This just raises my hackles. I’m sorry for being political again on a food blog, but sometimes you can’t separate food and politics. And I think Americans need to know, especially my fellow progressives commenting on this issue, what is behind the mad cow hysteria in South Korea.

Now, let me point out ahead of time. I am far from being a conservative pundit. I used to co-produce the liberal Thom Hartmann Program, which now is the flagship show on the progressive Air America Radio network. So I’m basically as left wing as you can get. This is why it troubles me when news items come into my mailbox from progressive rags to NYT’s Paul Krugman, saying that the mad cow protesters have legitimate issues and are aware of what’s going on in the American beef industry.

They don’t.

Let me start with the program that sparked it all, “PD Diary.” In Korea, it’s the closest thing it has to a “60 Minutes” or “20/20.” Yet it has the journalistic integrity of “A Current Affair” during the Bill O’Reilly era.

The reason that the Korean population got so energized and riled up and considered themselves “Mad Cow Ph. D.s” was the result of an episode the program aired in April, which I watched myself and couldn’t believe the trash they were shoving down the Korean public’s collective throats. If this program didn’t scare the poo out of the Korean public, they likely wouldn’t have cared so much.

The thing is, there aren’t many professional checks and balances in the Korean media. They are used to making claims without citing sources. If they wish it to be true then it must be true. And they twist facts and blatantly lie and mislabel in their news programs because–they can. There are no professional repercussions. There are no watchdog groups. There is little domestic competition challenging them on their claims.

The only option in South Korea is for the government to step in. They are suing MBC and “PD Diary” using those famous libel laws that I know all too well. They are basing their suit on multiple fabrications in the episode:

  • They showed video of a downer cow, likely caused from being sick and weak from living in a feed lot, and said it was a mad cow.
  • They claimed that Koreans are more likely to develop the human variant of mad cow because of a researcher’s paper. The researcher himself said that the program distorted his thesis.
  • They claimed that a woman in Virginia died from mad cow, when her mother and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said she hadn’t.

So rather than doing the adult thing and admitting their errors, they are relying on the typical childish behavior of Korean management by blaming their inferiors. You know, it’s the equivalent to when a child hits another child, and when you scold him, he says, “Well, she made me do it.”

This JoongAng Daily piece details “PD Diary’s” sleazy defense of themselves. Let’s take it apart.

It starts off with “PD Diary” blaming its errors on bad translation. The translator responded.

“So, MBC is now blaming translators?” Jeong wrote yesterday afternoon in one of her postings.

“While I was checking the translation, I told the producers repeatedly and strongly that linking a downer cow and mad cow disease is a distortion. Those controversial parts [were not my translation] but later selected by the producers.”

Yes, I don’t see how a downer cow can be mistranslated as BSE-infected cow, considering “BSE” is the same in English and Korean. It just didn’t occur to the producers that when they blamed the translator, the translator would point out the obvious. But in the same typical style of “PD Diary,” they stuck to what they BELIEVED was true rather than what WAS true.

However, the production team behind the show stuck to its translation line of defense. “We regret that we left room for misunderstanding because we didn’t provide word-by-word translation,” the program makers said.

Regarding the woman in Virginia who DIDN’T die from mad cow disease:

The report’s subtitles showed her mother as saying that “human mad cow disease” had caused the American patient’s death.

The term the mother had actually used was CJD or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, not vCJD.

Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is commonly known as the human form of mad cow disease.

PD Diary said Tuesday that “we thought Vinson’s mother, who had no professional medical knowledge, was confused about the two terms.”

That is some primo grade A arrogance. These are the people who report fan death as fact, and they believe that the mother was “confused” about what caused her daughter’s death??

They are stuck on that neo-Confucian idea that if a person is not a certified M.D. she just doesn’t know what she’s talking about. And I assume the producers themselves are peer reviewed medical scholars, right?


Oh, and here’s the kicker:

PD Diary also claimed Tuesday that the host of the show made a simple slip of tongue when he called a downer cow “a cow suspected of being infected with mad cow disease.”

Its earlier translation of “dairy cow” as “mad cow disease-infected cow” was not a poor translation, but a translation with interpretation, the program argued.

Yes, because I regularly made the slip of the tongue when I go out to eat. I mean to say, “Let’s have some beef galbi.”

Instead I slip and say, “Let’s have some mad cow disease-infected galbi.”

It’s just a simple slip of the tongue. Who woulda thought it was a big deal? I confuse the words “dairy cow” with “mad cow disease-infected cow” all the time.

Then when all else failed, they took to political labeling to discredit arguments against them.

“[Conservative media] are not looking into the substance, and they are just picking on our translation to criticize us,” PD Diary said Tuesday.

Well, buddy, I ain’t no conservative media. You can count on that. I believe in truth in advertising and journalism. And if you are saying that the sunshine shone on your lies and lazy journalism are the products of the “conservative media,” then you are implying that liberals (like me) take the truth casually in order to make a point.

I’m sorry. Where I come from, we call that Fox News.

UPDATE: CNN has reported on “PD Diary’s” stellar journalism. Now the international media is putting a spotlight on them. South Korea is no longer a hermit kingdom. The domestic audience may give you a pass, but an international audience won’t stand for it.

Don't make mistakes other travelers have made!

Get regular emails with insider tips on how to maximize your visit to Korea. Sign up now!

Tour Tips Newsletter

You have Successfully Subscribed!