Author J. Scott Burgeson has released a public statement regarding Max Fisher’s Washington Post blog post “Korea’s Web community roiled by shocking video of Western men tormenting a local woman“:
Public Statement to Max Fisher
By J. Scott Burgeson in Seoul
Last night, Tuesday July 23rd, I along with Matt VanVolkenburg of the respected blog Gusts of Popular Feeling met and spoke at length with a 29-year-old citizen of a European Union nation who claims to be one of the two male actors in the video “White Guys mock Korean girl at the club [Kor Sub],” which was uploaded to YouTube on June 8th, 2013 and subsequently went viral around the world. Both Matt and I have full knowledge of this individual’s identity and real name, which was visually verified by his South Korean Alien Registration Card, and were shown enough credible evidence to suggest that Max Fisher’s Washington Post story from July 15th, 2013 (“Korea’s Web community roiled by shocking video of Western men tormenting a local woman”) warrants a retraction if he cannot authenticate or verify that the video is nonfictional, as he maintains in his online article.
Here are the facts according to this individual, whom I shall refer to as “Mr. P” for convenience. In late January or early February of 2011, he and his roommate were offered W100,000 each to act in a video directed by a young Korean filmmaker along with one male Korean assistant, who were also joined by one female Korean translator. The concept was, in Mr. P’s understanding, to make a series of video shorts with a horror-comedy theme, not a full-length horror movie as has been reported recently in other media outlets. The shoot took place at the It’aewon bar Bedlam and lasted between two to three hours, finishing around midnight on a weekday night, and seven takes were done in all. Mr. P is the main Western actor seen in the video, while his roommate held the director’s iPhone and recorded the action. Beers and a bottle of tequila were bought by the director and consumed in large quantities by Mr. P and the young Korean woman who appears in the video. At the end of the shoot, Mr. P and the woman shook hands amicably as they took leave of each other’s company. He told her, “Good job!” and she replied, “Annyong!” or “Bye!” with a genuine smile. In his words, “I’m disappointed about what’s happened, but I’m not sad about it because this was just an acting piece. I was doing an acting job – there was no ‘sexual harassment’ involved while shooting the video, and no one was hurt.”
Mr. P’s motivation in speaking to us is simple: In the past week, since Max Fisher’s story was first published, he’s been under great personal strain and, moreover, is worried that he could lose his job here in Korea and even be deported, which is a legitimate concern in our view considering that his profile appears in the video, his voice in it has already been recognized by friends, and his name could soon be leaked and made public by either members of the media or Facebook users. As he told us, “My head’s been messed up this past week. I’ve been walking into work worrying I’m going to get sacked. I’m just really fed up with this.”
For reasons unknown, neither the Korean director nor the young woman in the video has been willing to come forward and put this story to rest once and for all. Until they do so, we feel that Mr. P’s best course of action for now is to make a public statement to Max Fisher, who inexplicably has been unwilling to respond to Mr. P’s repeated attempts to communicate with him (i.e., private messages sent to Fisher on Facebook have been ignored, and a Twitter exchange between the two has been mysteriously deleted). This is unfortunate, since Fisher’s story, crucially with The Washington Post‘s imprimatur, has been the basis for many of the subsequent media reports on the video that have appeared both domestically and internationally, and as of this writing, remains unamended and unchanged from its original form.
Here, then, is his respectful request to Max Fisher: “I just want The Washington Post‘s story retracted. I don’t want a war. I just want this thing to end. This is doing no good for anyone.” He is ready to answer any further questions, and can be contacted directly at: email@example.com.
In my personal estimation, Fisher’s July 15th story unwittingly crossed an important line, straying from blog-post opinion piece to what has been taken by many to be factually reported hard news. Yet a careful reading of his text should make it plain that he made no attempt to authenticate the video, which he takes at face value as “real” and “true.” As long-time members of the expatriate community in South Korea, both Matt and I believe that his Washington Post piece has been damaging to the reputation of not only tens of thousands of Western men here, but also the many Korean women who are in loving, committed relationships with a good portion of them. We both feel that the burden of proof now lies on Max Fisher to determine whether the video is an actual documentary record of unstaged events, and if he cannot do so, then a retraction is well in order. Indeed, his story could potentially be defamatory, if the identity of Mr. P is publicly exposed at some point in the future. Here we are in full agreement with Mr. P, and support his wish simply to have the record set straight. Shouldn’t setting the record straight be paramount for all reputable journalists, anyway?
Later today, Matt will have a follow-up post on his blog, Gusts of Popular Feeling [UPDATE: Matt’s post is now up—read it here], so please stayed tuned. A link will be provided here as soon as it is up.
END OF STATEMENT
For what it’s worth, I’m still not convinced the video was fake. If it is fake, it would be nice if the director simply went public and said so.
Also for what it’s worth, I think Max Fisher’s original post wasn’t bad, with the exception of a) it should have been noted that the origin of the video had yet to be verified, and b) I do think linking the reaction to the video with Korea’s glass ceiling was a bit of stretch.
On a related note, the Korea Herald reports that two women—an interpreter and a mutual acquaintance of the interpreter and one of the alleged foreign actors—have come forward to say the video was staged.