Report: Two journalists imprisoned in North Korea to be released


Word coming in that Laura Ling and Euna Lee, the two reporters for Current TV who were imprisoned in North Korea for illegally crossing the border into that closed nation, will be released. New York Times tweet. Looks like former US president Bill Clinton's mission was a success. Oh, and they're coming home on his private plane. What an utterly pimped-out ending to a very frightening saga for the women, and their families. May I be the umptybillionth person to say: Way to go, Mister Clinton, you are the man. (via @laughingsquid)

Previously: Photo of the day: Bill Clinton with Kim-Jong Il


  1. This comes so soon after that photo of the two men sitting together that I have to wonder if Clinton just grabbed Kim by the ankles and shook him upside down until he cried “uncle.”

  2. Why did it never occur to us to send President Clinton to pick up two women? It seems so obvious in hindsight… ;^)

    I’m glad they will be released, all kidding aside.

  3. This was cheaper than a war, wasn’t it?
    Now, if we could only make them act sanely about their nukes

  4. It was most certainly a forgone conclusion they would be released before President Clinton got on a plane. He wouldn’t have gotten involved if it wasn’t “a lock.” That’s neither good nor bad, just a statement of fact – no politician would risk their reputation for an unknown outcome, and President Clinton is the consumate politician.

    1. It was most certainly a forgone conclusion they would be released before President Clinton got on a plane.

      Oh, are you writing from your secret underground lair with the hotline that goes straight to Kim Jong-Il? Doesn’t it get tiresome making things up and presenting them as fact? It’s sure as hell tiresome for the rest of us.

  5. This was pretty much preordained; the only question is what we had to fork over in terms of oil and food aid.

    Of course, having a picture of Kim Il Sung posing with a former president is in itself a Big Deal for the the insular nutjob regime. They are really really really really into things which legitimize the whole Respected God-King aspect of the Kim dynasty.

    The DPRK has done things like take out full-page ads in the NYTimes so they could display it in a museum. (“See? Even the New York Times praises the greatness of Kim Jong Il!”)

  6. @ Timothy Hutton:

    The first sexist joke you made about these journalists can be chalked up to being 10 years behind the times on Clinton-based humor, but the Austin Powers clip is a little much.

    These women aren’t sisters, aren’t Japanese, and don’t really look very much like each other. Does any story involving Asians remind you of “Goldmember?”

  7. BrainsporePoint taken, it was more the Austin Powers/President CLinton connection.

  8. bush couldn’t have done this. Neither he nor anyone from his administration would even have a conversation with anyone from North Korea. They locked communications down for 8 years and hurled in grenades like the “Axis of Evil” label publicly. Who was it congress impeached again?

  9. Why did it never occur to us to send President Clinton to pick up two women? It seems so obvious in hindsight… ;^)


  10. Antinious – you left out the part that explains why I assumed that (“most certainly” does not equal “I know this to be true”). The full line was:

    It was most certainly a forgone conclusion they would be released before President Clinton got on a plane. He wouldn’t have gotten involved if it wasn’t “a lock.” That’s neither good nor bad, just a statement of fact – no politician would risk their reputation for an unknown outcome, and President Clinton is the consumate politician. [emphasis added]

    It’s called meeting with pre-conditions, something our Secretary of State said she would do when meeting with world leaders – it really isn’t a slam, and it isn’t made up.

    (Supporting YouTube link, Hillary is about 2 minutes in.)

    1. That’s neither good nor bad, just a statement of fact – no politician would risk their reputation for an unknown outcome

      You’ve presented your speculations and then extrapolated more speculations from that YouTube video. Not facts. Speculations.

      2 + 2 = 4: fact.

      Former President Clinton would have behaved in a certain way because the Secretary of State made a comment in a different context about what the current President would do: speculation.

  11. The only reason N.Kora would have let him in is because they wanted to make a show of releasing the girls. I want to say it was obvious as soon as his trip was announced, but I’m a product of too much television. Did I just come up with that because I’ve seen far too many movies, and such a result is in fact not an obvious thing in real world politics?

  12. #21: About a blow job.

    As opposed to lying about to the whole frigging country about a costly and needless war.

  13. TIMOTHY HUTTON: I see, so the guy who killed thousands of Americans and over a million Iraqis needlessly (and counting!) and lied EVERY TIME HE OPENED HIS MOUTH gets a pass? Yeah, lying about his extramarital affairs, which should have been nobody’s fucking business but his own, was far more devastating.

  14. Stefan Jones – Yes, that is what he choose to lie about – a blow job.

    I don’t believe any previous President has ever been impeached for:

    (As opposed to) lying about to the whole frigging country about a costly and needless war.

    As for the lying, I think that accusation covers several Presidents, you’ll have to be more specific…

  15. A Cadillac convertible waits for me in hell, but I can’t help thinking: Bill, Private Jet, Pink Lady.

  16. TIMOTHY HUTTON: Perhaps you didn’t get that my question was rhetorical…? (-As this one is too, which means don’t bother answering it. Please.)

  17. GRIMC – I treat as fact that no politician would risk their reputation without success being “a lock.” Counter-examples are extremely rare in my experience.

    Unfortunately, I fell into a commonly used phrase – fact is too strong a word, but as I said, I treat it as fact. so let’s amend that to read:

    That’s neither good nor bad, to me it is just a statement of fact

    1. I treat as fact that no politician would risk their reputation without success being “a lock.”

      You really, really, really don’t understand the meaning of ‘fact’. May I offer you a free phrenological consultation?

  18. Congrats Mr. Clinton regardless of what anyone thinks of him or the two journalists.

    I think you meant to congratulate the journalists, regardless of what anyone thinks. Bill took a quick plane ride. These journalists – who went into N. Korea to report on conditions there, instead of just lapping up government press releases – were spared a decade in a North Korean prison.

    I’m glad they’re free, but let’s not all trip over ourselves to hoist up a celebrity – which is, honestly, the only capacity Clinton was operating under here – and forget why he went in the first place.

  19. Phikus – I don’t believe I’ve defended anything done by our 43rd President, why do you insist that I have?

    To accurately say why one President was impeached, showing the lie and the admission on video, doesn’t, in any way, represent support for anything other than the impeachment of our 42nd President.

  20. @#12 – Antinous.

    The L.A. Times also states that Clinton would not have gone unless there was a very good chance that the journalists were to be released:

    “Yet behind the scenes, White House officials kept tight control of the negotiations, said people close to the process. They wanted to be sure that Bill Clinton wouldn’t depart for North Korea in a chartered jet unless there was a very good chance that the North Koreans would release the women.”,0,2496220.story

    Also, notice it says “chartered Jet”, not Bill’s private jet.

    I never liked Clinton, but I do like him today.

  21. Timothy Hutton: It seemed to me, in this context, that your answering of my rhetorical question was a pedantic way of drawing a comparison. If I am incorrect in this, I offer a sincere apology.

  22. Wow, amazing how quickly the old Clinton lied/Bush lied things starts up again.

    Gues what: new times. This man was on a mission for a new administration, who almost certainly had a lot more to do with this release than exactly which fellow did what when. This has little to do with Clinton or Bush.

    So: I’m pleased that the Obama administration was able to pull this off in a straight-forward and civilized manner, and I hope that it’s a sign of North Korea wanting to come to the table with the Obama administration.

  23. I’ve watched Locked Up Abroad enough to know there are *completely innocent* Americans in foreign prisons. Let’s get them out of prison too.

    These two journalists… You can call me whatever you want, but I have a hard time feeling bad for them.

  24. If congress issued impeachments based on which Presidents really had them coming then I can think of plenty of better examples than either Clinton or Andrew Johnston.

    Reagan secretly sold weapons to a hostile power, an act that the Constitution classifies as “treason.” Andrew Jackson waged a campaign of ethnic cleansing while telling the Supreme Court to go fuck itself.

  25. Congratulations to Bill Clinton for playing his role in the pageant. The audience has been admirably distracted.

  26. Brainspore: Indeed. We didn’t even get to kick ‘ol Tricky Dick around. And here I thought Cheney’s remarks on the senate floor were a first…

  27. @autark

    nothing on current other than a marathon of vanguard episodes and a yellow ribbon in the upper right hand corner of the screen.

    on a side note, i wonder why BB hasn’t done anything with current, they seem to be made for each other.

  28. Man, some people just can’t be happy to acknowledge that something good happened today in the world of international politics. Just having anyone in an official capacity over there these days is unprecedented, but this distinctly underscores the failure of last administration that outright refused to say a single word to them for 8 years. Look how well that’s turned out. Did we deter their nuclear agenda? Not a bit. Did they ease up on human rights issues? No, we actually made them look better by comparison.

    No matter how you slice it, the last administration will go down in history as the worst ever (except in corruption and war profiteering, where the graph is inverted.)

  29. @JimBuck ~

    I’m of a similar mind; these ladies went to expose the corrupt regime of NK, and the horrible conditions in the country, no?

    Their carelessness in allowing themselves to be caught by the NK gov’t leads to a major American political figure coming over and asking if we can have them back.

    End result? Major public relations victory for the NK gov’t at the expense of the American people, most likely helping to prop up the current regime.

    How does this help the problem they sought to expose in the first place?

    I’m glad they’ve been released, and I don’t doubt that ladies in question are guilty of nothing more than being incautious, and perhaps a little naive, but I’m hard pressed to understand why there should be anything but embarrassed relief on their part, or on ours.


  30. And, I might add to my previous comment, this whole thing sets the table for a new level of international engagement. An Iranian lawmaker is claiming the three hikers they caught at the border are “definitely spies”… story in the LA Times, among others:,0,7413818.story

    It may just be chance that two countries which America has had political difficulties have recently grabbed civilians to use as pawns, but I doubt it.

    And now that we’ve come to NK with hat in hands asking for forgiveness (pardon), it’s clear to those who wish to take advantage of the US can potentially do so by using civilian American citizens as hostages… this is a less than optimal outcome of the original situation.


  31. @ Anonymous (Lanval?) #47:

    How does this help the problem they sought to expose in the first place?

    I can’t think of a better way to demonstrate how hostile North Korea is to freedom of the press than to get arrested there as a journalist.

  32. Indeed. Arresting journalists for asking questions.. and arguably swiping them from across the neighboring border, as I thought had been the case.. is no way to win international acclaim.

    This was hardly a PR coup.

  33. at 6:19, a little ticker appeared at the bottom of the screen, acknowledging the recovery of laura and euna. so that’s their official statement.

  34. @49, 50

    You’re both assuming international opinion is relevant to the situation; it’s not. All the NK people will see is Clinton deferring to Kim Jong Il.

    What country are you thinking of that doesn’t already know the situation in NK? Given the willingness of NK to launch missiles across Japan, and to develop nuclear capabilities, why do you think the kidnapping of two journalists changes anything for the rest of the world….?

    No, the PR coup is strictly internal, and will serve to strengthen the roles of KJI and his successor(s). Hardly a step forward, whatever we may have “learned” about NK from this incident.


  35. How does this help the problem they sought to expose in the first place?

    Good question. Maybe we should, you know, wait to see what they report about their experience before going all “OMGNEVILLECHAMBERLAIN!!1111!!1!”.

  36. That’s great these journalists are being released. It’s naive to believe that is the primary purpose of a former POTUS, and current spouse of the secretary of state. It was a foregone conclusion they would be released. Clinton is an accomplished mediator, well seasoned in negotiation (think Arafat and Barak and Camp David.) That kind of talent is not used just to extradite these women. Clinton is also not a direct mouthpiece of the administration while still significant power broker in our government.

    He’s been invited by the North Koreans to discuss their nuclear ambitions. The release of the journalist is a pretext to that discussion. I think that’s obvious.

  37. What’s with so many people calling these two thirty-somethings “girls, anyway? I rarely hear adults called “girls” anymore by anyone who cares about sounding non-Neanderthal, yet these two seem to be a complete exception.

  38. @grimic,

    Instead of attempting snarky insults, why not explain how the actions of the journalists in question revealed something new about NK, when the world (or at least the part that’s paying attention) already knows NK:

    Will threaten other nations with warfare, up to and including the use of nuclear weapons;

    Starve their own people, and then use that fact as a political bargaining chip;

    Kidnap citizens of other nations at will, and keep them for decades;

    Of course, you could read up on these and other issues, starting with Wikipedia, and ending with Amnesty International’s site, which states:

    “Amnesty International’s long-standing concerns about human rights violations in North Korea include the use of torture and the death penalty, arbitrary detention and imprisonment, inhumane prison conditions and the near-total suppression of fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression and movement.”

    Let it suffice to say that little can have been gained from the very real sacrifice of the journalists. That NK does some very unpleasant things has long been clear.

    As for the international value of this, well, the rest of the world doesn’t care as much about the US as you think; why would the kidnapping of two women who were purposefully working against the PRK in a location immediately adjacent to the PRK be more shocking than the fact that the PRK admitted it kidnapped random citizens off the streets of Japan, for decades? And then kept those citizens for their own purposes? Isn’t that substantially worse? Yet that fact didn’t cause the world community to stop and change how it responds to the PRK… so why would you think this incident is the game-changer?

    An honest and thoughtful response would be a more useful statement than an indirect invocation of Godwin’s Law, no?


  39. Antinous,

    You’re certainly right that we don’t *know* what was in Clinton’s mind or what happened behind the scenes.
    But, do you really find it plausible that he would publicly fly to NK without the deal having already been made?

    1. But, do you really find it plausible that he would publicly fly to NK without the deal having already been made?

      Yes, I believe that sometimes things happen in the real world without being pre-scripted.

  40. Grimc – if you decide to go down the Nevill Chamberlain route, I found a great link on the BBC webite, an ‘on this day’ page for Sept. 30th, I was going to use it earlier, but I didn’t want to raise the other N-word…

  41. Obviously it was all pre-scripted and arranged beforehand. Obviously.

    I mean, it’s not as if there was any chance Kim Jong Il would renege on the deal at the last minute. He’s always been such a thoughtful and trustworthy negotiator in the past, right?

    Nothing on the line for Clinton and Obama but pride and a little political capital, but it’s great the US managed to get the two journalists out of prison and back to their families.

  42. Antinious – you do realize that by sorting this out before he got on the plane, it in no way diminishes the effort made in securing the release of these two women, right? They were being held, someone reached out, contact was made, a lot of hard work transpired by either President Clinton or his staff (or US State staff, or whoever), an agreement was reached, and President Clinton got to bring them home.

    It’s not about being ‘scripted’, it’s about when the hard work was done, either before he got on the plane (as I contend, as a completely made-up personal opinion based on nothing more than what I hear at the top of the stairs when my parents watch the news when they think I’m in bed) or he secured their release a few hours after he landed in NK (as you seem to hold out as an equally likely possibility, based on little more than it’s the opposite of what I said ;^). Either way, it was an accomplishment, and it is good that they are coming home right away.

  43. Bill Clinton, still the hater-magnet with the megawatt smile. Go, Big Dog, go! F*** them haters! Can’t all be rockstars! Hoo rah!

    Here’s a composition of mine, dedicated to all the Clinton haters out there: “A Poem upon the August Sublimity of Bill Clinton.” You have spurred me to rapturous heights, haters, be proud in what you’ve wrought: your doom, woefully endited.

    Go Clinton /
    It’s your birthday. /
    Oh no it isn’t, /
    it’s Obama’s! /
    That’s OK, though, /
    Bill Clinton, /
    every damn day is /

    Haha, can’t touch this! (Exits to the tune of “Can’t Touch This.”)

  44. Maybe Clinton can work on getting them to return the kidnap victims from Japan and South Korea while he’s at it.

    Yay Clinton and all, but the DPRK isn’t off the human rights hook by a long fucking shot.

  45. I wonder what the price was. I also wonder if the full story will emerge; were they grabbed on the Chinese side? Was there collusion? Were they actually so foolish as to have trespassed? Just a mistake?

  46. I only discovered Current TV a week ago, so then finding out that the two reporters who were imprisoned by NK worked for them… shocking. I’m very glad to hear they made it out safely.

  47. I’m pretty sure they were reporting on women trafficking NOT on North Korea. Can anyone help me find a link on what they are reporting?

  48. Grimc – Regarding the other “N-word”, no thanks, I’ll let you be first with your reference to Nevill Chamberlain, and we can leave the kiddies to google it if curious… ;^)

  49. The Muse’s Service, noble Phikus, is a vocation, not a “day job.” Day jobs are for the toiling prole, brow unkissed by Erato’s lips. Poeta nascitur, non fit, my humble constituent! :p

  50. I find the comments about this being ‘sorted before he left’ interesting.

    I find the comment about no politician doing anything without knowing the outcome (or words to that effect) equally fascinating.

    I can see how 800+ years of conflict between the English and Irish over the English occupation of Ireland was such an easy thing to sort out that all Tony Blair had to do was take the last simple step. Nothing to it.

    I’d suggest the difference between a politician who is going to be remembered for the right things and those who are not, is that they’re willng to take risks, do the hard work and make the effort to make a real difference.

    Not having voted for Bill (I’m not a US citizen) and not having voted for Tony (I wasn’t in the country) I’m still biased in that while their faults may exist, I believe history will look more kindly on them than many others and especially Tony Blair for taking risks to more adequately resolve the Northern Ireland conflict.

    Sure it’s not perfect, but it’s a damn sight better than has existed for several hundred years.

  51. @ Padraig
    “I find the comments about this being ‘sorted before he left’ interesting.”

    I agree. This comes from a certain conspiracy theory mindset that sees everything that alpha males do as secretive and… conspiratorial.

    There is also a big disconnect where the right listens to and reads predominantly only others who are spewing the same “facts”. They also tend to be less critical of official right-wing propaganda and the Great GOP Wurlitzer. It tends to be something of an echo chamber. Those on the left tend to do this too but I think arguably somewhat less so.

  52. Noen said:

    I agree. This comes from a certain conspiracy theory mindset that sees everything that alpha males do as secretive and… conspiratorial.

    Interesting take on this issue, since it appears there were 5 months of negotiations and it seems that President CLinton was choosen from a pool of interested high-profile people that were willing/interested in travelling to NK to retrieve the two jopurnalists, clearly establishing that this was (as I said) “a lock” before President Clinton stepped on the plane. (See story in LA Times).

    No “conspiracy mindset” it was an accurate assessment of what actually transpired – a five month effort that culminated in high-profile trip by a former President.

    What I find interesting is your insistence that this ubermensch President Clinton could go over and through sheer logic and charm, convince the evil dictator to bow to his whim, despite all reports to the preparatory work done by so many before him…

  53. Padraig – I don’t think you can reasonably equate the detention, prosecution, and pardon of two female journalists to “800+ years of conflict between the English and Irish over the English occupation of Ireland“…

  54. when you mentioned this story a few weeks ago, i asked a question, and I find it interesting and a little shocking that its not discussed here, regardless of anyone seeing the note about it before –
    why is no one talking about the fact that a precedent has been set:
    1. there are now, and have been before, and will be later, other people held by foreign countries (three hikers in Iran the other day if I’m not mistaken, also on the axis) – why did Gore-Clinton-Obama play the Ace for these two? When do they choose to play that card in the future? and how?
    2. Current just got a big hand from the US govt. (free advertising)
    These irresponsible women-with-a-mission 9one with a child) pushed their luck, got WAY out of their league, and luckily Obama/Mr. Bill saved them… how many more ‘journalists/activists/whatever’s-with-a-video-cam-and-an-agenda’ will they go out and do the same for?
    seriously, I thought there were deeper thinkers in this comment area

  55. @ Gtron #77:

    What makes you think that Clinton and Obama aren’t trying to get those guys in Iran released too?

  56. @ Timothy Hutton
    “clearly establishing that this was (as I said) “a lock” before President Clinton stepped on the plane. (See story in LA Times).”

    Oddly enough the article says something different.

    The narrow goal was a specific deal: If the United States showed respect to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il by dispatching an emissary of significant stature to Pyongyang, the regime would release journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who were arrested along the border with China on March 17. The choice of Clinton, one of many high-profile public figures who volunteered for the assignment, met that test.

    I other words, it wasn’t “a lock” had it been mishandled. Kim Jong Il, like most petty tyrants, is notoriously capricious. A negotiated deal should not be described as “a lock” IF it’s success depends on sending the right person to smooth ruffled feathers. Dictators behave like two year old spoiled brats. I would never presume to have a firm agreement with such childish personalities until the reporters are on the plane and out of their air space.

    More generally, I see the “conspiracy mindset” as any time someone, including me, claims to be able to mind read or to know the secret intent behind current, or past, events.

    So when trying to understand what is going on… if one claims to know the “true” motivations of people like Bush or Obama or Cheney, if one then says… “This is what they REALLY meant.” then one is engaged in mind reading and you are constructing a conspiracy theory. I did that during the Bush administration. I think quite a few on the right are doing that now.

  57. Noen – Your quote proves my point ;^) President Clinton met the test, so the outcome was “a lock”. The relevant definition of “lock” is: “one that is assured of success or favorable outcome” without ANY preceding qualifiers (the “ifs” you mention”), nothing could reasonably be described as being “a lock,” so either the phrase is meaningless OR I was correct in my usage of it…

    Of course, I assume I’ll be told I really, really, really don’t understand the meaning of the word lock, but I can accept that ;^)

  58. @Antonius
    because even though I am ‘free’ to comment, comments have no value
    what I think is irrelevant, sending Bill C on a mission vs. ‘working’ on others is a big difference

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