What They Said is a regular series on the quotes Korea is talking about.
The two biggest issues making headlines this past week came from both sides of the political spectrum—the Yoon Suk-yeol camp and the Lee Jae-myung camp. And both scandals involved the presidential candidates’ family members, rather than the candidates themselves.
On December 14, Korean news channel YTN published an article on the false information that Kim Kun-hee, wife of People Power Party presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol, had written in her application for a university teaching position and included an exclusive interview with Kim. The article claimed that she had lied about: 1) working as a director of planning at the Korea Association of Game Industry; and 2) receiving awards.
Media outlets have previously reported on the false information that Kim Kun-hee provided on her résumés and applications. However, the story became a major talking point last week due to the interview with YTN, in which Kim reportedly said that she didn’t remember what she had written, that she’d lied about some of her experiences to “stand out”, and that if trying to stand out was a sin then she had, indeed, sinned.
After several attempts to explain away the lies, Yoon finally apologized on December 17:
I am sorry for causing concern to the people of South Korea with the controversy surrounding my wife. I would like to make it clear that, regardless of why it happened, the fact that her career information was inaccurate…is not in line with the fairness and common sense that I have emphasized. I will never forget what the people expect of me. The consistent principles and standards I have upheld in the past should equally apply to myself, my family, and those around me. I will humbly and willingly accept the people’s criticism about my wife. And I will approach them with a more modest attitude. My apologies.
— Yoon Suk-yeol, People Power Party presidential candidate, December 17, 2021.
Yoon’s late apology has been subject to public criticism, particularly from Cho Kuk, the former Minister of Justice, who stepped down from the position when his wife was accused of forging documents for their daughter’s applications to medical schools. Cho berated Yoon for his double standards:
Presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol, while serving as prosecutor general, committed illegal acts, such as monitoring judges and obstructing the inspection and investigation of the Channel A case. After receiving reasonable disciplinary measures for his actions, he played the victim and announced his candidacy for the presidency of South Korea, and is currently busy attacking the Moon Jae-in administration while putting forward extreme rightist policies. The prosecutor general, who has committed impeachable offenses, is aiming for the presidency. He also has no intention of apologizing even after the verdict.
Kim Kun-hee, the candidate for first lady, declined the request to disclose her bank account details in order to dispel the allegation that she had been the financier in the Deutsche Motors stock manipulation case. It was confirmed that she had obtained a position as a university professor with a subpar dissertation that is strongly suspected of containing plagiarism, as well as at least 18 counts of false career information on her applications and résumés. As public discontent simmered, Yoon made a second “dog apology”.
Nevertheless, conservative media such as the Chosun Ilbo, the JoongAng Ilbo, and the Dong-A Ilbo, as well as the self-proclaimed “progressive” “spokespersons for Yoon” are desperate to protect this couple. However, they will no longer be able to praise Yoon Suk-yeol as the incarnation of fairness and the rule of law and Kim Kun-hee as a person who is dedicated to work.
This is because the true faces behind their masks have been revealed to the people. Because this is karma. And because there is a growing awareness that the fairness and rule of law that Yoon touted were subjective standards that did not apply to Yoon himself, his family, or his close associates, and that they were merely partisan justification to get rid of those who were obstructing the realization of his desire for power.
— Cho Kuk, former Minister of Justice, December 20, 2021.
The Lee Jae-myung camp couldn’t avoid a family scandal either. On December 16, the Chosun Ilbo reported on a few posts on an internet forum that were presumed to have been written by Lee’s oldest son, in which he claimed to have participated in illegal online gambling. A few hours later, Lee made an apology:
The person who signed up for the card game site and posted reviews is my son, as media outlets have reported. It seems that my son gave into temptation for a period of time. I admit that as a parent I fell short in properly teaching my child.
My son also deeply regrets his actions. He is very distressed about himself. I explained to him that taking full responsibility for his actions was the way to alleviate his suffering.
As a father, I bow my head and apologize to those who may have been disappointed by my son’s foolish behavior. I will make sure this never happens again. I will also have him seek treatment.
— Lee Jae-myung, Democratic Party of Korea presidential candidate, December 16, 2021.
Lee’s son also issued his own written apology about the gambling, admitting his faults and declaring that he would take responsibility for his actions.
The following day, however, further allegations appeared in the media, claiming that Lee’s son had also posted reviews of massage parlors, which are fronts for illegal sexual services. Lee issued a statement, saying that his son denied these allegations, and that as a parent he could not but take his son’s words as true.
The People Power Party criticized Lee and the Democratic Party for their “absurd apology” in an official statement:
Following the reports on the habitual illegal gambling of Democratic Party candidate Lee Jae-myung’s son, allegations of other illegal activities are pouring in. Each and every one is embarrassing to speak of, so they are not even worth mentioning. The response of the Democratic Party of Korea, which is defending candidate Lee Jae-myung, is absurd and almost pitiful.
“He wrote a review, but he didn’t [receive sexual services at the massage parlor].”
“The money that he won may not be real money but game money.”
“We heard a tip from a taxi driver that his son’s gambling was political maneuvering by the opposition.”
Listening to the sophistry of the Democratic Party, it sounds like candidate Lee Jae-myung used the technique of “selective apology” yesterday and ordered the Democratic Party to deal with the rest of the illegal activities.
Presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung is certainly a master of apologizing selectively and apologizing as a conditional reflex. If there is any sign of being caught, he cuts off the tail and denies his wrongdoings. This was the method that he used to cover the body of the Daejang-dong scandal, cutting himself off from his associates who were involved.
When he thinks that he has been caught, he muddies the waters to distract from the core issues. He used this technique to package the brutal murder committed by his nephew as “date violence”.
Candidate Lee Jae-myung apologizes only when he thinks that he’s trapped. He must have judged that his son’s habitual illegal gambling was impossible to get out of.
Once he decides to apologize, he apologizes like pressing a button on a vending machine. This is why Lee Jae-myung’s apology does not contain contemplation, reflection, or sincerity.
We can predict how the Democratic Party will react to the outpouring of additional allegations of illegal activity by Lee’s son. It will be as though Lee has said, “Didn’t I show you how to cover things up? You do the rest.”
We demand that candidate Lee Jae-myung and the Democratic Party no longer treat the people as fools. The selective and reflexive, vending-machine apology technique will not keep the wool over the eyes of the public forever.
— Won Il-hee, spokesperson for the People Power Party, December 17, 2021.
So far family scandals and gossip have eclipsed the serious issues that should be discussed in the fewer than 80 days remaining before the presidential election, which will be held on March 9, 2022.