could sit here and be honest, or we can be dishonest. And you can’t tell me that people in the barbershops or people that talk, they look at who your spouse is. They do. And they look at how you present yourself. People will say all the time, you’re not gonna get a job in corporate America wearing those braids. It happens all the time. Let’s not act like it doesn’t, because it does.”

ESPN first said the comments “were inappropriate and we are evaluating our next steps” and shortly afterwards announced that Parker has been suspended “until further notice.”

It seems that football player Griffin’s reply– a sport not exactly recognized for its high IQ averages—was comparably more elegant than the observations of Parker, who was trained in the art and science of communication at Southern Connecticut State University and Columbia University for graduate School in journalism.  Previously, he worked for The Detroit News ,The Times Leader in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, The Daily News in New York , The Cincinnati Enquirer, and Newsday in New York.

This concludes what will remain the sum final total of my career contribution as a sports journalist.

 

Oops. That Hits a Bit Close to Home: Second Thoughts on North Korean Propaganda

26 Nov

Oops. That Hits a Bit Close to Home: Second Thoughts on North Korean Propaganda

By Nate Thayer

I had my finger on the enter button to post a snarky comment about recent satellite photos from Google Earth which revealed a message of praise, each letter measuring 49 feet wide and 65 feet high, carved into the side of a North Korean mountain reading “Long Live General Kim Jong Un, the Shining Sun!”

Earlier this year, after Kim Jong Il’s death, the slogan “Peerless Patriot General Kim Jong Il” was revealed as carved into Mount Sokda, in South Pyonggan province, North Korea.

I felt quite comfortable in expressing my outrage at another oversized example of absurd state sponsored political propaganda, once again taken to precise levels of perfection by the boneheads in charge in Pyongyang.

120 meter inscription carved into North Korean mountain praising Kim Jong Il

According to the Daily NK, a media outlet run by North Korean defectors, these chopping up of the earth for political propaganda “got worse after Kim Il Sung’s death, when Kim Jong Il ordered the authorities to carve phrases into various scenic locations because ‘We need to convey to our descendants how great a person we had as Suryeong [our leaders]” by “carving inane things in them like ‘The Nation’s Celebrated Mountain. Kim Jong Il.’

Four Important Dead White Guys in the U.S. Carved in Mountain

Then I paused, as  vague recollections of similar propaganda monuments flashed a red warning sign, and, very shortly, my riotous indignation was rapidly deflated as I took a bit of a look into the larger issue of governments carving monuments of political adulation into mountainsides.

There is the matter of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

Mount Rushmore features 60-foot sculptures of the heads of four United States presidents (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln) carved into the side of the mountain in a memorial covering  1,278 acres.

In addition to the ostentatious oversized propaganda icon, it is controversial because the United States stole the land from the Native American Lakota tribe in a war and then granted the land  back to the Lakota in 1968 in perpetuity. And then swiped it back.

A Sioux Indian in front of gargantuan carvings on the side of mountain swiped back from his people after being seized in war in order to build propaganda icon

Then it seems to get even worse.

The sculptor of Mount Rushmore was one Gutzon Borglum, who, it turns out, was an active member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Then it gets worse and plain weird.

The largest carved propaganda monument on earth is in fact a bas relief sculpture, the Confederate Memorial Carving on Stone Mountain, Georgia, which memorializes  the side that lost the American civil war fought to end slavery. The KKK activist, Gutzon Borglum, was first commissioned to do this carving,  abandoning it in 1923 to begin Mount Rushmore.

The World’s Biggest propaganda Monument carved into a mountain–in the U.S. by Ku Klux Klan sculpture in Georgia, U.S. commemorating the leaders of the war defending slavery

This monument depicts three Confederate leaders of the U.S. Civil War measuring about  3 acres–the size of three football fields. The carving measures 90 by 190 feet, and is recessed 42 feet into the mountain, the deepest point at Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s elbow, which is 12 feet deep into the mountain’s surface. The carving is 400 feet (120 meters) above the ground, measures 90 by 190 feet (58 meters), and is recessed 42 feet (13 meters) into the mountain.

The Ku Klux Klan connection seems to be a dominant thread in outsized U.S. propaganda monuments craved out of stone.

Wide View of Stone Mountain Georgia Propaganda Monument

Then it gets even wackier.

A few years ago, In recent years, stone samples from Stone Mountain were sent to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Foundation for use in the monument under construction in Washington, D.C.  in King’s honor, but they lost out in the bidding to a superior supplier. From China.

Martin Luther King, Jr’s famous 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington is remembered for his reference to “let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!”

The MLK Memorial on the National Mall, next to Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln, was completed exactly one year ago, the fall of 2011, after a 27-year wait,

Martin Luther King Propaganda Monument which rejected Ku Klux Klan stone in favor of Chinese stone and design by Mao trained propagandist

And it was designed by a Chinese artist, carved by Chinese workers, and is made from imported Chinese granite, which was reconstructed by Chinese workers on the National Mall.

The Economist noted that the memorial caused a political hullabaloo at the time: “Why not an American artist, critics ask? With American rock? And why use white granite, some have noted, to portray a black man?”

The nationally syndicated African American Washington Post columnist, Clarence Page, answered the question, because “white rock shows up better than black rock at night. Chinese white granite is harder than the domestic variety, so it will last longer. The artist best prepared to work the hard Chinese rock is, not surprisingly, Chinese” although he hastened to add the memorial’s Chinese sculptor, Lei Yixin, is “better known for his mammoth tributes to Chairman Mao” and his rendition of Martin Luther King is “a bit too much of a worker’s-paradise seriousness for my taste.”

Former Mao propagandist Chinese sculptor hired by U.S. to build Martin Luther King monument in Washington

Poet Maya Angelou complained the inscription on the memorial, a quote from King, makes him “look like an arrogant twit.”

The Economist went on to posit that “Mr. Lei is not hired to offer his interpretation of a subject…On the contrary, he is hired not to interpret, to apply the same psychologically dead and mendaciously indifferent treatment to all his subjects. Mr. Lei is a political bullshit artist, and it shows. That Chinese white granite is especially durable is a stupid reason to get stuck with this kind of soulless stone agitprop.”

So, to sum it up, a north east Asian propaganda artist trained by Chairman Mao was the choice of Washington to build a propaganda monument to a political activist who was assassinated for protesting the government policies memorialized by the slave owning former head of states whose heads were carved in a mountain in  the American west by a Ku Klux Klan inspired artist who abandoned his commission to carve what is now the biggest propaganda monument on earth to the leaders of those who went to war to preserve slavery, which is in MLK’s home state of Georgia.

“If you don’t like the people represented in the carving, there’s got to be some poetic justice to projecting the American flag on their mugs and playing patriotic music to a crowd of people of all races. Wouldn’t that be the ultimate “F U” to confederate leaders?”–an online commentator on the debate on the Stone Mountain monument

So let’s return briefly to North Korea.

A few weeks after the MLK monument was unveiled in Washington, North Korea pulls the sheets off its latest propaganda effort, a 120 meter inscription carved on Mount Sokda for Kim Jong-Il. The inscription read: “Peerless Patriot General Kim Jong-Il. February 16, Juche 101 (2012)” Kim’s name is 10 meters high, 5.5 meters wide and 1.4 meters deep, according to official Korean Central News Agency. “Officials and working people in South Pyongan province chose the rock that is easily visible, reflecting the ardent desire of the people around the country to exalt his immortal revolutionary feats forever,” it added.

And then back to the United States.

Newest propaganda monument to the black mayor of Stone Mountain Georgia

In 1995, Tyrone Brooks, a black resident of Stone Mountain, Georgia, was told by his grandmother that black people had been lynched and thrown from the mountaintop. “I did not grow up with a good feeling about Stone Mountain,” Brooks told the Los Angeles Times:”I still don’t have a good feeling about it.”

When the 1996 Olympics were held in nearby Atlanta, there was a laser show nightly from May through Labor Day featuring Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson, and the Confederate flag and accompanied by Elvis Presley’s rendition of “Dixie.”

In 1997, Stone Mountain was a majority black city and elected a black mayo, Chuck Burris.

The 20th-century Ku Klux Klan was born here in 1915, and, until his death in 1993, the town was home to James R. Venable, the hate-spewing imperial wizard of the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Now Burris lives in the same house where Mr. Venable, himself the mayor in the 1940’s, lived for most of his life.

“Tell me,” said Chuck E. Burris, the then Mayor-elect, ”that God doesn’t have a sense of humor. There’s a new Klan in Stone Mountain, only it’s spelled with a C: c-l-a-n, citizens living as neighbors. And I guess I’m the black dragon.”

The first Black mayor of Stone Mountain Georgia”“Tell me that God doesn’t have a sense of humor. There’s a new Klan in Stone Mountain, only it’s spelled with a C: c-l-a-n, citizens living as neighbors. And I guess I’m the black dragon.”

So the question seems to be should anyone really try and mess with the ridiculous edifices erected by the ego’s of politicians in history. It seems more fun to just enjoy them and make fun of them and then laugh at them.

Or we could try option number two.

On March 1, 2001, the then in power Taliban of destroyed two giant Buddha statues in a particularly barbaric act of cultural destruction in which they took cannons and shelled the 1,800 year-old statues carved into a mountainside in Afghanistan on the Silk Road. They claimed that they were false idols contrary to their Islamic beliefs.

The two Buddhist statues in Afghanistan before they were blown up by the Taliban in March 2001

The two massive Bamiyan Buddha’s were 50 meters (165 feet) and 34.5 meters (114 feet) tall and were built around the second century. Koichiro Matsuura, chief of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization convened an emergency meeting of members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference to try to stop the destruction. ”They are destroying statues that the entire world considers to be masterpieces,” Matsuura said at the time.

Taliban strategy to oppose propaganda art. 2001 state organized destruction of largest Buddhist mountain carvings on earth (Reuters Photo)

Even Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf couldn’t change their minds, and wrote Taliban head Mullah Omar a four-page letter urging him not to blow up the statues, secretly hand-delivered to Omar by Pakistani Internal Security Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed, but the letter had no effect, according to my former Far Eastern Review colleague Ahmed Rashid in his bestselling book on the country.

“The destruction work is not as easy as people would think. You can’t knock down the statues by dynamite or shelling as both of them have been carved into the cliff. They are firmly attached to the mountain,” a Taliban spokesman lamented at the time.

Osama bin Laden’s influence over the Taliban at the time apparently played a role in the decision to try to erase history. Bin Laden is said to have campaigned vigorously for the destruction of the statues, which further isolated both Bin Laden and the Taliban. That strategy towards state sanctioned art didn’t end well for either of them.

By 2006, both Omar and bin Laden were holed up probably regretting their political positions on art.

The new Afghan government began re-construction of the statues, and a $1.3 million UNESCO-funded project began collecting by hand the shards of clay and plaster.

Plus, the new Afghan government  gave the green light to Japanese artist Hiro Yamagata’s $64 million sound-and-laser show to begin in 2009 to project Buddha images powered by hundreds of windmills that would also supply electricity to surrounding residents.

And then a few months ago, calls to destroy Egypt’s Great Pyramids Began as prominent Muslim clerics called for their demolition, as Saudi Sheikh Ali bin Said al-Rabi’I put it, those “symbols of paganism.”

Egypt’s Muslim Salafi party has a plan to cover them with wax. Most recently, Bahrain’s “Sheikh of Sunni Sheikhs” and President of National Unity, Abd al-Latif al-Mahmoud, called on Egypt’s new president, Muhammad Morsi, to “destroy the Pyramids.”

My advice would be to do a bit of internet research before casting stones that might break ones own windows.

 

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