Did Kim Jong Un feed his uncle to dogs?

By Anthony Zurcher
Editor, Echo Chambers

image captionWho benefits from rumours of Kim Jong Un's barbarism?

It sounds like something out of a Quentin Tarantino movie. Rumours are flying that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, and five aides executed by being stripped naked and placed in a cage with 120 attack dogs.

This is all according to Singapore's Straits Times, which quotes a 12 December story in the Chinese government-controlled paper Wen Wei Po.

"The horrifying report vividly depicted the brutality of the young North Korean leader," Ching Cheong writes in the Times. "The fact that it appeared in a Beijing-controlled newspaper showed that China no longer cares about its relations with the Kim regime."

The Telegraph's Tim Stanley cautions that this story is "tempting" - probably too tempting to be true.

"The thing about North Korea is that it's so mad, so gruesome that it's difficult not to believe whatever tall story you hear about it," he writes. "Kim Jong Un ate a baby? The army uses kittens for target practice? Kim Jong Il's reanimated corpse stalks the countryside scaring children? It all seems possible."

He warns that it's important to look at the agendas of the people who are spreading this story:

The Straits Times is a respectable and widely read publication, but it's often been accused of being the mouthpiece of Singapore's ruling party and is staunchly anti-communist - so political bias is possible. Finally, we can't dismiss the possibility that China itself has fabricated or at least encouraged the story to send a message to Pyongyang. Kim's uncle was the architect of closer economic ties between the China and North Korea and there is thought to be a lot of anger about his death.

The Washington Post's Max Fisher writes a five-point takedown of the story that almost - almost - settles the question.

"The fact that the Western media have so widely accepted a story they would reject if it came out of any other country tells us a lot about how North Korea is covered - and how it's misunderstood," he writes.

Fisher also says that the Western media have an incentive to cover these kind of bizarre stories, as they generate a lot of attention. He quotes NKNews.org editor Chad O'Carroll as saying, "As you know, NK stories tend to get a lot of hits, so it's easy to see why editors will want to pursue these stories."

It would make things easier, writes Slate's Joshua Keating, if the North Korean government commented publicly on stories like this - but it's called the hermit kingdom for a reason.

"So given the Internet's insatiable appetite for weird North Korea stories, it becomes a bit of a free-for-all," he writes. "The North Korean government does so many bizarre things we can confirm that a few of these dubious rumors must surely be true, right?"

Sure. And hey, it makes for a compelling, albeit macabre, tale.

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