Detention and release of Palo Alto retiree by North Korea prompts media interest – APARC scholars offer expertise

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Jeff Newman speaks to reporters about his father, Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old Korean War veteran from Palo Alto who was detained in North Korea.
Photo credit: 
Reuters

Reports of the detention and eventual release by North Korean authorities of an 85-year-old Palo Alto retiree, Merrill Newman, spurred a wave of media interest. Newman, a Korean War veteran, had decided to go on a tour of North Korea, apparently in part to revisit the place where he had served more than 60 years ago.

He was accompanied by a fellow retiree, Bob Hamrdla, also a Palo Alto resident. According to accounts provided by Hamrdla, Newman was taken off the plane as he was leaving the country after a nine-day tour. During his detention, Newman was videotaped reading an apology, in which he accepted responsibility for “hostile acts” and requested forgiveness.

After 42 days in custody, Newman was released and arrived back in the United States on Dec. 7. Newman was greeted by his family and spoke briefly to reporters, recognizing the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang for securing his release, before heading home. The full details that led to Newman’s detention still remain unclear.

Both local and national media rushed to understand these events, first reported in detail by the San Jose Mercury News (Nov. 20). Reporters sought out expertise at Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, speaking to Associate Director for Research Daniel Sneider and to Korean Studies Program Associate Director David Straub, who both have long experience with Korea and have been frequently cited as experts.

Sneider was cited in newspaper reports in the San Jose Mercury News (Nov. 20) and the Los Angeles Times; was interviewed on local radio, and also interviewed for broadcast on the evening news programs of the CBS, ABC and NBC networks local affiliates. Straub was quoted by NK News, a leading agency specializing in coverage of North Korea, also cited by the Washington Post. Most recently, Sneider was cited in the San Jose Mercury News (Dec. 7) upon the confirmation of Newman’s release.