Failed Rocket Launch? What Rocket Launch?
Quickly after the failed launch of the Kwangmyongsong-2 rocket, two things became abundantly clear: We, the foreign press corps brought in to cover the launch, knew far less about it than our colleagues outside of North Korea, and the only people we would be informing about anything today would be our government-assigned guides/minders.
Many of the foreign news crews - which have been in Pyongyang for about a week - had been assured multiple times by our minders that we would get the opportunity to witness the launch. Two large video screens installed in our little hotel newsroom late Thursday appeared to validate that belief.
Between scuttlebutt gleaned from our research and talks with North Korean space officials, many of us believed that our coverage would begin with an early wake-up call Friday morning from our minders whenever they got the word.
Instead, that wake-up call came not from any North Korean officials, but from NBC’s foreign news desk, prompting us to head down to the newsroom - the only place in the hotel where we can access the Internet - to confirm what was happening.
But what was there to report? Inside the newsroom, the video screens were blank, and local North Korean TV was not showing any rocket coverage. A section of the newsroom seemingly set-up as a post-launch podium for North Korean officials to answer questions was staffed by a disinterested minder.
Meanwhile, on Twitter and foreign news websites, initial reports of a botched launch were being followed up with details about the failure: the location of the debris, what the rocket looked like before it exploded and initial reaction from foreign governments on the incident.
Yet the North Koreans minders were idly chatting among themselves, completely oblivious to the botched launch that just happened, and apparently planning for just another day of guiding us on another highly orchestrated visit through the city.
That sense was confirmed as I ran back and forth between the newsroom and the live shot positions outdoors. “Please be ready to go this morning for a music festival,” said one minder as he cornered me on a trip back to the newsroom.
“There is no way we’re going on that trip!” I replied. “You know the satellite launched and failed today, right?”
My declaration was met with an incredulous stare before the minder slowly turned around and walked away. It was a scene replayed multiple times as minders, unsure what all the excitement was about, corralled journalists and had the news broken to them.
This led to a mass exodus of minders.