David Webber. Columbia Missourian, June 17, 2018
Having spent 25 months of the past decade in South Korea, I intently watched American cable news coverage of the Kim-Trump summit in Singapore on Tuesday. While I have no idea why President Trump acted the way he did at the G7 in Canada, I saw no alternative but to hope Trump would have a positive summit with Kim Jong-Un. The summit was historic with the potential to change the U.S.‘ relationship with several Asian nations.
To be sure, North Korea has more than a 50-year history of atrocities and enslavement of its own people. Yes, it appears that economic sanctions and recent U.S. communications with China have pushed North Korea to find a way to change the path it is on.
I have come to believe that the most promising route to a peaceful Northeast Asia is the grassroots development of North Korean citizens, neighborhoods, churches, community groups, schools and other social institutions. International inspections are not going to improve the lives of the North Korean people, many of whom are living in dire conditions.
CNN, MSNBC, and several reputable print media on which I rely were disappointing in their coverage. They were largely a parade of nay-sayers, not only looking backward, but using their narrow personal experience as to how things should be.
The reporters, political commentators and interviewed experts were full of reasons why the summit would undoubtedly fail. Some viewers may have seen it as “ideological bias,” but I sense it is the occupational hazard of arrogance and self-importance.
A question asked several times was “What is the absolute minimum that Trump can get out of this summit for it to be considered a success?” The answer approximated “the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” — the goal stated in U.S. law and United Nations resolutions.
Yes, that is the goal, but if the Singapore Summit results in a series of productive meetings involving the Secretary of State and his North Korean counterpart, the summit was a good use of the president’s time.
Summit coverage displayed a more general problem with cable TV, namely, live coverage has replaced in-depth, edited reporting. Apparently, it is less expensive, therefore “better,” to have a generalist TV host interview supposedly expert panelists about the topic of the day.
The host usually quickly recites the panelists’ impressive sounding title and projects a tone of fraternity rather than analytical acumen. Often, the panelists talk over each other and stir up live, on-the-air tension — I guess that is good television.
One commentator did observe “The Singapore Summit is spring training. It is not the World Series.” The topic of the night should have been, “How do we develop this fledgling team?” rather than, “What are all the ways we could have another losing season?”
The first reactions of South Koreans to the Singapore Summit was very positive, as indicated by the success of President Moon Jae-in’s Democratic Party of Korea local government elections the day after the summit.
Koreans have a long list of dates they use as shorthand for landmark events.
Let’s hope June 12 becomes a landmark date in Korean history.
David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994.