Western DPRK Propaganda: The Worst, Occasionally Hilarious, and Often Racist, Lies
Famous Singer executed by firing squad!
… only to show up alive, grinning, and well on national television! Awwkwaaard!1
Either the DPRK has discovered the long-lost art of necromancy (and the United States is in for a bone-shattering surprise when an undead Korean People’s Army comes rattling onto its shores), it has created an exceedingly advanced form of wax puppetry, or — forgive me for the plainly preposterous suggestion — the imperialist media gasp lies! So much for the bourgeois newspapers of South Korea — a country that is still officially at war with the DPRK — that eagerly grabbed into the story.
This isn’t even the first time something like this has happened. Kim Jong Un’s wife was widely said to be “purged”, but then shows up days later, alive and well.2
North Koreans forced to get Kim Jon Un-style haircuts!
… only to admit a day later there is no evidence:3
Recent visitors to the country say they’ve seen no evidence of any mass haircutting. North Korea watchers smell another imaginative but uncorroborated rumour.
Washington, D.C.-based Radio Free Asia cited unnamed sources as saying an unwritten directive from somewhere within the ruling Workers’ Party went out early this month, causing consternation among students who didn’t think the new ‘do would suit them.
Radio Free Asia, ah yes, famously impartial federally-funded organisation established by an act of the U.S congress citing “unnamed” sources.
For an announcement this official apparently coming from the Workers’ Party itself, you would expect Rodong Sinmun, the Korean Central News Agency, or the Voice of Korea — all official government organs — to issue a statement on the matter. But, alas, not a peep.
Photos of suggested hairstyles posted outside women’s hair salons — the kind allow a customer to show her hairdresser what she wants — are regularly depicted by foreign media as showing the only sanctioned styles North Korean women can choose from.
Images that would garner nary a note before falling into obscurity if they were taken south of the border are sensationalised beyond belief as soon as the exceedingly lucrative “Location: The Axis of Evil” tag can be attributed to it.
Slow news day? Feeling creative? Why not engorge your hit counter, pockets, and the frothing-at-the-mouth jingoism of your readership, and concoct a fantastical tale of the Rogue State!
Football Squad Tortured for Loosing!
It’s Radio Free Asia again, folks! This time one of their anonymous sources said “they were subjected to a session of harsh ideological criticism […] in front of 400 people”4. This makes no sense though. Loosing a match of football isn’t an ideological matter. It sounds (and it is) like a bad parody of the popular consciousness regarding the DPRK.
The very same source then went on to contradict themselves just a couple sentences later, saying “how the players were reprimanded and what kind of punishment they received wasn’t known”.4
A second anonymous source in the article stated that “There are rumours that coach Kim Jung Hun has been expelled from the Workers’ Party, or that he has been sent to perform forced labor at a residential building construction site in Pyongyang, but such rumors are hard to verify”.4
Another variant of this rumour, this time an old one resurfacing again after first appearing in 1966, said that the punishment for loosing was in fact forced labour in a coal mine.5
Famously reliable Asian Football Confederation chief Mohamed Bin Hammam jumped on the rumour mill. Although he noted that when he met several DPRK team members “I haven’t seen anything with my eyes or heard anything with my ears”, he mentioned an “unconfirmed report” (read: baseless lie) that “these players have gone through torture or something like that”.6
FIFA decided to investigate the matter. Unsurprisingly they concluded that the reports were “baseless”, and that “training was as usual”. “With all of the information at hand, and having checked all of its sources, Fifa has decided to close the matter”.7 After loosing the North Korean football were rewarded, and seen enjoying, barbecues and massages.5
Yet another rumour flying around for the 2010 world cup was that the supporters of the DPRK were paid Chinese actors. For this one, there weren’t even any anonymous sources given.8
Football Team Won 2014 World Cup Final!
Amidst the football frenzy as the next world cup rolls around, the imperialist media conjures up another topical lie:9
Lack of information could make some people believe just about anything, even the most absurd of rumours. If further proof of that was needed, the latest example is a North Korean video assuring viewers that North Korea has secured a place in the World Cup final in Brazil after routing every one of its rivals. The sad fact is that the team actually failed even to qualify for the tournament. Nevertheless, foreign media somehow took it for granted that North Koreans could so easily be misled. Lots of authoritative news agencies and newspapers “swallowed” the hoax news and rushed to report that the North Korean government was fooling its people.
This lie was astoundingly shallow:9
To the attentive eye, the “hoax” carried a few obvious inconsistencies. First, North Korean television has broadcast all the key World Cup matches, which means that North Koreans definitely know which teams played each other and will sooner be watching the Germany-Argentina title match live on Sunday night, rather than waiting for the mythical North Korea-Portugal final.
Second, the presenter’s lips weren’t completely in sync with the apparent soundtrack, suggesting that the original speech was different.
Third, the voice-over bears a southern, rather than northern, accent and actually sounds a lot like a southerner trying to imitate a North Korean TV presenter.”
but it didn’t stop it being widely reported by The Mirror, The Metro, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and the Toronto Sun, to name just a few (some of them have since updated their articles). As of the time of writing the original video has 6.7 million hits. Taking into account the hits on the various articles around the web would add millions more.
Even decades after the food shortages in the DPRK due to bad flooding and doughts coinciding with the huge trade disruption (and devastation of the energy supply) from the fall of the Soviet Union, it has been repeatedly (and very widely), reported by those in the circus business that cannibalism is widespread in North Korea. The sources, if given at all, are always defectors, and mostly unnamed.10
Outrageous claims require outrageous proof, but nothing other than these empty words is ever offered. There’s not much to go on here, apart from placing it in the wider context of the slanderous lies, and pointing out the economic inconsistency of the claim. I could make fun of it, but they’re not giving much to play with at all. Could any story be more juicy, more tantalising, more oriental? Could any story be more unsourced or unreliably sourced? No. That’s it, really.
Women Banned from Riding Bicycles!
… according to an anonymous source,11 despite the overwhelming amount of photographic evidence to the contrary. There are a huge number of photographs taken before the supposed unbanning in 2012 that can be found through a simple flickr search. Woops!
The state has even released official videos (for internal consumption, immediately discounting any kind of recourse that it’s just propaganda aimed at westerners to make them falsely believe this law isn’t true) showing many women — gosh — riding bicycles.
As Gordon Copeland, Senior Journalist at KFAUSA.org, pointed out to me:12
It was never banned. Never even considered. It’s just imperialist mumbo jumbo, part of their strange attempts to portray the DPRK as being some sort of bizarre “ultra-patriarchy” where women aren’t allowed to do even basic things like wear pants or ride a bicycle.
It wouldn’t any economic sense at all for the government to ban women from bicycles since they are an extremely common form of transportation in the DPRK, especially in rural areas where cars aren’t easily available. Since women often work outside the home it would just make it needlessly hard for them to get to their places of employment or conduct their general business. This supposed ban has literally no benefits for anyone involved.
The Korean Democratic Women’s Union has been around since 1945 in the DPRK and they would never tolerate this sort of nonsense.
This didn’t stop the rumour mob. Not one bit.13 Since “saving the women” was a large and effective pretext for
freedom invasion, death, and destruction in the Middle East, the bourgeoisie and its ideological apparatus repeat the same process here, lying about the situation and shedding crocodile tears about “the women” to justify their imperialism to the left-liberals.
Kim Jong Un’s uncle fed to 120 starving dogs!
The media initially reported that Jang Sung-taek had been executed by firing squad, but that wasn’t sensationalist enough for the press mongrels. Two weeks later, a tweet by Pyongyang Choi Seongho (a Chinese satirist) and an article sourcing said tweet by Hong Kong tabloid Wen Wei Po gave them a chance.14 The revised story went:15
Jang Sung-taek and five of his aides were stripped naked, thrown into a giant cage, and “entirely devoured” by 120 Manchurian hunting dogs that had been starved for three days. Kim conducted the hour-long spectacle himself before an audience of 300 North Korean officials.
It would be a spectacle worthy of the amphitheatres of old were it true. Imagine, the imperialist’s darling despot smiling and giving the “thumbs down” and a pack of hungry animals being released. Think of the revenue that mental imagery could bring in!
This piece of entertainment is glorious even by usual DPRK reporting standards — so much so that the story of its conception provides entertainment of its own. The first journalistic dreg (Wen Wei Po, voted 19th out of 21 for credibility) to report this story didn’t even bother to cite a source this time. Th real dogs here — the media dogs — started their feeding frenzy soon after.14
Snopes gives this one a big fat false,15 and I do too.
Landed People on the Sun!
According to an article on the satire16 news website Waterford Whisper News, the North Korean news reported that it took the 17-year-old Hung Il Gong all of four hours to travel the distance, and that he could be expected back towards the end of the day. It further went on to say:17
It is understood that the 17-year-old ‘space explorer’ traveled at night to avoid being engulfed by the suns rays, and that this genius approach has brought the soviet state to the top of the global space rankings.
While on the sun, Mr. Hung collected sun spot samples to bring back to his supreme leader as a present.
One reporter from the Canada Free Press shared their reasoning process behind their belief that the report was true:16
Oh please, don’t tell me some wise-number made this up, and that the Norks aren’t really making this claim. After all, they did claim Kim Jong Il shot 11 holes-in-one the first time he ever played golf. That’s slightly less plausible than this, but they clearly aren’t too concerned about incredulity from the masses.
Evidently, there’s some sort of citation ring going on in the popular consciousness. “North Koreans are forced to get Kim Jong Il haircuts, and that’s ridiculous, so it must also be true that the ever so silly DPRK said that first time golfer Kim Jong Il shot 11 holes in one, so they must also have said they landed on the sun, and that’s outrageous, so it isn’t a large jump to the conclusion that they are forced to get Kim Jong Il haircuts …” and so on. A mutually reinforcing pile of lies.
Mein Kampf Jong Un!
‘Mentioning that Hitler managed to rebuild Germany in a short time following its defeat in World War 1, Kim Jong-un issued an order for the Third Reich to be studied in depth and asked that practical [economic] applications be drawn from it,’ said the [Note: anonymous] source.18
But Mein Kampf doesn’t provide any practical economic lessons. It’s excruciatingly bad autobiographical diarrhoea about Lebensraum, Hitler’s life, “the nasty Jews and Bolsheviks”, and the “historic destiny” of the “nice Aryans”.
Even if we are to ignore that, this story still doesn’t make any sense. The rarely sympathetic website NK News points out the historical contradictions you would have to reconcile to believe this:19
The North Korean vision of world history emerged under the guidance of late Stalinist era Soviet historians. This vision was somewhat changed and updated from the 1960s, but such updates and changes were usually made in order to promote the idea of the Korean nation but did not touch ideas related to world history – seeing as they were not important enough to change. As a result, North Korean textbooks about world history still largely read as faithful translations of Soviet books on the same matters from the early 1950s.
In this picture of world history Hitler is seen as the embodiment of all that is evil, he is the pinnacle of bad men. The living exemplification of reactionary world capitalism. The word ‘fascist’ which in the Soviet cannon was applied to both Mussolini and Hitler has become among the most common terms of political abuse in North Korean political writing. As a matter of fact, the blood-thirsty American imperialists are said to commit atrocities that rival those of Hitler – the explicit assumption is that Hitler commited the worst of all the world’s atrocities.
It is remarkable that North Korea’s official historians sometimes use the same accusations against the US that have recently been made against them.
Against such a background it becomes clear that an open endorcement of Hitler’s policies by any high level North Korean official is about as likely […] as President Obama giving his advisors the little Red Book of Chairman Mao.
Unsurprisingly, the DPRK reacted with incredible hostility to the story20 published by businesses like the The Daily Mail, Washington Post, Huffington Post, USA Today, ABC News, Fox News, NPR, and many more.
Army Minister executed with a Mortar Round!
Next up in the gallows gossip: mortar fire! How juicy, how vidid, how cruel, how scandalous!
Initially reported by a South Korean tabloid (and widely picked up later by western media, tabloids and broadsheets alike21), they cited an anonymous source from the “South Korean government”. They wrote:22
[A]n assistant chief of the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces was put in front of a firing squad for being drunk during the mourning period, he was executed using a mortar round in line with Kim’s orders to leave “no trace of him behind, down to his hair.
Even Foreign Policy didn’t believe this one, deeming it “gossip”.23
An encore happened a year later, this time alleging that another minister was “executed by flamethrower”.24
Americans Drink Coffee Made from Snow!
The snopes verdict?
False, of course!25 But who was expecting otherwise?
The video, with 612,000 hits on Youtube and 582,000 on LikeLeak at the time of writing, is “purportedly a North Korean report on life in the United States showing how typical Americans live in tents and streets and building corridors, drink coffee made from snow, are drug-dependent, and have denuded large areas of all forms of avian wildlife by eating (yummy) songbirds to fend off starvation”.
Although Hill’s original posting of the video on YouTube bore the title “North Korea Comedy Show: How Americans Live Today, Survive by Eating Birds and Snow” and was listed in the “Comedy” and “Entertainment” sections of that site, many viewers took it at face value because they encountered it out of context, because it’s difficult to come up with anything about the reclusive North Korean nation that is too outlandish to be believed
As the Huffington Post says, “Although Hill’s version was published by a range of media sites, including among others Mediaite, Wired, BuzzFeed, The Week, Slate, The Daily Caller, Yahoo, Telegraph and The Washington Post, it seems none of them traced it back to Hill’s YouTube page”.26 I encourage you to watch the video yourself, and see how patently absurd the deadpan voiceover and obviously improvised attempts at humor are.
Kim Jong Il the Godly Golfer!
This is an old story (dating back to 1994 or earlier27) about Kim Jong Il, but one that crops up again, and again… and again.28 I wouldn’t be surprised to find a modified version going around with Kim Jong Un as our perfect putter, now that the beloved Kim Jong Il is gone and the rumour has lost a bit of its current relevance.
The tale comes in many versions. The number of hole-in-ones that the state media supposedly reported he shot in his first ever game of golf varies from 529 to 1130 on an 18 hole game, putting him at 38 under par. There are also reports of him scoring a perfect 300 in his first game of bowling.29
Inconveniently, Golf Club Management reports that Richard Seers, a British journalist who played at Pyongyang Golf Club, spoke to officials there who “revealed it as nothing more than an urban myth”.31
North Korea News also says:32
However, not a single source has ever been offered beyond “North Korean state media” by any of the articles making this claim: rather, they cite each other. Furthermore, informal surveys of North Koreans themselves revealed that no one in Pyongyang was aware of this legendary feat, unless told it by a tourist. It is the ultimate look-at-how-crazy-they-are rumor.
DPRK archeologists found evidence of a historical location described in ancient legends. One of these legends involved a unicorn. This was reported in the North Korean news that “we have found an archaeological spot which coincides with this particular legend”, but reported in the western news by respectable publications like Huffington Post, The Guardian, Time, The Telegraph, Gizmodo, NPR (to name just a few) as “North Korea found real-life unicorn lair”.33
All around the world legitimate archaeological news like this is produced. In the United Kingdom there is much debate over the existence of a figure on which King Arthur could be based, but curiously I have yet to see a report saying that David Cameron has stumbled upon a watery woman living in the middle of a lake with a magical sword for his disposal.
It’s ironic. Who are the real fools here? The real ones we should be laughing at? The media who make up their very own legend about the DPRK media reporting that Kim Jong Un met some unicorns, and the large amount of people who take it as truth, or the producers of innocent archaeological news that the media tells us to laugh at?
Crashed Drone over South Korea!
On finding blue debris on the outskirts of Seoul, local hikers reported a “crashed drone” to authorities. Police concluded that what was first widely reported as an aerial vehicle launched by the North was in fact part of a broken door from a mobile lavatory, not a sophisticated piece of military hardware.34 Nevertheless, South Korea was set on edge.35
This is part of a much larger wave of hysteria following the announcement of the supposed discovery of a real DPRK drone. So far, the military has received 82 reports of crashed drones from civilians. Predictably, none of these were true.34
Public Mass Sobbing!
This is perhaps the most widely spread lie about the DPRK. On the deaths of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il pictures of mass grief circulated the imperialist media accompanied with explanations of this by way of accusations that execution or torture were punishments for not crying enough.
The New York Times explains this one:36
Contrived as they might look to Western eyes, the wild expressions of grief at funerals — the convulsive sobbing, fist pounding and body-shaking bawling — are an accepted part of Korean Confucian culture, and can be witnessed at the funerals of the famous and the not famous alike in South Korea.
Global Post furthering the case with an example of the same mourning happening in the south:37
Take the case of South Korean President Park Chung Hee, who resisted intense popular pressure that he step down after 18 years as military-backed dictator. In 1979, his intelligence chief shot him to death.
Although Park had drastically overstayed his welcome with the South Korean people, he got a noisy, tearful sendoff. Along the route of his Seoul funeral procession women, especially, outdid themselves in screaming, wailing and shaking their fists at heaven.
Although the cult of personality is hugely exaggerated (in large part due to this very myth), it no doubt makes the sobbing more acute. Two separate cultural aspects, one very foreign to most westerners, combine to create something altogether more unrecognisable and “strange”.
80 Executed for Watching Foreign Films!
JoongAng Ilbo Daily (a conservative South Korean newspaper), citing an anonymous source, reported that mass executions were carried out in seven separate cities on the 3rd of November mostly for the crime of watching South Korean films, but also for possessing bibles or distributing pornography. 10,000 people were apparently forced to attend one execution held in a sports stadium in the eastern port city of Wonsan.38
If source of the story, and the source the story cited, aren’t already ringing alarm bells, consider the fact that North Korea hosts an international film festival! Pyongyang International Film Festival, pictured above, has hosted international films since 2002 (before it was restricted to films from non-aligned and developing countries).
DPRK Threatens War over Seth Rogen Film!
The film in question is about a TV journalist and his producer recruited by the CIA to try to kill Kim Jong-un. Quite provocative. Just imagine the western reaction if the DPRK made a film about trying to kill Obama. It would be blood curdling. The jingoists would be out in full force, calling for nuclear retaliation, or worse.
The Diplomat writes:39
The BBC, NPR and Washington Post all carried headlines announcing that North Korea had threatened war over the movie. Not to be outdone, the New York Post ran a headline proclaiming North Korea “threatens ‘merciless’ war” over the movie, while the Huffington Post announced “North Korea Threatens… ‘All Out War.’” ABC News contented itself with a headline that simply asked “Could Seth Rogen and James Franco’s New Film Start a War?”
Paraphrasing from the same article:
The only problem with this is that North Korea most definitely did not threaten war over the film, but is portraying itself as the victim of America’s “undisguised terrorism and a war action”
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry released a statement which uses the word “war” once, when it declares that the film’s distribution is “absolutely intolerable” because “it is the most undisguised terrorism and a war action to deprive… [the] people of the DPRK of their mental mainstay [i.e. Kim Jong-Un and family] and bring down its social system.”
I think that solves that, then!
The propaganda isn’t just limited to journalism. Multiple films and video games are being made (and have been made) about the DPRK invading and/or occupying the United States. Even remakes of Cold War era films are having the enemy changed from the Soviet Union to the DPRK.
This includes: the Video Games Homefront (2011), Homefront: The Revolution (2015), Crysis (2007), Crysis Warhead (2008). The Films Die Another Day (2002), Team America: World Police (2004), Stealth (2005), Behind Enemy Lines II: Axis of Evil (2006) and Salt (2010), Red Dawn (2012, a remake of the 1984 film), and Olympus has Fallen (2013), among others.
These are hardly innocent depictions; racists fueled by the release of the last two films mentioned took to twitter, providing horrific proof of the barbaric cultural logic underlying the recent spate of media attention.
The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor of the American State Department even openly provides considerable funding to anti-DPRK organisations — up to a $350,000 grant for each organisation — for engaging in “activism” on “human rights”.
The despicably orientalist dimension of many of these myths (and the propaganda surrounding the DPRK in general) is obvious. Scary east-Asian cannibals? Idiots believing humans can land on the sun? How silly they are! How violent they are! How impotent they are! How threatening they are! How wanting of bombs and rectification they are!
Even the most progressive of liberals, and horrifyingly, far too many self-proclaimed radicals, jump at the opportunity to revel in the racist western-imperialist canon on the DPRK. It’s not a perfect country by any means, but criticism of obvious lies against the DPRK doesn’t translate to uncritical support of the DPRK and absolutely everything it’s done.
As long as you’re writing about the DPRK you have a license to print anything. What already frighteningly little journalistic integrity the bourgeois media can be said to possess is nowhere to be found on matters concerning this country. DPRK-bashing is assured to drag in the pageviews and advertising revenue, and that’s all that really matters.
Let this be a case study on the lengths that imperialist media will go to slander its enemies.
– Alyx Mayer
- North Korean singer “executed by firing squad” shows up alive and well in Pyongyang, and Kim Jong-un’s ‘executed’ ex-girlfriend miraculously reappears on North Korean state television ↩
- I told you she hadn’t been shot: Kim Jong-un shows world wife is alive in new video footage ↩
- Bad hair day? No signs North Koreans ordered to get Kim Jong Un haircuts ↩
- World Cup Team Shamed, Reprimanded ↩ ↩ ↩
- North Korea’s footballers haven’t been sent to the coal mines – they are getting BBQ and massages ↩ ↩
- Fifa investigates North Korea World Cup abuse claims ↩
- Fifa satisfied North Korea players were not punished for World Cup failure ↩
- North Korea’s World Cup fans are paid Chinese actors ↩
- World media tricked by fake N Korean World Cup final video ↩ ↩
- Among many others: Sunday Express, The Daily Mail, and The Telegraph ↩
- Women on Bicycles Banned Again ↩
- Sent via private message on reddit. seniorjournalist (@) kfausa.org ↩
- Among many others: Globalpost, North Korea News, NBC, Orange News, ITV, and Voice of Russia ↩
- Starving Dogs Hoax Bites Media: Kim Jong-un’ Uncle Not Naked, Eaten by ‘120 Ravenous Hounds’ , and More on Kim Jong Un Dog Hoax: 1st English News Report had Single Source, Unverified Claim ↩ ↩
- Howl to the Chief ↩ ↩
- Hoax: North Korea didn’t send 17-year-old astronaut to the Sun ↩ ↩
- North Korea Lands First Ever Man On The Sun, Confirms Central News Agency ↩
- Kim Jong Un hands out copies of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf to senior North Korean officials to see what lessons can be learned from it ↩
- Mein Kampf has little to offer a North Korean statesman ↩
- North Korea condemns Hitler Mein Kampf report ↩
- Among many others: The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, NY Daily News, The Independant, Huffington Post, an d Washington Times ↩
- Kim Jong-un’s Barbaric Purge of ‘Unsound’ Military Brass ↩
- Was a North Korean General Really Executed by Mortar Fire? ↩
- N.Korea Shuts Down Jang Song-taek’s Department ↩
- How Americans Live Today ↩ ↩
- ‘How Americans Live Today': Fake North Korean Propaganda Video Punks The Internet ↩
- Keeping Dear Leader’s Score ↩
- Among many others: ABC News, Herald Sun, The Telegraph, ESPN, Huffington Post, Christian Science Monitor, and CNN ↩
- Kim Jong-il, the Sportsman ↩ ↩
- All-Time Golf Scoring Record Goes with Death of Kim Jong il ↩
- Kim Jong Il’s golf feat an ‘urban myth’ ↩
- The Top Ten Most Bizarre Rumours to spread about North Korea ↩
- No, the North Korean government did not claim it found evidence of unicorns ↩
- Truth flushed out: ‘Crashed drone’ near Seoul is portable toilet door ↩ ↩
- Toilet-Door Fragment Briefly Sets South Korea on Edge ↩
- North Korea’s Tears: A Blend of Cult, Culture and Coercion ↩
- Why the North Koreans cry. Video of the funeral confirms this (2:24 onwards). ↩
- Public executions seen in 7 North Korea cities ↩
- No, North Korea Did NOT Threaten War Over Seth Rogen Movie ↩