CNN Founder Couldn’t Fathom Why People Hated North Korean Dictator

News & Politics

Given the collapse of CNN+, the jettisoning of anchors like Brian Stelter, it’s clear that CNN itself is the middle of an identity crisis. It’s not the first time the network has gone through cringe-inducing moments. It was 17 years ago this coming Monday that CNN founder Ted Turner embarrassed himself by insisting that despotic North Koran dictator Kim Jong Il “didn’t look evil.” 

On September 19, 2005, after a bewildered Wolf Blitzer pointed out the harsh treatment of the North Korean people, Turner offered his own first-hand account from a visit: “Well, hey, listen. I saw a lot of people over there. They were thin and they were riding bicycles instead of driving in cars, but…I didn’t see any brutality.” 

Kim, who died on December 17, 2011, had over 200,000 political prisoners and was accused of crimes against Humanity by Human Rights Watch. But this seemed to escape Turner. Even Blitzer couldn’t fathom the charitable attitude from his network’s founder: 

WOLF BLITZER: But this is one of the most despotic regimes and Kim Jong-il is one of the worst men on Earth. Isn’t that a fair assessment?

TURNER: Well, I didn’t get to meet him, but he didn’t look — in the pictures that I’ve seen of him on CNN, he didn’t look too much different than most other people.

BLITZER: But look at the way he’s treating his own people.

TURNER: Well, hey, listen. I saw a lot of people over there. They were thin and they were riding bicycles instead of driving in cars. 

For more examples from our flashback series, which we call the NewsBusters Time Machine, go here.

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A partial transcript of the segment is below: 

Situation Room
9/19/2005

TED TURNER: I am absolutely convinced that the North Koreans are absolutely sincere….I looked them right in the eyes. And they looked like they meant the truth. You know, just because somebody’s done something wrong in the past doesn’t mean they can’t do right in the future or the present. That happens all the, all the time.

WOLF BLITZER: But this is one of the most despotic regimes and [North Korean dictator] Kim Jong-il is one of the worst men on Earth. Isn’t that a fair assessment?

TURNER: Well, I didn’t get to meet him, but he didn’t look — in the pictures that I’ve seen of him on CNN, he didn’t look too much different than most other people.

BLITZER: But look at the way he’s treating his own people.

TURNER: Well, hey, listen. I saw a lot of people over there. They were thin and they were riding bicycles instead of driving in cars, but— 

BLITZER: A lot of those people are starving.

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