The intro video before Dennis Rodman’s recent ABC News interview with George Stephanopoulos wraps with a clip of Colonel Stephen Ganyard, USMC, saying, “There is nobody at the CIA who could tell you more personally about Kim Jong-un than Dennis Rodman, and that in itself is scary.”
The tape cuts to the interview. Rodman wears sunglasses and a baseball cap in addition to his many frightening tattoos and piercings. Stephanopoulos asks Rodman pointed questions about Kim Jong-un and North Korea. “When you said you loved Kim and think he’s awesome, were you aware of his threats to destroy the United States and his regime’s horrendous record on human rights?” “What did he tell you about America and what did you learn about him?” “You called them great leaders, do you really believe that?” “He wants a call from President Obama?” “Did you say, ‘Why don’t you pick up the phone and call President Obama?'”
Rodman does not articulate his thoughts well. Throughout the interview, Stephanopoulos (the former Senior Advisor for Policy and Strategy during the Clinton administration, and a current member of the Council on Foreign Relations) makes his skepticism toward Rodman’s claims obvious.
He asks: “A ‘great guy’ who puts two hundred thousand people in prison camps?”
Rodman responds that some of the things the American government does are similar.
Stephanopoulos is justifiably taken aback by this, because America does not have prison camps. It is a very different country. Although America imprisons more people than North Korea, its incarceration rate is lower, roughly seven per thousand instead of eight per thousand. One might argue that all Americans, even in prison, are freer than North Koreans. America has nothing like the torture and public executions North Korea has; instead, it permits torture and capital punishment only following due process of law, and then only rarely. Even America’s most infamous detention camp has been on the verge of being shut down for several years now, thanks to successful outcry, and few detainees die there, except sometimes when they have been detained without trial for ten years or more. Stephanopoulos is right to suggest that Rodman’s comparison is unfounded.
When Rodman claims that Kim does not want war, Stephanopoulos counters by quoting Kim’s threats against the United States saying the exact opposite. Stephanopoulos sensibly conflates threat with intention (though others, like Brian Myers, would perhaps argue that Kim must threaten war with the United States to legitimize his government).
Stephanopoulos’s point in all this: Rodman, who supposedly knows the most about Kim Jong -un, knows little. He gently asks Rodman, “Do you think you have a responsibility to ask him about [his regime’s horrendous record on human rights] so that you are not perceived as sort of propping up his regime, his cult of personality?”
His advice for Rodman: “Next time you go back, you should bring this report from the Human Rights Watch with you and maybe ask some questions about that as well, you might learn a lot more and it might press him as well, but thank you for coming on this morning and sharing your impressions.”
“Here’s the report.”
The minor details we can glean from Rodman’s words are of little use. We can tell, for instance, that Kim Jong-un has enough charisma to convince the people who meet him that he’s a great guy. What good is that? Since Kim is not actually a great guy, this fact is not worth exploring.
Second: according to Rodman, Kim is willing to say that he wants to talk to President Obama. This should probably be discredited as well; after all, as Stephanopoulos points out, if he really wanted to talk with Obama, he could just pick up the phone and call him.
Third: we have even more proof that Kim Jong-un loves basketball. Rodman stresses this: “He loves basketball. Obama loves basketball. Let’s start there. Let’s start there.” But, says Stephanopoulos before moving on, that’s just “one tiny bit of common ground.”
Best to discount it, as Stephanopoulos does.