American perceptions of the Korean conflict are ill-informed

Tensions continue to rise between the United States, South Korea, and North Korea. But is the information being reported responsibly?

There is little doubt that North Korea poses a threat to all countries in the region.  As they continue to push forward with missile launches in the face of stronger United Nations sanctions, the manner in which South Koreans and Americans react to news and threats coming out of North Korea is noticeably different.

On any given day, as you walk down the streets or ride the subways of Seoul, Koreans carry on with their day as if it were any other day.  If you didn’t know any better it would not appear as if there was no specter of conflict looming a few hours north of Seoul.  However, in the United States some people believe that the situation is so dangerous that it has given some people reason to avoid visiting South Korea.

In a neighborhood Starbucks outside Sacramento, California, a woman named Mona voiced her concern about the situation calling it “worrisome” and said that she would not consider visiting South Korea.

“As an American citizen, should I happen to venture across the border without knowing it, I’m a goner, simply because I am an American,” said Mona.

Despite the ongoing and well-documented coverage of the increased tensions between the United States and North Korea, it would seem that the average American is missing key facts about the makeup and history of the two Koreas.

“Like any type of media, I listen—I listen to American news too—and I kind of piece it all together.  I go with my gut about how I feel about whatever is going on,” said Mona. “[The Korean conflict is] not fearful but worrisome, since I’d say for the past few years, before I hadn’t even thought about it two years ago, it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind.”

Inadequate coverage of the Korean conflict is very much a victim on the American 24 hour news cycle.  Whenever Kim Jong-un issues a statement (or threat) aimed at South Korea, Guam, or the rest of United States, it is invariably the only thing that gets discussed about South Korea in most media outlets.  In recent weeks North Korea has been a major news point and drawn the attention (if not interest of American audiences).  However, compared to South Korea, it would seem that American media thinks that an attack is imminent and war inevitable (never mind that South Korea and North Korea have not ceased being at war).

Recent statements by US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Gen. Joseph Dunford received plenty of attention, when he stressed the importance of diplomacy with North Korea.  However, the fact that he also said that there are military contingencies on the table should diplomacy fail has received the greater degree of attention in headlines.

Joe, a 72 year old Sacramento, California resident pointed out that the media was always looking for a hook to grab the attention of their readers; a problem that President Donald Trump has exacerbated since taking office. While it seems that nobody has taken his “fire and fury” comments all that seriously, inflammatory statements such as those appear more often in reporting because of their eye-catching or provocative tones.

“I don’t think it’s the news media that’s creating the fear, I think it’s the principles involved that are creating the fear,” said Joe.  The leaders of the countries are the ones that make the news, they create the news.  How that news is reported, I think, that sometimes of course it is sensationalized because unless you have some hook, just like in writing, if you don’t have a hook you’re not going to get an audience.”

Whether major American news outlets take the threats at face value or are just using the news as a way to attract readers, it creates a greater perception problem for South Korea. This is a problem that could impact other areas such as tourism and cultural understanding.

“I form my own opinions, and I take into consideration news sources, but take in what I consider valid news sources like Reuters…There are networks that have actual reporters instead of just repeating opinions; there’s a difference,” said Joe.  He later added, “There are several absolutely insoluble situations in the world, and [president] Trump has to understand that, one of those is North Korea.”

If Americans believe the North Korean conflict is impossible to resolve but continue to worry without complete information public sentiment will not improve.  An ill-informed public will not help reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula.  It is the responsibility of reporters to be as completely truthful, instead of using a globally relevant situation to boost ratings.




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