Spin isn’t everything

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Spin isn’t everything

When a matter involves sex, everything else becomes insignificant.

When a celebrity is in the hot seat, many look forward to the temperature going up.

The only way out of a scandal is when the media redirects its attention to someone else’s scandal.

These are the lessons related in “Spinning the Law: Trying Cases in the Court of Public Opinion” by Kendall Coffey, a former U.S. Attorney who dealt with many high-profile cases in America.

The sexual assault scandal involving former Blue House spokesman Yoon Chang-jung last month is a prime example. His grabbing of an intern’s buttock in a Washington hotel bar instantly pushed off the front pages the controversy of Namyang Dairy Products’ abusive sales tactics. Also pushed out of the papers was President Park Geun-hye’s achievements on her U.S. trip. The Blue House had to face scrutiny and criticism from the media and opposition parties.

But then it was pushed off the front pages by revelations about slush funds, front companies and tax evasion at CJ Group.

The declassification and release of the transcript of a secret conversation between the leaders of the two Koreas at their 2007 summit by the National Intelligence Service is more explicit. After the prosecution announced the outcome of one of its probes on June 14, controversy over the NIS’s alleged meddling in the December presidential campaign spiked.

After pressure by the National Assembly for an investigation of that situation, the spy agency on June 20 accepted the ruling party’s request to have a summary of the 2007 conversation. On Monday, it declassified the entire transcript.

Now, the eye of the typhoon has settled around the remarks of then-President Roh Moo-hyun in the meeting. In the Korean context, anything having to do with inter-Korean relations has the explosiveness of sex in other societies. After the summit scandal was born, all other scandals disappeared as if swept away by a flood.

When many people say, “How can a president say such things to Kim Jong-il?” it’s very hard to dismiss it. “The government and the ruling party have many available resources,” a prosecutor-turned-lawyer said. “They have policies, records and investigation. News can only be covered up by another piece of news. That’s why everyone wants to win the presidential election, isn’t it?”

The NIS dismissed the debate over the legality of the declassification saying its action was legitimate. It said the transcript, which was classified as a level-2 secret, was reclassified as a regular public record under the law.

They argue that with legal grounds, anything is possible. You can hardly find any trace of contemplation on what the law demands and whether they were simply using the legal clauses to support their actions.

The top intelligence agency and the Saenuri Party said that the opposition Democratic Party actually triggered this situation. Representative Park Young-sun of the DP did say, “The scandal about Roh’s alleged disavowing of the Northern Limit Line was a scenario dreamt up by the NIS and the ruling party.” However, a wrongful argument by a politician cannot be the grounds for a government agency to disclose a secret record.

The government-led campaign to make a scandal go away is an unfair practice much more serious than a milk company’s bullying of retailers. When the government repeatedly brushes away one scandal with another, we will lose the opportunity to have a serious discussion on any topic. A society in which all scandals walk around half alive and half dead like zombies is unhealthy.

It is critical to deal with the transcript issue completely. We have to know if our own president disavowed the western sea border. One issue should never be used to push away an awkward scandal; neither should it be used to dilute other sensitive issues. We must also conclude whether the NIS followed the appropriate legal steps to declassify the dialogue. If the issue is fair, the process of raising the issue must also be fair.

Another question is why Park has not ordered the reform of the NIS. A state spy agency’s interference in politics is a violation of what we can call the Democratic Limit Line. Park said the Northern Limit Line was defended by the blood and lives of young soldiers. A problem won’t disappear because it’s ignored.

What will be the next scandal after the NLL controversy? Let’s look at the recent flow of keywords over the past two months. Yoon Chang-jung, CJ, tax havens, nuclear plants, NIS and NLL. Maybe it’s about time for another sex scandal.

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

by Kwon Suk-chun
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