If one place in North Korea is the vortex of “engagement” with Kim Jong Un’s regime, and of every tendentious argument that this engagement will coax him into glasnost and perestroika, Pyongyang’s Koryo Hotel is that place. By North Korean standards, it’s luxurious, with a casino, a revolving restaurant, a hard-currency gift shop, and a lovely selection of listening devices. For years, it had been the favored venue for diplomats, tourists, investors, aid workers, and the occasional imbecile with more debts than morals, who could not attract the world’s attention in any city but Pyongyang. …
There is no question that the Koryo Hotel fire was a story of global interest. It was covered by Reuters, The Washington Post, the BBC, The New York Times, and many other news outlets. NGOs must have worried about the safety of their workers. Relatives must have worried about tourists who were unwise enough to be in Pyongyang in the first place. Governments and foreign ministries must have worried about the safety of their diplomats, and their nationals. The British Foreign Office warned tourists of “a culture of low safety awareness,” and suggested that they “check hotel fire procedures or consult tour operators,” which makes about as much sense as asking the White Star Line about the risk of icebergs.
Since AP opened its bureau there in 2011, Pyongyang has been the scene of multiple purges and rumors that Kim Jong Un was sick or overthrown. A new apartment building collapsed due to shoddy construction work, and may or may not have killed hundreds of people (we still don’t know). All of these stories were matters of intense global speculation, but AP Pyongyang elucidated none of them. Perhaps St. Francis de Sales thought that surely, AP would find the story at last if he asked God to send down a lightning bolt from the heavens to beacon its reporters with blazing flame and a tall column of smoke. Technically, AP’s Pyongyang Bureau Chief, Eric Talmadge, did cover this story.
But there are plenty of stories about beardy-weirdy former Olympians, though.