Thursday, March 12, 2009

Distrust but verify

Brian in Chŏllanam-do has put together quite an interesting piece on Korean-American golfer Christina Kim's one-billion-won lawsuit against the Joongang Ilbo for defamation and libel. Rather than reinventing the wheel and doing my own take, I will direct you to Brian's post

He has done his homework in tying this in to other kyopo-done-good stories where the Korean press depicts an ethnic Korean from overseas who has done well — such as Michelle Wie or Hines Ward — as a Korean returning to the fold. 

I left a comment on his blog because of one part that compelled me to respond:
Ms. Kim forgot that if you're of Korean ancestry---in her case born in Korea---you'd better play to the local crowd.
One huge caveat about all the press comments about the golfers and other athletes, and even alleged comments from the athletes themselves (which Brian lays out nicely), is that the Korean press is miserably horrible about putting words in people's mouths. 

Many journalists in Korea (and I know from first-hand experience it is by no means all) or their editors have a bad habit of paraphrasing interview quotes, parsing comments, putting words in interviewees' mouths, or even using what they think the interviewee wanted to say or should have said as if the interviewee had actually said it.

And some just lie about having interviewed someone. 

In other words, Christina Kim may in fact have been playing up to the Korean crowd big time, but if a reporter weren't paying attention, didn't understand English particularly well, had a different agenda, or just felt like taking her down a peg, this could end up going like that. 

Likewise with Michelle Wie's father's comment that "the only thing about her that’s American is her passport": from my experience having had my words even more distorted or taken out of context, I think it's possible he had said something far more innocuous and considerably less offensive.

Why would they do that? I don't want to do the same thing and write my own suppositions as if they're fact, but I can imagine a situation where some male sports writer thinks that the plus-size Christina Kim isn't the model of the athlete hero that he thinks she should be. And if he doesn't want to see her doing endorsements in Korea, hence the need to bring her down a peg. 

There's also the possibility that someone didn't grease the reporter's palm correctly or adequately, which I've heard was such a common practice in the past that it didn't warrant surprise or comment. Nowadays it's supposedly much less common, but I'm encouraged to see lawsuits like this because this is the only method available right now to get the Korean media to clean up its act. 

Of course, my own personal experiences from a few times in the American media were not all that positive either, with word-twisting, taking things out of context, or editing out key information, so I tend to take journalism in general with a "mistrust-but-verify" attitude.

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