U.S. media point man rues lack of balanced reporting“It was the most rewarding but the most challenging three years of my entire military service,” said Colonel Samuel Taylor, the chief public affairs officer of United States Forces Korea, summarizing his stay in Korea. Colonel Taylor, an Army officer since 1975, had a rough start in Korea after arriving here in June 2000. Most Koreans remember him reading an official apology of the USFK for its release of toxic chemicals into the Han River and making a deep, Korean-style bow of repentance just a month after his arrival. And that was just a start, it turned out. Ending his service in perhaps the most turbulent period the Korea-U.S. alliance has seen, Colonel Taylor will leave Korea Monday.
The death of two Korean schoolgirls after they were struck by a U.S. military vehicle a year ago was one of the biggest challenges, Colonel Taylor said. “My regret as a public affairs officer was that we were not able to reach out and communicate with the Korean media and public in the way we wanted,” he said.
“Many Koreans may not know that the very first candlelight vigil was conducted by 600 U.S. soldiers of the 2d Infantry Division right after the accident,” he said. “Many Koreans will never understand the level of our remorse, the sincerity of our apology and our efforts to improve safety.”
He was speaking to the JoongAng Daily in a small conference room at Yongsan Garrison less than a week before he left Korea, and seemed to be interested in sorting through his turbulent era here and trying to put a sharp focus on the lessons he was taking away.
Although he said he found Koreans warm and hospitable in general, he did not hide his disappointment with the Korean media.
He complained of their propensity to replay accusations by individuals and civic groups with anti-American and anti-U.S. military agendas without checking their claims.
Once out, he said, those distorted reports set a tone that made it difficult for the Korean public to get an accurate understanding of the incidents that triggered the outrage.
Environmental issues also were a prominent sore point, Colonel Taylor said. He cited several invitations to the Korean media to see what the problems were and how they were being addressed, but those attempts were drowned out by sensational headlines citing charges by civic groups.
The abduction of an American soldier last winter was another example of unbalanced reporting, he said. Anti-American sentiment was high when an army private was captured by Korean students after he was involved in a scuffle with a former assemblyman, Suh Kyung-won. “Mr. Suh was clearly an activist,” Colonel Taylor said, but his charges were repeated in the press for several days without rebuttal. He has, he said, made some headway in recent months in persuading Korean journalists to air both sides of stories.
Colonel Taylor’s next assignment will be at the U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.
by Ser Myo-ja
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