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Double Standard: 'Enigmatic' North Korean 'Rulers,' but Right-Wing 'Dictators' Use 'Terror'

Can we declare a moratorium? December 17, 2011 web headline: "Kim Jong-il, North Korea's Enigmatic Strongman. A July 10, 1994 headline: "Kim Il Sung, Enigmatic 'Great Leader' of North Korea for 5 Decades, Dies at 82."

Can we declare a moratorium on using the word 'enigmatic' to describe North Korea's totalitarian leadership?

The death of the North Korea dictator Kim Jong-il made the late edition of the Monday New York Times. The obituary by veteran foreign policy reporter David Sanger appeared under the rather neutral online headline 'A Ruler Who Turned North Korea Into a Nuclear State.'

The initial web headline was almost offensively neutral: 'Obituary: Kim Jong-il, North Korea's Enigmatic Strongman.' The front-page headline to the Monday print late edition: "North Korea Says Strongman Dead After 17-Year Rule." To be fair, one of the several versions of the frequently updated story has a headline that reads: "Kim Jong-il, North Korean Dictator, Dies," but it's unclear where it appeared in print.

The Times print headline of July 10, 1994 marking the death of Kim Jong-il's father also could not help using 'enigmatic' to describe that dictator: "Kim Il Sung, Enigmatic 'Great Leader' of North Korea for 5 Decades, Dies at 82.' (That obit was also written by Sanger.)


By contrast, when a 'right-wing' dictator dies, the Times manages to be forthright. A headline from the December 11, 2006 edition: "Augusto Pinochet, 91, Dictator Who Ruled by Terror in Chile, Dies."