TV News Record: Focus on North Korea

By Katie Dahl and Nancy Watzman

Following the U.S. government’s confirmation that North Korea had successfully fired an intercontinental ballistic missile, we focus on statements by public officials and pundits on the nuclear threat from the Korean Peninsula, including some past fact-checked segments.

What top-rated cable shows aired the day after

On Fox News, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” focused his report on the missile launch by interviewing Michael Malice, a New York-based ghost writer and author of Dear Reader: The Unauthorized Biography of Kim Yong Inalong with  George Friedman a founder of Geopolitical Futures. Malice said the launch amounted to a commercial for the country’s product, “It’s a great sales pitch to show they have weapons they could sell and make a lot of money off of.” Friedman emphasized that the “Chinese have no reason to solve this,” and also said he didn’t think North Korea has a “capable” nuclear missile at this point.

Over on MSNBC, Rachel Maddow interviewed NBC’s national security reporter, Courtney Kube, who said that North Korea hadn’t demonstrated its capability to deliver a nuclear warhead yet, although “I don’t know if you would find anyone in the U.S. military at the highest levels who would say with confidence or certainty that they don’t absolutely have that capability. I think that they’re hopeful they do not, since they haven’t demonstrated or tested it.”

In the first hour of Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN, John Berman, sitting in for Cooper, placed North Korea’s launch in a global context with President Donald Trump’s trip to Europe, interviewing a panel of former public officials, David Gergen, who advised Republican and Democratic presidents; John Kirby, who was a spokesperson for the State Department under the Obama administration, and Shamila Chaudry, who served on the National Security Council under the Obama administration.


What Congressional leaders have said about North Korea

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R., Ky., on April 2o17, mentioned North Korea in context of the U.S. missile strike on Syria in response to chemical attacks on civilians as “a message to Iran and North Korea and the Russians that America intends to lead again.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R., Wis., when talking about a bill to strengthen sanctions back in 2016, said “[Obama’s] strategy of strategic patience with North Korea, it’s just not working.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D., Calif., in April 2017, said “The president is playing with fire when he’s talking about North Korea. We have to exhaust every diplomatic remedy.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D., N.Y.,  in April 2017, said “The only way to really stop North Korea from doing what it’s doing short of war is to get China to fully cooperate, because they control all the trade. They control the entire economy, really, of North Korea. My view is to get the Chinese to do something real, you have to be tough with them on trade. Trade is their mother’s milk.”

And now for some past fact-checked segments on North Korea.

Trump never said that more countries should acquire nuclear weapons (False)

In November 2016, not long after he won the election, then-President-elect Donald Trump tweeted:

Lauren Carroll, reporting for PolitiFact, rated this claim “false,” citing several examples from the campaign trail where Trump had said just that. For example, in April 2016, Fox News’ Chris Wallace asked, “You want to have a nuclear arms race on the Korean peninsula?” Later in the broadcast, Trump said about Japan and South Korea, “”Maybe they would be better off — including with nukes, yes, including with nukes.”

China has “total control” over North Korea (Mostly False)

During a Republican primary debate in January 2016, Trump said that China has “total control just about” over North Korea. Reporting for PolitiFact, Louis Jacobson rated this claim as “mostly false.” “He has a point that China holds significant leverage over North Korea if it wishes to exercise it, since China provides the vast majority of North Korea’s international trade, including food and fuel imports. But Trump’s assertion, even slightly hedged as it is, overlooks some significant limits to that leverage, notably the North Korean government’s willingness to follow its own drummer even if that means its people suffer. The fact that North Korea recently conducted a nuclear test over the strenuous objections of China suggests that Beijing lacks anything approaching ‘total control’ over North Korea.”

China accounts for 90 percent of North Korea’s trade (True)

In April 2017, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the U.N. Security Council, “But China, accounting for 90 percent of North Korean trade, China alone has economic leverage over Pyongyang that is unique, and its role is therefore particularly important.”

PolitiFact’s John Kruzel rated this claim as “true.” “China’s role as an outsize trade partner of North Korea is a relatively new development. Since 2000, trade with the rest of the world has dropped off, as Chinese trade has risen. While the ratio is subject to change based on political factors, China now accounts for around 90 percent of North Korean trade.”

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