Dictatorships and Double Standards in the Times

"Augusto Pinochet, 91, Dictator Who Ruled by Terror in Chile, Dies" reads the headline to Jonathan Kandell's front-page obituary today for the Chilean ruler. A related editorial calls Pinochet "The Dextrous Dictator" (perhaps a play on words, as the Latin root of dextrous is dexter, meaning "on the right side," hardy har har).

Here's the lead of Kandell's obituary: "Gen. Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, the brutal dictator who repressed and reshaped Chile for nearly two decades and became a notorious symbol of human rights abuse and corruption, died yesterday at the Military Hospital of Santiago."

After a paragraph describing his death in the hospital, Kandell continues: "General Pinochet seized power on Sept. 11, 1973, in a bloody military coup that toppled the Marxist government of President Salvador Allende. He then led the country into an era of robust economic growth. But during his rule, more than 3,200 people were executed or disappeared, and scores of thousands more were detained and tortured or exiled.

"General Pinochet gave up the presidency in 1990 after promulgating a Constitution that empowered a right-wing minority for years. He held on to his post of commander in chief of the army until 1998. With that power base, he exerted considerable influence over the democratically elected governments that replaced his iron-fisted rule."

But how did the newspaper handle the death of a far more damaging and dangerous left-wing dictator, North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung, in July 1994?

Reporter David Sanger filed two full obituaries from Tokyo over the course of two days, making the July 9 and July 10, 1994 editions. Neither headline labeled Kim Il Sung a dictator. In fact, the headline to the later story read: "Kim Il Sung, Enigmatic 'Great Leader" of North Korea for 5 Decades, Dies at 82."

In that second story, Sanger left the word "dictator" out until thefourth paragraph, in a relatively favorable context (see below, in a graph that doesn't make former president Jimmy Carter look too good). His first story didn't use the word "dictator" at all.

"By the time Kim Il Sung died on Friday at the age of 82, there was not one 'Great Leader' running North Korea. There were three.

"There was the man seen around the world as a Stalinist maniac, who 44 years ago sent his troops pouring over the 38th parallel to unify the Korean Peninsula on his own terms, and who four decades later burst again onto the front pages as a man in search of a nuclear bomb to save his regime. This was the Kim who intimidated his neighbors into silence, who used his unpredictability as a weapon.

"There was the Kim Il Sung of North Korean myth, whose likeness dominates Pyongyang and every town square in the form of 30,000 statues, the man who was lionized in song as the 'sun of the country' for single-handedly defeating two enemies in one generation: Japan and the United States.

"And, in recent years, there was the grandfatherly Kim Il Sung, the smiling leader seeking respect for his economically disabled nation, the man who three weeks ago embraced Jimmy Carter and used him as a conduit to President Clinton, who was not yet born when Mr. Kim was installed as North Korea's leader. It was that incarnation of Mr. Kim that led the former President to declare, with little hint of skepticism, that a 'miracle' had occurred. One of the world's most fearsome dictators actually sounded reasonable and eager to end his confrontation with the West.

"They were all images that Mr. Kim, the peasants' son who went on to become the longest-surviving Communist leader of the cold war, knew how to exploit brilliantly. When his death came early Friday morning, he had been staging a remarkable international comeback, a shadow from the old newsreels of the Korean War who thrust himself into the atomic glare of the 1990's."

The editorial marking North Korean dictator's Kim Il-Sung's death was not "The Sinister Dictator" (to bookmarkPinochet's "dextrous" dictatorship)but read only "Mr. Kim's Death."

Tim Graham of MRC found a related double standard in the Washington Post's coverage.