“Grandstanding”? Analyzing the Rhetoric of Independent Media

TRNN provides by far the best video news coverage one can view. It is precisely because it is the best coverage that it is important maintain its high standard; therefore, when a news presentation might be considered lacking it should be questioned.

TRNN senior editor Paul Jay interviewed columnist Eric Margolis over: “… the tensions–or some people are calling crisis or a standoff between the United States and North Korea over its nuclear weapons program and potential missile launch as we are told–I’m rolling my eyes here.”

Jay asks Margolis, “Let’s start with North Korea’s interest in all of this. Why the grandstanding? Why the threats? What do they want to gain out of it? And what prompted it?” 

grand·stand verb (used without object)

to conduct oneself or perform showily or ostentatiously in an attempt to impress onlookers

The language picked my ears up. Threats? What are the threats? It is so difficult to receive a properly source comment, let alone a threat from an official Democratic [sic] People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) source. Consequently, I have much skepticism toward such claims.

Case in point. A recent Reuters article titled “North Korea issues new threats over protests in South” didn’t cite one quotation or paraphrase that I could construe as a threat.1 The worst the article could come up with was:

“If the puppet authorities truly want dialogue and negotiations, they should apologize for all anti-DPRK hostile acts, big and small, and show the compatriots their will to stop all these acts,” KCNA cited the North’s military as saying.

According to Reuters, the South Koreans apparently considered this to be an “ultimatum.”

Yet, the Reuters article began by stating that US secretary of state John Kerry was willing to talk with Pyongyang on the condition that the talks would lead to eliminating nuclear weapons from the North. Is this not, by the same criterion, an ultimatum?

One could imagine the response if the DPRK presented the same “ultimatum” to the US – that it pledge to eliminate its nuclear arsenal.

Is there any valid and principled reason that one state should be permitted nuclear weapons and another state not?

As to DPRK’s “grandstanding” Margolis replied:

… what we’ve been watching is an attempted jailbreak. But that is–North Korea has been put in jail by the United States ever since the end of the Korean War. There are very, very stern, strict sanctions and threats. It’s overflown by American military aircraft. The U.S. has occasionally threatened tactical nuclear weapons if there’s a war in Korea. It is just in the most possible hostile condition. So North Korea’s been asking for decades for normal relations with the United States, and it wants a nonaggression pact with the U.S., where Washington pledges not to invade North Korea. The U.S. will not do this, never has. It says it won’t talk, won’t do–will barely communicate with this odious regime in North Korea. And so the two sides remain at daggers drawn. [italics added]

One can draw the inference from Margolis’s words that the US is grandstanding as well as the DPRK. Margolis sees fit to take a pot shot at the DPRK government. I am not going to defend the DPRK government, but I would ask him what makes the US regime less odious than the DPRK regime since I have never heard him refer to the Obama government as an “odious regime”? Is the DPRK obliterating Iraqis. Afghanis, Yemenis, and waving its weapons at Iranians? Is the DPRK backing Israeli apartheid, repression, occupation, and dispossession like the US? Did the DPRK overthrow an elected president in Haiti and prevent his return (in contravention of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which the US is a signatory)? Did the DPRK support a coup in Honduras and take part in instigating one in Venezuela?

One of the reasons TRNN is great is because it provides background to the news. It seems somewhat lacking in this story. Jay did not challenge Margolis’s characterization of the DPRK’s government as an “odious regime.”

Looking at the relevant background then. Is the DPRK based in the genocidal dispossession of its Original Peoples?

Historically, did the DPRK reject the democratic aspirations of the entirety of the American people as the US did in Korea when it removed the Korean people’s government that Yo Un Hyung helped form?2 Did the DPRK split the US in two and draw a demilitarized zone against the wishes of the American population? It would be easy to continue for many more paragraphs, but what I would like Margolis and Jay to respond to is whether the US regime/government is less odious than the DPRK regime/government.

Jay, in what is quite an understatement, said “Just recently, there were American and South Korean military exercises that, I guess, if you were to view them from the lens of the North, they would have looked rather threatening. [italics added]

UC Santa Cruz professor Christine J. Hong was not guessing. She states:

I have yet to see the US attempt to diffuse tensions.

Instead what we’ve seen is a series of actions that the US has taken that have themselves been extraordinarily provocative.
Even as US policy makers in as much as they use that term to describe North Korea alone, it’s very difficult to describe, as you mentioned in your story, the US flying B-2 stealth bombers and dropping dummy munitions over the Korean peninsula in a simulated first nuclear strike against North Korea is anything, but very volatile and very provocative in its own right.

How does volatile and provocative compare to grandstanding? One is clearly offensive while the other is defensive. One is clearly threatening while the other is clearly in response to threats.

Margolis responds well:

The American media has done a very poor job, as usual, in covering this, all these events. … the U.S. this year, to show America’s displeasure with North Korea’s third nuclear test recently, the U.S. flew first a flight of B-52 bombers, and then two B-2 heavy stealth bombers, within 30 kilometers of the border of North Korea in what was clearly an attempt to intimidate North Korea and to remind the North Koreans that during the Korean War of 1950-53, that U.S. heavy bombers, B-29s in this case, flattened North Korea. They made the rubble bounce. Everything of any value was blown to smithereens in North Korea. And this was a reminder of that, but also the U.S. capability of decapitating the leadership of North Korea in a surprise strike using new very powerful deep penetrating bombs.

Jay persists with depicting the DPRK as “grandstanding” stating that “the talk of a potential missile that could reach the United States … I mean, it’s either an empty threat–in which case, why do the empty threat? If it’s a real threat, then they’re inviting some kind of retaliation. What do they hope to gain out of this posturing?”

Is the DPRK actually “inviting” retaliation? Jay has shifted the focus away from the US military threats and provocations to the resistance of the actual victim. Jay framed the situation as one in which the US would be the retaliator even though its military armada is situated some 8000 kilometers from the US mainland on the DPRK doorstep and not vice versa. It is the US which refuses a peace treaty with the DPRK. It is the US which has imposed an economic blockade on the DPRK. In such circumstances how could any North Korean action be viewed as anything other than retaliatory?

Margolis points out that “… the U.S. could preempt by blitzing North Korea. It’s silly, in a way. It’s childish. People are laughing at North Korea, but it’s also, as you said, setting itself up for retaliation. It’s making itself look ridiculous.”

I agree that many of the pronouncements that are attributed to the DRPK government are counterproductive. I am not, however, laughing at the DPRK. I submit that what is “ridiculous” is for a rogue military superpower to threaten a tiny state with military action and depict such a state as any kind of threat.

Margolis blames and heaps criticism on the DPRK government: “America cannot talk to North Korea or have dealings with North Korea. It’s too horrible a regime…. It’s a brutal and ugly and backwards dictatorship.”

In a mild criticism, Margolis adds, “However, the US does manage to have cozy relations with some other very odious and horrible regimes, like Uzbekistan and Iraq these days.”

Again, what makes the US government so unhorrible? Why does the US escape such a level of criticism from Jay and Margolis?

Relaying his impression of the North Korean perspective, Margolis says:

South Korea is an American puppet state run by the imperialists…. They point out the interesting fact that no Americans know that the South Korean army of–armed forces of 600,000 men are under American command. Can you imagine that, after 60 years after the Korean War that an American four-star general has been commanding the South Korean Armed Forces?

Some might construe that as ridiculous or pathetic, that the ROK is not even in command of its own military?

Margolis continues: “And let me add one other point, that half of the Koreans are Christians. It’s the only country in Asia that has a large Christian population.” Margolis is definitely incorrect on this point, as the Philippines is by far the predominant Christian country in Asia.3 Such a factual inaccuracy is picayune in comparison to how the DPRK is portrayed vis-à-vis the US in the video news.

The DPRK has legitimately armed itself with nuclear weapons in a logical response to continued provocations from a nuclear armed threat on its doorsteps.

Jay mentions the grandstanding of the DPRK four times in the interview? What caused the grandstanding? Would there be DPRK grandstanding if the DPRK had a non-aggression pact with the US? Would there be DPRK grandstanding if Korea had never been split?

Margolis and Jay provide an analysis of the “grandstanding,” “odious regime” in the DPRK that is far better than what is available in the western state/corporate media. However, is it disinterested reporting and analysis, or it it still tainted by the imperialist lens?

The DPRK has its faults deserving criticism, for example, its familial head-of-states (also true of other US allies like Canada, the UK, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, etc.). However, the DPRK was created by the US, and it has been placed in the situation of having to resist hyperempire for its entire existence. First rate reporting and analysis would lay out this situation clearly.

Independent media needs to emphatically challenge the centers of power and not preponderantly focus criticism on the minor powers resisting imperialist hegemony, especially in ways that serve imperialist propagandic aims.

  1. Robert Birsel and Jack Kim, “North Korea issues new threats over protests in South,” Reuters, 16 April 2013. []
  2. For a backgrounder see Kim Petersen, “A ‘Presence’ in the South of Korea,” Dissident Voice, 11 July 2007. []
  3. Philippines still top Christian country in Asia, 5th in world,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 21 December 2011. “The Philippines remains to be the bastion of Christianity in Asia with 86.8 million Filipinos—or 93 percent of a total population of 93.3 million.” []

Kim Petersen is co-editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached at: kim@dissidentvoice.org. Read other articles by Kim.