CiF Sokaled?

September 5, 2012

Around six weeks ago, this preposterous article appeared on the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free‘ online site.

South Korea good, North Korea bad? Not a very useful outlook

Some choice excerpts –

The lack of western sources in North Korea has allowed the media to conjure up fantastic stories that enthrall readers but aren’t grounded in hard fact. No attempt is made to see both sides of the Korean conflict: it is much easier and more palatable to a western audience to pigeonhole the DPRK as a dangerous maverick state ruled by a capricious dictator and South Korea as its long-suffering, patient neighbour.

Whatever your view on the actions of North and South Korea’s governments, the hypocrisy of using one-sided journalism to label North Korea a rogue, propaganda-led state is surely self-evident and fans the fire of intolerance and animosity.

I was initially tempted to post a detailed line-by-line rebuttal here in order to eviscerate the utter nonsense that this man has produced until it occurred to me, and several like-minded individuals I encountered in online comments discussing it, that the article was likely a hoax, quite possibly in the manner of the notable Sokal affair of 1996.

Alan Sokal is a physicist who authored an article entitled, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” which was submitted to the academic journal Social Text, a postmodern cultural studies publication, and promptly published by them in May 1996. After it appeared, Sokal revealed that he’d deliberately written a hoax paper comprised of utterly meaningless bollocks to demonstrate that postmodern academia lacked intellectual rigour and would gladly accept a nonsense article on the grounds that it contained the requisite bullshit jargon and flattered ideological preconceptions. Social Text failed to subject the article to an academic peer review to check the claims therein regarding quantum gravity being “a social and linguistic construct” and its editors appeared completely oblivious to the fact that it was, in Sokal’s words, “a pastiche of Left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense . . . structured around the silliest quotations [by postmodernist academics] about mathematics and physics”. The episode marked an entertaining highlight in the ‘Science Wars’ debate of the 90s and produced something of an academic hero in Alan Sokal as a man who exposed and challenged the pretentious abuse of scientific and mathematical concepts at the hands of charlatans spouting abject gibberish.

Is it therefore possible that Paul Watson*, an aspiring football journalist who wrote a comical non-fiction book detailing his adventures trying to create and coach an international football team in the Federated States of Micronesia, authored a deliberately absurd article on North Korea for the purposes of exposing the editorial shortcomings of the controversial Comment is Free? The comment and opinion site of the online Guardian has long been the subject of much criticism. Recently it gave a platform to the views of the racist, genocidal terrorist Ismail Haniyeh, just one of several Hamas luminaries that have had articles published on the site, and for some years now questions have been raised as to why a major national newspaper that is supposedly progressive and leftist has been supporting and disseminating the views of violent, far-right theocrats and other decidedly illiberal, totalitarian thugs. Paul Watson could, therefore, have produced his piece of apologia-drivel on North Korea as a means to demonstrate that Comment is Free will publish the shoddiest propaganda on its site provided the material conforms, however loosely, to the correct ideological agenda of the site.

The case for Watson’s article being a hoax is as follows: It’s a hugely flawed article made up almost entirely of glaring omissions, factual errors, and regurgitated DPRK propaganda. No objective, sincere examination of North Korea, and its hostile relations with South Korea, could possibly produce such a crude and pathetic attempt to establish a moral equivalence between the respective governments of the divided peninsula. Watson clearly has to have undertaken some research, as the piece does display an undeniable familiarity with the recent history of North Korea, but arriving at such mendacious conclusions as he does would necessarily require obvious manipulation of easily checked facts. In other words, even a decidedly amateur layperson with only a passing interest in Korean affairs (such as yours truly) could spot the myriad inaccuracies and failures of the article at a glance. It’s also worth noting that an overwhelming majority of the online replies to Watson, on the site and elsewhere, have displayed fierce hostility and incredulity regarding his whitewashing and outright ignorance of the crimes of the North Korean government, and his tawdry attempts to frame the Republic of Korea as being comparably criminal and oppressive. Even the regular readers of CiF, normally receptive to the basest anti-Western agitprop, recognized and lambasted Paul Watson’s argument for its utter ridiculousness.

On the other hand, it has been almost two months since “South Korea good, North Korea bad?” appeared on Comment is Free and the author of the article doesn’t appear to have said a word to the effect that his article was an elaborate prank. The piece in question remains the only writing of Watson’s to feature on CiF and he seems to have returned to producing only articles on his area of expertise, football, for a number of online sports sites. In order for such a hoax to be effective, one would have to declare it in a rather timelier manner unless (improbably) the prankster responsible is involved in a subtle, personal and patient campaign of subversion against an irresponsible media outlet without seeking wider publicity and accompanying scandal.

If Paul Watson was, in fact, sincere in writing “South Korea good, North Korea bad?” then he is responsible for producing a truly shameful and inept apology for the horrendous crimes of the North Korean state deserving only of contempt and condemnation and which demonstrates that he has no business describing himself as a journalist. Otherwise, he has taken a rather unusual approach to exposing just how deranged and warped a supposedly liberal, progressive paper has become. In either case, the publication of his article is yet another offense perpetrated by Comment is Free that only works to the massive detriment of the Guardian and displays the declining legacy of a once admirable British newspaper.

(*The Paul Watson in question above is not to be confused with the militant anti-whaling activist of The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, nor the contributor and commentator on the programmes of conspiracy theory con-man Alex Jones – Paul Joseph Watson – both of whom share the same name.)



  1. Dude, you’re needed. It’s about K-pop.


  2. Ha, oh alright, I’ve registered there under the name Dee Wig, but only because you made a cool wee song with quotes from my days at Moose’s Bullet boards.

  3. Noted. I’m going to have to take some time to transcribe that. The main problem is that free voice software is iffy, at best.

    I’ll keep an eye peeled for your posts. Jimmy Two Hands’ Danziggy strip is great if your a fan of mocking Danzig/Misfits.

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