Mis-Reporting North Korea

Can I start by saying that I hold no brief for the DPRK? That ought to be “reasonably”:http://www.totalwonkerr.net/2029/il-piccolo-principe “clear”:http://www.totalwonkerr.net/2028/what-kji-is-after by now, but I’d like to avoid any confusion on that point. They’ve earned the “disrespect”:http://www.totalwonkerr.net/1892/how-much-respect-does-a-nuclear-arsenal-get and then some.

It’s also not my intention to become one of those raging _Death-to-All-MSM!_ types, although the sentiment “certainly seems”:http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/2285/oh-calm-down “warranted”:http://www.totalwonkerr.net/2027/the-disappointing-new-york-times “at times”:http://www.totalwonkerr.net/2018/art-of-the-blown-headline.

OK. End self-referential throat-clearing. Here’s the bad news about this morning’s newspaper.

What the North Koreans Said

Yesterday, the North Korean Foreign Ministry released another milestone “statement” via “KCNA”:http://www.kcna.co.jp/index-e.htm. This one comes in response to the “passage of UNSCR 1874”:http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/13/world/asia/13nations.html on Friday. As of this writing, the official English translation is not yet up on the site, but Reuters has “gotten ahold of the text”:http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSSEO5078.

Update: the “official text”:http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2009/200906/news13/20090613-10ee.html is now online.

(This is a media-criticism post. I’ll tackle the implications of the statement later, time permitting.)

The statement announces three North Korean “countermeasures” to the Security Council’s resolution, which can be summarized as follows:

* “Weaponizing” plutonium that North Korea now claims to have already reprocessed from its current bunch of spent fuel rods.

* Commencing uranium enrichment on an “experimental” basis, in connection with fueling a light-water reactor, as yet not built.

* A “decisive military response” and “all-out confrontation” against any “attempted blockade” of the DPRK by “the U.S. and its followers.”

Got it? For your reference, again, “the text is here”:http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSSEO5078. I’ll put it in the comments, too.

So why can’t the _Washington Post_ get the story straight?

Sorry, Guys, You Blew It

There’s already so much confusion and mythology out there about North Korea’s activities in the field of uranium enrichment (to say nothing of uranium conversion). Why does the _Post_ have to add to it with this “rhetorical flourish in the lede”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/13/AR2009061300636.html?

bq.. TOKYO, June 13 — North Korea adamantly denied for seven years that it had a program for making nuclear weapons from enriched uranium.

But on Saturday, a few hours after the U.N. Security Council slapped it with tough new sanctions for detonating a second nuclear device, the government of Kim Jong Il changed its tune, vowing that it would start enriching uranium to make more nuclear weapons.

p. Let’s compare this directly with the relevant section of the NK FM statement, “via Reuters”:http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSSEO5078:

bq. Second: The process of uranium enrichment will be commenced. Pursuant to the decision to build its own light-water reactor, enough success has been made in developing uranium enrichment technology to provide nuclear fuel to allow the experimental procedure.

Do you see any reference to making uranium-based nuclear weapons there? I sure don’t. At best, that’s an inference by the _Post._ Maybe it’s warranted. But the DPRK “vowed” no such thing. This is just plain bad reporting, based on careless reading.

The part of the NK FM statement about the uranium came right after the part about weaponizing plutonium, so it’s not hard to see where the confusion started. But the same _Post_ story discusses the history of the uranium issue at some length, and even quotes part of the relevant excerpt of the NK FM statement above. There’s just no excuse.

How the Others Did

It must have been an easy mistake to make, since the _Post_ was merely this morning’s worst offender. “AFP blew it”:http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25634212-12377,00.html, too. So did “this AP story by Carolyn Thompson”:http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iwlhL35A2ztIHM3SXt-k0qKVfuMgD98Q5VU00.

The _New York Times_ “did somewhat better”:http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/14/world/asia/14korea.html:

bq. In a statement on the North’s official Korean Central News Agency, an unidentified spokesman for the North Korean Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying that his nation would continue its nuclear program to defend itself against what he called a hostile United States policy. He was quoted as saying that his nation would “weaponize” its existing plutonium stockpiles and begin a program to enrich uranium, which can also be used to make atomic warheads.

Yes, this wraps up the plutonium and uranium issues together, and does not mention the LWR angle, which could be misleading. But it contains little that can be called inaccurate. (The statement said that that NK would “commence” enrichment, but also said that the development of technology has been underway for an unspecified time, so “begin a program” does not seem quite right.)

The NYT also noticed that this part of yesterday’s statement echoes “one from late April”:http://www.totalwonkerr.net/2021/what-to-expect-from-north-korea. That’s something else the WP -got wrong- _appears to have missed._

This other “AP story by Hyung-Jin Kim”:http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090614/ap_on_re_as/as_koreas_nuclear;_ylt=AqBRpW8iowxU7sCNOahYFAys0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTJqaDI1aDJvBGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMDkwNjE0L2FzX2tvcmVhc19udWNsZWFyBGNwb3MDMwRwb3MDMTAEc2VjA3luX3RvcF9zdG9yeQRzbGsDbmtvcmVhd2FybnNv got it right about the LWR angle, wrong about the novelty of the statement:

bq. In Saturday’s statement, North Korea said it has been enriching uranium to provide fuel for its light-water reactor. It was the first public acknowledgment the North is running a uranium enrichment program in addition to its known plutonium-based program. The two radioactive materials are key ingredients in making atomic bombs.

Sorry to drag on like this, but I’m really frustrated by the bad reporting. Can you tell?

On a Happier Note

The _Washington Times_ “got it pretty much straight”:http://washingtontimes.com/news/2009/jun/14/un-sanctions-prompt-threat-to-attack/?feat=home_headlines:

bq. The news agency quoted an unidentified Foreign Ministry official as saying that Pyongyang would start a program to enrich uranium for a light-water reactor.

As in the case of the NYT, one could quibble about the word “start.” Regardless, I’m awarding to Desikan Thirunarayanapuram of the _Washington Times_ the inaugural _TW Prize for Largely Accurate Reporting About North Korea._ Congratulations, Desikan.

1 thought on “Mis-Reporting North Korea

  1. Josh

    SEOUL, June 13 (Reuters) – Following is a full text of the English-language report on North Korea’s KCNA news agency on Saturday where it said it would boost its atomic arsenal in response to U.N. punishment for its nuclear test:

    “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea issued the following statement Saturday in connection with the fact that at the instigation of the U.S., the United Nations Security Council has finally adopted a ‘resolution on sanctions’ against the DPRK over its second nuclear test:

    “On June 12, the United Nations Security Council, at the instigation of the U.S., has finally adopted a ‘resolution on sanctions’ against the DPRK over its second nuclear test.

    “This is yet another vile product of the U.S.-led offensive of international pressure aimed at undermining the DPRK’s ideology and its system chosen by its people by disarming the DPRK and suffocating its economy.

    “The U.S. and Japan, not content with this ‘resolution’, are hatching dirty plots to add their own ‘sanctions’ to the existing ones against the DPRK by framing up the fictional issues of ‘counterfeit money’ and ‘drug trafficking’.

    “The U.S. incited the United Nations Security Council to get more deeply embroiled in its attempt to stifle the DPRK, which resulted in the creation of an unprecedentedly acute tension on the Korean Peninsula. This confrontation was sparked off by unlawful strong arm actions of the U.S. and its obedient UNSC in denial of the legitimate right of a sovereign state to launch satellites.

    “The UNSC’s April 14th ‘presidential statement’ orchestrated by the U.S. does not hold any ground in view of international law. What permeates this statement is none other than animosity against and rejection of a country that has a system different from theirs along with an arrogant and arbitrary view that a small country must obey a large one. The DPRK is a small country, but it is a political, ideological and military power.

    “If this high-handed act of the U.S. is tolerated, the DPRK will no longer be entitled to launch satellites again — which everyone else does — but will forever be deprived of its right to use outer space.

    “The DPRK’s second nuclear test is a self-defensive measure as it was conducted to cope with such hostile acts of the U.S. and this does not run counter to any international law.

    “In essence, this confrontation is an issue related to the sovereignty and dignity of the DPRK rather than an issue related to peace and security — this is the DPRK-U.S. confrontation.

    “There can be no genuine peace in the absence of independence and equality. Had any other country found itself in the situation of the DPRK, it would have clearly realised that the DPRK has never chosen but was compelled to go nuclear in the face of the U.S. hostile policy and its nuclear threats.

    “It has become an absolutely impossible option for the DPRK to even think about giving up its nuclear weapons. It makes no difference to the DPRK whether its nuclear status is recognised or not.

    “Upon authorisation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the DPRK strongly condemns and rejects the UNSC ‘resolution 1874’ and declares that it will take the following countermeasures at this early phase of all-out confrontation with the U.S. in order to defend the national dignity and the country’s sovereignty.

    “First: The whole amount of the newly extracted plutonium will be weaponised. More than one third of the spent fuel rods has been reprocessed to date.

    “Second: The process of uranium enrichment will be commenced. Pursuant to the decision to build its own light-water reactor, enough success has been made in developing uranium enrichment technology to provide nuclear fuel to allow the experimental procedure.

    “Third: An attempted blockade of any kind by the U.S. and its followers will be regarded as an act of war and met with a decisive military response. No mater how hard the U.S.-led hostile forces may try all sorts of isolation and blockade, the DPRK, a proud nuclear power, will not flinch from them. It is the Songun idea-based mode of counter-action for the DPRK to decisively counter ‘sanctions’ with retaliation and “confrontation” with all-out confrontation.”

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