North Korean defectors apologize for Kim Jong-un death rumors – but will Western media ever develop healthy skepticism?
Two defectors serving in South Korea’s parliament issued public apologies on Monday after insisting the North Korean ruler was dead or close to it. The apologies came on the heels of heavy rebukes from the South’s ruling Democratic Party, as well as calls for the defectors to be punished for spreading false rumors.
Over the course of Kim’s three-week absence from public duties, the Western media rumor mill churned thinly sourced ‘news’ from a South Korean clickbait outlet about alleged heart surgery into shock headlines carrying some variant of “Kim is dead, and war is imminent!” The leader rained on the media’s parade, though, by showing his face on state TV on Saturday at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a fertilizer plant. While the defectors who helped fuel the frenzy have publicly displayed some contrition, the Western outlets that amplified their claims have done nothing of the sort. Indeed, some have even tried to double down, claiming a “mysterious” mark on Kim's wrist is proof he was hospitalized.Also on rt.com Kim gossip never dies: ‘Resurrected’ North Korean leader’s footage ‘evidence’ of heart surgery
While North Korean defectors are rich sources of questionable updates about the country for information-starved journalists, one might hope that, after being proven so egregiously wrong yet again, Western outlets have learned to be more careful about taking their word for it when it comes to wild claims about their former country. But if history is any indication, no amount of embarrassing corrections will convince them to stop credulously printing unsourced ‘reports’ that are little more than wartime atrocity propaganda.
Former North Korean diplomat Thae Yong-ho, elected to the South Korean parliament a month ago, apologized “to everyone” for claiming Kim was unable to “stand up by himself or walk properly” just a few days before the North Korean leader re-emerged. In a statement on Monday, Thae acknowledged he had been elected by South Koreans “with the expectations of an accurate analysis and projections on North Korean issues,” adding that he felt “the blame and heavy responsibility” for his mistake. While Thae, who left the North in 2016, regularly forecasts the demise of the North Korean system, he had initially urged caution regarding the rumors of Kim’s death, telling CNN last week that the leader was “only” bedridden.
Fellow opposition politician Ji Seong-ho had gone further, confiding in Reuters on Friday that he was “99 percent certain that Kim had died after cardiovascular surgery,” based on information from a source he could not name. He even predicted an official announcement of Kim’s death “as soon as Saturday,” before being quite clearly proven wrong when the leader was seen on TV that same day.
In his ensuing apology on Monday, Ji promised to “behave carefully going forward,” adding that he had “pondered on myself for the past few days, and felt the weight of the position that I’m in.”
One member of South Korea’s Democratic Party called on both defectors to be excluded from the intelligence and defense committees for their irresponsibility, and another accused them of contributing little to society. An activist group accused both men, along with the leader of the opposition party, of spreading disinformation.Also on rt.com Why does MSM believe bizarre rumors coming from the South about North Korea? The two countries are still technically AT WAR!
However, outlets like CNN – which picked up the initial “heart surgery” story from South Korean outlet Daily NK, launching the tidal wave of speculation that crested with predictions of war over who’d be in charge of the North’s nukes – and its panting Western peers have not had to answer for their mistakes, and are unlikely to learn from them any time soon.
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