Heather Michon

Heather Michon
June 25
Follow me on Twitter @heathermichon

Editor’s Pick
SEPTEMBER 3, 2009 10:52AM

Profiting Off Pyongyang: Laura Ling, Euna Lee & Modern Media

Rate: 9 Flag

Euna Lee and FamilyJournalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee have finally broken their silence on the circumstances surrounding their arrest by North Korean guards along the Chinese border back on March 17, in an editorial posted in the L.A. Times.

As many had suspected, Ling, Lee and cameraman/producer Mitchell Koss were led to the frozen Tumen River by their Korean-Chinese guide, ostensibly to shoot some video of a trafficking route used by smugglers to shuttle people and goods across the border. "When we set out," they write in the joint editorial, "we had no intention of leaving China, but when our guide beckoned for us to follow him beyond the middle of the river, we did, eventually arriving at the riverbank on the North Korean side."

They were there less than a minute when, nervous, they began walking back. Halfway across the river, and probably already in China, they heard yelling, and looked back to see two North Korean guards -- probably alerted by the "deep, low hooting sounds" their guide had started making as he had first started across the ice -- running after them. They were firmly back in Chinese territory when apprehended. "They violently dragged us back across the ice to North Korea and marched us to a nearby army base, where we were detained."    

The editorial speaks primarily to their capture and the early period of their captivity. While there have been concerns that materials the women had on them might have led to the forced repatriation of some NK defectors and the disruption of the Underground Railroad-like networks running between the two countries, they note that when they had a couple minutes alone with their things before their transfer to Pyongyang "we furtively destroyed evidence in our possession by swallowing notes and damaging videotapes. During rigorous, daily interrogation sessions, we took care to protect our sources and interview subjects."  

Since their return to the U.S. on August 6th, there has been some blogospheric debate on how much the women stand to profit from their misadventure and whether they should profit at all. The predominant attitude seems to be: they caused an international incident through their sheer foolishness, and their high-profile rescue by Bill Clinton legitimized the corrupt regime of Kim Jung-il, so they should just be happy they are alive and shut their pie-holes.

But hey, this is America. Land of the Octomom. A country where, just a few days after the story of Jaycee Dugard's 18-year captivity came to light, Elizabeth Smart was doing the TV rounds....and that's only because Jaycee Dugard isn't ready to ink deals yet. Where even humble little Salon blogs can become best-selling books and movies starring Meryl Streep.

They can put it out there, and we can buy it, not buy it, judge it, blog it, or just ignore it.   

To their credit, Lee and Ling have kept a very low profile over the last month. They have undoubtedly been inundated with offers from TV bookers, all of whom live or die by their ability to get the big "get," but have thus far taken no offers. Not even Oprah. Not even Larry King, and that's practically a Federal law at this point. They haven't done magazines, or even radio.

Chances are, when they do emerge, it will be in print, with a book tour to follow. And I don't think it'll only be doing it for the money. Writers and journalists, confronted with new experience, naturally want to explore that experience through words.According to the Wall Street Journal's "Speakeasy" blog, the Sisters Ling are shopping around a proposal for "a book that will examine the meaning of sisterhood and journalistic ideals," according to an anonymous source-in-the-know. "The issue of Laura Ling's captivity will be discussed, but in a larger context." [Update: other sources, also in the know, say that these rumors are false, and there are no proposals currently on the table.]

Right now at least, Euna Lee seems to want only to return to anonymity. About a week after her homecoming, she sent a thank-you email posted on a Facebook group dedicated to their release. "I made scrambled eggs with Hana," she wrote. "I walked around the neighborhood with Michael and Hana after dinner, I combed Hana's hair and dressed her for school, I danced and jumped with Hana, I went to a cafe and had a very happy time with Michael listening to his life and shar[ing] mine, I went to church and was able to sing unto the Lord. I am slowly fulfilling the wish list that I made in North Korea, one item at a time."


Like it? Hate it? You know what to do!

Make a comment, give it a rating, link it, Reddit, StumbleUpon it!

Send me a tweet @heathermichon

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
Apparently it does include Oprah. I saw this on their Facebook page:

Laura and Euna FYI - Lisa Ling will be appearing on The Oprah Show on September 11th. The interview will contain the emotional times for her family and Laura and Euna. So watch it, tape it, DVR it.
I am particularily intrigued by their story. I don't think they did anything wrong. I think they were being good investigators and that's always dangerous. I'm so glad that they're safe and sound back here. I would love to read about their adventures.
@martykelly -- I thought just Lisa was doing Oprah on the 11th? Thanks for the update!
Heather, yes just Lisa. Like Gwendolyn, I've been following their story with day 1. For some reason it truly haunted me. I also believe that they were doing nothing wrong and got set up. But it's a complicated story. I wish them all the healing they will need. There are things we still don't know.
I vote they shut their pie-holes.
Of far greater concern is that the episode was clearly by their own account a joint NK-PRC intelligence operation to test American resolve, which we failed.
That implies that the use of force to reunify the Korean peninsula is on the table.
The elections in Japan are very curious in that regard, as we may not have the ally we expect, and makes the Russian deployment of anti-aircraft missiles to the Vladivostok very, very interesting, especially since the S-3 system might demonstrat to Iran and Israel that stealth is not invulnerable, sonic detection, which would by m analysis generate the final re-polarization the Russians want of the international system.
Shut their pie holes, really. I can't even imagine a more small minded thing to say.
Interesting take, but I'd like to think these journalists will remain independent of what the blogsphere temperature is in terms of what they do next. As you said, it is the land of the Octomom, its hard to tell if its the chicken or the egg?

Whether they legitimized Kim Jung-il's regime I think remains largely to be determined. They could very well surprise us, which is my hope.

Let's give them a chance?
"Shut their pie holes, really. I can't even imagine a more small minded thing to say."

Then don't go over to the Huffington Post and read the comments. I cannot believe some of the things they were saying over there yesterday, and I can't believe I wasted half a day trying to shoot down attacks as they came up.

I ended up going three rounds with a guy who said he really didn't think that the story Lee and Ling went to cover -- the trafficking of NK women into the sex trade -- was all that important, because a lot of them were put to work on internet sex sites and, I quote, "cam girls have great jobs."

Yup, stripping for the sexual gratification of anonymous folks on the web while earning next to nothing and living in constant fear of forced repatriation back to the repressive dictatorship you risked life and limb to escape...that is truly every little girl's dream.
american citizens wandering around an international border, and not the one between germany and switzerland, either. this story reeks. i hope they were just journalists trying for a big payday.

maybe they just saw a buck to be made, but they were screwing with people's lives.
Thanks for this diary. Stay away from Huffington Post is good advice and for the most part I do. There are plenty right here though that are voting for shut their pie holes and telling us that this was all done for the dollars. I suppose there are many who can't see why anyone would want to pursue such a "trivial" story as human trafficing.
I must have missed the Huffington Post articles. But I had heard that the South Korean press has been up in arms because there had been arrests of some of the people they taped in China...they say they destroyed evidence, but the South Korean press said that shortly after they visited him a man in china was arrested, a man who provided safe haven for children. And he said the children had been videotaped as well. I'm not sure where they are now...I wonder if you had read about this?

I just looked and am now having trouble finding the link...
So after all this time they come out and claim that they were grabbed on chinese soil. Excuse me if I find that claim to be dubious. The rest of their narrative is similarly just an attempt to minimize their illegal border crossing and blame everything on their guide. I find their whole story to be self serving and sniveling.
I found the article here:
deloresflores_d: from what I recall, South Korea has refused to take in Northern refugees who make it to the consulates in China, so if the Korean papers are going to complain about the treatment of refugees, they might want to start looking a little closer to home.

I have a couple of friends who spent time along the Sino -NK border, and they certainly gave the impression that crossing back and forth was no big deal, and required no documentation at the time. Then again, my friends weren't journalists with relatively close ties to US political elite, either. .
They are journalists with a newsworthy story to tell. Of course they should tell it, and tell the truth.

I'm not sure about that policy regarding refugees. I lived in south korea in the 90's for two years, and there were political refugees that escaped and were welcomed from north korea. could it have more to do with china than Seoul (China's by far the biggest political player in the region)?

the new york times also suggests that the people with these critiques might have contradictory stories, so I'm not saying I agree with what they're alleging...and definitely not without more investigations. But given the crazy sadism of the north korean regime, it would have been risky to take material with them across the border into north korea...the whole thing is confusing. why did they bring potentially dangerous material (to others not only themselves) with them across the border? they say that they destroyed (all of?) it. but then how did china know to deport Mr. Lee? I don't necessarily trust the south korean press, but I don't necessarily trust the american press either to bring real facts forward instead of a narrative that is somehow what the public wants to hear (in either country, respectively)...

and I agree with Heather that the story they were investigating was an important one. One I would have been interested to learn about. but why they didn't leave their film canisters in beijing before following their beckoning guide across the border is the part I don't quite understand. maybe I'm missing something.
and I don't see any reason they shouldn't talk now about their ordeal (as long as they protect their north korean and chinese sources)...what they went through seems harrowing.
great article. its really scary to think this stuff still happens through out the world for just having an open mind and reporting the truth. i guess all i can say is we are lucky to have freedom of speech in our country so we don't have to worry about that type of stuff. belly fat reduction.