Steven Lewis Simpson

What I’d like to know about journalists freed from N Korea and Iran elections

It’s great to see the two US journalists freed from North Korea and it would seem to me that the State Department played the situation very well but the news story also reminds me of the Iran elections story in that journalists have been only focusing on the human interest story and not also unearthing key facts.

I still want to know what the journalists were doing on one of the most heavily guarded borders in the world and if they had crossed the border then a sovereign nation has the right to arrest them and convict them based on their own laws (though personally I think borders are a primitive concept). I’d find it hard to imagine that North Korean border guards would dare do anything on Chinese territory but am prepared to be proved wrong. I’d like journalists to explore this heart of the story so we could know what actually happened in the incident at the heart of the story.

Similarly with the Iranian elections I want to know about the truth of the election result as well as the protest. Did Ahmadinejad genuinely win the popular vote (though with some irregularities) or did they really swindle over twice as many votes for him as the candidate that came second? To me this is a crucial part of a journalists job. To report the facts and to penetrate below the surface to uncover the layers behind the story. If for example Ahmadinejad did get the majority of the popular vote then it puts popular protests into a different context than if the guy with less votes came in to power (like Bush winning in 2000). The media showed a little interest in the beginning but then decided to go down the singular road of Iran government bad, protesters good.

Though my favorite bit of coverage was when CNN cut from violent clashes between protesters and police in Iran to violence between Lakers fans and police in LA where the LAPD were being their usual aggressive selves (I was once in a crowd of UCLA fans celebrating in the mid 90’s and we were shot at by the LAPD without warnings). The LA violence appeared worse than the Iranian and beautifully showed the difference in priorities over what is worth fighting for and levels of police brutality.

Great to see the two journalists released though… although it almost always plays out this way. Like the journalist in Iran earlier this year. I just hope that it doesn’t end up in a hefty book deal for these journalists so it doesn’t feel like opportunism on there parts as they created a real headache for the administration. I mean if you know you can get arrested in a contentious area, serve a few unpleasant months and then walk away with a million dollar book deal and a high profile a lot of journalists would walk that road.

Saying that I did spend a day with Daniel Pearl years ago when he traveled to Scotland to do an article on me for the Wall Street journal. He was a nice guy and doing a proper journalists job and paid the ultimate price.

But then would such a book from these two women be a big hit? One wonders if the public interest wasn’t as high in this story as in others because the journalists weren’t blonde and blue eyed? Just a thought.


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