While athletes from all around the world are competing in 2018 Winter Olympics, a lot of media outlets are busy fangirling brutal North Korean leader Kim Jon Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong. Yes THAT North Korea, the country where acute food shortages have killed millions and an unknown number of people are jailed in work camps. The same place where the leading causes of death in young children are preventable ones like diarrhea and pneumonia due to the country’s lack of clean water.
Kim Yo Jong’s brother is starving his own people in order to develop nuclear weapons he’s threatening to use against the United States and other countries, but you might not know that about her based on these headlines.
- CNN: “Kim Jong Un’s sister is stealing the show at the Winter Olympics”
- YAHOO: “All swagger and smiles, Kim Jong Un’s mysterious sister gets her star turn at Winter Olympics”
- YAHOO: “Kim Yo Jong: N. Korea’s political princess”
- BBC: “Kim Jong-un’s sister: ‘Sweet but with a tomboy streak'”
- WASHINGTON POST: “The ‘Ivanka Trump of North Korea’ captivates people in the South”
- ASSOCIATED PRESS: “At Olympic Games, Kim Jong Un’s sister takes VIP seat”
Yes, these are real headlines that western news reporters actually wrote. Their tone flies in the face of the United States’ posture towards the regime, and that of all humanitarian-minded people. During the opening ceremony on Friday night, Vice President Mike Pence did not stand to welcome the Korean Olympic team, which includes several North Korean athletes. He also skipped a dinner where he was supposed to share a table with the North Korean “princess,” so as not to recognize or normalize the country whose people a madman is brutally oppressing. Pence also took time to meet with Fred Warmbier, whose American son died from injuries and illnesses contracted in a North Korean labor camp last year after he was imprisoned during a vacation.
This favorable news coverage of the Hermit Kingdom didn’t come out of a vacuum. Last month, NBC’s Lester Holt visited a luxury ski resort in Masikryong, North Korea, where a crowd of people dressed in matching outfits milled about in the background. They were probably forced to show up and ski in order to make the regime look good, as photo ops with compulsory attendees are a frequent regime tactic to hide the country’s terrible living conditions.
As my colleague John Daniel Davidson pointed out in his critique of Holt’s coverage: “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.”
Those skiers won’t be the only North Koreans forced to put on a show to make the regime look good. North Korea has sent 229 young women dressed in identical outfits and colloquially known as an “army of beauties” to cheer on its Olympic team.
On the eve of the Olympic games, Kim Jong Un held a massive military parade to showcase his country’s military prowess in the wake of repeated threats of nuclear war agains the United States. A former North Korean parade participant revealed that training for these parades, especially one as visible as this week’s, are miserable and the conditions are grueling.
Let’s also not forget that this is a country where free speech is not a thing. In 2012, the nation sentenced an unknown number of its people to six months in the country’s work camps for not crying loudly enough at Kim Jong Il’s funeral. The country has very limited Internet access — citizens are only allowed to view a total of 28 websites, and all of them appear to be propagandistic in nature. We know this only because a technical glitch a year and a half ago resulted in these websites going public for the rest of the world to see. You can view screen grabs of these sites here. To access the Internet, North Koreans must obtain permission from the government to obtain a computer or risk severe consequences.
Perhaps what’s most unnerving about these headlines are the comparisons to Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka. Why are these two being likened to one another? Ivanka Trump is the daughter of a duly elected president of the freest country on earth — where due process and the Fourth Amendment restrict our leaders from throwing people into work camps as they wish. The U.S. government also does not starve its own people or prevent citizens from traveling or using the Internet. The First Amendment still protects one of the world’s broadest free speech and religious exercise cultures.
Kim Yo Jong is the sister of an actual dictator whose brutality knows now bounds. He reportedly recently ordered government officials be killed with anti-aircraft guns for “enraging” him and arranged his own half-brother’s assassination last year.
As my colleague David Marcus pointed out, CNN — the network frequently in hysterics over the Trump administration — is awfully comfortable with normalizing the relative of an actual dictator.
When you hate Trump so much that you praise representatives of murderous dictators to spite him. This is CNN. https://t.co/8FPtBj4mGA
— David Marcus (@BlueBoxDave) February 10, 2018
A dictator is a dictator. A duly elected president who leads a democratic republic is not. But I guess that’s a little too complicated for a network that has trouble identifying fruit.