(42) US press and Korean press

There is an old saying in the U.S.: “The pen is mightier than the sword.” This means that one cannot break even in a fight against the press, which can write endlessly on the matter.

When I was a House representative, I thought being friendly with reporters would result in favorable articles written about me. However, that was not the case. It was quite often that I was hit from behind by the reporters who smiled and seemed nice to my face.

There were several times that they inserted their opinions in their articles instead of reporting directly based on what I said, which sometimes took the articles in an entirely new direction. A quote without context can be unfairly damaging.

Once, I donated $100 to an organization that helped poor students and said, “If I were rich, I would like to donate $1,000 instead of $100.” A newspaper reported the next day that Congressman Kim said that he would like to donate $1,000 to charity organizations. The article reported that I would donate $1,000 without quoting the whole sentence that contained the part, “if I were rich.” After that news article, unsurprisingly, several charity organizations asked me to donate $1,000.

So, I called the reporter who wrote the misleading article to correct it. The next day, the newspaper had an article which said that I denied that I had ever said such a thing. I began to realize that the more I fought, the deeper I would get into trouble. I even began to wonder whether maybe it was my fault. Maybe I didn’t make myself clear.

I think it’s often the case that public servants cannot win against the press. So many politicians sue the press for libel and other reasons, but they never win. It is because freedom of the press is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

The plaintiff must show evidence that a reporter was intentionally trying to hurt the person through his words. It is very difficult to prove that a reporter wrote an article to hurt someone intentionally.

My Republican colleagues told me that most of the major press in the U.S. has an anti-Republican bias. They often advised me to practice caution with some members of the press. They even named a few. They said that from the perspectives of the liberal media, the Republican Party represents the rich classes, big corporations and whites, and always seeks only their own interests.

Since the word “liberal” came up, I would like to say a few things about the liberal and the conservative. After several discussions with college students in Korea, I was surprised by the fact that many young Koreans have anti-U.S. and pro-North Korea tendencies and that these people were called “liberal.”

They called “conservative idiots” those who attached importance to Korea-U.S. relations, warned against the policy to give unconditional aid to the North and pointed out the severe oppression of human rights in North Korea.

They attacked me by accusing me of being a typical pro-U.S. conservative who could see only one thing. I asked them if they rejected the democratic system of South Korea where the people elect a president every five years and instead preferred the North Korean system that allows the inheritance of power from a father to son, then to his grandson.

The Watergate scandal that caused then-President Richard Nixon to resign changed the way reporters work. The reporters revealed this scandal by rummaging in trash cans to surprise the world. They won the Pulitzer Prize. After this, many American as well as Korean reporters adopted the style of an investigator who searches trash cans, instead of the previous style of merely reporting facts. The press leaned to sensationalism that attracts more readers.

When I became the first Korean-American ever elected to the House of Representatives, the interest of the media was concentrated on me. The press treated me like a hero, a symbol of the American dream almost every day. I realized much later that this was not all good. Other senior colleagues told me that after making someone a hero, articles that drag him down would make them more interesting and draw more readers. They advised me to be careful.

I was finally caught in this trap only eight months after my win. Despite my difficult congressional life due to this, I was elected miraculously three times consecutively by a great margin while being investigated by the FBI and this story was printed practically every day. Considering this, I think I am tough, and I am proud of it.

Recently, I have had more contact with the Korean press and more chances to meet Korean reporters. They seem to have a little more thoughtful approach. They do not report my sometimes blunt expressions if I ask them not to. I often found they changed my expressions to convey the meaning better than the original in their articles, even when I was not able to express it properly in Korean.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Washington Korean-American Forum. For more information, visit Kim’s website (www.jayckim.com).

(41) Homosexuality in US

One of the biggest annual events in San Francisco is the Gay Pride Parade. This is a half-hour long event big enough to almost block the traffic of Market Street, the heart of San Francisco. When I attended, I was surprised to learn that the beautiful “ladies” dancing on parade floats were actually men.

Since they knew I was a U.S. congressman, they stopped in front of me to blow kisses and exaggerate their dance moves. They just seemed too beautiful and sexy for me to believe that they were men. If one follows Main Street for a while, he or she will see the City Hall, and then five blocks later the Castro District, the main neighborhood for San Francisco gays and lesbians. After the parade, I went to the district, where I saw many gay or transgender couples arm in arm. Watching them French kiss on public streets was very uncomfortable for me to watch.

During the 1990s, as gay people who had been hiding from society “came out of the closet,” social groups were formed to protect their rights. They would wear small earrings as a kind of self-identification, and soon they were a full scale part of mainstream U.S. society. Eventually famous people that had been hiding their sexuality came out and announced that they were gay. One of them was a former House Republican from Arizona, and another was Barney Frank, a Democrat from Massachusetts and the chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services. He openly became a strong advocate for the gay community.

However, a major issue developed in how gays were accepted in the military. The navy, in particular, had a major headache in trying to figure out how their sailors’ morale would be affected by knowing their fellow service members were gay, as well as how they would react to having to live together with gay service members for several months at sea, sleeping in small bunkers, without any contact with women. The Department of Defense came up with the infamous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy as a desperate measure. This meant that gay service members should not announce their sexual orientation, and other service members should not ask; in other words, being gay should remain a personal secret.

In the larger social sense, the movement for closeted gays to come out and stop hiding their sexuality could not be stopped. Eventually the lobbying began for the legalization of marriage by gay and lesbian couples. Congress decided to pass the buck to each state, letting them decide on gay marriage for themselves. There are now a number of states, such as Hawaii, Vermont, California, Alaska, and New York, which allow same sex marriages. Also, the gay movement has spread all over the world with amazing speed. Starting in the Netherlands, countries like Norway, South Africa, and Spain have also begun to recognize same sex marriages. There are even news reports that President Barack Obama does not oppose same sex marriages.

Gay activists have now taken the next step and lobbied for a bill that gives gay couples the same benefits from the government as other married couples, such as tax exemptions for a dependent. I remember gay activists coming to my office a couple of times on this issue. Later, as their power became stronger, they pressed for a change in adoption laws to allow them to adopt children. This made Republicans in Congress extremely concerned. Until then, most congressional Republicans took the position of leaving the matter of gay couples to each state. Now, many Republicans believed that they had stepped over the limit.

Questions began to be raised about whom the children would call a father or a mother and whether they could be raised normally by two same sex parents. Lobbyists for churches were in lines in front of the Capitol every day to lobby against same sex marriage. At the same time, a strong anti-same sex marriage movement started, with Christians claiming that it is the will of God for a man and a woman to unite, to give birth, and to raise children. On the other end of the spectrum, an English dictionary removed “one man and one woman” from its definition of “marriage.”

Things were complicated by an existing law that same sex marriage in one state should be recognized by the other states. This posed a thorny issue ― if a legally married same sex couple decided to relocate to another state which does not recognize that marriage, then is the marriage still legal? Does this mean that same sex married couples could only live in states that allowed same sex marriage?

Congress responded by passing the Defense of Marriage Act in 1995, which gave the right not to recognize a same sex marriage from another state to a state that had passed a law against same sex marriages. Fifteen states passed laws that disallow same sex marriage the same year. Unfortunately, a court in Nebraska made a decision that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, which made the situation even more complicated.

The issue of marriage has always been complicated in the U.S. An inter-racial marriage was not allowed legally until the early 1960s ― which means that, for a long time, it was illegal for a white person and an Asian to get married. Even now, gay people continue debating on the issue of marriage, asking where in the U.S. Constitution it says that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Since young people are overwhelmingly in favor of allowing same sex marriage, it is expected that same sex marriage will become legal in the United States within a decade.

Korea is different. Article 36 in the Chapter 2 of the Korean Constitution says, “Marriage and family life shall be entered into and sustained on the basis of individual dignity and equality of the sexes, and the state shall do everything in its power to achieve that goal.” In this respect, the Korean Constitution seems much more refined than the U.S. Constitution.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Washington Korean-American Forum. For more information, visit Kim’s website (www.jayckim.com).