The Interview: A Rare Glimpse into the Alternate Reality of CNN in North Korea

CNN’s Will Ripley was recently summoned to Pyongyang, coinciding nicely with North Korea’s announcement that the country had placed yet another American wanderer in custody for crossing the border illegally. Apart from a short interview with the young sufferer (he has been diagnosed with an extreme condition of “North Korean ennui”), Ripley was given access to a real live North Korean official, who delivered the usual talking points: Refugees are scum, the economy is improving, and North Korea (surprise) has nuclear weapons with which it can threaten/defend against the United States.

I herewith provide an alternative list of interview questions, which journalists are free to plagiarize and which other readers may use to imagine an alternate history (or many alternate Texts, to channel the literary professor in Pusan) to the CNN junket:

Will the high-level talks between Kim Jong-un and Dennis Rodman be resuming at the conclusion of the NBA playoffs?

What is in your notebook, precisely?

Does North Korea have an army of hackers in the Chilbosan Hotel in Shenyang, as reported by Steve Sin in 2009, echoed by everyone else since that report, and as not exactly confirmed by me in a recent visit to the hotel lobby in question?

What message are you trying to send to the West? Do you realize I am trying to do better here than Channel 4’s exclusive 1-second interview with Kim Jong-un?

Could you show me an annotated copy of Shin Dong-hyuk’s book, or do you just call him a liar on principle?

Could you explain to me why the Marshal believes that mushrooms should be such an important part of the North Korean diet?

What is the story with that so-called “Abduction Committee” and your negotiations with Japan over it? Are your archives and bureaucracies in such a tangle that you simply have no way of knowing what happened to tens of thousands of people after 1945?

Have you spoken with Justice William Kirby or the Chinese authorities about his speaking about North Korean human rights on Chinese territory?

Are you offended by China’s inability to protect the Supreme Dignity and its image in the news media in your only putative ally?

Where did you buy your socks? Is there inflation in the markets? Does anyone buy clothes at state department stores? How about your undershirt, was that purchased with North Korean won at a reasonable price?

Why do I need a special visa to go to Rason, with a minimum of three people?

Why would I be allowed to bring a Bible into the DPRK, but arrested for leaving it in the toilet?

Why can’t your border guards coordinate better with their Chinese Public Security counterparts to prevent mentally semi-competent Americans going over the border from China into the DPRK?

Could you tell me a bit about your family history? Did your family benefit from Kim Il-sung’s land reform?

Have you read With the Century recently? Could you describe to me why it was important for Kim Il-sung to have access to a large free library of communist literature from the Dandong home of a Chinese-Korean capitalist? Do you think that North Korean youth should be reading on tablets fully monitored by your security apparatus (presumably they can turn the cameras and microphones on whenever they like), or would you prefer books, dumb and mute though they may be?

Why did your country accept a wax statue of Kim Jong-suk from a foreign power? Was it checked for listening devices?

Why did Ri Sol-ju wear the precise hanbok that then turned up in a number of Mansudae Art Academy paintings of Kim Jong-suk?

Why is it important for Kim Jong-un to personally select and guide the creation of artworks portraying historical moments in the imagined history of his father and grandfather?

Is North Korea a monarchy? Is Kim Jong-un an Emperor? In what sense is this a Republic?

Why do you think 87-year-old Kim Yong-nam is such a great diplomat? Is he really running the government while Kim Jong-un handles the very extensive PR needs for the state?

Why doesn’t Kim Jong-un ever share his cigarettes with his colleagues?

If I were to put a very large cash donation (in dollars, Euros, or Chinese yuan, your choice) on the table right now, could you tell me what bank you would put it in?

Have you been to Nampo recently to watch the container ships come in? Would you say that more goods enter North Korea via shipping (particularly Dalian) than over the various train-linked borders with China?

When was the last opportunity you had to drink a Starbucks coffee, and, if you refused, what advice would you give to other cadre traveling abroad when faced with the temptation?

How informed are you and your colleagues about the situation in Syria? Do you (and the Marshal, of course) feel a certain kinship with the Assad regime?

How much time is spent in the standard North Korean school curriculum (up until university) on air atrocities (not including bacteriological war attacks) carried out by the US Air Force? Is there any consensus on how many North Koreans were killed in these attacks, which included napalm use?

Why is Kim Il-sung’s formula for Korean unification still viable?

What would you say about what you’ve learned from observing German unification from your perspective?

Do you read Marcus Noland’s reports and blog posts about your country? Do you think he understands what you do on a day-to-day basis and why you do it?

Did you have enough to eat in the 1990s? Are you hungry right now, as we are sitting here? Would you be insulted if I offered you a special pear from South Korea which I have managed to smuggle into this interview?

Would it be possible for my cameraman to meet with some of his trade colleagues in Chosun Central Television? What if my cameraman were to get suddenly, violently sick, like with vomiting and stomach cramps? Could I get a cameraman from your outfit to help us out, so that this vital interview could go forward?

Why are you speaking Korean? Why am I not speaking Korean? Why couldn’t you just come to Beijing to do this and save my company a few thousand bucks? Why couldn’t you just call AP to take care of these kinds of informational errands?

Why did you take me to an elementary school? What did you think I would learn here? Do you think we are lacking in stock footage of this sort of thing? Do realize my chances of filing this under the “rare glimpse” rubric are only about 70/30?

Is there anything you would like me to convey either now or off-camera to either of the Ling sisters, or anyone vaguely connected to the Clinton family?

Are you aware, and do you consent, that your image may eventually be used in highly modified fashion, with a darkened filter and scary music? Are you familiar with this effect, which can probably be traced back to Weberian and Wagnerian staging effects from 19th century German romantic opera? Oh, you don’t mind? Oh, that’s exactly what you’re after. Then great. Yes, yes, just sign there. Absolutely! Of course, I like Wagner too, I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. What? You want missiles in the tease as well as sparkled throughout the interview lead-in? Yes, we can do that. No, that won’t be necessary — we have stock footage of the Unha-3s, but thank you for the offer, that’s very kind. Then great. We do both want the same thing after all.

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