South Korea to CNN, NBC: Sorry, Kim Jong-un isn't gravely ill or brain dead

Can we wait for confirmation on the latter? Last night, NBC’s Katy Tur and CNN both reported chatter that Kim Jong-un had fallen ill after a surgery, and that his life was in “grave danger.” Tur, in a tweet she later deleted, reported that Kim was “brain dead,” saying that NBC “confirms” the report (via Matt Vespa):

Tur tweeted out shortly after that she deleted it “out of an abundance of caution.” Perhaps she should have exercised that caution before announcing that NBC had confirmed Kim’s “brain dead” status. Overnight, South Korea’s government announced that they had no such reports — and that they aren’t seeing any signs of a leadership crisis at the moment:

South Korea said Tuesday it was not true that North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un was gravely ill, contradicting U.S. media reports, although his absence from recent public events has sparked speculation about his health and refocused attention on his eventual succession. …

“We have nothing to confirm regarding recent media reports about the health problems of Chairman Kim Jong Un of North Korea, and no atypical movement inside North Korea has been detected,” Kang Min-seok, a spokesman for South Korean President Moon Jae-in, said in a statement.

Another South Korean government official, who was not authorized to be quoted by name, said the CNN report was “not true.”

“Our government understands that Kim Jong Un is currently staying in a region outside Pyongyang,” he said.

It’s tough to tell exactly what has happened in North Korea, but everyone seems to agree that Kim had some sort of surgery on April 12. The speculation is that the obese smoker had some sort of cardiovascular procedure, which is itself noteworthy for a 36-year-old man. A recent visit to Mount Paektu, a 9,000-foot “sacred mountain,” for a photo op might have created some medical complications for an overweight man with reduced lung capacity. However, South Korea’s government reports that a good portion of Kim’s medical team went back to Pyongyang while Kim went elsewhere to recuperate.

Given that Kim had missed a couple of important appearances in his recovery, as well as the obvious health issues, speculation over his status is understandable:

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is receiving treatment after undergoing a cardiovascular procedure early this month, a South Korean media report said, amid speculation over Kim’s health following his absence from a key anniversary event.

North Korea marked the anniversary of the birthday of its founding father and Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, as a national holiday on April 15, but Kim was not seen in attendance.

Daily NK, a specialty website run mostly by North Korean defectors, cited unidentified sources inside the isolated state saying Kim is recovering at a villa in the Mount Kumgang resort county of Hyangsan on the east coast after getting the procedure on April 12 at a hospital there. …

Kim’s health has deteriorated in recent months due to heavy smoking, obesity and overwork, the Daily NK report said.

“My understanding is that he had been struggling (with cardiovascular problems) since last August but it worsened after repeated visits to Mount Paektu,” a source was quoted as saying, referring to the country’s sacred mountain.

Still, speculation is not reporting, and it is never confirmation. CNN and NBC ran with speculation and made it sound much more substantiated than it was. In the midst of a global health crisis, the last thing people need is the added stress of potential destabilization in a nuclear-armed cult kingdom. CNN hedged their reporting a bit by doing the “monitoring intelligence that says” rinse, but NBC went all in by reporting that “Kim Jong-un is brain dead” and adding that the news had been confirmed.

In terms of journalism, that’s brain-dead reporting, whether it’s on the air, in print, or on Twitter.

So what is the status of Kim, really? We don’t know for sure, and South Korea isn’t pretending that they do. They know where he’s staying and they know what they’re not seeing — the kind of mad musical-chairs rush that would take place if Kim was incapacitated in any serious and permanent manner. That doesn’t mean he’s not sick or even in “grave danger,” but it means we don’t really have any significant evidence in that direction. That’s something that media outlets should know before touting whatever it is that anonymous intel sources whisper in their ears, right?

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David Strom 3:00 PM | May 20, 2024