I was going to post this in February. Then three months went by. Then I said, screw it, I'm gonna post it.
An unusual thing happened during NBC's coverage of the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. A commentator mentioned that South Korea's rapid growth as a technology leader was inspired by the success of their next door neighbor, Japan. I listened carefully to that description as it was broadcast. I found it to be somewhat accurate. It made no mention that the Korean-Japanese rivalry had anything to do with Japan's brutal occupation of Korea. It was an occupation that got worse each decade up to and including WWII. While that struck me as a historical whitewash, I thought that perhaps the comment relates to South Korea since 1987, when South Korea democratized. In that respect, the commentary was accurate.
In order for its economy to boom, Korea's military dictatorship had to end (much like Brazil's had to end before its economy could briefly grow). When the junta folded in 1988, Korea's gadget and appliance companies were Goldstar and Samsung. Within 30 years Samsung would become bigger than Sony and Goldstar would become LG, a giant in its own right. Even as little as 21 years ago, the Korean government retained some of its policies from its totalitarian past and censored all materials flowing in and out of the nation to protect its growing auto and technology sectors. I knew graduate students from Seoul who, like me, were studying news media and journalism. They would request VHS tapes of news broadcasts from home, and Korean customs would watch those tapes, looking out for any news about auto worker union strikes - or any negative news about Korean business or economy.
So I heard the comment. I raised an eyebrow. I moved on. But apparently South Korea couldn't let that one pass. So they demanded and received an apology from NBC for the network's historical oversimplification and disregard for atrocities.
Now I agree, that commentary could have been written far better. It seemed scripted. NBC had time -weeks probably- to write blurbs on each nation as its athletes paraded into the Pyeongchang stadium. But if NBC had to apologize for that misstep, I thought, what are we to do with decades of misreporting history by television networks?
A really good example is one of the first I was taught by Professor Justin Lewis. When the Sandinistas held elections in Nicaragua in 1990, news networks described them as their "first" free elections. That wasn't true. While the Sandanistas were not keen on elections, they did participate in a monitored, free national election in 1984. But in the US, the 1984 elections didn't happen. I believe ABC World News Tonight had a piece showing Daniel Ortega dancing, kissing babies, and campaigning while a narrator described it as the first time Ortega ever had to campaign. He and the Sandanistas lost, by the way. The US interfered with that election, by the way.
US news media seldom goes into the history of the Israeli-occupied territories. Furthermore, mainstream US media would ever interview a Palestinian. What's a Palestinian?
Same with American Indians and their townships. Townships? I mean reservations. L.B.J. called American Indians our forgotten people in 1964, and The Guardian reported it again in 2017. Isn't the United States sitting back and letting its native populations wither and die out? Reservations are sovereign, we say. Sure, sovereign and set up to fail. I've been to Navajo Nation. I've seen poverty and squalor that makes West Virginia seem downright prosperous. Sometimes I feel like I've been to the moon. Considering how few Americans have seen a real reservation -even the ones who live in Arizona or Utah- I think that's an apt comparison.
And to a lesser extent, the US news media wouldn't need to go into the dark history of the CIA, our nation's involvement with at least five major acts of genocide (Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, East Timor, El Salvador), or the times we stripped the constitutional rights of our own citizens (during times of national crises, "panics," "scares," wartime, or just routine denial of voting rights).
But yes, South Korea called out a US network for its tiptoeing around the Japanese occupation and legacy of rape and murder, and the network quickly apologized. If only we could get historical accuracy from our media so quickly and so easily every week.