A hymn to Kim

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.

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Michael Bassett in the promised land

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.

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Another touching hug shot

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.
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Bassett’s rapper buddies

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.

bassett10We’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. 

He’ll take Pyongyang

On this site we’ve written about people who’ve partied with the Castros, who’ve sung the praises of Hugo Chávez, who’ve dipped into the Argentinian treasury with the Kirchners like folks sharing fondue, who’ve lined their pockets by showing up at birthday parties for any number of brutal African dictators. But the pals and partisans of North Korea are arguably in a class by themselves.

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Christine Ahn and Gloria Steinem

Just by way of a reminder: in 2005, CNN founder Ted Turner told Wolf Blitzer that he’d recently “had a great time” in North Korea and found their leaders “absolutely sincere” in their commitment to arms control. Then, earlier this year, feminist icon Gloria Steinem led a cockamamie “walk for peace” across the border between the two Koreas. Her partner in this venture: Bay Area activist Christine Ahn, who, according to Sue Mi Terry of Columbia University’s East Asian Institute, “has a tendency to blame the U.S. and South Korea for all the problems caused by North Korea.”

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Michael Bassett sharing a hug with a North Korean soldier

Now here’s another apologist for the worst regime on earth: a guy named Michael Bassett, who in a September article for the kooky left-wing rag Counterpunch depicted North Korea as a victim of “sensational” and “un-provable” Western caricature:

Searching “North Korea” on the Internet reveals millions of hits echoing a consensus that North Korea is an ongoing “meth-addicted,” “nuclear threat to humanity,” “a holocaust,” a “hell-on-earth,” and a place where “unimaginable cruelties” such as “castrating the disabled,” and “mass murder by machine-gun fire” regularly occur.

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Bassett’s Flickr album contains hundreds of photos he’s taken in North Korea

Bassett dismissed these horrors as quickly as he’d listed them. There’s “little actual proof” of these charges, he insisted. As for Western calls for North Korea to be liberated, he put the word “liberation” in scare quotes. Unsurprisingly, the real Bad Guy in Bassett’s picture turns out to America, which, he charges, has long encouraged “mass hysteria” about North Korea. NGOs that work for human rights in North Korea, he charged, are nothing more than “US government-funded information warfare contractors.” And he mocked North Korean defectors who labor to help bring others out of the Kims’ prison and to ultimately unite both Koreas under a single democratic government.

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Bassett in Washington, D.C.

Who is this Bassett? Tidbits of information about him pop up here and there. One website describes him as “a North Korea analyst who spent several years stationed at the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas for the U.S. military.” In an article by a fellow pro-Pyongyang propagandist, B.J. Murphy, he’s identified as a “Citizen Diplomat to North Korea.” Elsewhere he tells us that he spent ten years in the U.S. Army, four of them “as a tank commander and intelligence officer on the DMZ”; that he’s “lived on the Korean Peninsula for seven years and has family members from both sides of the DMZ”; and that he “was severely injured in the line of duty” and “still works in D.C.” A 2013 source provides further details: Bassett “holds a B.A. in International Communication from the American University in Washington, D.C., a graduate certificate in North Korean Affairs from Yonsei University’s Graduate School of International Studies in Seoul, South Korea, and is currently working on his M.A. in Public Diplomacy from the American University.” According to Workers’ World, he’s a member of Veterans for Peace. Meanwhile, on his Twitter account, he labels himself a “Propaganda Analyst by trade, North Korea Engager by trial, Peace Wager by virtue.”

But all this is just by way of introduction. We’ll dig further into Bassett’s story – and psyche – tomorrow.