To the spokesperson

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To the spokesperson


Lee Sang-eon
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

It is not easy to make critical observations about someone who has been working in the same company until recently. Still, I cannot sit quietly.

The JoongAng Ilbo is now being questioned about its relationship with the powers that be after Kang Min-seok, an editorial writer for our paper, was recruited as press secretary for President Moon Jae-in.

I address this column to my former colleague.

As a veteran journalist, you know well how people look at a reporter who moves into a key public position. In your first press briefing at the Blue House on Monday, you said, “I understand and will bear every point the press has mentioned.” That was not an apology to your fellow reporters, who are devoted to their profession. Rather, you sounded as if your understanding was doing them a favor. That is a shame.

Second, I hope you fulfill your new role as a presidential press secretary honorably since nothing can be done about your choice of career change. I know you were solid and rigorous as a journalist over the years. You often spoke heatedly about the country’s future with obviously deep and sincere concern. I expect you to be different from your predecessors in the Blue House, who were mostly faithful mouthpieces or defenders of the ruling power.


U.S. President Barack Obama, left, shares a laugh with White House press secretary Jay Carney as the president makes a surprise visit to the Brady Press Briefing Room in September 2014. [AP/YONHAP]

But I have to admit you were disappointing in the first briefing.

In the briefing, you said, “I want to deliver not just the words of the president but his heart. As the government’s success is the success of the people, I wanted to join a path to a successful government.” That sounded as if your predecessors could not deliver the sincerity of the president effectively and that was a hurdle to the government’s journey to success.

To tell the truth, President Moon’s sincerity has not reached the people because he has only listened to what he wanted to, while keeping silence on many questions the public wanted answers to. They want to know whether the president was really involved in getting his friend of 30 years elected Ulsan mayor and whether he truly was unaware of the Blue House’s alleged intevention in that election in 2018. They also want his explanation about the Blue House’s order to stop a probe of Yoo Jae-soo, a former director-general of the Financial Services Commission, who was made a deputy Busan city mayor. They desire to know if Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae really acted on her own in her decision to put a gag order on the full text of an indictment of 13 Blue House officials and other figures on charges of power abuse in the Ulsan election case. They cannot understand why the president still keeps staffers who have been criminally indicted.

One cannot believe in the sincerity of someone if he sounds as if he is hiding something. The relationship could crack, and in the end could turn distrustful. As a former journalist, you know this principles well.

When Jay Carney, a former Time Magazine journalist, was making his last briefing as press secretary to U.S. President Barack Obama, the president suddenly stepped to his side to share a few words. “He’s got good judgment. He has good temperament and he’s got a good heart, and I will miss him a lot.” Carney must have been true to his office and endeavoured to lead the president in the right way instead of trying to earn just praise from his boss.

When Carney faced the press — his former colleagues — as the third news person to become a White House press secretary, the first question tossed at him was about his thoughts on his new position. “I do work for the president, but I am also here to help the press understand what we’re doing, to give the best information I can give,” he said.

That should define the role of a presidential spokesperson. Carney shares credit for making the Obama administration successful. I advise you to look up his first and final briefings. They’re on YouTube.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 13, Page 30
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