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How badly does mainstream media want Kim Jong-un dead?

Darius Shahtahmasebi
Darius Shahtahmasebi
is a New Zealand-based legal and political analyst who focuses on US foreign policy in the Middle East, Asia and Pacific region. He is fully qualified as a lawyer in two international jurisdictions.
is a New Zealand-based legal and political analyst who focuses on US foreign policy in the Middle East, Asia and Pacific region. He is fully qualified as a lawyer in two international jurisdictions.
How badly does mainstream media want Kim Jong-un dead?
Over the last week or two, the mainstream media has published a barrage of claims about Kim Jong-un’s health and whereabouts. Is there a duty to report rumors, or is it an example of the media’s latent irresponsibility?

The last time I wrote about North Korea – which wasn’t all that long ago – it was because Kim Jong-un was irking the West by publicly bearing witness to his country’s surge in missile testing. These missile tests sent a powerful and uncertain message to the rest of the world. Either North Korea was largely unfazed by the threat of Covid-19 so far, or had become so ravaged by the current state of affairs that it had become incredibly desperate.

Like most things involving North Korea, the media’s spin and one-sided view of developments taking place there is catastrophic, to say the least. Without presenting any evidence, the mainstream media has advanced the following claims about the North Korean leader in the past week or so:

1.       That he is merely recovering following his recent heart surgery;

2.       That following his recent surgery, he is in “grave danger” of losing his life;

3.       That due to the seriousness of this situation, China has had to send a medical team to assist him;

4.       That he was dead and his sister is poised to take over in a power grab;

5.       That he is alive and well and merely self-isolating from coronavirus at a resort in Wonsan;

6.       That he has even been injured in a missile test (my personal favorite); and

7.       That he is merely attention-seeking and the whole debacle is an elaborate hoax.

As one New Zealand-based blogger witted, Kim is the world’s Schrodinger’s dictator – both dead and alive at the same time, a superposition of both states.

The first thing to note is how each of these reports have been presented. The Daily NK, a Seoul-based media outlet that collects data from people inside North Korea, first reported that Kim had undergone surgery but that he was mostly recovered. This report was attributed to one, single, unidentifiable person. The CNN report which alleged that Kim was in “grave danger” was advanced to the world based on a “US official with direct knowledge,” with further comments provided by at least two other unnamed officials who confirmed the US was monitoring Kim’s health.

It therefore became somewhat humorous when CNN stated they were unable to independently verify the latter Daily NK report, epitomizing an interesting (but ultimately useless) cat-and-mouse game the media tends to play. For its part, Reuters has said it has been unable to independently confirm any of the details regarding Kim’s health or his location.

The second thing to note is how much of this potential non-story has been amplified by CNN, a hallmark of the free and independent press on which we have come to rely. It was CNN who greatly projected the initial Daily NK story and it was CNN who first reported the rumor that Kim’s health was in danger following his recent surgery. Ever since, CNN has been looking for all sorts of ways to justify its irresponsible reporting.

I don’t want to sound like the US president (trust me), but if all of these rumors turn out to be bogus, he may in fact be on to something when he refers to these reports as “fake news.”

Also on rt.com Not dead anymore? As Pyongyang cites Kim’s message, media downplays death rumors after Seoul adviser says he’s ‘alive & well’

So why does it matter? Doesn’t the media have an obligation to publish information provided to them by credible, government sources so that we can be better informed as a population?

It matters because it shows that powerful media don’t need any real, tangible evidence to exert influence – if the reporting proves to be incorrect, we have been fed stories based on weak intelligence which have done nothing positive for the world. There are people betting on chaos, instability and ultimately war with North Korea. In some areas, we can see that stocks which involve economic cooperation with North Korea have dropped by at least 10 percent, whereas other defense companies on the Korean stock index have grown by up to 30 percent.

While this is true as a general proposition, a few observations strike me as problematic from the outset. As none of these reports are based on any real, tangible evidence, what this entails is if they are all in fact incorrect, we have been fed stories based on weak intelligence which have done nothing positive for the world. North Korea certainly hasn’t benefited; if the news has spread within its boundaries it has likely done more damage than good.

The media often get it wrong, particularly where North Korea is concerned. Just by way of example, outlets such as the Washington Post have insisted that Kim has shown he will never place North Korea’s nuclear weapons on the negotiating table, making talks with North Korea practically pointless. We know that this is untrue – it’s just that Kim will only use his nuke supply as a bargaining tool if he can get something real and concrete out of the US in return – namely, an end to its military movements on the Korean border including the use of its nuclear-capable bombers.

If the media’s job really were to inform the public, they could revisit the time the US bombed North Korea so heavily that they eventually ran out of targets to hit. While the media can’t wait for the world to be rid of this so-called tyrant, it would be nice if the global population could be reminded of how that “tyrant” came to exist in the first place. Any discussion of the future of North Korea – whether under Kim’s rule or not – which doesn’t take into account the history of North Korea is doomed to failure.

Perhaps Kim really is unwell. Perhaps he really is on his deathbed. Or perhaps he is relaxing at the resort in Wonsan, scanning Donald Trump’s Twitter account. The point is no one knows the truth, and until we know, perhaps this is one of those rare occasions where we would do well not to speculate.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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