North Korea War: Is the Media Fear Mongering For Attention?

In times of preparation for hostilities with a foreign country, there is one place that both governments and media focus on. That place naturally enough is the embassy of the country. Evacuations of embassies are generally seen as the final cooling-off of relations and a possible first step toward climbing the mountain of conflict. That is why heads turned when movers were spotted outside of the North Korean embassy in London.

The appearance of a shipping crate outside the North Korean embassy caused a flurry of speculation in the British Press. The Daily Express stated that "North Korea is planning to pull its ambassador out of the UK." The always histrionic Daily Mail announced that a simple mover's note outside on a tree was a clear sign that North Korea’s embassy may be planning to move out. With the media so poised for something to happen at any moment, it seems that they will grab onto the smallest bit of news ... or worse yet, fail to put something in context for the sake of a better story.

The movers were there at the North Korean embassy to help a junior official leave after his post expired. All of these stories ignore the fact that the United Kingdom has no forces that are within range of striking Korea, so evacuating their embassy makes no sense unless Kim Jong-un wishes to send another saber rattle to the world. And such a move would be made with bombast and press announcements, not the embassy staff slipping out like sheepish mice afraid of a cat.

However desperate the press is for their next scoop, they should not mislead the public in a quest for viewers. A recent study released by the Pew Research Center found that 47% of Americans though that North Korea was able to fire a missile that could reach the United States.

What this result shows is that the American public is hugely misinformed about the true capabilities of the North Korean missile program. As the figure below shows, no North Korean missile can hit the continental United States. The only one that has a possibility of hitting Alaska, the Taepodong-2, has never been successfully tested, and in fact failed within one minute of launching during North Korea’s last missile test in 2006. In 2009, the U.S. National Air and Space Intelligence Center assessed that the Taepondong-2 had not been deployed.

 

If you include your definition of the United States to include the U.S. territory of Guam, you get a missile we have evidence actually exists: the BM25 Musudan. But this missile has never been successfully tested and launching an untested missile could be extremely embarrassing for North Korea, as it could just blow up in on the pad or one minute after launching as the Taepondong-2 did.

Yet while new sites fill their headlines with claims that the U.S. can shoot down North Korean missiles, scant few articles place in context the true ability of the North Korean missile forces.

To put it simply, they possess a handful of poorly made missiles that are as likely to blow up in flight than hit their targets. At best.

The quest for scoops and page views in the modern journalism has made it so that news organizations stretch and squeeze the truth terribly in search of attention. Whether it is mistaking movers as major diplomatic incidents or assigning countries capabilities many times beyond their actual abilities, the list goes on and on. And it shows no sign of stopping.