NBC’s Lester Holt paid a visit to North Korea this week as part of the network’s coverage of the Winter Olympics, set to begin next month in South Korea, and in the process broadcast regime propaganda.
Here’s Holt and crew at Masikryong ski resort at the foot of Mount Taehwa in North Korea. Note the crowd of skiers milling about on the slope behind him:
An @NBCNews exclusive: “We have been treated with respect here.” @lesterholtnbc is just a few hours outside the capital of Pyongyang with a rare look inside North Korea pic.twitter.com/xTZM6QcLEy
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) January 22, 2018
Holt was careful to say that he and his crew were “treated with respect” by North Korean officials in the broadcast. Perhaps that’s because, wittingly or not, he was happy to go along with what amounts to a piece of North Korean propaganda. Holt and his producers were even willing to let the Kim Jung Un regime provide a backdrop of seemingly carefree North Korean skiers for the segment.
I say propaganda because the entire Masikryong ski resort is a piece of regime propaganda. As the Daily Mail reported last year, the luxury resort was built to rival Pyeongchang in South Korea, which will host the Olympics in February. In North Korea, more than 40 percent of the population are malnourished and more than 70 percent rely on food-aid. There is no tourist industry to speak of. The only reason to build such a resort in such a country is to propagate a lie about the deplorable conditions there.
Unless a news crew from the West is doing a broadcast, the ski resort is more or less empty. According to the Daily Mail, the world-class slopes and the luxurious hotel lobby are deserted most of the time. But just outside the resort, the reality of life in North Korea grinds on:
The resort is a three-hour drive from Pyongyang, down a potholed concrete road that passes through unlit tunnels and which civilian work crews clear of snow and ice by hand after fresh falls. The warm comforts inside are a world away from the scenes outside the entrance checkpoint, where peasant farmers drag sleds loaded with firewood across frozen lakes, and ox-drawn carts are used for transport.
But don’t mention that to Holt and company. They apparently didn’t have the benefit of a driver or government minder willing to let them in on the secret that pretty much everyone in North Korea is a prisoner, and the “vacationers” they encountered at the resort were almost certainly brought under threat of violence to act as props.
That’s simply how these things are done in the hermit kingdom. In 1995, Pyongyang hosted the largest pro wrestling event in history as part of something it called the International Sports and Cultural Festival for Peace, which featured two nights of wrestling events before crowds of 150,000 and 190,000, respectively. The idea was to showcase for the world, and its own citizens, how prosperous and developed the country really was.
In cooperation with WCW and a Japanese promoter, the North Koreans brought in a host of international pro wrestling stars. In an interview with Sports Illustrated twenty years later, two of those wrestlers, Scott Steiner and Rick Norton, recalled the moment when they realized that the crowds were forced to be there:
[Finally, after two days of downtime, it was time for two nights of shows. The venue was Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium, the largest stadium in the world. Having no idea what to expect, the wrestlers got their first glimpse of the record-setting crowd while on their way to the show.]
Scott Steiner: We crossed one bridge and we could see the people maybe a mile down, crossing the other bridge. They were all walking. It was like a bunch of ants crossing the bridge. It was just a sea of humanity. It was kind of hard to grasp.
Norton: Me and Flair were taking the little crappy limo to the event the first day. I said, ‘Ric, man, we’re really drawing. Look at this.’ The driver looks back and says, ‘Excuse me, what do you mean by draw?’ I says, ‘That’s a term we use for when a lot of people are coming to see us.’ He says, ‘No, nobody really wants to come. It’s forced attendance. If they don’t show up they get a bullet in the head.’ And I went, ‘…all right then.’
Of course, Holt and NBC should know this. Maybe they do, and don’t care. Whatever the case, Bill McMorris of the Free Beacon best captured NBC’s North Korea excursion in terms that the network can best understand: