American News

The Daily Devil’s Dictionary: Fake News or “Propaganda”?

Garry Kasparov, Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un news, fake news, propaganda, North Korean news, North Korea news, South Korea news, South Korea news, Korean news

© The Hornbills Studio

February 20, 2018 04:58 EDT

CNN faces criticism over its reporting of the North Korean leader’s family.

The Huffington Post reports that “CNN is facing a backlash over an article about North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, which critics claim paints her family’s repressive regime in a positive light.” Referring to this article, former chess champion Garry Kasparov tweeted the provocative hypothesis that CNN is now the stooge of the North Koreans. “Someone tell @CNN that their site has been hacked by the North Korean propaganda ministry.”

In December 2016, Kasparov tweeted this: “The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.” As a former Soviet citizen, it is understandable that he has an obsession with propaganda. But what does that mean?

Here is today’s 3D definition:


1) Any news we want people to think is fake

2) News reporting about an authoritarian country that a critic of that country feels is not sufficiently defamatory

Contextual note

CNN is one of Donald Trump’s favorite targets and has justifiably been criticized by the likes of Jon Stewart as well as by the notorious right-wing provocateur and specialist of lame practical jokes, James O’Keefe. But this is probably the first time anyone has accused CNN of publishing North Korean propaganda.

In the same context of the Winter Olympics in South Korea, last week we looked at US Vice President Mike Pence’s valiant attempt to discourage talks between North and South Korea. Trump and Kasparov seem to be on the same page. They also share a taste for denigrating the news media and CNN in particular. Trump calls it fake news, while Kasparov opts for propaganda, a fact that reflects their respective cultures.

But what was incriminating in the article? It made no political points but did report standard superficial observation about people’s actions and even appearances. For example, it quoted the South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency — hardly an organ of propaganda for the North — who reported that Kim Yo Jong was “wearing a wine-colored jacket and black pants.”

Kasparov objected to one thing: Instead of demonizing, the article humanized the personality of one important member of the regime, who happens to be the tyrant’s sister. The overall impression CNN gives of Kim Yo Jong projects a good feeling about who she is and indirectly about her mission encouraging cooperation between the two states. This strikes as much fear into Kasparov as it does to Pence, not because it’s propaganda for North Korea, but because it isn’t propaganda against North Korea.

Kasparov would most likely approve of this Reuters article that briefly acknowledges the “largely positive impression” Kim Yo Jong made, but immediately proceeds to detect hints of despotism in her appearance and manner. “But her sometimes aloof expression and high-tilted chin also spoke of someone who sees herself ‘of royalty’ and ‘above anyone else,’ leadership experts and some critics said.”

Here’s a piece that reads like propaganda. It typically cites unnamed “leadership experts” and “some critics,” which of course hides the unspoken fact that most critics don’t endorse that reading. The article briefly highlights the contrasting role — presented as unambiguously positive — of Pence, who was there “leading international pressure on North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programme and reminding the world of the Kim family’s brutal regime.”

In one corner, haughty Kim Yo Jong. In the other, “the world” (us).

There is little doubt that the North Korean regime is brutal and despotic. We don’t need propaganda to understand that. But opportunities for dialogue are rare and deserve to be explored. People who “protest too much” about fake news or propaganda tend to fear dialogue, preferring to compete by pushing their own preferred brand of propaganda.

Historical note

Garry Kasparov is considered by many to be the greatest chess player of all time, or at least was until dethroned by IBM’s deep blue computer, ushering in the upcoming age in the history of mankind of rule by artificial intelligence (which we expect will be dubbed algorithmocracy).

Kasparov has made a name for himself as Vladimir Putin’s most virulent and abrasive opponent and even tried to run for president. The fact that he is a celebrity with no background in politics casts him as a potential Trump-like political upstart. But his chances of succeeding in a culture of tsars and first secretaries of authoritarian bureaucracies seem more than remote.

At least Kasparov’s opposition to Putin — whom nobody really loves but Russian voters seem to approve of — keeps him in the news, especially in the age of Russiagate.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: The Hornbills Studio /

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