I know who Joseph Goebbels was and what he did. I fully understand how offensive it is to call someone comparable to Joseph Goebbels. And I can say with absolute confidence, “This is the Goebbels of South Korea.” Meet this man Sohn Suk-hee.
John Delury, an associate professor of Chinese Studies at Yonsei University, introduces Sohn as following: “Sohn Suk-hee, anchor of JTBC Newsroom, is the Korean equivalent of Edward R. Murrow. Dressed in neatly pressed suits and steel-rimmed glasses, he speaks in a slow cadence, choosing his words with care—but they sting. Just days after the university president’s resignation, Sohn stunned the nation with the scoop of the decade. His reporters obtained a tablet belonging to Choi Soon-sil that documented her backchannel access to the presidential office and intercession in affairs of state, including editing a draft of the president’s landmark speech on relations with North Korea. ” Yes, Sohn played a vital role in the impeachment of Park Geun-hye and many praise him as a hero of democracy. However, there are many things that Delury did not tell you about Sohn.
First of all, although he denies to call himself a leftist, Sohn is indeed a radical anti-American leftist influenced by Rhee Young-hee. In his interview with Rhee, Sohn revealed Rhee was his mentor and praised the Korean Maoist as “conscience of our era.” Although Sohn has concealed his connection and sympathy to the radical student movement in the 70s, he has intermittently expressed strong anti-Americanism throughout his broadcasting career. He started his career as an anchorman of the Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation in 1984. It was 1992 when he was involved in activism for the first time; he joined the protesters opposing the import of agriculture products, determined by the Uruguay Round. Sohn was arrested and incarcerated. In 1997, he began to study at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities to earn a master’s degree, which is still controversial due to the accusation of plagiarism in his thesis. However, Sohn has not provided any elucidation on it. The returned to MBC in 2000. He became the host of MBC’s 100 Minute Debate, a televised debate on a current affair, in 2002. Since then, he began to build up a pubic image similar to Ed Murrow. Perhaps it was what he learned most impressively throughout his stay in Minnesota.
Sohn’s appearance reminiscent of Ed Murrow belies his radical political lopsidedness polar opposite to Murrow’s journalism. Sohn rose to sudden popularity in 2008 when the Lee Myung-bak administration approved the US beef import. The leftist media, most notably PD Notebook of the Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation, focused on raising the concerns about the mad cow disease outbreak. Although the actual risk of US-beef-oriented mad cow disease is extremely low, the leftist media began to harangue the public with an anti-American conspiracy theory and very little scientific evidence. The demagoguery was intense and the radicalization of the media coverage only accelerated: for example, US beef was more toxic than cyanide, a US beef particle in the air could cause mad cow disease, and consuming US beef would decompose the brain 10 years later. According to the leftists’ conspiracy theory, the United States forcefully exported the outdated, mad cow disease-ready beef and the traitor Lee Myung-bak agreed. To instigate the anti-American fervor, they invented the weird term, “food sovereignty.” Sohn was a part of this propaganda machine: as a host of 100 Minute Debate of MBC, he interviewed live with a “Korean American” who claimed to reside in Atlanta, GA. The interviewee made highly questionable claims that the fear of mad cow disease was pervasive in the US and Americans only consume “organic beef.” The interview triggered massive and violent protests, know as the 2008 US Beef Protest in South Korea. In 2017, however, the popularity of US beef continue to increase in the South Korean market and there has been no single report of mad cow disease. It is still unclear how Sohn contacted his interviewee. To this date, Sohn has not made any apology about his controversial interview.
Sohn had stayed low profile for years: he left the television industry in 2009 and moved to the radio industry. He had also been a professor of Sookmyung Women’s University until Hong Seok-hyun, the then chairman of the newly founded Joongang Tongyang Broadcasting Company, headhunted him as a director of JTBC Newsroom in 2013. Making his comeback to the television, Sohn was politically motivated more than ever.
In 2014, when a ferry called MV Sewol sank, JTBC aired special interviews with a rescue specialist, Lee Jong-in, and a rescuing diver, Hong Ga-hye. Throughout the interviews with Sohn, both of them vehemently denounced the Park Geun-hye administration. However, it was soon revealed that Lee was not experienced in maritime rescue at all and Hong was not even a diver. Since then, Sohn has not made a comment on Lee and Hong. It is still unclear how JTBC contacted them.
In July 2015, JTBC Newsroom’s coverage on the US Forces Korea’s counter-chem-bio warfare program, known as JUPITR, raised a suspicion that the USFK to carry out the anthrax test in Korean territory. It was completely false and JTBC did not even issue a correction. JTBC came back in May 2016 with the same conspiracy theory against the USFK. The only change was the subject: JTBC claimed that the USFK newly initiated the Zika virus test in Korean territory. It was completely false and JTBC did not even issue a correction. Perhaps Sohn believed JTBC could walk away from any controversy as he did with his own. Has JTBC done enough? Not really. In June, JTBC targeted the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system by accusing the THAAD of being detrimental to human health and the environment. To corroborate its accusation, JTBC incorrectly translated scientific reports on the THAAD in Guam.
What he does tells who he is. Do not let Sohn’s steel-rimmed glasses and slow cadence fool you; he has used his influence to manipulate the public opinion and indoctrinate the viewers with his anti-American and/or anti-Park Geun-hye agenda. However Sohn tries to cultivate his public image as that of Ed Murrow or Will McAvoy, what he deeds are so much closer to those of Joseph Goebbels. The only difference between them is Goebbels met his fate but Sohn has so far walked away from all the controversies without an apology. However, Sohn realized he went little too far when JTBC’s attack on the THAAD was proven wrong; he announced a correction but not an apology. Instead, he promised his viewers to “continue to search for the truth.” It is notable that Sohn frequently talks about truth but he rarely mentions facts. Perhaps Sohn believes a truth does not have to be factual. Well, Sohn and his Newsroom staff have come back with a nutty story of Choi Soon-sil. I do not buy Sohn’s truths until they are factual. I do not share John Delury’s joy over “a win for South Korea’s revolution” until I am convinced this is not a win for mob justice. Until then, I wish the family of Mr. Murrow does not find it offensive when John Delury calls Sohn Suk-hee “the Korean equivalent of Edward R. Murrow.”