Otto Warmbier: Blaming the victim

Otto Warmbier under arrest

We wrote last year about Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student who went on a tour of North Korea only to find himself sentenced to 15 years at hard labor for supposedly stealing a propaganda banner from a corridor in his Pyongyang hotel – and who, last month, in a horrific denouement, was returned to the U.S. in a coma only to die several days later. In our account of the Warmbier case last year, we took a look at the firm, Young Pioneer Tours (YPT), that arranged the group trip in which he took part – but that, in the aftermath of his tragic experience, has ceased organizing vacations to the Hermit Kingdom.

Warmbier in court

A quick recap on YPT: according to its own website, it was founded by Gareth Johnson, a Britisher who has a great “love for the people and culture” of North Korea. The site also quoted from a YPT official, Shane Horan: “I’m passionate about travel to so called ‘rogue nations’ and changing people’s often incorrect perceptions of them.” YPT’s promotional materials directly addressed potential vacationers’ concern about safety in North Korea: “How safe is it? Extremely safe! Despite what you may hear, North Korea is probably one of the safest places on Earth to visit. Tourism is very welcomed in North Korea, thus tourists are cherished and well taken care of.”

Warmbier and fellow tour members in Pyongyang, prior to his arrest

Far from being cherished and well taken of, however, Warmbier was arrested at the airport in Pyongyang when he was about to return home. He was put on trial and, on March 16 of last year, sent to prison. YPT issued a statement to the effect that it was “continuing to work closely with relevant authorities to ensure a speedy and satisfactory outcome for Mr Warmbier.” Well, that didn’t exactly work out. 

La Sha

Far from showing any remorse, YPT kept whitewashing North Korea. And meanwhile Warmbier was undergoing – well, no one outside of Kim Jong-un’s empire knows exactly what he underwent. It now seems clear that he was savagely abused. Nobody remotely familiar with the reality of North Korea should have been surprised at the thought that the incarcerated American was undergoing brutal treatment. But that thought didn’t stop many appalling people in the U.S. from blaming Warmbier for his own fate – and, in effect, taking the side of the North Korean regime. At the Huffington Post, for example, a writer named La Sha took palpable pleasure at the news of Warmbier’s prison sentence, writing that “the shield his cis white male identity provides here in America is not teflon abroad.” The “reckless gall” Warmbier had demonstrated in North Korea by supposedly snatching a propaganda poster, argued La Sha, was “an unfortunate side effect of being socialized first as a white boy, and then as a white man in this country.”

As a “benefactor…of all privilege,” suggested La Sha (she later referred to his “alabaster American privilege”), Warmbier had developed an “arrogance,” a “subconscious yet no less obnoxious perception that the rules do not apply to him, or at least that their application is negotiable.” But there was more. As we’ll see tomorrow, La Sha actually compared Warmbier to the Aurora, Colorado, mass murderer. 

 

Whitewashing Communism for eco students

Bryan Caplan

A professor at George Mason University, research fellow at the Mercatus Center, adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, and blogger for EconLog, Bryan Caplan knows his stuff – his stuff being economics. And so last February, when we ran across a statement by him that his first encounter with eco textbooks proved many of them to be alarmingly “pro-communist,” we kept reading. Those books, he maintained, were “very positive relative to communism’s historical record” and their authors “seemed deeply ignorant of actual communism.” They were, in fact, “communist dupes,” spreading “a radically overoptimistic image of communism.”

Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok

Is this still the case? Now, a generation later, Caplan is helping his son, a high-school student, prep for an advanced-placement eco exam. The main text in the subject, Modern Principles of Economics by Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok, gets good grades from Caplan: it “includes accurately horrifying details about life under communism.” But the test prep books are something else again. The Princeton Review’s Cracking the AP Economics is “mostly a normal econ text,” but its account of Communism, Caplan says, is nothing less than “awful.” He takes it apart sentence by sentence: “Communism,” it states, “is a system designed to minimize imbalance in wealth via the collective ownership of property.” In fact, Caplan points out, collective ownership “was never primarily a means of ‘minimizing wealth imbalance’”; for Communist leaders, it was “an end in itself,” kept in place despite the fact that it “caused horrifying famines in the short-run, and low agricultural productivity in the long-run.”

Cowen and Tabarrok’s textbook: good on Communism

The Princeton Review prep book goes on: “Legislators from a single political party – the communist party – divide the available wealth for equal advantage among citizens.” Caplan’s comeback is blunt:

What actually happened under communism was rather different. Communist regimes began with the mass murder of their political enemies, businessmen, and their families. Next, they seized the peasants’ land, leading to hellish famines. In time, they launched major “industrialization” campaigns but obsessively focused on building up their militaries, not mass consumption. And no communist regime has ever tried to “divide wealth for equal advantage.” Bloodbaths aside, communist regimes always put Party members’ comfort above the very lives of ordinary citizens.

The Princeton Review’s book: not so good on Communism

The prep book goes on: “The problems with communism include a lack of incentives for extra effort, risk taking, and innovation.” Caplan’s reply: “Communist regimes did provide poor incentives to produce consumer goods for ordinary citizens. But they provided solid to excellent incentives in the sectors they really cared about: the military, secret police, border guarding, athletics, space programs, and so on.” Finally, Princeton had this to say: “The critical role of the central government in allocating resources and setting production levels makes this system particularly vulnerable to corruption.” Caplan: “Talk about praising with faint damnation. Never mind mass murder, famine, pathological militarism, and state-mandated favoritism for Party members. What’s really telling is that communism was ‘particularly vulnerable to corruption.’” What kind of a book “leaves students with the impression that corruption was communism’s chief defect”?

AP: propagandizing for Kim and Hamas

Matti Friedman

Yesterday we discussed a fascinating piece by former Associated Press reporter Matti Friedman about that news bureau’s systematic practice of collaborating with tyrannical regimes in exchange for access. Friedman offers other examples: in 2014, a “detailed exposé on the AP’s bureau in North Korea” showed that it was staffed by “North Koreans who were paid by AP but answered to the regime.” Under an agreement between the AP and the Pyongyang government, AP could “sell propaganda images, like those lovely choreographed rallies, outside the country, while the North Korean ‘staffers’ studiously avoided subjects like mass starvation and prison camps.”

One hand washes the other: Hamas

Meanwhile, in Gaza, where Friedman himself worked as an AP correspondent from 2006 to 2011, the AP is involved in “both passive and active cooperation with Hamas.” He offers a striking anecdote: during the Israel-Hamas war that began in late 2008, an AP reporter called Friedman, who was working the service’s news desk in Jerusalem, and told him “that Hamas fighters were dressed as civilians and were being counted as civilians in the death toll.” Some hours later, the reporter “called again and asked me to strike the detail from the story.” Friedman suspected at the time – and it was later confirmed – that his colleague had made the second call on orders from Hamas, which had threatened his life should the AP go with the full story.

“From that moment on,” writes Friedman, “AP’s coverage from Gaza became a quiet collaboration with Hamas….Our coverage shifted accordingly, though we never informed our readers. Hamas military actions were left vague or ignored, while the effects of Israeli actions were reported at length, giving the impression of wanton Israeli aggression, just as Hamas wanted.” Ironically, in 2014, when an AP reporter filed an article about Hamas censorship, it was shelved.

“We were trading truth for access,” writes Friedman, “and providing an illusion of ‘coverage’ that was actually propaganda.”

Sally Buzbee

Friedman quotes AP’s side of the story, as proffered by AP editor Sally Buzbee. “It is essential to cover tyrannical regimes and other undemocratic movements, when possible from within the borders they control, in order to accurately relay what is happening inside,” she said recently. But as Friedman observes. “if you’re inside the borders of a tyrannical regime, you can’t ‘accurately relay what is happening inside.’” He suggests that instead of having Hamas-controlled reporters inside Gaza, AP would be better off “working sources on the inside and making use of external players (Egyptian intelligence, Israeli intelligence, Palestinian reporters in the West Bank) to give a more accurate picture of events.” Similarly, “instead of paying for an illusory ‘bureau’ in Pyongyang and getting in bed with Kim Jong-un, why not devote that money to hiring the most knowledgeable people in South Korea and developing information from dissidents, refugees, and spies, which, in expert hands—and there are plenty at the AP’s disposal—might actually be able to yield an approximation of the truth?”

Outdoing Duranty? The AP in Nazi Germany

Matti Friedman

In June, the Tablet provided a useful reminder that major news media based in free countries have engaged in silent collaboration with dictatorships, covering up the latter’s crimes in order to retain “access.” “Is it better to cooperate with dictatorships and authoritarian regimes and tell half the story with hands tied—or not tell the story at all?” asked the Tablet piece by Matti Friedman, who took as his case in point the all-too-cozy relationship that the Associated Press developed with the Nazis. Citing a 2016 paper by German historian Harriet Scharnberg entitled “The A and P of Propaganda,” Friedman, himself a former AP reporter, noted that “the AP’s photo office in Germany made compromise after compromise to keep reporting under Nazi rule, obeying successive orders from the Hitler regime until it ended up as a Nazi information arm in all but name.” While other Western news organizations left Hitler’s Germany in 1935, the AP stayed on, “an arrangement the New York-based agency was eager to preserve—even if it meant removing all of its Jewish photographers in keeping with Nazi race laws, for example, and even if it meant issuing a statement to the official SS magazine swearing that the photo bureau was pure Aryan.”

Harriet Scharnberg

How close was the AP to the Nazis? Well, among the consequences of the special relationship was the use of AP photographs “in some of the vilest racial propaganda produced by the Nazi state,” such as a book called The Jews in the USA. The head of AP’s photography service in Berlin ended up as a Nazi censor; one photographer, Franz Roth, was simultaneously working for the AP and the SS. So it was that AP photos of the Wehrmacht’s advance on the Eastern front – pictures that ended up in newspapers around the U.S. – made the Nazis look like heroes and made Soviet prisoners, for example, look like “ugly human specimens.” In short, while the AP claimed to be an independent and objective news organization, it was in bed with the Nazis, covering up the reality of life in the Third Reich, the true nature of the Nazi war machine, and of course the horror of the death camps.

As Friedman points out, the AP is far from the only major news organization to have been guilty of such practices:

Western news organizations that maintain a presence in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia, for example, make compromises in return for access and almost never tell readers what those compromises are. The result, in many cases, is something worse than no coverage—it’s something that looks like coverage, but is actually misinformation, giving people the illusion that they know what’s going on instead of telling them outright that they’re getting information shaped by regimes trying to mislead them.

Peter Arnett

We wrote about this topic here at Useful Stooges last year, noting that “[w]hen it comes to oppressive regimes – the type that shutter opposition media and imprison honest journalists – CNN’s policy has routinely been to retain access at all costs. Back in 1991, during the first Gulf War, CNN’s Peter Arnett was the only Western TV reporter in Baghdad, and, as such, according to Newsweek, provided “rare glimpses from inside Iraq,” even as he “provoked criticism that he and his network [were] being used as a conduit for Iraqi propaganda.”

Christiane Amanpour

After 9/11, we further observed, CNN, unlike many other news outfits, was able to keep its reporters in Baghdad for one reason and one reason alone: its “systematic refusal to report on the dark side of Saddam’s regime,” a policy that CNN news exec Eason Jordan copped to in a 2003 New York Times op-ed. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq, when CNN’s Christiane Amanpour sneered that Fox News reporters were Bush administration’s “foot soldiers,” Fox replied: “It’s better to be viewed as a foot soldier for Bush than a spokeswoman for al-Qaeda.”

More tomorrow.

Finally, a prof gets punished for anti-white racism

Tucker Carlson

On June 4, Tucker Carlson of Fox News reported on a Memorial Day party, held in New York by Black Lives Matter, from which non-blacks were explicitly banned. He quoted from a statement by the organizers: “Being intentional about being around Black People is an act of resistance. This is an exclusively Black Space. So if you do not identify as Black and want to come because you love Black People, please respect the space and do not come.”

He then brought on a guest named Lisa Durden, whom he identified as a political commentator and Black Lives Matter supporter. Carlson expressed surprise at the decision of a group supposedly devoted to racial equality to enforce a policy of segregation, and asked Durden how she could reconcile this seeming contradiction. Durden, instead of responding seriously to a serious question, reacted with cartoonish condescension: “What I say to that is, boo-hoo-hoo, you white people are angry because you couldn’t use your white privilege card to get invited to Black Lives Matter’s Memorial Day celebration.” She went on to say that Memorial Day had been founded by former slaves in 1865 after the Civil War to honor Union soldiers who had died for their freedom, and that “in that same vein” BLM had held this party to commemorate the murder of “black folks…by racist terrorists.”

Durden’s comment was bizarre on several levels. First, there is no evidence that Memorial Day was founded by former slaves. Second, if it was founded by former slaves to honor Union soldiers (the overwhelming number of whom were white) who had died for their freedoms, banning white people from such an event seems rather odd. Third, Durdan’s whole tone was that not of a serious commentator but of – well, watch the video yourself and figure out how best to describe it.

Rachel Lindsay, black Bachelorette

“White folks,” Durden went on to say, “crack me up. All of a sudden when we want to have one day to focus on ourselves….You’ve had an all-white Oscars, all these movies with all-white actors…all-white TV shows….The Bachelorette, it took eleven seasons to have a black bachelorette. Are you serious?” When Carlson repeated the point that the BLM event seemed “hostile” and “separatist” and “crazy,” Durden, by way of defending BLM’s racial separatism, said: “People hold weddings where they exclude children,” because they can’t be sure kids wouldn’t disrupt the event. By the same logic, she maintained, BLM had imposed a ban on whites in order to avoid having its party ruined by “white folks who are gonna be off the rails.” Durden summed up BLM’s message to whites as follows: “Stay your asses out!”

As it happens, Lisa Durden isn’t just a political commentator. She’s also an adjunct professor at Essex County College in Newark, teaching speech, mass communication, and popular culture.

Essex County College

Or, at least, was an adjunct professor at Essex County College. Two days after her appearance on Carlson’s show, she showed up for work only to discover that she had been suspended “until further notice.” She quickly went out into the media to declare that she had been “lynched.” The college, for its part, issued a statement indicating that it “promotes a community of unity that is inclusive of all.” Durden’s attorney professed to be mystified by her suspension. What could possibly be the college’s “agenda?” Had Durden been “too outspoken?” White-bashing has become so normalized on American campuses that for a college to actually punish a faculty member for engaging in it left both her and her lawyer scratching their heads in wonderment. Later in June came news of Durden’s permanent dismissal from her job. Essex County College deserves congratulations for bucking the nefarious academic trends of the day and actually punishing black-on-white racism.

Annie Day, Commie stooge

Bob Avakian

On this site, we’ve profiled a few top members of the Revolutionary Communist Party – among them top cat Bob Avakian, perennial sidekick Carl Dix, and ever-devoted spokeswoman Sunsara Taylor. In doing so, however, we’ve neglected another major member of the Avakian crew: Annie Day. Last October, the party’s own website ran an in-depth interview with her – kind of like a magazine running an ad for itself. What emerged was a portrait of a woman who’s just as dedicated a member of the Avakian cult – for that’s what it is, a cult – as Sunsara Taylor herself.

Annie Day

Day was interviewed shortly after the launch of Avakian’s book The New Communism, and she was eager to talk about – okay, get ready for this – what a “powerful example of what difference it would make in the world and society if Bob Avakian’s work were known and engaged – the challenges that presents, the hope that inspires, the moral unity and outrage at the horrors that exist today, and also the deep inquiry into the source of the problem in the system of capitalism and the way out through making an actual revolution to get rid of all the oppressive and antagonistic divisions among people which cause so much unnecessary suffering today.”

Sansura Taylor

Phew. That’s the way these people talk, and it’s apparently the way they think – in these endless strings of windy clichés about challenge and hope and outrage and inquiry. And, of course, revolution. It’s not terribly illuminating. But what was rather interesting about the interview, although in an admittedly perverse way, was Day’s patently fanatic devotion to the goal of “project[ing] Avakian’s work throughout society,” her apparently sincere belief that Avakian had somehow accomplished a “new synthesis of communism” that represents “a breakthrough for humanity.”

Day called Avakian “the Karl Marx of our time” and described his “new synthesis of communism” as “a revolution in human thought” and “a whole different framework, scientifically grounded, for human emancipation” that should be “known, engaged, and debated in every corner of society, yes, all around the world.” Every problem in the world, every kind of suffering in the world, maintained Day, can be explained – and fixed – by Avakian’s analysis and by his “new synthesis of communism” which is “a real storehouse for humanity.”

Carl Dix

Who is Annie Day? In an article for Harpers published in February of last year, Garret Keizer reported on a 2014 RCP event at which Avakian spoke. The next day he met for breakfast with Day. He described her as “focused, upbeat, and kind,” and attributed these characteristics to “the serenity common to people so radically committed that they no longer need an attitude to convince themselves they’re real.” Day, wrote Keizer, was now in her 30s and been an RCP member since age 19. How did she become a Communist? “One evening she heard a woman speak at Revolution Books about going to Shanghai ‘when China was socialist’ and walking the streets at night without fear. The remark was an epiphany for Annie. ‘So much of my life had been about walking home.’” In other words, while Mao was executing millions of innocent people, the streets of Shanghai were safe to walk at night. And so a Communist was born.  

Communism? Peachy! Oscars mixup? A horror!

Shirley MacLaine

“Legendary screen star reveals that they are both ‘still processing the horror of it.’” The headline appeared in the Daily Mail in March. The “screen star” referred to is Shirley MacLaine. The other person embraced by the word “both” is her brother, Warren Beatty, who of course is also a screen star.

Here’s the actual quote from MacLaine: “I think we’re all processing the horror of it. I’m still dealing with it.” She added: “We know how difficult it was for him, but it was also for me.” The reporter, Chris Spargo, reports that “MacLaine could be seen gasping, covering her mouth in shock and then clutching her chest.”

Warren Beatty in “Reds”

What “horror” were they still processing?

Now, as it happens, we’ve written about both MacLaine and Beatty on this site. MacLaine, as it happens, was one of the few Americans to gain access to Communist China during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. This was in 1973, at which point that nightmarish chapter of history had been going on for seven years. It involved the murder by the authorities of millions of people who were considered, for some reason or other, to be counter-revolutionaries. During the entire period, all but a tiny minority of the Chinese people lived in a constant state of terror. Who would be the next victim? Would the men come knocking at our door in the middle of the night and take one of us away forever? Which one?

Mao Zedong

MacLaine was there in the midst of it all. Filming what she saw. And she returned to the U.S. with a documentary that might have been made by Mao himself – or by Leni Riefenstahl. It was as splendid a work of propaganda for Maoism as one could imagine. Entitled The Other Side of the Sky, it tried to demonstrate certain propositions in which MacLaine actually believed – namely, that Chinese women were more liberated, more equal, than American women; that China lacked “social friction” and was awash in a sense of “brotherhood”, that everyone there was committed “to working for the common good.” The film won an Oscar nomination.

Vladimir Lenin

Beatty has also promoted totalitarianism. The 1981 movie Reds, which he directed, co-wrote, and starred in, was described by one reviewer as an “homage, of sorts, to the Russian Revolution.” A trailer represented it as the story of a “fight for freedom” and a timely challenge to “conservative politics” – the point being that Lenin, alongside Reagan, was benign. Reds, which celebrated a regime that killed more people than any other in human history except for the one applauded by his sister in The Other Side of the Sky, nabbed Beatty an Oscar for Best Director.

So obviously MacLaine didn’t consider Maoism a horror. And Beatty wouldn’t use that word to describe Leninism, either. So what “horror,” then, was MacLaine referring to in that Daily Mail article?

The horror! The horror!

Why, it was that moment of confusion at the end of this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, when Beatty and Faye Dunaway at first mistakenly presented the Best Picture statuettes to La La Land rather than to Moonlight. Days after the mixup, MacLaine was still pondering it. “I’m basically a mystic,” she told the Mail. “And I’m wondering what was that all about? And I am not sure yet. I have to think about it some more.” One wonders how much thought she’s ever given to that slightly bigger mixup for which she was primarily responsible – namely, the representation of Mao’s China in a major film as a paradise rather than a hell on earth.