Monday, January 6, 2014

North Korean: How NYTimes, Daily Mail, Fox News, NBC News, others, fell to an imposter

When the going was good. Kim Jong-Un and Jang   (c) AFP
The gap between bloggers and traditional news reporters has shrunk over the years, thanks to the internet and the 24 hour news circle, but the main elements of cross-checking facts before putting it out still holds true for journalism today as it did before the advent of the internet.
The widely reported story that Kim Jong-Un, the hardheaded North Korea leader executed his uncle Jang Song-Thaek by throwing him to a den of hungry dogs that devoured him in an hour, might not be true.
Latest findings indicate that the report which caused international frenzy and was picked by all major news organisations including New York Times, Daily Mail, Fox News, and NBC News, was triggered by a posting by an imposter who had put out as a satire.
"The post containing the gory details of the alleged execution is from a blogger calling himself Choi Seongho and claiming to be a North Korean newspaper editor now studying in China. His blog on Tencent, the country's second most popular microblogging platform, carries satirical comments about life in North Korea. He has 30 thousand followers and he doesn't reply to direct messages.
He also has a namesake. There is a Choi Seongho very much alive and blogging on Sina, China's leading platform. The content is very similar, a mix of seemingly tongue-in-cheek North Korean patriotism and mild satire. But he has more than 2 million followers, was the first of the two to open an account, and although he keeps his identity anonymous, does reply to direct messages," reports BBC correspondent in Shangai.
According to Reuters:
"Initial speculation was that Jang had been killed by firing squad, a fate that media outlets said was the usual one reserved for "traitors". But an alternative narrative of the 67-year old's death emerged on what appears to have been a satirical post on the Chinese Tencent Weibo site that has been repeated by many media outlets worldwide."
He might have fooled many but the nature of news itself makes the story in question one that very few editors would have let go.  It was just the kind of story that a typical news reader will go for first. Interestingly, almost all the major news outlets that carried it, cited their source: Hong Kong-based pro-Beijing newspaper Wen Wei Po.  The problem is that the said source isn't one of the credible news publications. Wen Wei Po doesn't rank among the top 15 credible newspapers in Hong Kong.
Not all news outlets fell to the imposter, however.
Washington Post's Max Fisher pointed to five reasons why the dog execution story looked suspect. Fisher acknowledged what the real challenge is:
"We know so little about what really happens inside North Korea, and especially inside its leader’s head, that very little is disprovable. But the things we do know are often so bizarre that just about anything can seem possible."
When a despotic regime deliberately closes its door, then truth becomes whatever is available until proven otherwise.  I lived through the wicked Abacha, Mobutu and Idi Amin regimes of Nigeria, Zaire and Uganda respectively, to know so.

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