Speech has never been President Park’s strong suit. Dull and inarticulate, the way she speaks in public haunted her aides during her (ultimately) successful presidential campaign in 2012 and after.
She rarely shows her real self in a press conference and even when she does, the Blue House insists that journalists stick to a prepared outline (as in 2014, when she had her first press conference one year after the inauguration and then again in 2016). When she faced cameras (three times) to explain herself in the aftermath of the Choi Soon-sil scandal, she took no questions from journalists.
Thus her rare interview just before the lunar new year’s holiday came as a shock to many, myself included. Better yet, her choice of outlet was beyond everyone’s imagination: Jung Kyu-jae TV? Are you serious? It’s not even a network. It’s a self-hosted YouTube channel!
If you read the interview carefully, however, you can see why the Blue House chose Jung as the host of the first interview of the President of the Republic of Korea since her impeachment. As the title “President Park’s counterattack in her own voice” suggests, the interview is aimed, both carefully and brazenly, to counter the allegations raised by prosecutors and media reports while the constitutional court reviews them. In some instances, she even tries to spread conspiracy theories. No sensible journalist would be willing to take part.
But Jung was willing. The chief editor of Korea Economic Daily, a spin-off of the Federation of Korean Industries, is well known as a champion of free market liberalism and an adamant advocate of President Park, both the father and the daughter. FKI turned out to be deeply involved in the Choi Soon-sil scandal and Jung himself was a non-executive board member of Samsung C&T, whose controversial merger with Cheil Industries is one of the pillars of the scandal. These facts, however, seem to have left Jung unconcerned.
Both Park’s answers and Jung’s questions serve to undermine these facts and spread conspiracy theories. Let’s take a look at Jung’s first question following the exchange of greetings:
JUNG: Madam President, a nude painting of you displayed at the National Assembly has recently sparked controversy.
PARK: I believe there is a line you shouldn’t cross in life no matter the circumstances. But I see people cross that line without any hesitation or sense of guilt and I think to myself maybe this is the present state of Korean politics.
The question is not about the Choi Soon-sil scandal or the special prosecutor’s investigation, but a nude painting lampooning Park. Yup, what the Minjoo Party lawmaker did was utterly terrible, but is this that important?
Oddly, Jung keeps asking about the most outrageous of the rumors surrounding Park.
JUNG: Did you have an affair with Chung Yoon-hoe? I’m so sorry to ask this.
PARK: Such rumors are an embarrassment for our country. The way people behave and talk about such a shameful rumor as if it’s nothing these days. This is proof that something is wrong. [The affair] is something that cannot happen.
Jung doesn’t seem to be sorry enough yet:
JUNG: There were also numerous rumors about Chung Yu-ra, that she is your daughter.
PARK: You keep asking me these demeaning questions. They are terrible and disgusting lies.
After the Park interview was released, Jung answered the criticism that he had both failed to question Park about vital issues—including allegations of involvement in the extortion of conglomerates—and instead asked about groundless rumors which are now widely dismissed, even by her opponents:
JUNG: The nature of the President Park incident is groundless rumors. It was those rumors that made people think President Park an idiot.
It sounds like he doesn’t believe that whether or not the president of the Korean republic extorted private companies on behalf of Ms Choi is that important a question.
JUNG: The so-called four reform targets—the National Assembly, press, labor unions, and prosecutors—seem to have allied with each other in attacking you. Why do you believe they are doing this?
PARK: There were so many ridiculous rumors, so some people believed they were true; some people were opposed to reforms, and I believe people who were opposed to the establishment also joined in.
Who else other than Jung believes this? Well, obviously Park agrees. However, not one of the four reform targets referred to by Jung coincides with those of Park. There were four major reform agendas in the Park administration, but they targeted the public, labor, education, and finance sectors.
The Assembly, the press, the labor unions, and the prosecutors are, in fact, the very institutions that Jung has insisted are most in need of reform. And he’s been arguing that they conspired, hand in glove, to oust Park from office.
In other words, he projects his own conspiracy theory onto the interviewee.
His theory continues to unfold:
JUNG: Regarding the [Choi Soon-sil scandal], some people have said that while it might not be a conspiracy, it seems like someone is feeding information to the media, or that someone is manipulating the situation.
PARK: If you trace how everything progressed, you can’t help but think it must have been planned for a long time.
Do you have any idea who might be behind it?
I don’t think it would be appropriate to pinpoint someone at this time. I do feel that this didn’t happen by accident.
Some say that the candlelight rallies are a way to restore democracy, which has been ruined by the president. But others say that it is an extension of the US beef protests.
I believe there are similarities in both rallies, in that both were held on weak grounds.
Planned? Behind? We may never know who exactly Park had in mind as being behind the million or so who protested against her. But her supporters in those Taegeukgi rallies have been blaming North Korea and secret jongbuk in society.
Interestingly, Jung even tries to dispute the allegations and criticisms regarding her “missing seven hours” during the Sewol ferry disaster. And he does this in the name of… feminism:
JUNG: Do you feel that the persistent questions on the seven missing hours during the sinking of the Sewol Ferry are driven by subconscious disparagement of women and obnoxious collective curiosity?
PARK: I think so. There would be no reason for me to be disparaged that way if I weren’t a woman president. As president, I visited various countries, and there are many countries that haven’t yet had a woman for president. During my visits, I heard people were amazed that Korea had produced a woman president, and many of them spoke highly of us for it. I think that after foreigners learned about this incident, which disparages women, their perception of Korea must have deteriorated significantly.
Korean feminists have fought a very long fight and here we are today: a far-right polemicist condemning the public for misogyny. Groundbreaking progress indeed.
Towards the end of the interview, Jung describes the ruling Saenuri Party as being in existential crisis. Park’s answer sounds more like a call to former supporters to reunite:
JUNG: The Grand National Party once had to use a tent as its party headquarters because of a funding scandal. But the Saenuri Party seems to be going through an even more extensive collapse.
PARK: There are many organizations in society such as schools and companies. But a political party is the only organization in which you call each other comrades. A political party is an association created by people who share the same beliefs, values and perspectives on security, history and economics. When that is not the case, that political party grows weak. Unless it meets the right requirements for an association, a political party will find it difficult to sustain itself. A party established simply to win votes in elections or founded based only on self-interest will be powerless and challenged in terms of playing a role for the country. In times of crisis, you need to go back to basics. I think it is in this context that the Saenuri Party needs evaluating. Once the nest is strong enough, surely they’ll be able to come up with a presidential candidate?