Yesterday we met Michael Bassett, a “Citizen Diplomat to North Korea” who in a September article for Counterpunch defended the Kim regime from the defectors who, he would have us believe, are despicable liars, besmirching a government that deserves better.
Bassett’s Counterpunch article was, it turns out, only one entry in a rather compendious list of publications in defense of Pyongyang. He often comes across as – what’s the mot juste? – more than a bit credulous. In one interview, he claimed that his “extensive education and experience” regarding North Korea “has mainly taught me the importance of ‘handshakes and hugs.’” In an account he wrote of a “cultural diplomatic trip” to North Korea, he asserted that “North Koreans expressed genuine support for the Kim family and their government” – as if people living under a monstrous dictator would dare to share their true feelings with a foreign stranger. Similarly, by way of proving that North Koreans “are not adverse [sic] to unification” with the North, he cited “signs all over the country” that “proclaim ‘Independence, Peace, and Unification’” – as if such signs were put up by private individuals and not the regime.
Bassett is also far from consistent. While he sometimes acknowledges that North Korea is “systematically brutal and disturbingly inhumane” and seems to accept the necessity of bringing down the Kim regime, more often he tends to suggest otherwise, blaming all the country’s afflictions on its enemies, arguing that introducing freedom (as you and I would put it) to North Korea would only increased social and economic inequality, and asserting that, yes, North Korea has committed human-rights violations, but “the U.S. has them on a larger scale.” In one article, he provides a long list of what he considers likenesses between North Korea and the U.S. A sampling:
- The United States and North Korea both share a military-first policy, though the US military is on a global scale, while North Korea’s is strictly a domestic self-defense force.
- North Korea has personality cults for their leaders – and so does the United States.
- North Korea is a propaganda State – and so is the United States.
Some of Bassett’s stuff borders on the unintentionally comical. In an October interview, he portrayed North Korea as nothing less than a scientific and technological powerhouse. A couple of years ago, he took a rap duo with him to film a music video in North Korea, a venture that resulted in several news stories, one of which began as follows:
For kids growing up in Southeast Washington, D.C., hope is not always easy to come by. But for Pacman and Peso, two young rappers based in the area, hope has come in the form of a country over 6,000 miles away.
Among those who helped pay the expenses for the rappers’ North Korea trip was former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry.
We’re tempted to dismiss Bassett as a crank and leave it at that. Yet too many people and publications are willing to give him credibility. In an article about his rap trip, the Washington Post actually identified him as a “North Korea expert.” What’s more, the Kim regime has found him useful: recently, when a UN resolution criticized its human-rights record, North Korea responded by quoting Bassett.
Last year, a contributor to the Free Korea website summed him up in these words: “Michael Bassett is an odd character of a kind that draws an increasingly selective audience – people who really, really hate other people who criticize North Korea about human rights.” That about says it.