[TODAY]The media must probe corruptionThe renowned journalist Walter Lippman once said that the history of corruption is the history of reform.
When allegations of corruption surface, the malfeasance is condemned and this starts a chain reaction that eventually establishes legal and social mechanisms to prevent further wrongdoing. To a journalist, Mr. Lippman’s words are advice to tenaciously seek out corruption and censure it.
The incident of the president’s personal secretary, Yang Gil-seung, spending a night partying with a nightclub owner under police investigation, running up a 2 million won ($1,670) bill on the house, is one that certainly deserves the media’s pursuit.
When Park Chung Hee and, later, Chun Doo Hwan took over the country by force, power literally came out of the muzzles of guns. When civilian Kim Young-sam became president, the fate of those surrounding the president depended on how close they were to him. Even in the White House in Washington, the hidden power is the secretary in charge of arranging the president’s appointments. It is the old adage of how the fox sometimes borrows the lion’s might for his own purposes. Mr. Yang, too, was in a position where he could “borrow” the president’s might.
At the private party in Cheongju where Mr. Yang met with the nightclub owner, a high school friend of the president was also present. This friend is known to be quite close to the president. By lavishing such service on the president’s personal secretary and his close friend, the nightclub owner would have sent a strong message to the local authorities who were trying to investigate him.
This would have applied pressure on them to tread softly. This is where the problem lies. There is no need to use words to ask a favor at a party like this. One only needs to use common sense to understand the situation.
The most shocking aspect of this incident is the Blue House’s reaction. To give it the benefit of the doubt, the Blue House made a mistake because it failed to see the significance of this incident at first. A more cynical view would have the Blue House in league from the start, more interested in covering up the story and hushing things up. Many of the explanations about important facts provided by the involved parties, such as who was present at the party and whether there had actually been a request by the nightclub owner to Mr. Yang to use his influence to call off the investigation, were found to be untrue. Reporting the results of its own investigation of the matter, the Blue House failed to mention that there had been a similar party in April and omitted the name of the president’s high school friend.
Moon Jae-in, the civil affairs senior secretary, tried to justify the omissions as protection of privacy. In a group e-mail to the Blue House staff, Mr. Moon criticized the media for reporting on the fact that Mr. Yang had another private party with the nightclub owner. “The night hours after work are [Mr. Yang’s] free time,” he wrote.
“What absurd criticism [by the media] is this?” This is a truly amazing and dangerous statement.
The president’s personal secretary should always maintain his position as one of the people closest to the president with a clear mind. A person who did not want to sacrifice his personal life should not have taken this job in the first place. Even if we grant Mr. Yang his private life, should he have traveled all the way to Cheongju from Seoul using a government vehicle paid for by taxpayers’ money to have a night of fun?
Mr. Moon claims that he did not disclose the fact that a high school friend of the president was present at the party because he was protecting his privacy. In this case, however, this close friend of the president could have assisted a person under investigation to ask a high-ranking official to use his influence to call off that investigation. The presence of this friend, in a sense, heightens the level of the party.
The deputy spokesman of the Blue House criticized the media’s coverage of the incident as “sadistic group terrorism.” This is a low statement that goes against reason. The president had said that he would never accept Mr. Yang’s resignation because of media pressure. He is right. We are not asking him to dismiss an innocent attendant because of the media. However, it is a pity that the president refuses to say even a word about how he will dismiss Mr. Yang should it turn out that he had done wrong. The Blue House seems yet to learn from the mistake of former President Kim Dae-jung during the “furgate” scandal where a lobbying incident involving the wife of the former prosecutor general was made worse by the Blue House’s less than honest attitude.
Ron Ziegler, who was the White House press secretary during the Watergate scandal that drove President Richard Nixon from office, was forced to admit to journalists, after a year of denying the White House’s attempt to cover up the incident, that “all the explanations until now are inoperative.” A little later, Mr. Nixon also gave up his struggle.
This is history that Mr. Moon and the Blue House people might find interesting.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie
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