Kim Yo Jong went to the Olympics on a propaganda mission for her brother, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, but her trip also helped advance a favorite narrative of President Trump’s — that the media is his enemy.
Kim Yo Jong’s public appearances at the Winter Games in South Korea generated all the superficially normal images a repressive regime could want. She could be seen applauding as the two Koreas marched under a single flag at the opening ceremony while Vice President Pence remained seated; smiling and shaking hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Seoul; and rooting for a unified Korean hockey team in PyeongChang.
Western news outlets documented Kim’s carefully choreographed performance — and South Koreans’ reactions to it.
The Washington Post described South Koreans as “enthralled” by Kim, reporting that “when she arrived at the presidential Blue House for a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Saturday morning, the cameras zoomed in on her high cheekbones and fine ears. No detail was too trivial to be noticed, to be commented on.”
Indeed, “commentators analyzed her no-nonsense hairstyle and dress, her low-key makeup and the sprinkle of freckles on her cheeks,” the New York Times wrote.
Reuters quoted former South Korean diplomat Kim Sung-han, who said that “Kim Jong Un’s sister is showing elegant smiles before the South Korean public and the world. Even for a moment, it appears to be a normal state.”
“Appears” is the key word. Kim put on a show for a few days, then returned to a country that, as The Post’s Anna Fifield noted, “threatens nuclear war and deprives its people of food and information.”
Yet by chronicling the show, the media drew charges of glorifying Kim and lending credence to North Korea’s charade.
“The American press is buying into it,” Brian Kilmeade said Monday on “Fox & Friends,” pointing to the three aforementioned reports as evidence. “I would contest it is because this [Trump] administration is hated so much by the American press they’re actually taking the side of Kim Jong Un’s sister.”
Reuters is British, not American, but you get the idea.
The conservative Daily Caller criticized a CNN report that described Kim as “a foil to the perception of North Korea as antiquated and militaristic.” In the very next sentence, CNN added that “as North Korea’s brutal dictator, Kim’s brother has ruled with an iron fist since coming to power, operating Nazi-style prison camps, repressing political opposition and even executing senior officers and his own family members in an effort to consolidate power.”
Unsatisfied, the Daily Caller wrote that “the media has been providing a megaphone for North Korean propaganda.”
Newsbusters, which credits itself with”combating liberal media bias,” ripped the Associated Press for reporting that “the trip by Kim Yo Jong is the latest move in an extraordinary show of Olympic diplomacy with Seoul that could prove to be a major challenge to the Trump administration’s hard-line Korea policies.” (The AP also noted Kim Jong Un’s “single-minded pursuit of a nuclear arsenal.”)
It is hard to argue with the AP’s analysis of a potential “major challenge.” To the extent that Kim Yo Jong’s charm offensive worked on South Koreans, it could indeed complicate the Trump administration’s effort to preserve Seoul as an unwavering partner against the nuclear ambition of the North. If South Korea were willing to make concessions, in the interest of improving relations with its neighbor, the result could be a rift between South Korea and the United States, which appears fully committed to denuclearizing North Korea. Many other news outlets made the same point in their coverage.
Nevertheless, according to some media critics, to acknowledge an effective strategy by Kim is to praise North Korea and betray an anti-Trump bias.