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[Op-Ed] Straws

Posted May. 12, 2009 03:53,   


When media reports first reported that former President Roh Moo-hyun received two luxury Piaget watches worth a combined 100 million won (80,200 U.S. dollars) from former Taekwang Industry Chairman Park Yeon-cha, Roh’s side condemned the report, saying, "Prosecutors intentionally leaked the news to defame the former president."

Prosecutors showed embarrassment over the accusation. Senior prosecutor Hong Man-pyo expressed anger, saying, “We will sort out the straw.” Certain watchers said prosecutors planned to use this charge if Roh’s side denies the suspicion that his family took six million dollars in bribes, but the “straw” took a step beforehand.

The standard Korean dictionary published by the National Academy of the Korean Language defines a straw as a “tool used to pump up liquid such as water,” and refers to the English word “straw” as a word with a similar meaning. In the Jeolla provinces, tobacco pipe is referred to a “straw.” Investigators used straw to mean someone who provides confidential information to the media to indicate that information was leaked just like a beverage is sucked out through a straw. Hong said, “If a prosecutor leaked the information to the media, he or she is a very bad person and a bad straw.”

Last weekend, a box full of straws in different colors was delivered to the central investigation department of the Supreme Public Prosecutors’ Office, causing confusion to prosecutors. A note in the box read, “Thank you for your hard work. I hope this helps your investigation.” Prosecutors said they accepted the straws as words of encouragement, with one saying, “We`re conveniently using them to drink beverages.” Were the straws meant to sarcastically deride prosecutors by implying that many straws exist within the prosecution and that straws will not just disappear just because authorities try to identify them?

U.S. media call secretive sources for journalists “Deep Throat.” Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein called their own secretive sources “Deep Throat” in their 1974 book on the Watergate scandal involving President Richard Nixon. In 2005, Deep Throat was found to be Mark Felt, former associate director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The reporters kept the identity of their source secret until Felt told the truth. The more straws there are, the better it is for reporters, unlike prosecutors. If a large-scale probe is conducted, journalists cannot adequately resolve the curiosity of readers only through the official announcements of authorities.

Editorial Writer Yook Jeong-soo (sooya@donga.com)