Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Laura Ling confessional on Oprah (UPDATED)

With her and her sister's book coming out today (May 18, US time), Laura Ling appeared on "Oprah" to give viewers a taste of the ordeal she went through (show information can be found here).

According to press reports, this included an admission that she confessed to her captors that she was there to overthrow the government, something she says she offered up in a bid for pity.

From AP, via the Washington Post:
An American journalist who was imprisoned in North Korea for months after briefly crossing into the reclusive country while reporting on the sex trade said she told interrogators in a ploy for mercy that she was trying to overthrow the government.

In her first televised interview since her August release, Laura Ling said on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" that aired Tuesday that she was told the worst could happen if she didn't confess.

Ling said she drew suspicion because she worked for San Francisco-based Current TV, a media venture founded by former Vice President Al Gore.

"I knew that that was the confession they wanted to hear and I was told if you confess there may be forgiveness and if you're not frank, if you don't confess, then the worst could happen," Ling said.

"It was the most difficult decision to have to do that. I didn't know if I was sealing my fate," she said. "But I just had to trust that this was the right thing to do."
It's no secret that I've been a critic of Laura Ling, her fellow captive Euna Lee, or their escaped cameraman Mitch Koss, which you can read about here. But in the spirit of reconciliation offered up by Lisa Ling in her correspondence with me, I'll just state that, given the circumstances that Laura Ling found herself in, I find it neither surprising nor particularly condemnable that she would feel a need to confess to something like that, even if it handed the Pyongyang regime a propaganda victory that could be used for domestic or even international consumption.

Of course, it would have been nice to not have her facing such a dilemma in the first place, but she did what she did and at that point it couldn't be undone. Were I in the same situation, I might do the same thing. This is why I'm a bit harsher with my criticisms of folks like Robert Park and Aijalon Mahli Gomes, who went in with intent to be captured and — at least in Mr Park's case — failed to resist the pressure to confess to crimes against the state. (And I'm no fan of those who egg on people to follow in Mr Park's or Mr Gomes's footsteps.)

I am currently TV-less, so I was unable to watch the "Oprah" episode itself (the preview itself suggests some tough questions from Oprah herself), but we've already read a lot of what was presented to Ms Winfrey's audience, including that Ms Ling and Ms Lee had damning media on their persons that could potentially be used against those North Korean refugees hiding out in China whom they'd interviewed:
After being left alone for a few minutes following their arrest, they managed to delete digital photos from their camera, damage video and eat their notes to protect sources. They then underwent separate interrogations aimed at learning why they were in the country.
I'm in no mood to rehash my feelings about that; you can read the links way up at the top. For now, I see their plight as a cautionary tale. I will be reading the copy of their book, Somewhere Inside, which Lisa Ling is gracious enough to send me, to see how Laura Ling and Euna Lee might redeem themselves, as well as what other insight — into North Korea's power structure or the dire straits the refugees are in — can be gained from their misadventure.

The comments at the "Oprah" link, thirty-three so far, are surprisingly critical of Laura Ling, Euna Lee, and even Lisa Ling.


  1. I just can't fathom the North Koreans leaving these two foreign interlopers alone, even for a few minutes, shortly after arresting them. I'd like to believe them, but I can't. Even the most honest people occasionally fudge the truth to protect themselves or others from negative repercussions.

  2. It does seem a touch unlikely, let's face it...

  3. If I comment I'll just end up rehashing what I've said before. Instead, I'll wait to see what it says about that in the book and then comment accordingly.

  4. With all the other news coming out of NK this is backburner stuff, but being as you are one of the main Ling\Lee critic, in Lee's book she states that she was the driving force to make the unscheduled trip to the Tumen. Summarizing that part of the book in my words: Euna Lee was responsible for almost all of the planning of the trip, setting up contacts, interviews etc. The trip was not going particularly well. They were a little unhappy with the guide. At the end of the evening on the 16th Euna wanted to go to the Tumen and film that night. Laura and Mitch argued against. The guide suggested that he and Euna go to the middle of the river and film. Euna said yes. More arguing, finally Laura said she would go to, Mitch finally agreed but said to do it in the morning.

    This August Laura was interviewed by AAJA in which she said:

    Q What are some precautions new reporters going abroad should know?
    A You should never go into a situation when you haven’t done the proper research – when you haven’t spoken to people on the ground well before embarking on your story.


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