Not coming clean

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Not coming clean


Choi Sang-yeon
The author is an editorial writer of the Joongang Ilbo.

U.S. President Donald Trump, a golf aficionado, played golf more than 250 days in his three years in the White House. He has spent nearly a year on golf courses. At the end of last year, he showed up on a golf course two hours after a strike on a rebel forces base in Iraq. So voters are not happy. Actually, Trump criticized his predecessor Barack Obama for “playing golf more than a PGA player” and not tending to state affairs. Yet Trump did not try to hide or cover up his own time on the links.

Those numbers are not a product of investigations by American reporters. Website shows when and where he played golf. It also discloses what the president did all day and with whom he talked. The U.S. president requires a high level of security, but this website alone offers a gold mine of information about how he spends his time. And it’s but one such website.

The Moon Jae-in administration criticized former President Park Geun-hye for not having accounted for a missing seven hours in the aftermath of the Sewol ferry tragedy, and Moon’s first campaign promise was to make government activities transparent. Championing open communication, the president said he wanted to be an ordinary citizen who can share a drink after work with merchants at Namdaemun Market. In retrospect, he didn’t come though on that promise except for some sentimental PR efforts. Lately, even such token events are hard to find. As an example, take Moon’s recent meeting with corporate leaders. As the president read from a memo — as if giving directions to them — the business leaders ardently took notes like cram school students. We are familiar with such scenes. They’re hardly relaxed, unscripted — or in any way genuine.

One of the problems with the former president was that the public had no clue what she was doing in the Blue House. She built a high wall around herself. The question is how much this administration has changed. The schedule disclosures promised by the president and ministers haven’t been made. They claim they have. They claim the Blue House of the Moon administration does not lie and does not have what it calls “censorship DNA.” They also claim that the handling of the coronavirus outbreak is much better than that of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) a few years back.


Business leaders take notes while President Moon Jae-in makes a speech at a meeting on Feb. 13 with corporate leaders at the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Seoul about the coronavirus outbreak. [AP/YONHAP]

Does anyone believe what the government is saying? Moon was debriefed by economic ministries recently and said that the best way to prevent false information is to provide transparent information. He is right about that. It works in many countries. In Singapore, frank words from the prime minister prevented people from panic buying after the coronavirus outbreak. Transparent information and consistent messages conquer fear. Theatrics have the opposite effect. A talk with citizens, a talk with businessmen, a talk with Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon — these are hardly fear-conquering events.

Three months have passed since 13 Blue House officials and other figures were indicted on charges of methodically intervening in the 2018 Ulsan mayoral election. Eight presidential secretaries’ offices allegedly stepped in to help Moon’s longtime friend win the race, and the indictment mentions the president. By now, the Blue House needs to make a serious explanation. The president must first explain which part of the prosecutors’ investigation is wrong. But the Blue House refused search and seizure orders and is in a kind of war with prosecutors.

On the coronavirus outbreak, Moon asked for a change in the government’s publicity methods. In his inauguration speech, Moon promised he would have news conferences to explain current issues directly to the citizens. Good idea. Now is the time. The Blue House employs a number of people indicted or about to be indicted. The prosecutors should not be blamed for planning an investigation with a political motive.
If Moon is clean, he has nothing to hide. If so, the opposition’s accusation that the silence of the president translates into tacit approval of such charges would not be convincing. Then, the government can confidently say that it does not lie or have censorship DNA. But the Blue House is keeping mum. Isn’t it natural that I am puzzled?
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