Written in Ink

WaPo: the North Korean death-by-dogs story is probably untrue...

[Link] A friend who's covered North Korea for several years and has visited the country, Isaac Stone Fish, now of Foreign Policy, once joked to me that as an American journalist you can write almost anything you want about North Korea and people will just accept it. Call it the Stone Fish Theory of North Korea coverage. We know so little about what really happens inside the country, and especially inside the leader's head, that very little is disprovable. But the things we do know are often so bizarre that just about anything can seem possible.

And, there's no getting around this, we in the media have a certain incentive to pick these stories up. "As you know, NK stories tend to get a lot of hits, so its easy to see why editors will want to pursue these stories," O'Carroll said. "I guess editors feel it is more legitimate to publish unverifiable, sensationalist information on North Korea because they can always fall back on the defense: 'How could we check? North Korea is so closed.' "

Still, the thing about this story and so many others like it from North Korea is that there is a chance, however remote, that it could still be true. Yes, there is an awful lot of evidence suggesting it's probably false, but this being North Korea, there are also some reasons to allow for its plausibility....


Ultimately, while North Korea-watchers are certainly not buying this story, O'Carroll wouldn't take the bait when I gave him an opportunity to scold American outlets for picking it up. He asked me, rhetorically: "What are editors meant to do? Ignore a story because it 'feels' wrong, but could end up later to be true? I don't know."

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