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A little more than three weeks ago, Kim Jong-il named his son, Kim Jong-un, as his successor; then Lee and Ling received their 12-year sentences; and then North Korea announced plans to launch its Taepodong-2 intermediate-range ballistic missile toward Hawaii, around the Fourth of July.
On June 11, “Who Is Mitchell Koss, and Why Isn’t He Talking?” — Netizen journalism’s attempt to fill in the blanks left by the local media’s continued insouciance about the man who knows too much — was published.
In response, an e-mail arrived from a Current TV insider, who wrote: “Interesting article on Mitchell Koss. I’m another one of his protégés. I’d say you got 90 percent dead-on accurate, which is pretty amazing since the premise suggests you’ve never spoken to Mitch.”
Then, an Internet colleague put us in touch with journalism god Jon Alpert, who offered further insight.
In the ’70s, Alpert invented the cinéma verité style of TV documentary journalism used by many today, including Koss. Alpert and his wife, Keiko Tsuno, won 15 Emmys and three DuPont-Columbia Awards for their investigative reports from Vietnam, Cambodia, Iran, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Cuba and Afghanistan.
“Yeah, it’s tragic for those ambitious young reporters to be put into that kind of situation,” Alpert says.
“We were in dangerous situations many times,” he recalls. “You always have to weigh the risk, to calculate. Is it worth it?
“Current’s heart is in the right place. Back then we were just like them; we were gonna report from places nobody else got to go.
“But a lot of their stuff is superficial,” Alpert says. “It’s as much them parading around somewhere as it is reporting. I talked to them about that.”
Alpert led us to Jim Butterworth, a Colorado-based filmmaker whose Emmy Award–winning Seoul Train, released in 2005, is a widely respected documentary on North Koreans who crisscross the China–North Korea border for cash, cigarettes, food, fuel and freedom.
Butterworth, who has stood on the very spot from which Lee, Ling and Koss crossed into North Korea, says, “My partner, Lisa (Sleeth), and I have talked about the Current TV crew a lot. ... Yes, we have crossed over the border, but we weren’t foolish enough to think we could go into a North Korean village, as they apparently did.”
Butterworth says the two Asian-American women would have stood out, even in local clothing. “Because of a generation of malnutrition, the North Koreans are tiny people. The Americans’ height and weight would have attracted too much attention.”
The seasoned filmmaker adds, “It was insane.”
Meanwhile, someone has posted the employment contract for Current TV president of programming David Neuman. It shows that Neuman stands to make a cool million bucks this year. Likewise — and more — for CEO Joel Hyatt and Current’s founder, Al Gore, both still silent on Ling and Lee.
Here in L.A., the media seem focused on sentimental stories of weeping relatives and naive demands for their release. Mitchell Koss, the one man who knows exactly what happened in Kangan-ri on March 17, still isn’t saying squat.
Babamoto blogs occasionally at Epicanthus.net.