A group of women—including feminist icon Gloria Steinem—have announced their intention to march across the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates North and South Korea. They want to bring attention to the fact that the two countries are technically still at war and to call for their reunification. And how does CNN respond? By criticizing one of the organizers, Christine Ahn, for being “pro North Korean” and “sympathetic” to North Korea. In other words, classic red-baiting. And as Ahn mentions in the segment that aired yesterday, it is precisely this Cold War-era mentality that’s enabled the two countries to remain divided.
Another criticism lobbed by CNN? North Korean officials have sanctioned the women’s peace march, even though they have “a poor record on women’s rights.” This type of framing is common in the mainstream media—even the supposedly progressive media—when it comes to North Korea. For some reason, human rights violations are considered unique to North Korea. Remember that Frontline video in January? One of the main criticisms laid out in “Secret State of North Korea” was that some people go hungry in North Korea while others live lavishly. Can you imagine a country where such an injustice exists?
No one is denying that human rights abuses occur in North Korea. No one is saying that North Korea has a stellar track record on women’s rights. Of course these are important issues that deserve scrutiny and criticism. But using them as an excuse to avoid engagement and block efforts to end a stalemate that has divided thousands of families makes zero sense. If this was truly the barometer with which we measured our involvement with other countries, we wouldn’t engage with China or Saudi Arabia or Israel. Heck, we wouldn’t talk to ourselves!
Why this blatant lack of self-awareness in the media is perpetuated unchecked is beyond me. And I know what you're thinking: But North Korea is far worse than these other countries! Yes, but then consider the fact that the US participated in cultural exchanges with the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War—when atrocious human rights abuses were taking place. These women activists simply want peace. Why is that being equated with endorsing North Korea's human rights abuses?
For some reason, when it comes to North Korea, McCarthyism is alive and well.