Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.
September 13, 2013 at 6:00 AM
Dennis Rodman regrettably chose Kim Jong Un over Kenneth Bae
Updated Sept. 16 at 4:45 p.m.: Yikes. Kenneth Bae’s college friend, Bobby Lee of Portland, spoke out over the weekend against Dennis Rodman. He asked the Bae family to email the following statement:
Dennis Rodman tweeted to the world that he would step up and bring American citizen Kenneth Bae back home from a North Korean prison. Rodman claimed that Obama couldn’t do it. But he could. Then he folded like a cheap tent.
“Guess what? That’s not my job to ask about Bae,” an angry Rodman said to the media after smoking cigars with the North Korean leader Kim Jung Un. How nice.
What really happened? Rodman used Bae’s misfortune to elevate his eroding Hollywood brand. He took advantage of Bae’s setback to stage his own comeback. All the free press he received around the world would make Justin Bieber blush. And he is the only one laughing all the way to the bank while Bae’s family and friends—and the American people—are left heartbroken.
Rodman says he wants to introduce North Koreans to the world. North Koreans will take one look at him and ask, “what planet is this guy from?” We can’t think of a better argument for Kim Jung Un’s policies of complete isolation from the rest of the world than Dennis Rodman.
Rodman, there’s a real person’s life at stake. You’ve gone too far.
They call Rodman the Worm. Starting today, I ask the American people to start calling Rodman by his new nickname: Cheap Tent.
Bobby Lee, Portland, Oregon
Kenneth Bae’s Old College Buddy from University of Oregon
Dennis Rodman returned from his second tour of North Korea last weekend without imprisoned American Kenneth Bae. He claims he didn’t even try to broach the subject with his friend, Kim Jong Un.
His callous brush-off of Bae’s detention since November 2012 is disappointing on many levels.
First, it shines a light on our sick celebrity culture and the sycophants who feed off it. Who is handling Rodman’s image and business matters? This man needs a new public relations team that can explain to him the basics of North Korea’s human rights record and protect him from getting bamboozled by a ruthless regime.
In his public statements so far, Rodman sounds utterly clueless to the suffering of North Korean citizens. There’s a photo of him smoking a cigar and laughing with Kim. Rodman claims he got to hold the dear leader’s newborn daughter.
As long as he doesn’t see the bad stuff, he doesn’t seem to care. (Read this harrowing CNN report comparing Rodman’s delusional statements to the realities on the ground. Or check out this write-up in The Independent on the Kim regime’s systematic use of torture and executions inside North Korea’s prison system.)
For months, our editorial board has focused attention on Kenneth Bae, the American who was detained by North Korean officials in November 2012. His sister, Terri Chung, wrote this powerful July 29 guest column.
Known for holding strong Christian views, Bae was working as a tour operator when he was captured. The details surrounding his arrest and conviction remain unclear. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. Last we heard, Bae was transferred to a hospital after suffering health problems and lost 50 pounds in detention. The U.S. State Department must continue its efforts to seek amnesty for him.
Unlike previous situations involving American detainees, attempts by several high-profile figures to contact Bae and bring him home have failed. Former U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson and Google Chairman Eric Schmidt couldn’t do it. U.S. Envoy Robert King was invited to the country — then uninvited. Regardless of his bizarre antics, Rodman seemed like the best hope for progress after he posted this tweet last May in response to my blog post four days earlier:
I'm calling on the Supreme Leader of North Korea or as I call him "Kim", to do me a solid and cut Kenneth Bae loose.
— Dennis Rodman (@dennisrodman) May 7, 2013
During an Aug. 29 interview with HuffPost Live, Rodman admitted he didn’t write that tweet himself. Someone on his team did. Of course, that didn’t stop him from spending the summer gaining notoriety and joking about his savior status, even landing the cover of Sports Illustrated in July and reiterating his desire to try to normalize relations and free Bae.
My optimism was crushed by this Sept. 7 CNN video showing Rodman cursing at reporters who dared to ask him whether he’d lived up to his earlier boasts. “Guess what? That’s not my job to ask about Bae,” an angry Rodman said last Saturday after flying into Beijing from Pyongyang.
At a Monday press conference, Rodman lavished Kim (whom he adoringly calls “The Marshal”) with praise and announced he may train the North Korean basketball team for the 2016 Olympics. I hope Bae’s family in Lynnwood didn’t see the coverage. Rodman lacks a sensitivity chip. He’s getting paid to put on this sad show.
The retired NBA player claims he is pursuing basketball diplomacy. Does this form of engagement mean it’s acceptable to ignore a fellow American’s suffering so you can get your trip to hang out with his captor sponsored by an Irish betting website? Does it mean you call your own president and former secretary of state an expletive before the international media? Does it mean you get to talk about trying to save someone for months, then back out when handed the golden opportunity to ask about him?
Rodman no longer gets the benefit of doubt. He is a disaster, which partly explains why he is the only westerner in recent years to hob nob with Kim. (According to this New York Times news report, Michael Jordan was Vice Media’s first choice to make the trip to North Korea for an HBO documentary earlier this year. MJ declined.)
Rodman and his sponsors announced they plan to return to North Korea next January to host a basketball invitational. If he convinces former NBA players to go, I hope they’re brave enough to ask about Kenneth Bae. There’s a very real possibility this father of three will still be languishing in prison by the time Rodman gets ready for round three with his “friend for life.”