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September 13, 2013 at 6:00 AM
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.
July 3, 2013 at 6:00 AM
Update 3:01 p.m.:
CNN has obtained exclusive video from Choson Sinbo, a pro-North Korean organization, showing Kenneth Bae’s first interview from a hard labor camp where he is serving a 15-year sentence for “hostile acts” against the country. In the video, Bae speaks in Korean. CNN translated his comments as follows:
“Although my health is not good, I am being patient and coping well,” Bae said. “And I hope that with the help of the North Korean government and the United States, I will be released soon.”
Kneeling on the ground and wearing a prison uniform, a visibly thinner Bae revealed July 4 is his father’s 70th birthday.
Also, I just learned via Twitter (h/t @randallito) about this change.org petition by Jonathan Bae, who identifies himself as Kenneth Bae’s son. The petition calls on President Barack Obama to send a delegation to North Korea to secure Bae’s release.
We can’t seem to get enough of The Worm and his worldly ways. If NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman can use his celebrity to smooth relations with North Korea and secure the release of Lynnwood’s Kenneth Bae during his August trip back to the land of Kim Jung Un— then I say he deserves some serious props for diplomacy.
Of course, Rodman wants more. Have you seen him on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated?
According to this July 2 preview story by SI correspondent Ben Golliver, the former Chicago Bull says he deserves to be considered for a Nobel Peace Prize after his recent foray into North Korea with a crew from Vice Media. Rodman’s visit was the subject of Vice on HBO’s season finale. (I’ve embedded a fascinating four-minute clip at the end of this post.)
From Golliver’s write-up:
Rodman plans to return to North Korea in August. “I’m just gonna chill, play some basketball and maybe go on vacation with Kim and his family,” Rodman says. “I’ve called on the Supreme Leader to do me a solid by releasing Kenneth Bae.” The Korean-American missionary was recently sentenced to 15 years of hard labor on charges that he tried to topple the North Korean regime. He’d organized tours into the isolated state.
“My mission is to break the ice between hostile countries,” Rodman says. “Why it’s been left to me to smooth things over, I don’t know. Dennis Rodman, of all people. Keeping us safe is really not my job; it’s the black guy’s [Obama's] job. But I’ll tell you this: If I don’t finish in the top three for the next Nobel Peace Prize, something’s seriously wrong.”
It’s great to see Rodman hasn’t forgotten about Kenneth Bae.
May 8, 2013 at 6:00 AM
No word yet on whether North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has read or responded to his American friend Dennis Rodman’s Twitter plea to release Kenneth Bae, but we’re crossing our fingers the NBA legend’s personal efforts at diplomacy will somehow make a difference for the Lynnwood tour operator who’s been imprisoned since last November.
Rodman’s response Tuesday to my blog post last Friday asking him to exercise some “basketball diplomacy” has been picked up by news outlets around the world, including CNN, Foreign Policy, Sky News and The Times of London. Who knows if Rodman’s Twitter post to Kim Jong Un, whom he calls a “friend for life,” will be effective. I do know traditional diplomacy between government officials isn’t working too well (and the U.S. has no intention of formalizing relations with North Korea).
The New York Times reports North Korean officials are rejecting the notion they are using Bae as a “bargaining chip” or seeking a visit from a high-level American envoy. I have my doubts, but let’s attempt to take the politics out of this whole debacle and give the flamboyant Rodman a chance to work his charms for a peaceful outcome.
ICYMI, here’s Rodman’s original tweet:
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
Perhaps Kim Jong Un wants to save face as leader and prove he can be reasonable? OK, then someone he likes and respects needs to tell him there’s no benefit to keeping Kenneth Bae detained in a hard labor camp for 15 years. North Korea’s interests will be best-served by sending the man home on humanitarian grounds, as the current leader’s father, Kim Jong Il, did for previous American detainees.
Last week Bae’s sister, Terri Chung, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that her brother — a husband and father of three — has made frequent trips into North Korea from China without incident. Chung told Cooper he may have tried to feed orphans, but she is certain he meant no harm to the country. She revealed the family has only spoken to Bae once since he was detained six months ago.
“We just worry about my brother getting caught in between the political nature of this process, and we just pray and ask for leaders of both nations to please, just see him as one man caught in between,” she said during the May 2 interview. “We just ask that he be allowed to come home.”
Watch Terri Chung’s CNN appearance here:
The eccentric NBA hall-of-famer claims he developed a bond with Kim Jong Un after he traveled to North Korea in March with a Vice production team for an upcoming HBO documentary. At the time, The New York Times’ Brian Stelter wrote about the crew’s unprecedented access and the North Korean first family’s devotion to basketball and the Chicago Bulls.
I know it all sounds ridiculously simple, but let’s take advantage of this common interest in the NBA as a tool to ease tensions in the region and to learn more about Bae’s imprisonment.
May 3, 2013 at 6:48 AM
Dennis Rodman claims to be lifelong buddies with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Really?
Well, perhaps now is the time for the NBA has-been to practice some real basketball diplomacy and call up his so-called friend for a favor: Grant American detainee Kenneth Bae amnesty and release him to his family.The Lynnwood man has languished in prison for six months on questionable charges and was sentenced this week to 15 years of hard labor for “hostiles acts” against North Korea.
The Seattle Times published an editorial Friday calling on Chinese officials to help influence their neighbors, in the name of regional stability.
Back to Rodman. I really hate to connect an international crisis to buffoonish behavior, but Bae is being used as a political pawn by a desperate despot who happened to gallivant around the country with Rodman in March. Perhaps now is the retired player’s chance to use his notoriety for something other than to over-inflate his ego.
Last month, Rodman revealed his plans to return to Pyongyang Aug. 1 to “just hang and have some fun” with Kim.
I really can’t tell if he’s kidding. The whole thing is just bizarre. Just a few days ago — between tweets promoting his pool party in Las Vegas and an Instagram photo of his younger self during the Chicago Bulls days — Rodman posted this message to his Twitter account:
Partying with @therealdodge. Gonna miss you bro! Come with me next time I’m in N Korea!
— Dennis Rodman (@dennisrodman) April 28, 2013
How about another tweet showing some sensitivity to Kenneth Bae’s plight? (more…)