A reporter captures a dangerous, misunderstood North Korea
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The New Yorker goes to North Korea
If you doubted a failure in communication between North Korea and the United States, consider this one moment in a just-published great New Yorker piece by reporter Evan Osnos.
He's in a car in Pyongyang with one of the foreign ministry's top analysts on America, who proceeds to ask about a North Korea-related op-ed in the Journal carrying the joint byline of Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
“How common is this, for the Secretary of State and the Defense Secretary to write a joint editorial?” Not very, says Osnos to the man, who was flabbergasted that two cabinet members could so clearly disagree with their boss. The article continued:
"At other points during the week, Pak (Song Il) tried to clear up some confusing details about the American media. 'So the Wall Street Journal is conservative?' he asked." Well, its editorial page is, though the news coverage is straight, Osnos indicated. Pak "took this in and nodded again."
The piece, which was assisted by funding from the non-profit Pulitzer Center, reminds that there's no substitute for actually getting out, especially if you've got Osnos' eye and sense of the ironic. Yes, it captures the political dynamics between the two countries, the rise of dictator Kim Jong Il, the North Korea mythology about its past, a seeming self-delusion about its role in the world, and the risks of any military engagement with an adversary we don't really understand.
But what's most remarkable are anecdotes assembled by Osnos that reveal the culture. Yes, his week-long trek was circumscribed and monitored but there are revealing moments for Osnos, a Chicago Tribune and New Yorker foreign correspondent for 10 years who concedes nothing really prepared him for this trek.
"I’d asked to see some schools, so I was taken to the Pyongyang Orphans’ Secondary School — a brand-new brick-and-steel complex with an AstroTurf field for four hundred lucky pupils. The principal, Pak Yong Chul, ushered me into a permanent exhibition on the ground floor, dedicated to the two-hour visit that Kim paid to the school on July 2, 2016. The walls of the exhibition are lined with photographs of Kim in his signature gray suit, striding through the facilities, holding an unlit cigarette between his fingers. On a large wall map, a red dashed line marked Kim’s route through the corridors. The students visit the exhibition every month, to 'move along in the footprints of the Supreme Leader,' the principal said.
"I stood in front of a large photo of Kim touching a red fuzzy blanket. The principal stepped aside, and, with a flourish, revealed, in a Plexiglas box, the blanket. 'He personally touched it,' he said. So it was with other specimens — the white painted chair that he blessed with his presence in the lunchroom; the simple wooden chair from the language lab, on which he rested from his labors — all preserved under glass, like the relics of a saint. I asked Pak Yong Chul how it felt to be visited by the leader, and his eyes widened. 'That moment is unforgettable. I would never have dreamed of it,' he said."
Lucky guy. When I finished the article and turned on the television this morning, there was CNN reporter Will Ripley in Pyongyang. The chyron declared, "S. Korea Expects Another N.K. Missile Test Tomorrow."
"They want to prove they have an intercontinental ballistic missile that could carry a warhead to a target like the mainland United States."
I wonder if the school principal imagined that wondrous prospect.
Sheldon Adelson can afford a few more reporters
According to regulatory filings, the casino billionaire and owner of the Las Vegas Review-Journal signed a new contract with Las Vegas Sands Corp. in which his salary goes up fivefold to $5 million and his potential yearly bonus to as much as $12.5 million.
"As a result, Adelson, 84, will have the biggest annual salary among CEOs in the S&P 500, data compiled by Bloomberg show. His net worth is $32.6 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index." (Bloomberg)
What about another reporter — or maybe 50 — to cover City Hall, the state legislature, the new pro hockey team or the Clark County Sanitation Department?
Freebies amid imminent disarray
Papers are again lifting paywalls as Irma tracks their way, including the Miami Herald. As I type, its headline reads, "Hurricane Irma slams Turks and Caicos on path to Florida."
The fight for Amazon
Amazon wants to build a second headquarters and "is asking local and state governments to submit proposals for a development that will likely cost more than $5 billion over the next 15 to 17 years and give the winning city or town an enormous economic boost. " (Bloomberg)
The media speculation was rampant about the cities that would seemingly fit various requirements Amazon announced. For example, MarketWatch did an analysis and guessed the finalists (assuming the cities formally apply) would be Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Bridgeport, Denver, New York, Provo, Raleigh, Tampa and Washington.
Then there was prominent urbanologist Richard Florida, who guesses Toronto, Washington and Chicago during what was a long and engaging string of reactions among him and smart folks making the case for various cities. (@Richard_Florida)
Fox & Friends was at a desolate gas station in Key Largo, Florida, which is being evacuated. And, showing the latest radar, meteorologist Janice Dean said, "No way is it weakening,. This is a potentially devastating disaster in the making." Co-host Steve Doocy offered counsel from the Miami Herald about what to to bring if going to a shelter, like a gallon of water and toilet paper.
Well, well, look at this. CNN's New Day was at an empty boat dock in, yes, Key Largo, too. But a buff co-host Chris Cuomo himself was in Miami Beach wearing a tight-fitting gray T-shirt with what looked like a large pink "New Day" logo on the right breast. How long before CNN cuts a deal with Ralph Lauren for a CNN Hurricane Collection? Its coverage was fine, but the new attire shouted, "Men's Wednesday Night Bowling League!"
Morning Joe escaped to higher ground (or was it lower?) with autopilot Trump political analysis. Was the debt ceiling deal a sign of more collaboration between Trump and the Democrats? "GOP GRAPPLES WITH TRUMP'S TRADE WITH DEMOCRATS" was the chyron during what seemed distinctly repetitive from its analysis 24 hours earlier. And it humbly included a montage of past predictions by co-host Joe Scarborough that Trump would cut deals with Democrats.
Nevertheless, many pundits were thrown by the Trump deal. (U.S. News & World Report) Lost is how it could mean less than it seems. A great line spoken my way by University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus: ""I doubt this is a harbinger of future deals one way or the other. The president seems to have no permanent friends, just temporary enemies. "
A Friendly graduation
The memory of former Washington Post editor Alfred Friendly will be invoked Friday as the Alfred Friendly Press Partners, a nonprofit at the Missouri School of Journalism, holds its graduation program at the National Press Club in Washington with longtime Post reporter-associate editor Karen DeYoung the main event.
Self-serving headline of the day
From Breitbart: "U.S. Conference of Bishops Reacts to Bannon's '60 Minutes' Interview"
That would be Steve Bannon, who's back running Breitbart. And this would be the alleged news:
"In a preview of Sunday’s 60 Minutes interview with former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, CBS released a segment in which Bannon is asked a question by Charlie Rose that no one in the media ever asks pro-gay marriage, pro-abortion Democrats.
"Bannon was asked to reconcile his Catholic faith with those political beliefs in opposition to the church."
Is antitrust regulation the answer with Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc.
Writes Hong Kong-based Stratechery: "Any antitrust regulation, if it comes, needs a fresh approach rooted in the reality of the Internet. I agree that too much concentrated power has inherent problems; I also believe a structural incentive to provide a great customer experience, along with the potential to create completely new kinds of businesses, is worth preserving. Antitrust crusaders, to whom I am clearly sympathetic, ignore these realities at their political peril."
A little-noticed disaster (cont.)
"The cost to the state of Montana for battling wildfires that have burned more than a million acres this summer has reached $53.7 million, a staggering price tag that has completely drained a state fire fund that was already slashed in half by decisions made in the 2017 Legislature." (Billings Gazette)
Celebrating a hallowed past
More than 300 folks are signed up for a reunion Saturday of the Village Voice, the long pathbreaking, left-leaning alternative weekly. It was once indispensable reading if you wanted to really understand the politics of the city and nation, as well as a changing culture, including the civil rights, gay rights and women's movements.
Rap? Modern dance? It was ahead of almost everybody. Muckraking about New York City and state politics? Tough media criticism? It was all there (as well as three Pulitzer Prizes).
Long after the reunion was planned, the paper's current owners recently disclosed they're ditching the print edition, which New Yorkers like myself would rush out to get each Wednesday. It's a symbol of a melancholy decline, as nicely recounted by the New York Times. So a reunion becomes a bit of a wake, too.
When we were far younger and more brash, I met a prototypical Voice reporter, Joe Conason, at a Teamsters Union convention in Las Vegas. It's a long story but I wound up having to yank Joe off a pile during a fight with some union goons at Caesars Palace. Last night Conason, now editor of National Memo, recalled the paper's storied past and a vast array of talent, a few too many no longer with us, like Jack Newfield, Wayne Barrett and Nat Hentoff.
He made a strong case for the Voice being a pioneering publication of the last century. He rattled off name after name of very talented reporters, editors, critics and photographers. It was an All-Star team. And here's to them.
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