February 02, 2005

So Now We Have Minders

Tom Tomorrow has a creepy story about a journalist who got in trouble covering an inaguration ball by not being accompanied by a party minder.

Consider that the escorts weren't there to provide security; all of us had already been through two checkpoints and one metal detector. They weren't there to keep me away from, Heaven forbid, a Democrat or a protester; those folks were kept safely behind rings of fences and concrete barriers. Nor were the escorts there to admonish me for asking a rude question of the partying faithful, or to protect the paying customers from the prying media.

Their real purpose only occurred to me after I had gone home for the night, when I remembered a brief conversation with a woman I was interviewing. During the middle of our otherwise innocuous encounter, she suddenly noticed the presence of my minder. She stopped for a moment, glanced past me, then resumed talking.

No, the minders weren't there to monitor me. They were there to let the guests, my sources on inaugural night, know that any complaint, any unguarded statement, any off-the-reservation political observation, might be noted. But maybe someday they'll be monitoring something more important than an inaugural ball, and the source could be you.

It looks like the Republicans are taking lessons from some of those other countries that respect and value freedom and democracy.

In order to visit North Korea, you must find an agency to book a group tour; you cannot visit independently. You are then put on a preset itinerary through which you'll always be accompanied by government minders (your "tour guides").

... "First of all, taking the North Korea tour is not quite the same as experiencing the country itself," Springer explained. "Most of what you see is monuments and museums. It's a bit like arriving in Washington, D.C., then being bused to the Lincoln Memorial and the Smithsonian, and then heading back to a five-star hotel. The tour was strictly controlled. We had no say in what we saw or which hotel we stayed at."

With Westerners being a rare occurrence, you might imagine that they would be approached by throngs of curious locals. But Springer says that isn't the case: "Some smiled and even waved; others appeared worried. But what was most striking was what happened when I got away from the group and walked around alone. Passersby became tense and tried to ignore me. Meanwhile, the plainclothes security police went into action. Walking alone one evening, I noticed them peering at me from behind trees and posts. On a couple occasions, they followed me. When I abruptly turned around and started walking the other way, they froze in their tracks."

...Springer said nearly all contact is with government tour guides and that they answer questions with the straight party line. "The few ordinary people you meet are extremely careful about what they say to foreigners," Springer said. "If they say the wrong thing, they could end up in a prison camp."

Because North Korea is a totalitarian country, all media is run by the state. And the media earns its keep by presenting a monolithic image: godlike leader, loyal masses, a paradise on Earth. The "news" there is designed to rally people, not to inform them. As proof of this stranglehold of information, Springer said that while he was visiting, a naval conflict between North Korea and South Korea flared up, and it was only after he'd left the country that he heard about it.

Posted by Mary at February 2, 2005 07:23 AM | Media | Technorati links |

Wow. And if you believe anything that Tom Tomorrow says, do I ever have a bridge to sell you.

Dude was probably nowhere near the place.

Posted by: Alois at February 2, 2005 07:36 AM

Added story link. It wasn't Tom Tomorrow, but a real live journalist who covered the ball. Tom only relayed the information.

Posted by: Mary at February 2, 2005 07:55 AM

Yeah, Alois, show your ignorance. The reporter who described what happened was the reporter who covers the radio beat for the Washington Post and has done so for years. He wasn't even there as a politics reporter, but a fluff reporter to cover the party scene. Yeah, he's going to break some hard news. Get out those handlers.
Having been to the Soviet Union and having talked to reporters who worked under the soviet system, this is a pretty chilling description of what it was like. Oh wait, it wasn't the Soviet Union, but Washington in 2005?!

Posted by: lou at February 5, 2005 12:44 AM