It’s about hypocrisy

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It’s about hypocrisy

Lee Chul-ho
The author is a columnist at the JoongAng Ilbo.

Rep. An Min-suk of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) makes striking remarks. During the Choi Soon-sil scandal that brought down the Park Geun-hye administration, he claimed Park’s father, former President Park Chung Hee, had stashed away 300 trillion won ($247 billion) in a slush fund. That was totally untrue. When prosecutors reopened a probe into the scandal surrounding the late actress Jang Ja-yeon, he openly defended Yun Geo, a self-proclaimed witness in the case who’s now mired in a legal battle over accusations of fraud.

Then came July 25, when he confidently declared during a radio show that justice minister nominee Cho Kuk was absolutely clean. “As I have known him for a long time since our university days, we used to share our concerns with each other,” An said. “He will easily pass the confirmation hearing no matter what because he does not have a single dust particle on him. Even if you suck him with a vacuum cleaner, you will not find a single particle.” Reality check: Cho’s reputation is now in tatters.

Cho admitted he was a “clumsy and easygoing” father when it came to his daughter’s issues, yet that in itself is a lax attitude. The scandal surrounding Cho and his family is not just about whether they went against the law. It’s about hypocrisy. Korean society was shocked upon learning that his daughter did not go through a single written test to qualify for Hanyoung Foreign Language High School, Korea University or Pusan National University School of Medicine.

His daughter targeted a niche market that ordinary citizens barely knew of. That kind of a manipulation infuriated the public because Cho built his career on inspiring messages for Korea’s underprivileged while criticizing rich people’s pursuit of perks of their class. What his supporters had not known until recently was that, in reality, Cho lived a life of prerogatives and irregularities.

Pusan National University’s medical school recently claimed there were “no procedural problems” with Cho’s daughter having received scholarships. But that’s not the point. Our society is asking why a rich kid received scholarships six times by abusing a clause set aside for students from low-income brackets who need financial aid to study but do not meet the minimum grade point requirements as they were busy earning their tuition through part-time jobs. Even worse, Cho’s daughter received those scholarships despite the fact that she flunked two semesters. The younger Cho also received 8 million won worth of scholarships from the alumni association of Seoul National University Graduate School of Environmental Studies, which she attended for a year before dropping out to go to medical school.

Society raged over the daughter’s scholarships at Seoul National University because she received her first scholarship after only taking a single three-credit course in the first semester — and without a professor’s recommendation — unlike any other students. With that, Cho’s daughter overturned the social norm that scholarships are given out to students who either have a good academic record or are from the low-income group.

The Dankook University medical research paper in which she was named “first author” when she was in the 11th grade is even more shocking. The professor who oversaw her “research” told the media that he gave her the prestigious credit of first authorship because she showed diligence during her two-week internship by “traveling a long way” to the lab from home — and because she contributed to writing the paper in English. Before long, the comment backfired on the professor when it turned out Cho retweeted a tweet in 2012 that partially read, “If someone can receive credit as the co-author of a paper just by translating it for the professor, English majors can enlist their names as co-authors for thousands of papers.”

In response to the mushrooming scandal, Cho said he cannot ignore the demands of the time — in other words, prosecutorial reforms — and refused to step down as justice minister nominee. That reflects a sense of elitism and superiority. Why on earth does he think he is an irreplaceable candidate for the job?

Sources in the ruling party say Cho is holding on because he has a special bond with President Moon Jae-in — so special that no one in the Blue House can even mention withdrawing Cho’s nomination. The DP is even worse. As some 40 to 50 allies of the president are expected to run in next year’s general election, incumbent DP lawmakers are trying not to get on the wrong side of Moon so they can get nominations for a parliamentary seat in 2020.

Cho’s confirmation hearing scheduled for next week will be harsh. His family and professors involved in granting favor to his daughter must appear at the hearing to testify. Cho will have to pay the price. Previously, he said towards minister-nominees, “If a fly is rubbing its limbs, one must not think it’s apologizing. You must kill it.” He also said, “If a dog that bites people falls into the water, you must not save him, but beat him up more.”

On Tuesday, prosecutors kicked off investigations into a number of allegations involving Cho and his family. Yet people are asking why Cho and his daughter’s homes were left out and whether this whole thing is a script plotted between the prosecution and the Blue House.

Cho said he hopes the probe clears out all suspicions, but once again, whether or not his actions were illegal is not the problem here. The real problem is that public expectations for Cho have been shattered. On Sunday, he put it well by saying that he thought his daughter’s experiences — “though all of them were in line with the law” — inflicted much pain to the people. Cho must surrender his nomination. He is still challenging our society’s principle and common sense in his own way — recklessly, in other words.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 28, Page 31
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