[FORUM]Some disturbing omens emerging

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[FORUM]Some disturbing omens emerging

The words and behavior of Roh Moo-hyun have proven to be one step ahead of his competitors.

When people attacked his father-in-law's pro-communist activities, he turned things around, replying, "I love my wife," and when people accused him of not knowing the United States well enough, he silenced them by saying, "I will not go to America to stand in front of a camera."

Television audiences saw him drinking a shot of soju with Chung Mong-joon in a friendly gesture after the two agreed to field a single presidential candidate. The performance was superb.

On the night Mr. Chung announced his withdrawal of support, Mr. Roh went to the front gate of Mr. Chung's residence to ask him to change his mind, but he went there against his will. He argued with his advisers, "This is against principle."

This attitude continued after he was elected. His liking for discussion and a logical, easy way of speaking has not changed, nor has his behavior.

But perhaps because of overconfidence, the president-elect occasionally surprises us with words and behavior a man in his position should avoid.

"Anybody who tries to make an impure request will be investigated concerning taxes and every other aspect. Unless they are completely flawless, I will make sure that person is severely punished," he said to the party leadership on Dec. 26. He used extreme words like, "I will ruin that family."

Undoubtedly, unjust requests must disappear, but tax investigations are not the right tool. Are those who seek favors the only ones to be punished by tax investigations? Think of all the worse things people do than asking dubious favors. Are tax investigations the way to punishing political conspirators or sycophants? And what about political enemies or press critics?

It is surprising to hear words from Mr. Roh echoing the way of thinking that has always been a problem in previous administrations. Are we still that far from seeing balanced law enforcement and neutrality in powerful organizations like the prosecutors' office and the National Tax Service?

Mr. Roh's sudden visit to the Hankyoreh newspaper last Thursday was also surprising.

Commenting on the sudden visit, originally not on his schedule but directed by the president-elect, an aide to Mr. Roh said, "The visit was not for the purpose of seeing a newspaper, but to meet journalists and listen to them." Even reporters at the Hankyoreh were skeptical about those remarks.

To summarize the situation that morning, Mr. Roh was extremely upset because the Chosun Ilbo carried a scoop that he would appoint Moon Hee-sang as the Blue House chief of staff. After arguing with his staff -- "How could you give that information to the Chosun?" -- he went to visit the Hankyoreh.

It is very startling to see a president-elect, who in his campaign so strongly asked the press to refrain from carrying reports biased toward one candidate, so clearly drawing the line between "them" and "us" after the election. Although he criticized the Chosun Ilbo for explicitly supporting Lee Hoi-chang, he has shown, by his visit, that the Hankyoreh was on his side. Some journalists at the Hankyoreh are said to have remarked uncomfortably, "I do not understand why the president-elect is coming."

If that is the kind of press reform the president-elect had in mind, then that is even more startling.

Reporting the facts, reviewing according to beliefs -- there can be no better press reform than that. A newspaper that distorts facts must be corrected, but one that changes its editorial tone to accommodate a new administration is also worthy of criticism.

The words and behavior of the president-elect about requests and press leaks are not trivial, just as a president's thoughts on tax investigations and the press cannot be either.

by Kim Soo-gil

* The writer is a deputy managing editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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