"PD Diary" Being Sleazy and Evasive

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 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.

“ 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.


You're Tellin' Us to Do WHAT?

Spooky Walks on the Mountain


15 thoughts on “"PD Diary" Being Sleazy and Evasive”

  1. I think this is a great thing. People are becoming more conscious about what they are eating.

    Joe, you’ve gotta get up to Seoul soon. I have a lot of restaurants to cover and I would love your expertise (and your company)


  2. I’d like to believe that people want to be more conscious of what they’re eating, but this looks more like putting a coat of pain on a condemned house. If they labeled the beef grass or grain fed, that would be being more conscious of what they’re eating.

    Okay, this is what I don’t get, if Koreans are actually concerned with their personal health. American beef has killed zero people with mad cow disease, yet these regulations are not up so that people can avoid American beef as if it’s diseased.

    On the other hand, Chinese-made kimchi and mandu HAVE been shown to be dangerous, yet no restaurants are required to post the origin of their kimchi and mandu.

    Oh, and yes, I definitely want to join you for your restaurant trips. This weekend, I’m researching an ostrich farm and the Filipino market in Seoul. Wanna meet up on Sunday for that?

  3. Antibiotics are not given to keep feedlot cows healthier, they’re given to increase the rate of gain without increasing the amount of feed. The “doping sick cows” story has been shopped around agressively by certain food writers and it’s wrong. It creates a useful word picture but it’s wrong. For whatever reason (when I was doing Ag Health and Safety the reason was still unknown) subclinical doses of antibiotics in feed cause livestock to put on weight faster and for feedlots rate of gain is everything.

    That doesn’t make even subclinical doses of antibiotics a good idea, antibiotic resistance spings in no small part from our feedlot system of agriculture, but inaccuracy doesn’t help make a good case for better practices.

  4. Come on Joe, don’t fall for the same mislabeling and shoddy journalism. It’s fine to be a liberal, but to say that this shoddy journalism is the same thing as Fox is a total crock. Without claiming any faults with the typical dinosaur media while blameshifting to “conservative” news outlets is a discredit to you. Bad journalism is bad journalism. Fox to it’s credit at least puts people on the other side of the spectrum as opposed to the vast majority of the dinosaur media that ignores the other side at best or outright lying at the worst all the while attempting to claim with a straight face, no bias. That’s why Tim Russert was respected by all b/c he treated everyone equally tough. I wish the same could be said about Matthews, Olberman, Rather, and on and on.

  5. I’m not looking to get into another “Fox News is fair and balanced because it says so” argument. It’s too easy. It’s common knowledge now that they frequently twist stories or don’t cite sources or follow specific political agendas. I’ve talked with a couple of former employees of the network in the past who have confirmed this.


    – Fox News was started by Roger Ailes and the propaganda wing of the Nixon, Reagan and Bush 1 administrations.

    – The Moody Memos

    – A 2003 study showed that viewers of Fox News had the highest misconceptions about current events compared to viewers of other news channels [Misperceptions, the Media and the Iraq War], stating, “Those who receive most of their news from Fox News are more likely than average to have misperceptions.”

    These included the following:
    — Iraq and al-Qaeda were linked (67%)
    — The US found weapons of mass destruction after invading Iraq (33%)
    — The majority of people in the world favor the US invading Iraq (35%)

    – Bill O’Reilly himself admitted, “Fox does tilt right” in regards to the Iraq War.

    – One 19-week study found that the ratio of conservative to liberal guests on Brit Hume was 50:6.

    – A 2006 study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that 56% of 547 journalists, whom would be the ultimate insiders, identified Fox News as having a decidedly ideological stance.

    – Another PEJ study in 2006 found that 68% of Fox news stories contained personal opinions, compared to 27% at MSNBC and 4% at CNN.

    – Wikipedia Scanner found that pages related to Al Franken, Keith Olbermann, Chris Wallace and Brit Hume were edited by computers originating from Fox News headquarters between 2005 and 2007.

    – Ofcom, the UK’s broadcasting regulatory body, ruled that John Gibson’s program on Fox had breached the program code in three areas: “respect for truth”, “opportunity to take part”, and “personal view programmes opinions expressed must not rest upon false evidence”

    – Conservative Brit Hume’s “all-star” fair and balanced panel consist of Fred Barnes (conservative), Mort Kondracke (“independent” because he says the Republican party has forsaken its conservative roots), and Mara Liasson (the lone liberal), who admittedly holds her own well against the three other conservatives.

    Oh, and here is some great unbiased reporting free of blind nationalism…

    – In 2004, Neil Cavuto claimed that Osama bin Laden was rooting for John Kerry.

    – John Gibson: “Is this a case where knowing the facts actually would be worse than not knowing? I mean, should we burn these ballots, preserve them in amber, or shred them?”

    “George Bush is going to be president. And who needs to know that he’s not a legitimate president?”

    He insisted that BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan “insisted on air that the Iraqi Army was heroically repulsing an incompetent American Military,” to which Fox had to apologize and say was not true.

    – Steven Malloy, a frequent anti-global warming commentator on Fox News runs non-profits from his own house which were big recipients of donations from ExxonMobil. He had also received donations from Phillip Morris when he was saying cigarette smoke was not carcinogenic.

    – Don’t get me started on Bill O’Reilly, whom people like Olberman were the response to. Bill started that whole rabid pundit parade.

    I think that’s enough for now. I have work to do.

  6. Joe, man, they’re not ‘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.’ They’re just lying to cover their own sloppy lazy asses. There’s a big difference.

    If you want to blame Neo-Confucianism (and I don’t, since I don’t think it’s such a useful concept to think about) I would place it at the organizational level of the media which, based on Neo-Confucianism as it is, encourages intellectual dishonesty and laziness.

  7. Hi, I am a korean girl that likes to read your articles about korean food and enjoys your interesting perspectives on food. But, this article is a little disappointing to me, because you see what you want to see, and your reference is only the Jooang-ilbo, which is considered to show a real sleazy journalistic attitude.

    I guess that you have missed several points in your critique.

    The CJD patient’s mother used the term “mad cow disease” to refer to her daughter’s symptoms in other interviews in the same PD diary program. The mother knew that her daughter might not have been afflicted by the typical CJD. As everybody knows, this suspicion caused the patient to be further investigated.

    Whether the mother was ignorant or just it was another slip of tongue on her side is not important. The fact is that many people including doctors had doubts of the cause of her death, because she was too young to die of the usual CJD, which usually occurs among the elders.
    The pd diary respected this fact.

    You have not pointed either that the PD diary was aired on April 29. But, The manifestation that the patient was diagonosed as not being the vCJD was made on May 5.
    The PD diary staffs repetively emphasized in the program aired on April that the diagnosis was not finalized yet.

    According to these facts, the MBC PD DIARY staff was not that wrong with interpreting some texts on the the context basis and having then some doubts of the vcjd in the cjd patient case.

    There are something more to say, including the MM gene issue. But, I will just stop here. (it takes too much time for me to write in english.)–;;

    My point is:
    The PD diary program was not professional. I agree. About the program member’s slip of tongue regarding the downer, he made a mistake.
    But, I do not think that they are either arrogant or sleasy. They made their point, unfortunately at some points unprofessionally. They are different from the FOX TV SHOWS.

    The protest against US beef import is not about Anti-Americanism. Neither is it about food safety alone.
    We have been blaming the government and the president who did not consider with care the danger of unknown area with respect to vcjd and valued the economic profits over national health problem.
    And it is also a protest against the government that lied a lot, and against the arch-conservative newspapers that changed their words a lot according to their political position.

    I hope that you listen to many people in korea, who are now angry with the us beef import, and consider why they are angry.
    Are they just deceived by the “sleasy” journalism such as the MBC PD DIARY and other internet “rumors”? I do not believe that you are thinking like that.
    If you happen to think so, you are really arrogant.
    Protesters are not that idiots.

    You are a beef lover like me (I know this fact from your previous articles.) So You might be as uncomfortable about this situation as me. But, we need to face the uncomfortable truth about beef, disease, inspection, import, and politics, many aspects of which are not uncovered.

    Fianlly, I recommend that you read more reliable newspapers to know what is going on now in korea.

    Sorry for my rough(?)English writing and unnecessarily long reply.
    I am sorry too that the first reply to your writing is not that positive.
    But, I want you to know that I love your blog.
    Keep writing~

  8. Thank you for clearing that up, and I may have jumped the gun on that one. Watching this unfold over the years, it has always seemed that there has been underlying forces (the Korean beef industry) behind all of the mad cow hysteria.

    Remember the rule that only BONELESS beef could be brought in because somehow bone-in beef was riskier? I haven’t heard anything about that in the latest protests.

    It looks like the anti-US beef people keep latching to far, far reaches of proof that American beef is unsafe.

    What makes me most suspect, as I stated before, is that no one is saying anything about e. coli, which IS a big problem with US beef. If the anti-US beef people were truly interested in Korean public health, they’d make a big deal about that–and really, I’d be out there protesting with them.

    But making a big embarrassing racket about a subject that is so minuscule compared to the real problems of American beef instantly turns on my bullshit detector.

    Also, please direct me to these more reliable papers. I’m not beholden to any one source, even though I do think the editorial staff at the Hankyoreh is on permanent vacation.

  9. By the way, YJ, for reading my site and thanks for the detailed post. Unlike a lot of folks who publicly spout their opinions, I’m actually looking for people to challenge what I say and educate me.

    (Because I know I’m full of shit.)

  10. By the way, YJ, for reading my site and thanks for the detailed post. I am so thrilled to hear that Koreans read ZenKimchi.

    Unlike a lot of folks who publicly spout their opinions, I’m actually looking for people to challenge what I say and educate me.

    (Because I know I’m full of shit.)

  11. So then Joe, when CBS news creates a false story about President Bush what would that be called? Your examples you cite are mostly irrelevant or non sequitor. So what if Roger Ailes founded a news network? Who founded Air America? You compare the number conservative vs liberal guests, what about the other news outlets that claim no bias? You cite a study from 2003, so who did the study, how was it done, who sponsored it, if that study had been paid for by Air America would that nullify the results?

    Hey I’m glad that you can admit your bias upfront but what you’ve shown the same old tired liberal bias. You scream at a bias on right that’s only on 1 channel while turning a blind eye to the multitude of failures that are on other channels because they fit your world view.

    Quite frankly we have no idea who Osama was rooting for in the last election but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Kerry and I know he’s pulling for Obama b/c they both represent a party that wants to quit and retreat. I hope you’ve been in Korea long enough to see that most cultures outside of the US look at history from a longer perspective than their own lifetime. I’ve talked to Africans and they tell me the rich oil nations are building huge Mosques in the middle of nowhere b/c they know in 100 years from now there will be people living in that area.

    There is a deep culture war occurring that liberals like yourself refuse to believe in. Look at an issue like homosexuality in Korea and compare that to the middle east. People like Osama view the US as a great exporter of evil, that’s the culture battle that’s being fought.

    Let me ask you this, I’m quite willing to point out wrong or hypocritical things on the right can you say the same about say Air America? What have they done wrong and when they make a mistake what do they do? Can they ever say something positive about those with differing viewpoints other than themselves?

  12. Um, I don’t remember Air America trying to claim it was ever fair and balanced. Nonetheless it was highly frustrating because Hartmann would chew my ear off if I ever made a claim without redundant reliable sources to back it up, and the right wingers we had on the show rarely–RARELY–did the same.

    And the “who Osama was rooting for” is way out there in Silly Land. Not even going to touch that one.

  13. It was also highly annoying when I would do all the gruntwork to back up my claims with facts, just to have right wingers brush them off and respond with more dark paranoid rants, name calling, childish fingerpointing and way off-the-wall zingers like “who would Osama vote for.”

    But rarely any facts or sources to back up claims.

    So I got tired of it, and that’s why I try to avoid political conversations of that ilk. No point in creating dialogue with people who have already closed their minds.

  14. Isn’t Kimchi a cure for mad cow? IM TOTALLY KIDDING. PLEASE CHUCKLE. But maybe they should try it. Mix a little ground up kimchi into the feed.

    I see the whole mad cow scare in Korea echoing the scare in America years ago. We were all alarmist back then, come on, Oprah was sued over it. But as the media starts to realize that mad cow disease simply isn’t cured by stopping the import of beef, they will start to educate the public on what is important to know about mad cow. Or start to pressure large irresponsible slaughter houses into respectable practice. It would bear prefferable if the media was less concerned about ratings than the real issue: public health (America and Korea).

    Are there any small Korean cattle farmers? Now would be a great time to support them, mad cow or not, buying local is way better than any imported meat you can get your hands on.


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