Talking About Peace in the Korean Peninsula


Dear Mr.Dean Baquet, the executive editor of New York Times,

Hankyoreh is a daily newspaper, which is regarded as the most progressive newspaper in Korea. I’ve always enjoyed reading the Times very much, and my interest has only grown even further as my responsibilities have been heightened as the executive editor of Hankyoreh. From 2004 to 2005, I was given an opportunity to live in the U.S. as a visiting researcher. One of the things that I found joy in and poured my heart into was reading the Times. At the time, I was sure that I would learn much more from reading the Times than from sitting in classes.
The year 2004 was highlighted by the presidential race between George W. Bush and John Kerry. As biased reporting had always become the center of controversy during presidential elections in Korea, I figured it would be a good opportunity to observe the election coverage of the New York Times up close. I had heard time and time again that the Times’ editorial page publicly endorsed a presidential candidate unlike the Korean press, but that the election reporting itself was written in an incredibly fair and balanced manner. I was shocked to find, however, that this reputation was unwarranted: one did not have to try hard to find explicit support for John Kerry here and there throughout the pages. I was not the biggest fan of President Bush and personally wanted him to lose the election, but the Times’ reporting at the time seemed to go beyond the usual boundary of what the press could normally do in its blind approval of John Kerry.
During the campaign, John Kerry was in hot water for having supported the Bush Administration’s decision to wage the war against Iraq. I remember that the Times spent two entire pages in the opinion section to kibitz about how Kerry could get himself out of the quagmire. Had a Korean news media outlet done that, it would have caused a huge uproar for prejudiced reporting. I also remember being disconcerted reading how the candidate endorsement editorial was filled with reasons why President George Bush should not be re-elected, rather than why Kerry would be better suited for the presidency.
Recent New York Times reports on the Korean peninsula renewed this disappointment and concern I had felt in 2004. A while ago, the New York Times quoted the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ (CSIS) report to allege that “North Korea is covertly developing its ballistic missile program at hidden sites”, and that those “missile bases suggest a great deception” – this is just one of the more obvious examples. I won’t comment further on the inaccuracy and the exaggeration of the reporting, or on how the U.S. government was already well-aware of such “hidden sites” even before the summit. How did such an error occur at the New York Times, the famous newspaper that cherishes facts like its own life?
As soon as the U.S. and North Korea had agreed upon the summit in March, the Times did not pretend to hide its negative view: ” Donald Trump and North Korea: What a Fine Mess.” It is not too difficult to see the reason behind this stance: deep-seated distrust and antipathy against President Trump would be the biggest reason. Another reason might be what John Feffer, the Director of Foreign Policy in Focus, stated : “the real obstacle in the U.S.- North Korea detente is the deep cynicism that runs in the Washington beltway diplomacy establishment against having a detente with North Korea”. Perhaps the Times is not so free from the limits of breaking away from the view of the usual suspects.
Yet, from the perspective of Korean citizens, it is impossible not to focus on the fact that it is precisely President Trump’s “haphazard” performance, “unorthodox” moves and his drive for such “high-stakes gambles” bombarded with criticism by the press in the States that ironically raises the possibility of peace in Korean peninsula. Such is otherwise blocked by the beltway diplomacy pundits’ inertia. Yes, I’ll admit that his blunders on Twitter, unpredictable moves and show-business-like attitude are not the most pleasant scenes to watch. But does this mean that we can automatically take all credit away from him for making his way to the negotiating table?
The New York Times is well-known for being a liberal newspaper, but progress is peace. Progressiveness is defined not by the drive for confrontation and conflict but by that for peace and co-existence. Of course, no one can doubt that North Korean denuclearization is a difficult task: the complexity of it all makes it incredibly difficult to predict how it will unravel. Indeed, it is the duty of the news media to stay alert and stay away from naive optimism in the midst of uncertainty.
However, after following the New York Times’ coverage on North Korea, one cannot help but wonder whether the Times is actually more interested in peace on the peninsula or more so in only securing American interests. Does it not almost seem as if the Times is keeping their fingers crossed for the summit to fail? Does it not seem that peace in Korea is less of a priority compared to bringing down Trump? Rather than hoping for the U.S.-North Korea summit to succeed, perhaps the Times is preoccupied with the fear that a successful summit would result in empowering President Trump to have it his way in other areas.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, when the fate of Chosun was denigrated by a Scramble for Asia, the Times only focused on the power dynamics of major powers in the Far East, paying not even the slightest attention to the future of the Korean people. In 1909, it even went on to claim the “inevitability of Japanese annexation of Korea” in its columns. I sincerely hope that New York Times will not repeat its past mistakes.
Yours truly,
Jong-gu Kim, senior editor at Hankyoreh

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