Articles From the May 1994 Unification News
Interview with Josette Shiner
Josette Shiner, Managing Editor of The Washington Times, was the guest speaker at the annual UTS "Coffee House Talks" held February 23rd. Mrs. Shiner braved a snowstorm and spoke to a full-house audience of about 150 people including students, community people, and representative from the local media.
As managing editor of The Washington Times, the only conservative major newspaper in our nation's capitol, she is responsible for managing a staff of 250 people and for planning and directing the newspaper's daily news coverage. In her 15 years as a reporter and editor, Mrs. Shiner has covered the White House, presidential campaigns and conventions, Congress and the State Department. In addition, she makes regular appearances on CNN, C-SPAN, FOX-TV and other news programs. During the past decade, Mrs. Shiner has interviewed many world leaders including Ronald Reagan, Helmut Kohl, Margaret Thatcher and the Dali Lama. Her exclusive interview with former Costa Rican President Oscar Sanchez, on the eve of the contra aid vote, was cited during the debate in Congress. In April of 1992 Mrs. Shiner conducted the first interview with North Korean President Kim Il Sung in the American press in twenty years.
Mrs. Shiner is a member of the Council of Foreign Relations, she has participated in international fact finding delegations and several editor-to-editor exchanges with the former Soviet Union. In addition to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Mrs. Shiner is a member of the American News Women's Club, the White House Correspondents Association, National Press Club, Society of Newspaper Design and Sigma Delta Phi. A 1976 graduate of the University of Colorado, Josette is listed in Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in the East, Who's Who in Professional Executive Women and Who's Who in Emerging Leaders in America and the International Who's Who of Intellectuals.
Josette has been a member of the Unification Church since 1975. She is married to Whitney Shiner (UTS 1978) and a mother of three. She was interviewed by UTS Junior Bret Moss.
Bret: Josette, your career is something that we hold in awe as your brothers and sisters. I'd like to begin by asking how you got into the field and what obstacles you had to overcome in becoming a journalist.
Josette: First of all, I want to thank you all for inviting me up here. When I was a young member of the Unification Church, I spent many hours praying in the chapel upstairs and never dreamed I'd be invited back to speak. I see many of my heroes like Dean Stewart, the Byrne's, the Ang's and others who really inspired me through all of the challenges that I have faced over the past 20 years, so I am thrilled to be here. I also want to say that I am deeply impressed that all of you have given up Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan tonight and come to this instead. This of course has been touted by my profession as the Second Coming. I am proud of you and hope that we can make it worth your while by having a heart to heart talk about the professional world that I am in. Your first question was...?
Bret: How did you enter the field and what obstacles did you face?
Josette: Okay. This is a true story how I got into the field. I was attending the University of Colorado and like many college students in the early 1970's and maybe today, I didn't know quite what I wanted to do with my life. One summer at home in New Jersey I was working in a restaurant where there was a beautiful Chinese family who were working in the kitchen. The father was a Ph. D., but they were illegal immigrants. Every night the restaurant would lock them in the attic and this shocked me. Being very naive and very idealistic at the time, I called the national editor of The New York Times and told him I was going to do an investigative story about the situation of illegal immigrants. Of course, they asked "Who are you." I explained that I was a college student and I would do the story for them. "Well, no your not," they said, "you are not going to do a story for us."
This rather rude awakening indicated that I needed some credentials in life to be able to accomplish the things that I wanted. But I never really thought of the media even though I liked to write, liked politics and grew up in a political family. However, a few weeks later on the plane going back to school I sat next to a New York Times reporter who spent the next four hours convincing me that journalism was where I wanted to head. It was an epiphany experience and I changed my major to journalism. This was at the time of Watergate and the journalism school had twice as many people as it could hold. Addressing an overflow crowd of new candidates, the Dean asked "How many of you can type" and about half of us raised our hand. "The rest of you get out of here," he said, "I never want to see you".
I was also at that time searching spiritually and joined the Unification Church. I was very interested in doing missionary work in Africa and was convinced that I would never do anything with journalism because it did not seem like a place, if you were idealistic, that you would want to put your energies. About a year after that, Rev. Moon decided to start a newspaper in America and I was asked whether I wanted to join the staff. That was 1976 and the rest is history.
Bret: Thank you very much. Your field, especially as an editor, is traditionally dominated by men. Have you met much resistance working in the editorial section of the newspaper?
Josette: It is true that the journalism field has been dominated by men for years, especially in the news area. Typically in American newspapers you find women working in the Features section or what are often called the Lifestyles sections covering health, food, fashion or issues like those. However, this has really changed. In management, it is more personal style than being a man or a woman. In the newsroom where it is very tense, there is a lot of pressure and everyone is operating at an optimum because the work you do is visible on a huge public scale every day, a woman's inclination to talk things through rather than fight things through, is often helpful. In our business there is now more of an appreciation for balance in the newsroom. This may just be Washington, and it may be that out in the states this is not happening so much. But in Washington, people really see it as an advantage now to have a mix, not just of men and women, but also culturally and ethnically.
Bret: Thank you very much. I'd like to ask you some questions regarding the media itself. How can the media be more responsible in being a positive influence in our culture today?
Josette: That is a very difficult question. At The Washington Times we have a commitment to try and portray what is right and solutions to problems. It is very easy every day to have negative stories of murders, crime and violence. How do you counter that? A while ago, we ran a series of stories called "Fighting Back" that featured people in the community who had found solutions to the crime and who were being affective in fighting that. We try to do these kinds of things, but then Tonya Harding comes along and it is all everyone wants to read about, it seems.
In a way we are blaming the media for printing the negative, but it is hard for a newspaper. For example, if The Washington Times decides we are not going to print such negativity, our readers would feel, "Where is the news on Tonya Harding? I'm seeing it on T.V. I want it in my newspaper. I want to be able to keep up." So it is this kind of difficult balance everyday.
I will say in our front page meetings at The Washington Times, every day at 11 a.m. and one at 4 p.m. we try to make sure that we have at least one human interest story developing that tells something about families, the way we live, or the life of someone who has accomplished something, just so there is a touch, a reminder that it isn't all bad news and Lord knows in Washington this is really needed. In Washington you can go, as I do, from Capitol Hill to CNN, C-SPAN and just deal with arguments, debate and negativity day in and day out and I just want to tell you to keep singing out here because your influence is needed in America. Keep dreaming and hoping and pushing for the kinds of ideals that you have because once a leader gets to Washington, it is very hard. It is really a battle ground.
Bret: How can we utilize the media to help bring about positive change in our culture?
Josette: That is an excellent question. In fact, if I ever get time in my life I should probably write a book about this. People see wonderful things happening in families or communities but I can't tell you how rare it is for a newspaper to get a call saying there is something really good happening. You presume that a newspaper knows everything, but to know things you have to hear from the people that are there. If I ever left the media, I would be a real good letter writer. I'd get to know everyone at the local newspaper, radio or television station, and not just the editor.
Often the editor of a paper will get hundreds of calls a day, but a reporter who you feel is a really beautiful writer never get the calls and there is no reason why. Take note of those reporters' names and send them a note that you loved the way they wrote that story and if you see something good you'll call because you like the kind of work they are doing. Develop this kind of relationship. The media has a big responsibility but they don't have any time. Wherever I go, whenever I talk, I encourage people to let the media know the good things that are happening because the people with money for press releases are usually promoting their own causes and not what is really happening on a human level.
Bret: I'd like to talk about Washington where you spend most of your time. First of all, President and Mrs. Clinton. How would you rate them?
Josette: You are trying to turn me into a professor. I've got to give them a grade now. I've covered every president since President Carter and have seen them very, very closely. In 1977, I went to Washington and soon after that started covering the White House. You really do get to know a lot about the personality of the President.
It has been a very, very difficult first year for President Clinton. For us in the media it has been a rocky first year trying to get to know who the Clinton's are. They were really not accessible to the media much at all. There were a lot of rumors about them and not a very clear picture of who they were. There weren't a lot of people that knew them. The press in Arkansas is not that big - the whole state of Arkansas in terms of population is about the size of the Dallas-Ft. Worth metropolitan area - and the media is not a big regional media.
Over the year The Washington Times has probably been the leading paper covering the Whitewater scandal. We didn't break the Whitewater story, The New York Times did, but we have been doing some of the most significant reporting on it and a lot of very significant day-to-day reporting on the President and the First Lady. I guess you are going to have to ask me more specific questions about them.
Bret: Since you brought up Whitewater, what do you think will become of Whitewater?
Josette: The New York Times broke a story during the campaign in April of 1992 about this real estate development and the implications around the loans that had been gotten from a failed S&L. The day after that story broke the Clinton press people threatened to sue the Times for liable. This put a squash on the story, and it disappeared for a number of months. If you now look back, the original New York Times story was 100 percent correct. There are many who say that the media failed to do it's job at the time and that it would have affected the outcome of the campaign. What has happened since then, of course, is that we have had a death in the White House of someone very closely linked to Whitewater and Madison. There are a lot of questions surrounding his death, and The Washington Times has broken well over a hundred stories in this area, including a number of significant ones. We are going to be doing a three times a week television program on National Empowerment Television on Whitewater.
Where will it lead? If you look at the boards of directors of these companies, the hundreds of thousands of dollars of loans that people were able to get and defaulted on, and that most of those people are in Washington now in key positions in the Justice Department and White House, there is no doubt it is a significant investigative story. What could be the worst that would come out of it is unclear, but the reason the media is so interested in it is that the White House seems so intent on not allowing access to any of the records to the point where we did a story at the paper on the shredding of documents at the Rose law firm.
I don't think the story will go away. Probably for at least the next year or two you will see major coverage of this in the media. Will it lead to significant problems for the President, we don't know, and there are any number of people in the White House and very high level Justice Department positions who are being investigated for their roles, so, who knows the impact that it will have?
Bret: Very clear, thank you. How would you rate President and Mrs. Clinton as role models for our children, the young people of America. How are they doing in that area?
Josette: You have to look at the administration, and this is definitely a different administration than we've had in the past. The Washington Times has truly a conservative outlook and we cover stories that the Washington Post might not cover.
One story we covered is an interesting example of what is happening. We got a story on the wires a couple of months ago about the Clinton AIDS Czar Gebby who had given a speech where she said that the problem in America is that it's too Victorian a society and that we have to teach teenagers about sex and homosexual sex earlier; then we won't have the problems that we have. We thought that this was a significant story, that people would be interested to know that this was her strategy to deal with teen pregnancy and AIDS problems and we put it on the front page. She also said that the significant thing under Clinton is that she is able to say things like this - and not get struck by a bolt of lightening on the White House lawn. The Washington Post didn't have a word about the speech, but it was our judgement that this was the kind of thing people are interested in, that they want to know what the Administration is doing in the area of values policy. By about noon, the White House had 2,000 calls on the story, people demanding her resignation, and officials there were shocked because this was just a small story. They put out a statement that The Washington Times had mis-characterized Miss Gebby's remarks and that she was really pro-abstinence. Now if there is any way to get a fight going with a newspaper, it is to challenge their integrity of recording what happened.
We called the Associated Press reporter just to make sure that he had not mis-characterized her. He had the tape of the event and said there was no way. As a matter of fact, she said a lot more. So I called up David Gergen who is the Senior Policy Advisor of the White House, whom I knew from when he used to be with Bush, and I said to him that this was outrageous and we stood by our story. He put me in touch with their communications director who said, "She couldn't have said that." I said, "Well, she did say it." He said that what she really "meant" was something different, but I said that it was not our business to be interpreting her, we were just reporting it.
The Associated Press was about to put out a statement saying that they stand by their quotes and at that point I did a NEXUS computer search cross-referencing "AIDS Czar Gebby" and "abstinence," calling up everything that she has said on the subject that has been published anywhere in the past five years. We got a talk she gave in Dallas two weeks earlier where she said that to teach abstinence is criminal and it is destroying our children. So I thought, well, this is interesting.
Shortly thereafter I got a call from Dee Dee Myers, the Press Secretary at the White House and she said, "Josette, this is just outrageous. You've mischaracterized Miss Gebby. She's really pro- abstinence." I said "Dee Dee, you may have a problem with what she said and you may wish her to recant it, but she is not pro-abstinence. That's a fact not a debate." I reported, "We've done a NEXUS search" and she said, "Oh, shit, what did she say". I said, "You should know this before you call me, but she said that to teach abstinence is criminal," and she said, "I'll call you back." Later she called back and said, "What she really means is that kids grow up and when they get to be like thirteen they start having urges and you know, they shouldn't go and have sex but we've got to explain to them that it is not a good thing and it is not a bad thing and..." I said, "Dee Dee get a hold of yourself." She said "it's not abstinence and it is not anti-abstinence." I said, "Listen, this is not my problem. You retract the statement that we mis-characterized her; that is all we want." About twenty minutes later the wires carried a retraction from the White House stating that The Washington Times did not misquote her; however she is now clarifying her position and that she favors abstinence, but in addition doesn't favor negative talk about sex, or something like that, and so we ended this day-long thing.
I use that only as an example because as we cover these issues with this administration, they are all over the map. They come out with Joslin Elders saying, "We should legalize drugs." Then the White House says "No, we don't stand by this" and the next week she says it again. So on the values issues they are really all over the map and covering them is really an adventure because we just never know where they are going to come out. Why do we see that kind of thing happening? I haven't seen anything really like it before in Washington. In part it is an inexperienced staff. They are not really aware of what everyone is doing all of the time, there is not a real clear policy focus and so you see this kind of confusion happening. In part, it's also because values issues are a battle ground.
Bret: People fear that America is a modern day Rome, that the nation is on decline and that our future is very uncertain. How do you feel about America's future?
Josette: That is a very good question. I guess I'd like to speak on a personal level in response to that. Washington is really a fantastic city and to live there is such a privilege because inherent in it is, to my mind, the hopes and dreams of the best of human history. Yet in Washington you can see the worst tragedies in America if you go through the poorer neighborhoods. Just yesterday I was on North Capitol Street where you have an absolutely spectacular view of the Capitol building from amidst the most abject poverty. You see that kind of thing and there is a declining sense of hope in Washington, even among politicians, that they can deal with the problem.
Being at a newspaper can often be overwhelming with these stories day in and day out. My favorite place to go when I feel "is there any hope for this country," is the Jefferson Memorial at night after work. It's a circular memorial right on the tidal basin and when you sit there you can see not only the White House but the Washington Monument and the Capitol and they just glisten at night. You also can see Arlington Cemetery and the small markers up the hill. I look at all of that and feel so deeply moved by the founding hopes and ideals for this country and on the other side that so many people have died throughout American history for that dream, that shining city on a hill that had hope. You talk to immigrants and it is that hope, although in another way that hope is almost dead. I am just not going to let America go, I'm just not going to do it. I love this country so much. I really believe that it has the ability to be all that history has hoped it to be and that it won't fail.
I search for where can I rest my hope, where can I justify my hope and there is a reason for hope. It is here, and it is in small towns in America. It is in incredible faces of people that come to the Vietnam War Memorial. The children of fathers who have died there are so proud. They carry the flag and are so proud of this country. It's there in the hearts of people and I see it all over the country. The question is, will there be a leader that can resurrect that hope? I don't know, I really don't.
I think people had a lot of hope in Clinton. It's sad when you see Whitewater. We're going to live with that for a long time. America needs a leader who can bring people together and heal the wounds. We don't need the troubles in Washington that we are having. I just feel that I am not going to give up, and if you don't give up and if you get your friends not to give up and if we all say no, we're not going to let it go, we're not going to let this greatest experiment in history go, we're not going to let it die, then it won't happen.
But don't forget Washington, don't forget that if your congressman does something good write him a letter. It's lonely there for people fighting the battle. Don't feel they are leaders and so far above I can't communicate or that it wouldn't mean anything if I sent a letter. It does. Everyone needs to feel that they are on the right track when they do something good. So don't loose your hope and I won't loose mine. I promise. We'll make a pact.
Bret: Recently, President Clinton has been emphasizing family values. Do you see any substance behind President Clinton's words?
Josette: One of the top democratic operatives said that the reason why they fought Quail and Bush when they were bringing up family values was political but now they can embrace these values because it won't be helping the Republicans. That is really sad because almost every problem in America stems from the disintegration of the family. People committing the crime never had the kind of love that would make them appreciate what human life is. The more time I spend in Washington the more it just gets down to real simple things. I'm having a problem going on CNN and these programs because I'm loosing my ability to be complicated. It's like the ten commandments weren't the ten suggestions, families are where it is at, and if you don't have love you're not going to appreciate life. It's just basics, America has gotten away from the basics.
I hope there is substance behind the Democrats, I really do, because it is at the heart of the debate we need to have in this country. How are we going to get back to the basic building blocks that made this country great? It is not what ethnic or religious background you come from. It's a loving family, a willingness to take responsibility at that level and the feeling that this is not under attack from your government and your media everyday.
There is a huge battle in the Clinton administration that relates to the counter-culture. It's the culture that dominated when I was in university. These are my friends in power now, the kinds of people I went to school with who thought there can be sex without responsibility, that we can have it all and we don't have to be responsible for our actions. This is my generation. Remember, Bush was the last WWII president we will probably ever see. We now have the counterculture in power, and this debate is not going to go away quickly or easily. It's going to be the debate of the 1990s: how do we straighten out our thinking in America? The 1960s brought in new strains of thought a lot of which is, to many peoples' minds, debunked, disproved, and shown to be a failure. However, people still really believe in values of the 1960s. More and more they are coming to power in Washington. It is a very important debate and a very important time in Washington. The debate over values is the defining debate of the 1990s. That is why the Times is trying to cover it like we do foreign policy.
Bret: Can you say something about the issue of America being for the sake of the world. We see it portrayed in many newspapers today and on television that we should focus on America first, end hunger in America first, rebuild families in America first and then, maybe, we can help other countries after that. Are we really more concerned about ourselves than the world or is there some hope that America can live for the sake of the world?
Josette: This is another huge debate and this one falls not along political lines. In the Democratic party you find protectionists and those who believe we should pull inside, build up our industry and almost get into trade wars around the world. You also find a big strain of conservative Republicanism that is very anti-immigration and very anti-foreign policy involvement. On the other hand, the coalitions that came out in support of NAFTA and in support of involvement in Bosnia were Democrats and Republicans who believe in an assertive role for America abroad. So, it doesn't fall along party lines as the values debate often does not.
Where are we headed on it? Fortunately, the Clinton administration made the right decision on Bosnia, finally, and we see an alleviation of the worst of what was happening there. It took just a little backbone on the part of the United States; often it doesn't take that much. However, there is something to be said for the work that we have to do at home and some valid criticism of Bush for not taking on some of the tough issues at home. Therefore, you see the attraction of someone like Clinton during the campaign. Politicians and those on the Hill need to keep a dual focus. The pressure is on to focus inward. Nonetheless, we have a role to play in this post-cold war era and it's not the end of history. As a matter of fact, it may be the most dangerous time that we have faced. Especially through this decade America has to be really vigilante. I think this argument is winning out by a slight edge. Bret: Clinton sparked quite a debate by his campaign promise to allow homosexuals to participate in the military. I'd like to know some of your feelings on the homosexual issue in America and does The Washington Times have an editorial policy regarding the AIDS issue and homosexuals?
Josette: The Washington Times editorial policy is pretty much that it is none of the government's business either to promote homosexuality or to aggressively persecute homosexuals. My feeling in general is that if you poll the average American, this is not the top issue in their mind. This is one of those areas where I say let's look at where the priorities are. I think part of why there was such a negative reaction to Clinton's pledge that he would end discrimination against gays in the military was that people had a lot of other things on their mind like the recession, crime, the breakdown in the family and the fact that in schools kids are getting shot. So people felt like, "Where is our President? We elected him and we've got a lot of pressing issues." At The Washington Times we try to make our news judgements not based on what's the in vogue issue, but based on what really has an impact on our reader's lives. So I'd say yes, it's kind of an interesting debate, but it pales in comparison to the kinds of issues this nation needs to face and where we should really be spending our time.
Bret: Rev. Moon invested over a billion dollars in establishing The Washington Times, a well known fact among the audience here tonight. Can you say something about Rev. Moon's vision for The Washington Times and for the media in general?
Josette: First, I'd like to say that The Washington Times has been successful not in spite of Rev. Moon, but because of Rev. Moon. It is a fantastic success story. There has been very rarely in American history a newspaper that in ten years has the impact that The Washington Times has. We are told by the Associated Press that we are the third most quoted newspaper in the world after The New York Times and the Washington Post. I was on C-SPAN recently with a columnist for the Chicago Tribune who had been to lunch with President at the White House with our editor Wesley Pruden, also a columnist, and eight or so other top columnists. He said that on arriving, David Gergen and a flock of advisors from the White House made a bee-line for Pruden, saying "How are you Mr. Pruden. Welcome to the White House. Is everything fine? Is your staff happy? Are we answering your questions," etc. The guy from The Chicago Tribune felt, "Who are we, nothing?" The fact is, we are in Washington and it has a big impact. The Times is read on Capitol Hill, the White House, everywhere. It gets into congressional records and the Foreign Press quotes it. People at The Los Angeles Times and Boston Globe say, "Wait a minute, we've been around here longer, our reporters have a lot more experience." We have a lot of fun at The Washington Times. We have a very young staff and get about 200 resumes a week from reporters who like our kind of "in your face" style. There are no issues we won't tackle when the dominant media says it's not important, like family values. We think it is important. We cover it and we get a tremendous response. We like setting our own agenda and doing aggressive reporting like on the House Bank scandal which we broke. Part of what we bring to Washington is kind of this average American sensibility. Maybe the Post has been there too long and they feel part of the club. What we are finding now is that the radio talk show hosts are picking up our stories as populist issues. All over the country you've got these Rush Limbaugh type of programs that pick-up our stories and spread them around. The Post just brings a different mentality.
When I think back, I cannot believe where we have come in ten years. This is a great story to be told someday, in full. A billion dollars is a lot of money, and I think it has really been a great service to America and the world. Why a great service to America? One thing, for example. There are five main newspapers in London. With the tabloids and others, there are more. In Tokyo, there are many major newspapers. For Washington, when The Washington Star folded, to have one newspaper was not a good situation. There were no businessmen willing to come in because it is very hard to make money against The Washington Post. It is very established, very wealthy. They've got a very deep penetration of the market, and it's a very good newspaper at what they do. They've got huge printing presses, and they tell you more than you could ever want to know about anything. Rev. Moon was the one who said go in there and make the investment.
We get many, many letters every day from people who say they wouldn't know what to do if this paper weren't here. They would feel at a loss. I was at the White House recently and Donna Shalala came running up to me and said, "I just have to tell you, I love your newspaper." I said, "Wait a minute, do you really?" She had been out to lunch at the paper and said, "Well, first I read the sports section. It's fantastic. You've got the best sports section in town, I love it." But then she said, "I would not go one day without knowing what your columnists, what your editorials, what your paper is saying about health care and welfare and all these issues because I would be blind sided. I'd go on Capitol Hill and just not know." The Village Voice had a story last week saying you can't have a conversation about Whitewater in this country anymore without reading The Washington Times. So, from the Left and the Right we are hearing it. Amen.
Bret: I'd like to ask you about your interview with North Korean President Kim Il Sung in 1992. That was the first time an American journalist had interviewed him in 20 years. Can you share something about what it took?
Josette: Ah, yes. There are many stories to be told about my trip to North Korea, and if we have lot's of time another time, I'll tell you all about it. What a privilege and what an incredible opportunity to go in and see this nation that will never exist on earth again. This is the absolute manifestation of the worst and the most severe form of communism and denial of human freedom that you will ever find or that has ever existed on earth, and it is impossible that it will ever exist again. To go in there and to be able to spend time and see that and then interview the man who for forty years, the longest serving head-of-state in the world, has ruled was really such a privilege and such an opportunity.
I went to North Korea for the first time in 1992 in March, with a small delegation from The Washington Times. We determined that we would try to get an interview with Kim Il Sung, which everyone in the world had been trying to do. Since The New York Times had their interview twenty years ago he has not spoken to any Western media. There have been some interviews in Japan, but they consisted of written questions which aids filled out and a picture. There have really been no face-to-face interviews with Kim Il Sung in twenty years and here we were.
At the time we went, the Bush administration was indicating that Pyongyang was right in its cross hairs for attack to take out their nuclear facilities. So the moment we arrived in North Korea we're saying that we'd really like to go to Yongbin, their nuclear facility and they're like, "No way." What they try to do with the media is take you to all the tourist sights.
We were advised by a very wise person, who knows how to deal with North Koreans, that if this happened we should throw a tantrum while we were there and threaten to leave. That's not quite the American style. We prefer to say, "Let's have a cup of coffee or let's have a beer. What's the problem. We've got to work this out. We need better interviews." We wanted and needed to interview the Defense chief, Foreign Minister, Economics Minister, and then interview Kim Il Sung himself and Kim Jong Il, his son.
But we were taken to more museums. They have more museums per square acre than we have lawyers in Washington. It's just unbelievable. Every museum has at least one stuffed animal, like a tiger under which it says something like "Kim Il Sung shot this tiger on April 1, 1953 at the second peak on Diamond Mountain." Everywhere there's all this prey that was shot. We went to a hospital for infants where none of the machinery was plugged in and they all were like actors. It was really strange.
After about the third day of visiting museums, our editor decided to throw a fit. We were out at Kim Il Sung's birthplace, and he started yelling at me, saying, "This is it. This is the last museum I'm going to. I've had it. I'm going back to Washington. Go tell them." He said it loud enough for our handlers to hear. I went over to our handlers, like the good cop, and said "He's very, very upset, and we are going to have to leave." However, the aide said, "As you know, there are only three flights a week out of Pyongyang and the next one is not for three days." This kind of took the edge off our tantrum.
Nevertheless it had the desired effect. A convoy of mercedes came out and we were asked what the problem was. They didn't want the bad publicity of The Washington Times leaving upset. So we started getting some very good interviews with very significant people there. Many of them would open with at least an hour long lesson on Jeu-che, their philosophy of independence. We met with the Foreign Minister, for example, which is a real coup but he gave us a two hour lecture on Jeu-che and then said, "Oh there's no time for questions" and got up and left.
Just a fascinating time. Much of it I haven't reported and much of which is off the record because the handlers would be known there. [editor's note: in accordance with Josette's desire that mention of her handlers be off the record, we have deleted this portion of the interview. Suffice it to say, after a series of incredible machinations which included her departure from Pyongyang and stay in Bejing, Josette's determination won an audience with the Great Leader. We pick up the interview at that point]
I asked him, "When's your son going to take over?" Now, I didn't realize this question you do not ask in North Korea and in fact the Japanese media are not even allowed to write it. It is banned, off the list. The Great Leader looked at me, then he looked at the guy next to him and yelled, "Haven't you people told them that my son's already taken over!" He banged the table and the guy next to him is like, having a stroke. I said that the world doesn't really know what your son does, exactly. He said, "My son runs everything" and gave me a long list of things.
Then I asked, "What do you think of the China model, is that something North Korea should do?" Everyone in North Korea we asked said there is absolutely no way they are going to follow it, that the China model is awful. He said, "You know, I visited those economic zones, it's really cool." He didn't say exactly that, but it was kind of like, "I really like those" and "Yea, there are some real possibilities there for us." I started thinking, "Let this guy out, let him speak." He's in a different zone from all of these bureaucrats.
It was going like this and then he said, "Let's have some lunch together" and my friend next to him is beyond, you know, stroke zone. So we go to lunch for about an hour and a half. I said, "I hear you like movies" and I'm thinking, "Small talk with Kim Il Sung, boy, what do I do now." This is a true story and illustrative, I guess, of how isolated they are. He said, "I do. I like them a lot." I said, "Do you like American movies, or what". He said, "In fact, I like Japanese movies the best. But I'll tell you, you can learn a lot about a country through movies. In Japan, their housing situation is so acute, it's worse than in North Korea. We have a tight housing situation, but Japan is worse. I've seen movies where a man and a woman who are not married stay together in the same apartment because there is not enough room for them to have their own places."
At one point I said, "You're eighty years old and you look so young, how have you done that?" Then he gave this wonderful thing which I printed in the paper about how he has this philosophy in life that if the whole sky falls on the world there is a little hole in it for Kim Il Sung and that it will fall all around him but he will stay unharmed. He has this optimism and belief that he won't be touched by any bad things that befall him.
Anyway, we went through the whole lunch, got great stuff, came back and filed the story from Bejing. I had a 104 fever by that point. I was so completely stressed out that I was alive and had this. I couldn't believe it. Anyway, we got back to Bejing and had to file it within four hours so it would run on his eightieth birthday the next day. We did that and got picked up by over four thousand media and on CNN and National Public Radio and all over the world, it really made big news and I guess that's that. That's the story. (applause).
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