North Korea: “Grimly Amusing”

The headline on the front page of yesterday’s Times read:

“North Korea sets deadline for Western diplomats.”

Although relatively understated by the more normal standards of Times propaganda, it is nevertheless misleading. A deadline refers to a point in time when some sort of action must be completed. This does not really appear to have been the case in North Korea, as the body of the article itself confirms.

As the Times sees itself as a “serious” newspaper providing “proper” news, it seldom goes in for the more obvious hysterical propaganda so loved by the tabloid press. One of the Times’ specialities is disseminating misleading information through the headlines of its articles. Knowing full well that most people do not read a newspaper from cover to cover but merely scan the headlines, the editors would know full well that the impression most people have of the world is obtained through headlines. So whilst an article might often be fairly accurate, its headline very often isn’t. Yesterday’s was yet another case in point.

The article in question provides the following quotation:

[T]he North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed a number of embassies… that they would be unable to guarantee the safety of embassies… in [North Korea] in the event of a conflict… [and that the Korean government] invited the embassies… to inform them by April 10 what assistance they would require from the [government] should they wish to be evacuated.

Now then, it’s almost impossible to read the headline for this article without thinking it’s about a provocative action by North Korea – especially if we remember that westerners have endured many decades of deeply anti-Korean rhetoric. Yet what the article itself describes is the Korean government “inviting” the staff of foreign embassies to let the Koreans know what assistance the government could provide “should they wish to be evacuated” – which sounds helpful and supportive, rather than provocative.

On the scale of misleading information we normally expect to see in the Times this is a relatively insignificant example – although the internet version of the story comes complete with a photograph of massed ranks of Korean soldiers giving a clenched fist salute – which obviously emphasises the provocative force of the headline. But a more accurate headline might have read something like “North Korea offers assistance to Western diplomats.” Now why did the experts at the Times prefer to use the phrase “sets deadline” rather than “offers assistance”?

Another quite interesting feature of this story is the fact that the quite unprovocative quotation was supposedly supplied by the British Foreign Office. In other words the transition from an unprovocative story about North Korea offering assistance to western diplomats to a provocative account about the setting of deadlines must have been made in the offices of the Times. Why might it do that?

On page 36 of the previous day’s paper the quality of propaganda conforms more to the type that connoisseurs of the art would rightly expect from the Times. In a section described as Analysis – presumably to give the appearance of intellectual gravitas – the unpretentiously titled Richard Lloyd Parry writes:

[I]t is reasonable to feel depressed by the intractability of this 60-year old conflict, and even grimly amused by the extravagant aggression of North Korean propaganda… North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, and his lieutenants are not madmen, but well-practised blackmailers. The verbal conniptions of recent weeks… are carefully calculated to increase the pressure gradually in pursuit of their goals [which are]… Mostly, it is handouts of cash and food aid [Mr Kim -- sic] wants to be paid to shut up.

Such is the calibre of analysis of the situation in North Korea provided by an institution that considers itself a premier league news provider.

Leaving aside some of the highly offensive if not libellous language used, there is not one word about the part played by the US government in the “intractability of this 60-year old conflict”; not one word of the crushing economic sanctions that have been viciously enforced by the US and its stooges throughout the whole of that period; not a word of the intractable refusal of the US government to agree a formal peace treaty with North Korea to finally conclude the Korean War; not one word of the diplomatic activity by the US State Department which continually disrupts the efforts by the governments of North and South Korea to re-unite a country that the US split-up, a country that had previously been united for over a thousand years. Mr Lloyd Parry provides not one word of any of this in his “analysis” to help keep us “grimly amused.”

I’m no expert on Korea; but I know a good deal more about the situation there than the likes of Mr Lloyd Parry and the editors of the Times choose to relate. The question is: why is the Times being so disingenuous?

John Andrews is a writer whose latest book is The People's Constitution. He can be contacted through his website. Read other articles by John.