Knowing when to hold your tongue

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Knowing when to hold your tongue


The Watergate scandal, which resulted in the resignation of U.S. President Richard Nixon in 1974, was exposed by two Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. The source named Deep Throat, who informed the reporters about the case, was William Mark Felt, then the deputy director of the FBI. Woodward and Bernstein promised to keep the identity of the source confidential, but in 2005, Felt revealed his identity as the whistleblower, an assertion confirmed by the two reporters and the Washington Post. Felt died in 2008 at age 95.

A similar case can be found in Korea. The torture and death of Park Jong-chul in 1987 became a critical blow to the dictatorial rule of the Fifth Republic. On January 15, 1987, the JoongAng Ilbo ran a story in the national section about a university student who died during a police interrogation. The information about the case was first provided by a high-ranking prosecutor. Reporter Shin Sung-ho was visiting the prosecutors’ office on a routine visit, and one prosecutor told him that the police were in serious trouble. He learned that a junior majoring in linguistics at Seoul National University had died during an interrogation at the anti-communist complex in Namyeong-dong, central Seoul.

Though it has been nearly 25 years since Park’s death, Shin still has not revealed the identity of his source. The Deep Throat of the Park Jong-chul case has retired from the prosecutors’ office, and not so long ago, Shin met with the source for lunch. Shin asked why he had revealed the case, and the source responded, “I thought it was absolutely unacceptable.” And that decision to speak out had a big impact.

In general, prosecutors and judges should know the impact of their words before they speak. Shin’s source spoke out at the right time, but today, some judges seem to be doing the exact opposite. Though Chief Justice Yang Seung-tae warned his colleagues to be prudent, two judges from the Incheon and Changwon district courts appeared on a radio program to criticize the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement.

It is not important whether the judges support or oppose the FTA. They are entitled to their personal opinions. But we must consider basic ethics. Though free communication can be beneficial and the judges may have felt compelled to speak out, imprudent communication can be detrimental and undermine the public’s trust in the legal system.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Noh Jae-hyun
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