From crazy tyrant to Kim ‘the Peacemaker’: How media shifted the rhetoric on North Korea... or not

From crazy tyrant to Kim ‘the Peacemaker’: How media shifted the rhetoric on North Korea... or not
As a Trump-Kim meeting edges closer, some in the media are trying to predict the North Korean leader’s negotiation strategy. Others, meanwhile, are speculating whether Kim will kill a general for nodding off during a big speech.

The question is no trivial matter for British tabloid the Daily Star, which found signs of the possible imminent execution of Ri Myong-su, a general in his mid-80s who currently heads North Korea’s General Staff, in footage published by the country’s own news agency, the KCNA. At a plenary session of the ruling Workers’ Party on April 20, the general appeared to be napping during Kim Jong-un’s speech, so he must have angered the Korean leader and may soon be killed for it, the tabloid speculated.

For the record, Ri appeared to be dozing during a speech delivered by another person, Kim Yong-nam, who is technically the head of state in North Korea, as can be seen here. But let’s not allow small details to get in the way of a good thriller about that shady, barbaric nation, where a young, volatile leader mows down rebellious generals he inherited from his father with anti-aircraft guns and feeds his own uncles to ravenous dogs.

Except, the Daily Star publication seems to be an oddity now, as the media has shifted its interest in North Korea from yellow-page rumors to analysis of Pyongyang’s position during the upcoming negotiations. Just a year ago, there was a lot of similar tabloid nonsense, which told readers about how every man in North Korea had to have a haircut like Kim’s, or how a prominent all-female band was killed for shooting porn films and reading the Bible.

Today, CNN offers three different theories on how confident Kim will feel when meeting Trump, based on the state of his nuclear arsenal and the economic impact of international sanctions imposed on North Korea. Bloomberg has run a positive story on how South Korean President Moon Jae-in became a spiritual successor to his mentor, Kim Dae-jung, in pursuing a détente with Pyongyang and how this approach is already paying off. The Guardian writes about how North Korean media are calling Kim Jong-un’s wife, Ri Sol-ju, the first lady – and what that means for the historically patriarchal nation.

The change in the tone is apparent. North Korea may still be depicted as a hostile and dangerous player, but it is no longer a caricature – an evil hellhole inhabited by crazy tyrants and brainwashed slaves.

A cynical commenter might say that having a few nuclear-tipped ICBMs in one’s arsenal and a war-mongering leader of the free world as your opponent could serve as a great image booster.

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