After Otto Warmbier, a student visiting North Korea, was detained and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, Salon and the Huffington Post gloated over his punishment. Warmbier was an American citizen held by a hostile foreign government, but all these obsessed outlets could think about was his male whiteness.
Identity politics over country, after all. The pieces resurfaced after Warmbier died on Monday from extensive brain damage he suffered in the North Korean camps.
Salon called him “America’s biggest idiot frat boy” in a piece covering Larry Wilmore’s equally cruel coverage of him. Salon then promoted the piece in a tweet, saying, “Frat boy Otto Warmbier gets the ‘Nightly Show’ treatment he so richly deserved.”
Wilmore mocked Warmbier, asking what he was “expecting” when he tore down a state propaganda poster. The photo of Warmbier crying at his sentencing hearing, the letters “ASS” superimposed over it, floated at the edge of the screen.
Tired of “going high” yet?
In an extensive piece at HuffPost, writer La Sha smuggly wrote, “North Korea proves your white male privilege isn’t universal.”
Sha also shrugged off Warmbier’s harsh punishment, saying it was comparable to the “callous reaction” her mother had to Singapore’s 1994 caning of Michael Fay. He was “another young white man who went to an Asian country and violated their laws, and learned that the shield his cis white male identity provides here in America is not teflon abroad.”
The piece wasn’t just callous. It reveled in Warmbier’s destruction. “What a bummer to realize that even the State Department with all its influence and power cannot assure your pardon,” Sha said. “What a wake-up call it is to realize that your tears are met with indifference.”
HuffPost and Salon have had a year to apologize or even quietly remove the pieces. They could have chosen to do so when he was released and returned to the United States with extensive brain damage, but they did not.
While an American was rotting in a North Korean prison, these partisan hacks delighted in the tragic circumstances that would lead to his death— because he was a white male. For clicks and a cheap point, they gloated as Warmbier suffered.
Their hot takes outlived the human subject they so eagerly exploited.