American Media Coverage of North Korea: a look at the New York Times, Washington Post and Newsweek
By Robin Ewing
On January 29, 2002, in his State of the Union address, President George W. Bush announced North Korea as a threat to United States security. As part of the infamous “axis of evil,” North Korea was linked to Iran and Iraq as the newest addition to the United States’ most immediate and urgent threats since the downfall of the Taliban. Though North Korea has been a sore spot for previous American presidents, this speech marked the beginning of an era of increased public attention from the Bush administration and the American media.
North Korea slips in and out of the U.S. media spotlight. A country racked with problems, it receives international news coverage in times of crises –North Korea often the proponent as well as the victim of these crises. For example, major stories involving North Korea that were covered by the American media in the past few years include a massive train wreck in North Korea, the “nuclear crisis” and the ensuing multi-lateral talks held between six countries over the denuclearization of North Korea.
As both the U.S. and the North Korean governments push North Korea into the realm of American media, reporters are faced with the challenge of gathering the facts. For example, when a train exploded in North Korea in April of 2004, the North Korean government cut international phone lines to stop details from leaking to the press. Satellite photos of the explosion and statements from the South Korean and Chinese governments were the only available sources .
Media coverage of North Korea is problematic for many reasons. First, it is difficult to get information on this pariah country as borders are tightly guarded and the government controls all outside communication including the media. Secondly, coverage is difficult because of the human experience. It is challenging for a reporter with an internal sense of social justice to provide objective coverage of a country with a human rights track record as bad as North Korea’s. There is evidence of widespread human rights violations, including human experiments in prison camps and arbitrary imprisonment and execution. The government funnels food aid during times of famine to its oversized military while thousands (sometimes estimated in the millions) of citizens die of starvation. Elderly and handicapped people are banished from North Korea’s capitol city Pyongyang because they don’t fit the appropriate communist utopian picture.
Considering that our only source of cultural and political discourse about North Korea comes from government statements and reports from the media, the question arises how do they interrelate?
In order to analyze how the mainstream American press covers North Korea, I examined articles from the New York Times, the Washington Post and Newsweek. I chose two specific time periods – North Korea’s 2003 withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation treaty and North Korea’s 2002 admittance to a nuclear weapons program. Both of these events received widespread coverage in the American press and will provide a framework for analysis which will shed light on the underlying complexity of the historical events themselves as well as the media’s representation of political realities. I examined only non-editorial articles published during and immediately after these events. I used the communication theories of fragmentation and authority-bias disorder as a structure with which to analyze the articles. I also closely examined the use of sources using Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky’s “sourcing filter” as well as drawing historical parallels as part of the analytical framework.
Failure to Draw Historical Parallels or Link Events: Fragmentation and Authority-Disorder Bias
It is widely accepted in our society that journalism is the foundation of democracy – a profession in which the practitioners’ job is to provide citizens with the information they need to be self-governing. One of Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel’s main principles of journalism is to keep the news in proportion and make it comprehensive. They compare writing a news story with making a map and “a journalism that leaves out so much of the other news in the process is like the map that fails to tell the traveler of all the other roads along the way.” The leaving out of information, or the failure to provide a larger context for a story, is defined as fragmentation, a news-reporting characteristic and information bias that isolates stories from each other and turns events into self-contained “capsules”. The failure of journalists to find and report historical parallels or connections across issues makes it impossible for readers to understand root causes by obscuring the big picture.
W. Lance Bennett attributes a number of journalistic practices that contribute to the problems of fragmentation: the use of objectivity to justify lack of insightful or meaningful interpretation; press releases, relied on by journalists to provide news stories, fail to point out larger contexts; dramatic capsules have more impact; linking stories together portrays the world as too complicated of a place.
Fragmentation of news is also linked to another information bias described by Bennett – the authority-disorder bias. This bias is the tendency for journalists to interpret events in how they affect social order and what authorities are doing to restore any disruption in order. “Authority plots and order-disorder images provide easy material when larger contexts surrounding events are cut off.” Thus the trend to fragment news results in authority-centered coverage that frames events in strategic evaluations of trends toward or against social order.
The journalistic practice of relying on government for stories and sourcing especially when not supplemented with alternative viewpoints creates a sourcing filter, as described by Herman and Chomsky in their book “Manufacturing Consent.” The relationship between the media and the government becomes “symbiotic.” The media needs a constant source of easy access news considered credible by the public to provide an image of objectivity,  and the government needs a forum to press its agenda. In this relationship, the government creates a privileged information loop that forces reporters to comply with government restraints in order to access the much-needed “news.” Dissent causes expulsion from the privileged loop of information.
The government’s use of mainstream media outlets to further its agenda turns the media into a disseminator of propaganda. Harold D. Lasswell’s theories on propaganda technique present the media “as a set of all-powerful tools for ‘circulating effective symbols’,” calling the media a “hypodermic needle” to generate support of the masses. The Committee on Public Information, created by President Wilson to promote U.S. involvement in World War II, is an example of government use of media to disseminate propaganda. The CPI’s Division of News distributed more than 6,000 press releases, inundating the press with pro-war material. George Creel, leader of the CPI, estimates that CPI material reached 12 million people every month through newspapers.
This pattern of government manipulation of media, despite reluctance to see it as such, can be seen repeatedly in our history. The Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918 are two early examples of media compliance with censorship. Non-compliance resulted in prosecution, such as the case with the socialist journal The Masses, which was shut down for violating the Espionage Act with anti-war material. During the first Gulf War, this pattern was repeated with the Pentagon’s use of press pools. American journalists were only allowed to cover the war if they traveled in “pools” accompanied by government escorts. Breaking the rules meant losing access, so journalists complied out of professional pressure. Malcolm W. Browne, a New York Times reporter said the pool system turned reporters into “essentially unpaid employees of the Department of Defense.”
A way to avoid the government sourcing trap in closed countries, such as Iraq during the Gulf War and North Korea, by interviewing defectors. Defectors can provide a human element to stories and have detailed knowledge about actual living conditions inaccessible to American journalists; but even these non-government sources can be seriously problematic.
The problem with relying on information from defectors is that it is often unverifiable. The line between truth and exaggeration is difficult to demarcate, especially in pariah country where extreme events are almost expected. Defectors represent only a small portion of the population and are desperate for asylum. If asylum is not granted, defectors are returned to their home country where they are treated as traitors. This could lead to a motivation to tell a story compelling enough to receive media attention. This is of course not to downplay the validity of many defectors’ life stories full of tragedy and persecution, just to point out the difficulty of verifying defector information.
One example of a potential problem encountered by relying on defectors can be seen in the use of defector sources leading up the Iraq war. In an article in the Colombia Journalism Review, Douglas McCollam discusses the use of defectors by the Iraqi National Congress’s Information Collection Program to sell “product” in order to push the United States into a war with Iraq:
The Information Collection Program succeeded in heavily influencing coverage in the Western press in the run-up to the war. A report issued by the Defense Intelligence Agency last fall concluded that almost all the information given to the government through the ICP and its roster of defectors before the war was useless — but nonetheless the information received prominent play in our leading newspapers, magazines, and television newscasts
In this case, defectors provided a human element in contrast to the “evil” of Saddam lending foreign policy an aura of legitimacy implied from the defectors’ refugee-like status.
Another way to avoid the government sourcing trap is to interview academic experts and track two diplomacy think-tank members, quoted as “experts.” Herman and Chomsky also warn of the creation of “experts” by government to skew dissent in the desired direction. This is achieved by funding the chosen experts’ research and organizing think-tanks to “think” in the appropriate direction. 
In order to quantify the variety of sources used by journalist reporting on North Korea and compare them to the sourcing filters outlined above, I first researched the availability of sources.
Sources for Reporting on North Korea
The most accessible source of information for journalists reporting on North Korea is North Korean news, the Korean Central News Agency, which is manipulated by the state’s dictator, Kim Jong Il. It is translated to English and published on-line daily. Often the news drops all pretense of objective reporting and speaks directly to the American and South Korean governments with statements such as “the U.S. had better bear this in mind and stop wasting time,” and “the people from all walks of life in south Korea should foil the criminal attempt of the U.S. to take away their dear sons and daughters as bullet-shields and thus decisively stand up against its insolent and vicious moves and clearly show that they are no longer what they used to be in the past when they unconditionally obeyed the U.S.”
The U.S. and South Korean governments are another readily available source of information. Both governments routinely discuss North Korea in public speeches and press conferences. These are readily available to the media and provide a constant source of “news” for reporters without access to sources.
Other available sources for journalists covering North Korea are North Korean defectors – usually living in South Korea.. High-level officials – such as Kwon Hyok, a former North Korean intelligence agent and head of security at a prison – tell stories about torture, starvation, cannibalism, human experiments, government gluttony and child labor.
Occasionally a journalist is able to make contact with a North Korean. Since foreigners allowed to enter North Korea are kept under the strict supervision and tourist schedule controlled by North Korean “minders” at all times, it is very rare that a journalist is able to talk to a North Korean about anything other than the pre-approved party line. Other journalists have been able to travel to the Chinese-North Korean border and shout at North Korea guards from a fairly close distance. These sources are rare and conversations are minimal.
International aid workers allowed to live in Pyongyang are also a source of information. After the April 2004 train accident, Red Cross officials were quoted as well as U.N. and other international aid workers on the conditions of the survivors.
Test Case 1: Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and Patterns of Brinkmanship
The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) was signed by 187 parties and went into effect in 1970. The treaty bans non-nuclear member countries from acquiring nuclear weapons and prohibits the five nuclear member states from transferring nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons technology.
North Korea joined the NPT as a non-nuclear state in 1985. North Korea pulled out from the NPT on March 12, 1993, becoming the first country to ever withdraw from the treaty. The treaty requires that any country wishing to withdraw must provide three months notice before withdrawal becomes binding. North Korea re-joined one day before the end of the three month period. Under the 94 Agreed Framework negotiated under the Clinton administration during the first “nuclear crisis”, North Korea agreed to stay a member of the treaty. On January 10, 2003, North Korea once again withdrew from the NPT.
Brinkmanship is a common pattern of North Korean behavior and the NPT is one of the only channels available to North Korea to make an international statement that will receive attention. The first withdrawal from the treaty occurred as a direct result of a joint U.S. – Republic of South Korea military exercise called Team Spirit. This annual military exercise was cancelled in 1992 as a tangible show of improved relations with the United States as North Korea strongly objects to this show of military power on a regular basis. To resume the annual exercises in 1993 was an overly aggressive sign to North Korea as large numbers of additional American troops are sent to Korea by sea and air, often in airplanes capable of carrying nuclear weapons, and there is large-scale movement of powerful numbers of troops by both South Korea and the United States. Withdrawing from the NPT was one of the only available ways North Korea was able to make a strong objection to what it perceived as a hostile act by the United States.
The same pattern of using the NPT to make an international statement in response to perceived threats could be surmised by the 2003 withdrawal from the NPT. President George W. Bush has used publicly aggressive language towards North Korea on more than one occasion, including the “axis of evil” State of the Union address in 2002 as well as a summer 2002 speech at West Point in which Bush told Americans “to be ready for preemptive action,” a comment which greatly alarmed the North Korean government. In a Pentagon report leaked in March of 2002, the Bush Administration ordered the Pentagon to prepare nuclear attack plans against nine countries, including North Korea. In October of 2002, the North Korean government accused Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly of using overly aggressive language during his visit to North Korea in which Kelly said that North Korea admitted to a nuclear weapons program but which North Korea denies. That same month Congress agreed to the use of force against Iraq on the basis that it posses weapons of mass destruction, thus raising the question of war with North Korea as it fulfils the same prerequisite.
North Korea says it withdrew from the NPT as a direct result of these perceived aggressions under Article X of the NPT which states “each party shall in exercising its national sovereignty have the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country.” North Korea’s ambassador to Russia, Pak Ui Chun, said, “North Korea is not currently able to meet its commitments under the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons…This is the fault of the United States.”
One motive for withdrawing from the NPT, if compared on a historical level with its previous withdrawal, could be North Korea’s desire to make a strong international statement regarding its perception of threat from the United States. Another is that under the 1994 Agreed Framework, which the United States accuses North Korea of breaking first, the international community agreed to build two light-water nuclear reactors for energy by 2003. North Korea asserts that since this did not occur (the building schedule was years behind in 2003) the Untied States broke the AF first. North Korea also asserts that the United States failed to live up to the other parts of the agreements, including failure to move towards normalization of relationship by the United States’ refusal to lift sanctions and calling North Korea a “terrorist state” as well as planning potential attacks on North Korea. Withdrawing from the NPT can also be interpreted as a sign of desperation on North Korea’s part with North Korea playing the nuclear card as its only form of defense to a U.S. invasion and to gain international help for its failing economy.
This pattern of brinkmanship either as a response to U.S. aggression or from desperation is debatable and is only one of many possible motives behind North Korea’s withdrawal from the NPT; but there is historical evidence that supports the claim. To determine if American media were using the 1993 withdrawal from the NPT to create historical context together with other linked events, such as the 2002 State of the Union address, to provide meaning and motive for North Korea’s withdrawal from the NPT, I looked at the New York Times and Washington Post newspaper articles for a two day period at the time of withdrawal and Newsweek articles on North Korea the week of the withdrawal.
In a full-text search for “North Korea” in the New York Times in the Lexis-Nexis database for January 10 and 11, 2003, there were nine non-editorial articles focusing only on North Korea (as opposed to the brief mention of North Korea in connection with another issue), all with an aspect of the withdrawal from the NPT.
The New York Times printed two articles on the first day of the news that North Korea had withdrawn from the NPT. One article focused only on diplomatic talks in New Mexico and the other reported on the actual withdrawal. Between these two articles, almost no context was provided. Possible motives for the withdrawal were presented as a debate in the administration and the first withdrawal was specifically mentioned in only one article – the other article mentions the 1993 events as a “crisis over some of the same facilities.” Both articles say North Korea broke the AF but do not discuss the U.S failure to build water reactors. Both articles exhibit the authority disorder bias through the discussion of how South Korea wanted to repair ties with the United States to “calm excessive worries of the international community about the anti-U.S. atmosphere,” and how the Bush administration is dealing with North Korea’s “nuclear confrontation with the United States.”
The next day the New York Times printed seven articles about North Korea. One simply lists quotes from the North Korean news agency and one is a feature about New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson giving the North Korean diplomats green chili over nuclear talks. One article lists the facts of the 1993 withdrawal in 227 words with no analysis or motivation given. This article also lists North Korea as breaking the AF.
Three of the remaining four articles exhibit the authority-disorder bias. They all present the event as a disruption in social order and how the world governments are working to fix the disruption. The 1993 withdrawal is called a “similar crisis” and no motivation is given. The last article is the only one to present North Korea’s actions in context with U.S. aggression such as the “axis of evil” speech and the war in Iraq. However, the article calls it an “abrupt decision” and that this is the “first time a nation has pulled out of the agreement.”
The information in the articles is fragmented and a reader would need to piece together paragraphs from each one to gain a clear picture; however, not one article adequately addresses North Korea’s motivations, draws on historical parallels or provides analysis that goes beyond unnamed official quotes. There was a lack of in-depth coverage concerning historical patterns and no substantive links are formed across events. The AF is presented in the context of criticism of the Clinton administration and is used as an example of the allegedly futility of negotiating with North Korea. Not a single article specifically mentions the first withdrawal as a reaction to the Team Spirit military exercise, the Pentagon report authorizing plans for nuclear attack on North Korea or Bush’s West Point speech. In addition, though some of the articles mention that North Korea might be pushing for aid, not one refers to the massive famines, lack of electricity or effects of U.S. sanctions on the impoverished population.
This focus on action-reaction reveals the authority-disorder bias. Most of the articles were structured around government responses to the withdrawal and how they were going to deal with the crisis replacing root-cause analysis with official quotes on how to repair the social disorder. Most articles focus on the immediate reactions by world governments, the Bush administration and possible plans of action. The fragmenting of the stories makes it easier for the articles to discuss how the Bush administration and the U.S. government will handle this new crisis. This matches the authority-disorder bias by relying on a strategic framework for presenting North Korea’s withdrawal from the NPT.
In a full-text search for “North Korea” in the Washington Post in the Lexis-Nexis database for January 10 and 11, 2003, there were six non-editorial articles focusing on North Korea, all with an aspect of the withdrawal from the NPT.
On January 10, the first day that the news of the NPT withdrawal went public, the Washington Post printed three articles on North Korea. One focused on the withdrawal from the NPT, one on the withdrawal from the Chinese government’s perspective and one on the diplomatic talks in New Mexico. The articles mention all of the possible motives discussed in the New York Times – security and aid – as well as a slap across the face to the South Korean government. It also mentions the reviving of the nuclear reactors the month before, providing some context in opposition to the New York Times “abrupt decision.” The article on the relationship between China and North Korea provides historical context from the Korean War, the “similar crisis in 1994” and the collapse of the Soviet Union to describe the current state of affairs between the two countries. The third article is very similar to the New York Times in describing the talks in New Mexico.
The next day, the Washington Post published three more articles on North Korea. One was about the North Koreans eating green chili in New Mexico, but the other two focused on the Bush administrations reaction to the withdrawal and the other on possible motivations. The first falls into the authority-disorder bias by discussing how the government is going to deal with the crisis and does not provide and historical context.
Though the articles provide analysis of motivation, not a single article specifically mentions the first withdrawal as a reaction to the Team Spirit military exercise, the Pentagon report authorizing plans for nuclear attack on North Korea or Bush’s West Point speech. However, one article does present Bush’s “axis of evil” speech and history of pre-emptive attacks as aggression motivating North Korea to self-defense. The 93 withdrawal is mentioned in two articles, the 94 Agreed Framework in three articles and patterns of brinkman ship are referred to in comments such as “usual cycle” and “similar crisis.” The articles provided more details and had more diversity than the New York.
Though many of the articles touched on government response, only two of the articles fall strongly into the authority-bias disorder category. The two articles were written on a strategic framework analyzing possible plans of action by Bush and the Chinese government.
Fragmentation occurs in the articles but there is more historical context, including the Korean War and the fall of the Soviet Union, to provide context for current relations. The article also include more analysis and tend to lean less on press releases than the New York Times even though they both had correspondent with datelines in Seoul.
In a full-text search for “North Korea” in Newsweek in Lexis-Nexis for January 13, 2003, there were four articles focusing on North Korea. Two of the articles fall heavily into the authority-disorder bias by focusing solely on Bush’s strategy for dealing with North Korea; one compares Kim Jong Il with Saddam with the conclusion that Kim is the bigger threat; and one is a profile of Kim Jong Il.
The profile of Kim Jong Il refers to him as “the Great Leader” – a mistake, his father was the “Great Leader”; he is the “Dear Leader” – and uses the words “oddball”, “grotesque” and “ridiculous” to characterize him and link him with terrorists. The article draws on Kim’s strange behavior in an attempt to explain his style of government. The third article compares Kim with Saddam and comes to the conclusion that Kim is the greater threat providing no historical or background information for analysis. The fourth article returns to the strategic framework and compares Bush’s actions with Clinton’s. Not a single article specifically mentions the first withdrawal as a reaction to the Team Spirit military exercise, the Pentagon report authorizing plans for nuclear attack on North Korea or Bush’s West Point speech.
The Newsweek articles varied greatly. Though two of the articles are fragmented with no historical context and fall into the authority-disorder biases (one starts “at the beginning” with George Bush), the other two are a break from the strategic framework seen in the newspaper articles. The profile of Kim Jong Il, though not necessarily flattering, provides a full background biography and links his upbringing to his governing of North Korea. The 1993 withdrawal, as well as any other historical link, is not mentioned except to tell of the horrible things Kim Jong Il has done, not including past nuclear crises.
The Newsweek articles break away from objective, quote based style of the newspapers and give news more like editorials with sentences such as “North Korea’s Kim Jong Il is an evil man who runs one of the most barbaric regimes in the world.” Though the articles have stronger moral biases with authority-disorder bias and fragmentation, they also provide more current information about North Korea as a country.
In examining sources from the articles, I found the following:
Sources from Test Case 1
|NY Times||Wash. Post||Newsweek||Total|
|U.S gov. (and former officials)||13||8||5||26|
|Unnamed US gov.||10||7||8||25|
|Unnamed gov – other||1||1|
|South Korean gov.||4||2||6|
|North Korean gov.||5||4||2||11|
|Other gov. (including U.N)||5||2||2||6|
|North Korean media||1||1||2|
|South Korean media||1||1||2|
Eighty-two percent of the New York Times sources were government sources. This is the highest of the three with Newsweek at 80 percent and the Washington Post at 60 percent. Both the New York Times and Newsweek relied on the U.S. government as a source over half the time while the Washington Post had the highest percentage of “experts”, 20 percent, as sources. Newsweek had the highest rate of unnamed sources, 38 percent, with the Washington Post next at 32 percent and the New York Times at 22 percent.
In conclusion, the New York Times exhibited the strongest degree of authority-disorder bias, fragmentation and sourcing filters with nearly all of the articles presenting the withdrawal from the NPT as a disruption in the United States’ social order and the measures the Bush administration and other countries must employ to fix the problem. Nearly all of the articles’ sources were from government. Events were presented without context and nearly no historical parallels were used to link events. The Washington Post exhibited less fragmentation by including multiple root-cause motivations together but analyses were shallow and centered on government action-reaction. Over half of the sources were government. Newsweek incorporated the most analysis and background context into its articles but also exhibited strong authority-disorder bias. Though most the articles’ sources were government, with the most unnamed sources, Newsweek did include defectors and aid workers as sources – the other papers did not.
Test Case 2: Fragmentation and the 12-Day Gap
On October 4, 2002, Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly told President Bush that the North Korean government admitted to having a nuclear weapons program in violation of the 94 Agreed Framework. This information was not made public by the U.S. government until the night of October 16, 2002. On October 11, 2002, during the 12-day gap between Kelly’s reported North Korean admission and the United States’ public disclosure, Congress authorized Bush to attack Iraq if Saddam refused to give up weapons of mass destruction.
One possible reason that Bush did not disclose the information to Congress is that he was trying to mobilize congressional support for the invasion of Iraq based on the same charge – possession of WMD – with a lot less evidence. In a military comparison of Iraq and North Korea in October of 2002, North Korea posed the bigger threat in terms of weapons of mass destruction and based on Bush’s foreign policy towards “rogue nations” should have taken precedence over Iraq in terms of security threat and the use of pre-emptive force. Another minor possibility that Bush withheld the information is that the 2002 Asian Games, in which North Korea was participating for the first time, were continuing in Seoul until October 15.
That Bush would withhold information from Congress in order not to undermine support for war on Iraq, or for other reason, creates a bigger picture with which to evaluate the possibility of a nuclear North Korea. It also provides insight into Bush’s foreign policy and the strength of his determination to invade Iraq by providing for a comparison of his attitudes toward the two countries.
To see if journalists were creating context for the report of the North Korean admission of a nuclear weapons program by addressing the withholding of evidence from Congress until the resolution of force against Iraq was approved, I looked at New York Times, Washington Post and Newsweek articles on October 17 and 18, 2002 to determine if the linking of these events was reported. I looked at each article for 1) mention of Iraq 2) mention of 12 day gap in disclosure of news 3) linking of 12-day gap with authorization of war against Iraq for the same reason 4) any possible motivation for withholding the information 5) questioning of President Bush’s differing attitudes toward the two countries.
In a full-text search of “North Korea” in the New York Times on Lexis-Nexis for October 17 and 18, 2002, there were a total of five non-editorial articles focusing on North Korea’s nuclear situation. I did not look at any articles that did not address the nuclear issue.
Three of the articles compare Iraq with North Korea but only two of these mentions the 12-day gap. These two articles provide possible reasons for withholding the information: Bush didn’t want to describe the situation as a crisis that needed military action when “Iraq is the No. 1 priority” and that he needed time to consult. A third article on South Korean reactions to the news provides an alternative motivation that Washington was waiting for the Asian Games in South Korea to finish. Three of the articles compare Bush’s strategies towards North Korea and Iraq with one article actually focusing on this topic calling them “two separate and in some respects contradictory strategies.”
Between the five articles, the New York Times provides a variety of topics including South Korean reaction, allegations that Pakistan provided North Korea with nuclear technology, the history of the 94 Agreed Framework and an analysis of the difference between foreign policy towards North Korea and Iraq. Though not one article focused on the withholding of information, three mentioned it in the gut paragraphs.
In a full-text search of “North Korea” in the Washington Post on Lexis-Nexis for October 17 and 18, 2002, there were a total of four non-editorial articles focusing on North Korea’s nuclear situation.
Three of the articles mention Iraq: one article has one sentence to provide context for global situation, one article mentions Iraq in the last paragraph about acquiring aluminum tubes with no connection to North Korea. The third article to mention Iraq is the only article to provide a motivation for withholding the news and it cites Bush not wanting to disrupt China and North Korea’s relationship and not wanting to upset the debate over Iraq in Congress. Not one article compares Bush’s strategy towards North Korea and Iraq and not one article questions the contradictory policies.
In a full-text search of “North Korea” in Newsweek on Lexis-Nexis for October 17 to 22, 2002, there was one article focusing on North Korea’s nuclear situation.
The first article compares Iraq and North Korea and focuses on the different approaches of the Bush administration. It uses North Korea to ask the question, “What does this tell us about the president’s policy toward Iraq?” and it also questions the Bush administration’s claim that Iraq is different because Saddam commits human rights violations against its own people with the fact that North Korea starves its own people. It also discusses the withholding of information in connection with Congress vote to approve military action against Iraq.
In examining sources from the articles, I found the following:
Sources from Test Case 2
|NY Times||Wash. Post||Newsweek||Total|
|U.S gov. (and former officials)||11||8||1||20|
|Unnamed US gov.||20||14||2||36|
|Unnamed gov – other||1||1||2|
|South Korean gov.||1||1||2|
|North Korean gov.||3||2||5|
|Other gov. (including U.N)||1||8||9|
|North Korean media|
|South Korean media||3||3|
All of Newsweek’s sources were government sources with the New York Times and Washington Post at 76 percent. The New York Times had over half of the sources as unnamed and the Washington Post used 36 percent of unnamed sources. Newsweek sourced “some members of the Bush administration” twice.
The Washington Post exhibited the strongest amount of fragmentation with strong government sourcing filters. No analysis was provided and no linking of events occurred. The New York Times provide better variety of information and, similar to test case 1, a reader would be able to gain a clear picture by piecing paragraphs from each article together. Three of the article addressed the withholding of information but none gave more than a few sentences to it. The articles also relied on unnamed government sources for over half of total sources. Newsweek raised the question of the contradiction in strategy toward North Korea and Iraq and provided context and linkage across events but even though it was critical of the Bush administration it still fell into the sourcing filter with 100 percent government sources.
All of the American media sources examined, the New York Times, the Washington Post and Newsweek, exhibited authority-disorder bias, fragmentation and sourcing filters to varying extents when covering North Korea. These journalistic tendencies are dangerous in that they distort reality and shape a new political and societal media arena that causes people to think they understand the bigger picture when they are not. Bennett discusses the “political costs” of fragmentation and authority-disorder bias as those that cause a society to focus on whether or not the social disorder and that is “likely to put the focus on pseudo issues rather than on the underlying politics of the situation.”  He also says that these journalistic tendencies foster an inability to think in “abstract, logically integrated ways about political issues.”
How does a reporter fight these biases and write comprehensive articles that promote analytical and logical analysis and provide multiple viewpoints with context and historical comparison – especially with a remote and insular country like North Korea? Bennett argues that our entire perception of news models should be restructured. If journalists were to introduce independent analysis into news articles, it might help readers frame issues more clearly as Bennett states there is no evidence to back up the theory that objectivity lessens confusion in politics. In the case of North Korea, providing a comprehensive historical background would help readers to interpret root-causes and journalists to understand the issues they are covering. A diverse range of viewpoints and sources, especially non-governmental sources, would add to better understanding of complex issue and provide stepping stones for readers to form their own analysis.
The current North Korean situation has the distinct possibility to progress to a catastrophic war involving the United States, South Korea, North Korea and perhaps Japan, China or Russia. Hypothetical war scenarios are as abundant as institutes for research of Korea relations and nuclear weapons. The Bush administration has already carried out pre-emptive strikes on two separate countries in the name of the war on terror and it is imperative that the U.S. government continue to garner public support for these wars. In his 2002 West Point graduation speech, President Bush said “our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives.” It is a priority on the government agenda to create fear of North Korea and it turn build support for its foreign policy decisions. This makes it even more imperative that the media present comprehensive coverage of North Korea independent of press releases. The American media must fight the government and news editors who want a public that is ‘informed, not educated” with forward-thinking, interpretative media coverage that will provide our society with the tools we need to form political opinions.
Test Case 1 – Sources:
Hirsh, Michael with Melinda Liu, George Wehrfritz, Tamara Lipper and John Barry. “Kim is the Key Danger.” Newsweek U.S. Edition, 13 January 2003, 30, Lexis-Nexis (10 May 2004).
Thomas, Evan with Melinda Liu, B.J. Lee, George Wehrfritz, Hideko Takayama, Eve Conant and Michael Hirsh. “Women, Wine and Weapons.” Newsweek U.S. Edition, 13 January 2003, 24, Lexis-Nexis (10 May 2004).
Zakaria, Fareed. “Morality is Not a Strategy.” Newsweek U.S. Edition, 13 January 2003, 32, Lexis-Nexis (10 May 2004).
New York Times:
Gordon, Michael R. “White House Adds a Crisis.” New York Times, 11 January 2003, sec. A, Lexis-Nexis,( 10 May 2004).
Janofsky, Michael. “Unexpected Appointment in Gov. Richardson’s Datebook.” New York Times, 11 January 2003, sec. A, Lexis-Nexis,( 10 May 2004).
Janofsky, Michael with David E. Sanger. “North Korea Opens Unofficial Channel for U.S. Talks.” New York Times, 10 January 2003, sec. A, Lexis-Nexis,( 10 May 2004).
“Korea Crisis: Same Song, Second Verse.” New York Times, 11 January 2003, sec. A, Lexis-Nexis,( 10 May 2004).
Mydans, Seth. “North Korea is Target of Protests From World.” New York Times, 11 January 2003, sec. A, Lexis-Nexis,( 10 May 2004).
Mydans, Seth. “North Korea Says its Withdrawing From Arms Treaty.” New York Times, 10 January 2003, sec. A, Lexis-Nexis,( 10 May 2004).
“North Korea: Statement on Pullout.” New York Times, 11 January 2003, sec. A, Lexis-Nexis,( 10 May 2004).
Sanger, David E. with Julia Preston. “U.S. Assails Move by North Koreans to Reject Treaty.” New York Times, 10 January 2003, sec. A, Lexis-Nexis,( 10 May 2004).
Weisman, Steven R. “Washington’s Disunity Complicates Dialogue.” New York Times, 11 January 2003, sec. A, Lexis-Nexis,( 10 May 2004).
Goodman, Peter S. “North Korea Quits Nuclear Arms Treaty.” Washington Post, 10 January 2003, sec. A, Lexis-Nexis (10 May 2004).
Goodman, Peter S. “Treaty Pullout May Signal Desire for Arms – or a Deal.” Washington Post, 11 January 2003, sec. A, Lexis-Nexis (10 May 2004).
Kesseler, Glenn. “N. Koreans Meet with Richardson.” Washington Post, 10 January 2003, sec. A, Lexis-Nexis (10 May 2004).
Kesseler, Glenn. “U.S. Plays Down North Korean Move.” Washington Post, 11 January 2003, sec. A, Lexis-Nexis (10 May 2004).
Pan, Philip P. “China treads Carefully Around North Korea.” Washington Post, 10 January 2003, sec. A, Lexis-Nexis (10 May 2004).
Reid, T.R. “On the Menu, Local Fare and International Intrigue.” Washington Post, 11 January 2003, sec. A, Lexis-Nexis (10 May 2004).
Test Case 2 – Sources:
Korb, Lawrence J. “North Korea’s Nukes.” Newsweek Web Exclusive, 18 Oct. 2002, Lexis-Nexis, (25 March 2004).
New York Times
Dao, James. “The Pact that the Koreans Flouted.” New York Times, 17 October 2002, sec A, Lexis-Nexis (10 May 2004).
Kirk, Don. “Revelation Elicits Ire and Disdain in Seoul.” York Times, 18 October 2002, sec A, Lexis-Nexis (10 May 2004).
Sanger, David E. “North Korea Says it Has a Program on Nuclear Arms.” New York Times, 17 October 2002, sec A, Lexis-Nexis (10 May 2004).
Sanger, David E. and James Dao. “U.S. Says Pakistan Gave Technology to North Korea.” New York Times, 18 October 2002, sec A, Lexis-Nexis (10 May 2004).
Weisman, Steven R. “Weighing ‘Deterrence’ vs. ‘Aggression’.” York Times, 18 October 2002, sec A, Lexis-Nexis (10 May 2004).
Goodman, Peter S. and John Pomfret. “2 U.S. Allies Urge Engagement.” Washington Post, 18 October 2002, sec. A, Lexis-Nexis (10 May 2004).
Slevin, Peter and Glen Kessler. “Bush Plans Diplomacy on N. Korea’s Arms Effort.” Washington Post, 18 October 2002, sec. A, Lexis-Nexis (10 May 2004).
Slevin, Peter and Karen DeYoung. “N. Korea Admits Having Secret Nuclear Arms.” Washington Post, 17 October 2002, sec. A, Lexis-Nexis (10 May 2004).
Warrick, Joby. “U.S. Followed the Aluminum.” Washington Post, 18 October 2002, sec. A, Lexis-Nexis (10 May 2004).
Bennett, W. Lance. News the Politics of Illusion. New York: Longman, 2001.
Berke, Richard L. “Pentagon Defends Coverage Rules While Admitting to Some Delays.” New York Times 21 Feb 1991, Lexis-Nexis, (25 March 2004).
Brooke, James. “3,000 Causalities Reported in North Korean Rail Blast.” New York Times, 23 April 2004, Lexis-Nexis, (2 October 2004).
Dougherty, Jill. “N. Korea Official: U.S. threatens Nuclear Strike.,” CNN.com. 31 December 2002, < http://archives.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/asiapcf/east/12/31/nkorea.russia/>, (23 November 2004).
Herman, Edward S. and Noam Chomsky. Manufacturing Consent, New York, Pantheon Books, 1998, 2002.
Korean Central News Agency. “U.S. Urged to Take Trustworthy Practical Action”, 10 May 2004,http://www.kcna.co.jp/index-e.htm> (10 May 2004).
Korean Central News Agency. “Powel’s Remarks on Dispatch of S. Korean Troops to Iraq under Fire.” 29 April, 2004 < http://www.kcna.co.jp/index-e.htm> (10 May 2004).
Kovach, Bill and Tom Rosenstiel. The Elements of Journalism. New York: Random House, 2001.
Mattelart, Armand and Michele Mattelart. Theories of Communication.
McCollam, Douglas. “The List: How Chalabi Played the Press.” Colombia Journalism Review 43, no. 2 (July-August 2004): 31-37.
Pak, Moon J. “The Nuclear Security Crisis in the Korean Peninsula – Revisit the 1994 Agreed Framework.” 28 December 2002, < http://www.vuw.ac.nz/~caplabtb/dprk/Pak_nuclear_crisis.doc > (27 November 2004).
“President Bush Delivers Graduation Speech at West Point,” The White House, 1 June 2002, <http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/06/20020601-3.html> (3 April 2004).
Shin, Paul H.B. “N. Korea Silent in Train Horror.” Daily News (New York), 23 April 2004, Lexis-Nexis (2 October 2004).
“Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” 1968, Arms Control Association, 27 Feb. 1991, <http://www.armscontrol.org/documents/npt.asp> (1 May 2004).
 James Brooke, “3,000 Causalities Reported in North Korean Rail Blast,” New York Times, 23 April 2004, Lexis-Nexis (2 October 2004).
 Paul H.B. Shin, “N. Korea Silent in Train Horror,” Daily News (New York), 23 April 2004, Lexis-Nexis (2 October 2004).
 Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, The Elements of Journalism, (New York: Random House, 2001).
 Kovach and Rosenstiel, 164.
 W. Lance Bennett, News the Politics of Illusion (New York: Longman, 2001), Chapter 2.
 Bennett, 61.
 Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998, 2002), 18.
 Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998, 2002), 18-19.
 Armand Mattelart and Michele Mattelart. Theories of Communication (Paris: 1995).
 Berke, Richard L. “Pentagon Defends Coverage Rules While Admitting to Some Delays.” New York Times 21 Feb 1991
 Douglas McCollam, “The List: How Chalabi Played the Press,” Colombia Journalism Review 43, no. 2 (July-August 2004): 31-37.
 Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998, 2002), 23.
 Korean Central News Agency, “U.S. Urged to Take Trustworthy Practical Action”, 10 May 2004, http://www.kcna.co.jp/index-e.htm> (10 May 2004).
 Korean Central News Agency, “Powel’s Remarks on Dispatch of S. Korean Troops to Iraq under Fire,”29 April, 2004 http://www.kcna.co.jp/index-e.htm> (10 May 2004).
 Don Oberdorfer, The Two Koreas (U.S.: Basic Books, 1997), 273.
 “President Bush Delivers Graduation Speech at West Point,” The White House, 1 June 2002, <http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/06/20020601-3.html > (3 April 2004).
 Arms Control Association, Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, 1968 http://www.armscontrol.org/documents/npt.asp.
 Jill Dougherty, “N. Korea Official: U.S. threatens Nuclear Strike,” CNN.com, 31 December 2002, < http://archives.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/asiapcf/east/12/31/nkorea.russia/>, (23 November 2004).
 Moon J Pak, “The Nuclear Security Crisis in the Korean Peninsula – Revisit the 1994 Agreed Framework,” 28 December 2002, < http://www.vuw.ac.nz/~caplabtb/dprk/Pak_nuclear_crisis.doc > (27 November 2004).
 Bennett, 63.
 Bennett, 60.
 Bennett, 65
 The White House. http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/06/20020601-3.html
 W. Lance Bennett. News: The Politics of Illusion. (New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc., 2001) 17.