Category Archives: journalism

Ling and Lee are free: All it took was a former president

If you were wondering where Al Gore has been in the  diplomatic effort to free his two employees jailed in North Korea, Bill Clinton provided you the answer.

Gore wasn’t big enough.

It takes a former president with with enormous global charisma to do what was needed to produced  Laura Ling and Euna Lee. the two journalists with Gore’s Current TV found guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time in North Korea.

Jimmy Carter wasn’t big enough. Bush I and II? Are you kidding?

The North Koreans wanted Bill Clinton over for dinner.  And they got him.

Once I heard Clinton was heading to see Kim Jong Il, I knew it would be just a matter of days that the pawns in question  would be produced, safely in all  his high drama.

Now the question is what does the U.S. give up in exchange. Clinton is a start, but it’s just the beginning to a real transition to…..?

It’s unclear. Currently, there are no official diplomatic ties between the U.S. and North Korea. So Clinton going as an unofficial offical keeps the status quo both in check, but potentially in flux.  Obama and Clinton can maintain their hardline. But Kim Jong Il gets to show all his people that he still has standing, with or without nukes. He’s got Bill Clinton over for kimchee  and a photo op.

Americans are supposed to be puzzled as to what’s next.

But if you’re in North or South Korea, you’ve got to be in awe.

If you’re starving in North Korea, you have hope today.  U.S. recognition brings the possibility of change.  If you’re in Seoul, you have to worry.  If you’re in either country and you  doubted the power of his hairness in North Korea, you are simply starstruck. The guy who looks like he’s on his death bed still has some juice. He got Bubba to stop b,  and all the players got a little something.

Clinton got to ride into the sunset the hero. You think Clinton hesitated to be in that role, one-upping both his wife and the current president (both of whom were admittedly hamstrung).  Clinton’s stock rises.

It certainly was worth it to Kim Jong Il.

And Laura Ling and Euna Lee ?

They now come home safely, with the story of their lives.

Here’s the way it is: TV news has never been quite the same after Walter Cronkite

As a former TV news guy, I’m saddened by the news that Walter Cronkite has died at age 92.

Hard to imagine that before anchors in all their high def glory stood up to read the news  all we really needed at night was someone warm, friendly and trustworthy to sit in front of us and tell us how everything was.

Good  or bad, Cronkite told it all straight, in a non-digital world.  He was a “just the facts guy,” who popularized the term “avuncular.”  Avuncu-what? That’s just a guy who is  like an uncle, a man who had your trust from the word go.  What Uncle Sam did for recruiting, Uncle Walter did for the country and for  TV news. He was the industry’s face. And then it all took a turn when TV  glammed up for ratings.

I met Cronkite once after a dinner in Washington. It is one of the few pictures I ever sought out and kept from my time there. I was at NPR at the time, a Filipino American anchoring “All Things Considered,” imagine that.  I’d look at that picture whenever I questioned something I did or an approach on a story.  What would Walter do?  For journalists of my day, Cronkite represented a standard. His picture  remains on  my desk.

I never quite understood why Cronkite had to be forced out of the anchor chair. In my mind, no one has ever quite matched what Uncle Walter brought to the table.

For all the technology and all the hair spray, something has always been missing.  Anderson Cooper has something. But avuncular ain’t it.

So tonight Cronkite makes news as his life fades to black. It’s been years since he’s been on TV. But the image is indelible. Walter Cronkite will always be my anchorman.

And that’s the way it is.

The Media and Michael Jackson: Welcome to the Jackson School of Law, Public Health and Race

I had to stop watching. The orgy over Michael Jackson was deserved to a point, and then with 24-hour cable channels pumping out to a “Thriller” beat, it just got embarrassing with the media practically pandering to the mass audience the story is attracting.

Leave it to the Wall Street Journal to put things in perspective. Wednesday’s front page featured above the fold horizontal photos of Uighurs and Hans!  (The Uighars? Did they sing a cover of “I Want You Back”? )  Where was Jackson in the new hip Journal? MJ was in a small box, a photo of his coffin and a caption  on the left under the masthead.

A triumph of journalistic restraint!

The story now unfolds like any other emotion-filled  mega-story before it , i.e., the O.J. trial. that’s when the news became our de facto public school of law.  O.J  was our criminal law class.   MJ is our our  family law and probate class.

As we learn of the details of Jackson’s life,  you’ll be asking yourself if you have a will or an estate plan. You can count on that. You wouldn’t want to end up in the mess the courts are about to untangle.

So the news will become part law school, part business school case study , and potentially a seminar in the Jackson  school of public health; that is,  if we ever during the course of the next few months discover what killed Jackson, what tormented  him, and what he was running away to or from.

We have lots to look forward to!

Notice I have avoided taking the contrary approach like  one blogger on Alternet which called Jackson an icon of mediocrity who wasn’t a good dancer, singer, musician. Like what’s the fuss?  That’s an elitist approach, to which I’ll confess to using it in the past.  But save that tack for denigrating mass love shown for Donny Osmond. Or at the passing of one of the Monkees.

Jackson was far too complex and gifted.  And troubled.

His most complicated role that’s worth examining may well be the psychological toll race had on his psyche.

Jackson wanted to transcend race as if he were music and the dance, the universal forms that made him the King of Pop.

He couldn’t do that as a person, no matter how he tried. Jackson didn’t survive his fight against race and identity, no matter how he tried to transform himself.

But his music triumphed and that shall live forever.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee, the new face of U.S./North Korean Impasse

Forget about Kim Jong Il’s bad hair days, and images of the dictator as an Asian Dr. Strangelove.

Today, my heart goes out to fellow Asian American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee.

They are now the human face of  the North Korea/U.S. impasse.

The U.S. and North Korea have no diplomatic relations. Apparently, someone in Pyongyang thinks Ling and Lee may help force the issue.

North Korea has sentenced the two women to 12 years of hard labor, according to KCNA, the North’s official news agency.

The two were arrested in March while doing stories for Current TV about North Korean families desperate migration for food along the Chinese border.

Yesterday, in a closed session, the Central Court, the highest in North Korea, convicted the journalists for “committing hostilities against the Korean nation and illegal entry.”

Their exact crime is irrelevant. Ling and Lee were simply too good and too convenient for the North Koreans to pass up. They’re now in place as the perfect tools to help solve the non-diplomatic “diplomacy that exists between the U.S. and North Korea.

Everything in this story is tea-leaf reading, with Ling and Lee up to their eyeballs in the muck.

It’s all rather surreal, where things aren’t always what they appear.

The State Department and Hillary Clinton have issued public statements condemning the convictions and say all that can be done is being done. Whatever that means.

Meanwhile, North Korea has been banging a loud drum, firing off nuclear tests in the past two months. The country wants to be accepted as a nuclear power and doesn’t mind alienating friends and foes alike. The U.S. response to the testing has been predictable. Beyond a perfunctory public condemnation, the world has been waiting to see a more forceful response from the U.S. to punish North Korea.

Pyongyang complicates matters by dangling Ling and Lee.

Pyongyang has put bait on the hook. Does the U.S. send an envoy? Does it lead to at least the beginning of the end of the long diplomatic impasse?

These issues take time, unfortunately. But the harsh sentence to Ling and Lee indicate the North Koreans mean business.