Alternate headline: Pyongyang is crazy but not stupid. Indignation erupted on social media over NBC’s decision to send its prime-time news show into North Korea, especially over its opening “exclusive” that Lester Holt & Co got treated “with respect here.” But is that entirely merited? Perhaps for the tweet, yes:
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) January 22, 2018
Richard Grenell, the next ambassador to Germany, offered a particularly sharp retort:
Otto Warmbier was tortured by the same people who play nice for your cameras. https://t.co/TqQPrTJiKJ
— Richard Grenell (@RichardGrenell) January 22, 2018
It’s a fair point, especially with some of the stunts pulled by other celebrities in sucking up to the Kim regime. None of them has been as shameless as Dennis Rodman, but there are others too who have tried to offer a “perhaps they’re misunderstood” approach to North Korea. They aren’t misunderstood — it’s a brutal tyranny and police state, and there are other examples than Warmbier for examples of that.
However, Holt’s brief excerpt here doesn’t really normalize North Korea in that fashion. Holt even warns in this brief clip that leadership in Pyongyang will control what NBC gets to see. There are legitimate news reasons to travel to the training center from which Holt and his crew will broadcast; the partnership between the two Korean governments centers on joint Olympic efforts such as this, and those have the potential to lead to broader diplomatic developments. That’s news, and it will take place whether Holt and NBC are there or not. As long as Holt and NBC can report honestly, and/or honestly provide the context in which they’re allowed to broadcast at all, which Holt hints at in this clip, then there’s value in the effort. And his description of the customs interrogation (asking about what novels they’re reading?) provides a very big hint at the Orwellian environment into which they have entered.
That tweet, though, offered up a big fat target for NBC’s critics. Pyongyang isn’t going to brutalize Holt or his team — they need him there for public relations purposes. Presuming that this is news without the broader context that Holt provides in the clip itself is poor judgment, and Grenell’s correct to call them out for it.