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How ‘The New York Times’ Deceived the Public on North Korea

By Tim Shorrock | The Nation | November 16, 2018

The New York Times may still have a Judith Miller problem—only now it’s a David Sanger problem.

Miller, of course, is the former Times reporter who helped build the case for the 2003 US invasion of Iraq with a series of reports based on highly questionable sources bent on regime change. The newspaper eventually admitted its errors but didn’t specifically blame Miller, who left the paper soon after the mea culpa and is now a commentator on Fox News.

Now, Sanger, who over the years has been the recipient of dozens of leaks from US intelligence on North Korea’s weapons program and the US attempts to stop it, has come out with his own doozy of a story that raises serious questions about his style of deep-state journalism.

The article may not involve the employment of sleazy sources with an ax to grind, but it does stretch the findings of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a think tank that is deeply integrated with the military-industrial complex and plays an instrumental role in US media coverage on Korea.

“Controversy is raging,” South Korea’s progressive Hankyoreh newspaper declared on Wednesday about the Times report, which it called “riddled with holes and errors.”

Sanger’s story, which appeared on Monday underneath the ominous headline “In North Korea, Missile Bases Suggest a Great Deception,” focused on a new study from CSIS’s “Beyond Parallel” project about the Sakkanmol Missile Operating Base, one of 13 North Korean missile sites, out of a total of 20, that it has identified and analyzed from overhead imagery provided by Digital Globe, a private satellite contractor.

None of the 20 sites has been officially acknowledged by Pyongyang, but the network is “long known to American intelligence agencies,” wrote Sanger.

Sakkanmol, according to CSIS, “is an undeclared operational missile base for short-range ballistic missiles” a little over 50 miles (85 kilometers) north of the border and therefore “one of the closest to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) and Seoul.” Pyongyang’s highly publicized decommissioning last summer of the Sohae satellite launch facility “obscures the military threat to U.S. forces and South Korea from this and other undeclared ballistic missile bases.”

Its authors added a huge caveat at the end: “Some of the information used in the preparation of this study may eventually prove to be incomplete or incorrect.”

But the Times ignored the warning and took the report several steps further. According to Sanger, that analysis of the missile base shows that North Korea is “moving ahead with its ballistic missile program” despite pledges made by Kim Jong-Un to President Trump at their Singapore summit on June 12 to eliminate his nuclear and missile programs if the United States ends its “hostile policy” and agrees to forge a new relationship with North Korea.

The “new commercial satellite images” of the undeclared missile sites, Sanger concluded darkly, suggest that North Korea “has been engaged in a great deception.”

While North Korea has offered to dismantle a major launching site, he asserted, it continues “to make improvements at more than a dozen others that would bolster launches of conventional and nuclear warheads.” That finding “contradicts Mr. Trump’s assertion that his landmark diplomacy is leading to the elimination” of the North’s nuclear weapons and missiles, Sanger concluded.

The implication was that North Korea, by continuing to build missiles after the Singapore summit, is lying to the United States and is therefore untrustworthy as a negotiating partner—and that Trump, by proclaiming that he has neutralized Kim’s threats, has been deceived. The Times-CSIS report was immediately picked up by major media outlets and repeated almost verbatim on NBC Nightly News and NPR, with little additional reporting.

A leading Democrat, Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts, seized on the report to argue that President Trump is “getting played” by North Korea. “We cannot have another summit with North Korea—not with President Trump, not with the Secretary of State—unless and until the Kim regime takes concrete, tangible actions to halt and roll back its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs,” he said in the statement.

But even a cursory analysis of the imagery should have raised questions. On Monday night, a Korean news outlet pointed out that all the photos analyzed in the CSIS report are dated March 29, 2018—almost two and a half months before Trump and Kim met in Singapore on June 12.

The dates make Sanger’s claim that North Korea is “moving ahead” on missile production after its pledges to Trump laughable; indeed, they make his story look like a serious attempt to deceive the American public about the real progress that has been made in ending the standoff.

In fact, as discussion swirled on Twitter, it became clear that Sanger was exaggerating the report. Arms-control experts immediately questioned his assertions, arguing that he had ignored the fact that North Korea and the United States have yet to sign any agreement under which the North would give up its nuclear weapons and missiles. And in the absence of an agreement, it’s status quo for both North Korea and the United States.

North Korea’s missile program “is NOT deception,” Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at MIT, posted soon after the story was published. Narang, who writes occasionally for the Times editorial page on North Korea, pointed out that Kim Jong-un has never offered to stop producing ballistic missiles and in fact had ordered more to be produced in January 2018.

“Unless and until there is a deal” with Trump, he wrote, “Kim would be a fool to eliminate and stop improving [them].… So the characterization of ‘deception’ is highly misleading. There’s no deal to violate.” (Like other US analysts, Narang did not question the CSIS report itself, calling it “excellent.”)

The CSIS report was denounced by the government of South Korean President Moon Jae-in as “nothing new,” and Kim Eui-kyeom, its chief spokesperson, took particular exception to the Times’ use of the term “deception.” To his credit, Sanger acknowledged the criticism and quoted the statement in full.

November 20, 2018 - Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , ,

1 Comment »

  1. “It is the absolute right of the State to supervise the formation of public opinion”…..Joseph Goebbels……Goebbels is long gone, but his propaganda lives on, in the Military Industrial Complex(in the home of the brave, and land of the free…….Don’t laugh).

    Comment by Brian Harry, Australia | November 21, 2018 | Reply


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