[Outlook]A ghost haunts the Blue HouseAre the Blue House and government office buildings haunted by the ghost of Richard Nixon? Probably ― the smoke the former U.S. president is raising in the Korean presidential office is enough to make one’s mind hazy. It seems President Roh Moo-hyun is oppressing the media exactly the way that Nixon tried to do.
Nixon was defeated in the election for governor of California two times in a row, in 1960 and 1962, but in 1968, he was elected president. Nixon graduated from Whittier College, a small college in California. When entering office, he exhibited hostility and enmity against reporters who had gone to prestigious universities and wrote unfriendly articles about him. He set his mind on revenge.
When Roh served as minister of maritime affairs and fisheries, he said that he would not fear a war with the media. When he became president, he carried out such a war against mainstream media outlets.
The White House made a list of reporters who had irked Nixon, and recorded the schools they had attended, their personal politics and the inclinations or styles of their articles. The U.S. president’s office had the Internal Revenue Service investigate whether the journalists paid all of their income taxes.
Otis Chandler, the owner of the Los Angeles Times, was investigated on charges of employing people who overstayed their visas.
At that time, the publisher and senior editors of the Washington Post used to invite government officials for luncheons and held meetings with them on a regular basis, but Nixon prohibited government officials from attending the meetings.
President Roh is following the same steps that Nixon took. To spite the Washington Post, Nixon gave a special interview with the Washington Star, a conservative evening newspaper. Roh visited the Hankyoreh [instead of a mainstream newspaper], after he was elected president, just like his role model did.
Ron Ziegler, the White House spokesman at that time, could not have direct talks with journalists from the Washington Post or answer calls from them.
The highlight of Nixon’s project to kill the media was the job of moving the press room, which used to be in the West Wing of the White House, to the hallway linking the East and West Wings.
President Roh is also streamlining press rooms. Roh probably misses the opportunity to move the press room out of the Blue House, because it was already moved outside the Blue House enclosure over 20 years ago.
Nixon believed that the substantial majority of people who remained silent were on his side, and frequently made television speeches directly addressing the people. President Roh also likes to have conversations with the people because he assumes that the media are critical of him but the people are on his side.
President Roh seems to think of Nixon as his benchmark, instead of taking away lessons of what didn’t work. Nixon’s strategy to increase public trust in him by damaging trust in mainstream media outlets failed miserably.
The “silent majority” in whom Nixon placed his trust never came out for him.
The Washington Post investigated the Watergate scandal in 1972 and revealed that Nixon, who was running for a second term, wiretapped the Democratic National Committee headquarters and covered up the break-in, misusing his power as president. The scandal led to his resignation from the presidency.
The Korean government’s new media policy is a cheap trick. The president claims that in many countries there are no communication rooms for reporters in government offices. The head of the Government Information Agency said that press rooms in the United States are not for reporters. Their arguments are so weird that we don’t even want to respond.
Because the president has fully revealed his hostility toward the media and uses vulgar and harsh words describing the media, a minister was quick to show his loyalty to the president by throwing out a reporter from the JoongAng Ilbo who was covering the inter-Korean ministerial meeting.
The problem is not about having a couple more or fewer press rooms. The problem is President Roh’s distorted view of the people’s right to know.
If he wants to help reporters do their jobs, he can do as the former administration did. In press conferences, the president must give reporters from newspapers that do not agree with his ideology the chance to raise questions.
If he keeps pushing the new media policy, the Roh administration will gain nothing but resistance from the people at large. Many insiders will leak information about his misrule.
Such information always finds a way to the public eye.
*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie