The Uninvited Ombudsman
speaks on the North Korea Food Giveaway "story"
July 2, 2005
From: Alan Korwin
To: National News Media
An observation for news-media people in general --
Cities nationwide just got short but saturation coverage of the "U.S.
gives 50,000 tons of food to N. Korea" story. I got it from six outlets
Not surprisingly, all the versions were nearly identical. That's because
the propagated story was a straight government handout, with no actual
reporting involved. There in a nutshell is why we, the people, no longer
trust you, the news media, as much as we used to, or would like to.
In my "state" newspaper, The Arizona Republic, the two paragraphs
began, "The Bush Administration announced...," and "The
White House said...," pretty much like every other version. It was
the same where you live, right? Your comrades aren't even pretending to
report, or displaying even rudimentary curiosity. It's pure government
lapdog, zero public watchdog. You only say you're a watchdog.
Even the most frenzied writer or editor, with no legwork at all, could
do some head math and find that though it sounds so magnanimous, it's
not. Think -- Americans often eat meals that weigh a pound. If you could
just subsist on one pound daily, the hundred million pounds would feed
the 22 million communist subjects for 4-1/2 days.
Many Americans would prefer that you ask the hardball questions, like,
"Why does the executive branch think it has legitimate power to "donate"
so much of our money to, well, anyone?" Aren't you the least bit
curious how much money the public treasury loses in the deal? What sort
of discount does one get on a million pounds of groceries?
News orgs obviously ripped and ran -- took the handout without thought.
It's become your job. What kind of food is it? Fresh produce or rice?
Who sold it (and got all the cash)? You don't know (or care, we imagine),
because from writer to publisher you seem content as a government tool.
It's what you do. You haven't even questioned your source, "the wire."
You never do. You believe it's truth. Pravda.
We're wise to you.
The kind of food is important, and meaningful. What's really happened
here is that government people made a deal with food people to take my
money, and your money, and buy a mountain of food. This way, the food
people get a lot of money, and their books look good this month. Most
people do not realize that when we "give aid" we are often just
pouring money into private hands. Salaries and overheads are covered by
money taken personally from me and you under the guise of fair taxation.
The government didn't announce that part, doesn't want you thinking about
the man behind the curtain. The media is then complicit in the widely
propagated announcement. Itsa complex.
We might start believing you again when your stories start looking like
the rewrite below. But then we'd be informed, and the public could start
owning its government again, instead of the other way around. Most people
do want this, but the political left (a euphemism for socialist-style
governance) fundamentally opposes such empowerment. The news coverage
and slants we get speak for themselves.
"Cambpell's soup concluded a deal today to sell ten million cans
of chicken soup to the U.S. Dept. of Magnanimous Giveaways, putting the
company's books firmly in the black this quarter, The Arizona Republic
has learned. Floundering recently, stock price for the parent food conglomerate
jumped six percent on the news. The food, paid for with taxpayer's money,
will be given to the communist North Korean ruling clique. Although the
White House labeled the giveaway a "humanitarian gesture," it
is presumed that strings are attached, and sources close to dictator Kim
Jong-il said in 2002 he plans to create a nuclear crisis for leverage
with us. At least five other food producers have made similar government
deals, to raise the 100 million total pounds promised in this controversial
'donation'." Same word count.
Everyone who has hopes that the news media will straighten up and become
a watchdog again, raise your hands. See? Few hands go up. Time to change.
The original, with no byline (presumably because no reporter had a hand
in its creation) was attributed simply "Wire Services":U.S.
to Give 50,000 Tons of Food Aid to N. Korea (6/23/05)
Washington -- The Bush Administration announced Wednesday that it will
donate 50,000 tons of food aid to North Korea, just days after the reclusive
state indicated a willingness to return to regional talks over its nuclear
The White House said the aid is a humanitarian gesture unrelated to the
political climate or to the potential for renewed talks. At the same time,
officials declined to comment on revelations Wednesday that the administration
received an overture from North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in November
2002, in which he said he wanted to resolve a budding nuclear crisis between
the two countries.
Alan Korwin, Publisher
"We publish the gun laws."
4848 E. Cactus, #505-440
Scottsdale, AZ 85254
Call, write, fax or click for a free catalog.
One revealing reply,
from the Los Angeles Times Washington Bureau
(name withheld to avoid embarrassment)
Dear Mr. Korwin,
I usually don't answer e-mails as abusive as yours from readers, and frankly,
I can't tell from your note whether you are even a Los Angeles Times reader.
We certainly have no control over what the Arizona newspapers choose to
print. But your note showed that you are clearly not reading our newspaper,
and if you care about the issues, you should.
The story you refer to was indeed a wire report that no hands here in
Washington touched. We run such stories because we can't possibly cover
every event, everywhere in the world. Instead, we try to pick our battles
and do excellent stories like the one below, that really tell it like
it is. [Note: A reasonably good 5,000-word feature on life in Korea.)
As a former correspondent in Asia, I can tell you that it takes weeks
and thousands of dollars --probably close to $10,000, to produce a story
like the one below. I'm sending it to you for free, but perhaps you ought
to consider subscribing to the Los Angeles Times?
LA Times Washington Bureau
Los Angeles Times
Sunday July 03, 2005
GLIMPSES OF A HERMIT NATION
A decade after a massive famine, North Koreans are still struggling. In
Chongjin, deprivation spurs change.
Tumen, China -- His day begins at 4:30 a.m. The 64-year-old retired math
teacher doesn't own a clock or even a watch, but the internal alarm that
has kept him alive while so many of his fellow North Koreans have starved
to death tells him he had better get out to pick grass if his family is
to survive. <snip>
Thank you for your thoughtful and reasoned coments. The article you attached
is the kind of well researched and well written piece that gives the writing
profession a good name. It is immediately apparent that a good deal of
time and money went into its creation. This is good.
It hurt me that you thought my piece to you was "abusive." I
reviewed the piece I sent, and while it was typically direct, it is not
abusive in any way I can find. I'm sorry if it came across that way to
you. I can see where it wrankles, because I pull no punches, but it cuts
to the heart of a severe problem that undermines news credibility, and
that is typically ignored by otherwise reasonable news people.
The fact that you run good pieces does not excuse, in any measure, running
government handouts as news, verbatim, without warnings or thought. Many
papers are increasingly compilations of unattributed wire reports, which
are virtually uneditted pronouncements from government or interest groups,
and this clearly earns a lapdog label. It is bad journalism, unethical,
violates the SPJ code, and hurts us all. Readers are increasingly disenchanted,
as they should be. We ignore this at our peril.
If you cannot cover an event in detail, this does not provide an excuse
or rational for running propaganda, from a bureaucrat, a privately funded
"study," or any other source. As you probably are aware, TV
broadcasters air a constant stream of video news releases, without warning,
waiver or clue, an equally bad practice. It subjects the uninformed news
consumer to balderdash, with the news outlet's imprimateur.
You are correct that I do not routinely read the LA Times, but a quick
check showed that so-called mainstream papers everywhere ran the White
House "news" release in nearly identical fashion. How is that
different from what we used to accuse the old Soviet Union papers from
doing? I ask rhetorically, because there is no difference, and it should
For the sake of balance, and to help restore credibility that is rapidly
eroding, why not consider running my accurate assessment of this debacle,
and see if it stirs any emotion in your readers? It is still appended
at the end of the message.
The LA Times would be taking a bold step toward truth if it chose to do
P.S. Several readers wrote to tell me I was wrong. The food wouldn't support
the population for four days, it would feed the communist army for months,
since that is where the dictators, free from any local observation, would
send it. I wonder if they are correct? What an angle that would make --
U.S. To Feed Communist Army. I'll bet the Bush White House, and our tax-financed
corporate food purveyors, would take no comfort from that unintended consequence
of their easily swallowed announcement.
Alas, no reply received.
Hey, they're busy.
Related story on Video News Release frauds