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Unfiled February 20, 2003
 
Fit to Print? In New York?
By Jake Rudnitsky Browse author Email
 
 
Kim Jong Il

It isn't every day you catch a journalist blowing their own lie. Even the basest hack generally prefers using selective truth over a straight-up lie, not because of any ethical qualms, but out of self-interest. Using the former successfully, hacks can feed their editors made-to-order copy and work their way up the food chain. But if they get caught actually lying, that's it. Game over. They'll be stuck ghostwriting opinion pieces for the Peoria Bugle for the rest of their lives. Sure most journalists will make up "man on the street" vox-pop-type interviews, but those are virtually impossible to disprove. I'm talking about incontrovertible evidence, a smoking gun, coming home to see your wife getting wendeled by Michael Bass. Something that just can't be denied.

Take James Brooke of the New York Times. After visiting the scene of the crime I've got proof, man, that he was lying in his January 23 article "An Exit Strategy for Dear Leader? But Siberia?" Brooke, apparently thinking Khabarovsk was sufficiently isolated to get away with it, didn't even try to cover his tracks.

I only learned about Brooke's piece from Philby Burgess' press review in the last eXile on the day I arrived in Khabarovsk about a week and a half ago. For starters, it's gotta be tough for you Musovites to realize just how full of shit Brooke's description of Khabarovsk as a "graceful city" is. That much was clear to me within hours of arriving, even though it was the first relatively major city I'd visited after three months in the frozen jungle of Tynda. It's more than a little ironic that Brooke, who is based in Tokyo and recently wrote a travel article about $300 dinners in Japan's capital, sang the city's praises while I, living on reindeer guts and shchi, see this city as sheer hell.

As you may recall from Burgess' article, not a single source Brooke interviews for his article confirms that there's even a chance that Kim Jong Il is considering defecting to Khabarovsk. It's clear why: the proposition is insane. Dear Leader - a man who, to name a few perks, has his pick of 14-year-old Korean virgins, can order his favorite Japanese soap stars kidnapped, wrapped and delivered to his palace just about as easily as a call to Jack's, has a devoted corps of suicide spies willing to die at the snap of his fingers, and gets billionaire South Korean businessmen to shower him with tributes of hundreds of millions in cash and presents... is seriously giving thought to moving to a quiet life in a dump like Khabarovsk?! You don't have to have visited Khabarovsk to realize the absurdity of that.

Brooke knows his readers accept what they read. So he dangles images about a non-existant Khabarovsk he knows will appeal to the Times' bourgeois readership - wide boulevards, ethnic food, coffee houses - to lull them into thinking that Khabarovsk is almost a recognizable American city in the middle of Siberia and and therefore a viable exile venue for Kim rather than an unbearable shithole in a country where half the population lives on less than 2 dollars a day.

Brooke's compliments are relentless: "comfortable", "snow-encrusted jewel of the Trans-Siberian Railroad", "Paris-on-the-Amur," and all this comes in the first third, before he starts interviewing people, who invariably dismiss his hypothesis.

I'm now in Khabarovsk. There is by my estimation only one cafe in the entire city that comes anywhere close to counting as a Western-style coffee house. And that only opened on January 18 - I know because when I complained about a stale cigar they served me, the bartender answered it couldn't be all that old, seeing as the cafe just opened. The rest of the bars and cafes, mostly concentrated along the single charming avenue in the city, Muraviev-Amursky, are pretty much dives to get wasted in. The rest of the streets in Khabarovsk, wide boulevards and all, are even worse, lined with grim Soviet housing and collapsing, still inhabited turn-of-the-century wooden shacks.


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