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NBC Analyst’s Remark About Japan and Korea Sparks Outrage

Joshua Cooper Ramo, Mike Tirico and Katie Couric broadcasting from the PyeongChang Olympics. (NBC)

NBC has issued an apology for remarks made about Japan’s occupation of the Korean Peninsula during coverage of the Winter Olympics opening ceremony on Friday.

NBC Asia correspondent Joshua Cooper Ramo, who was in the booth with Mike Tirico and Katie Couric, commented that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in attendance, “representing Japan, a country which occupied Korea from 1910 to 1945, but every Korean will tell you that Japan is a cultural, technological and economic example that has been so important to their own transformation.”

Japan’s harsh occupation of Korea is remembered with bitterness in South Korea, where Japanese publications, music and movies were banned until the late 1990s. The two countries are still embroiled in a dispute over whether Japan has apologized enough for forcing women from Korea and other countries to work in military brothels during World War II.

Jung Min-ho in The Korea Times said that many people were enraged by Ramo’s “incorrect and insensitive comment about Korea’s history.”

An online petition demanding an apology from NBC read, “Any reasonable person familiar with the history of Japanese imperialism, and the atrocities it committed before and during WWII, would find such statement deeply hurtful and outrageous. And no, no South Korean would attribute the rapid growth and transformation of its economy, technology, and political/cultural development to the Japanese imperialism.”

In a statement read on the ari by NBC anchor Carolyn Manno on Saturday, NBC said, “We understand the Korean people were insulted by these comments and we apologize.”

A statement from NBC Sports on Sunday said, “We apologized quickly both in writing and on television for a remark made by one of our presenters during Friday night’s opening ceremony … We’re very gratified that POCOG [Pyeongchang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games] has accepted that apology.”

On Twitter, Ramo was also criticized for saying that having the next three Olympics in Korea, Japan and China is an “opportunity to experience all of the Asian cultures.” Harrison Inefuku tweeted, “NBC Olympics, maybe next time hire an Asian analysit that knows Asia has more than three cultures???”

The Korea Times reported that NBC had planned to use Ramo for other Olympic events but had no choice but to drop him. An NBC official was quoted as saying, “It was possible for him to do more with us here; now it’s no longer possible.”

Ramo is co-CEO of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s consulting firm and a board member of Starbucks and FedEx. He shared in Peabody and Emmy awards given to NBC for its coverage of the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.

The Korean American Coalition of Los Angeles said in a statement, “During Japan’s occupation of Korea, many atrocities were committed against the Korean people, from rape and forced labor to torture and death. Even today, the issue of ‘comfort women,’ victims of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery, remains a point of tension and controversy between Japan and Korea. Many Koreans also argue that Japan’s occupation involved human rights violations, exploitation of Korea’s resources, and attempts to replace Korea’s culture and heritage.

“In NBC’s subsequent apology read live on NBCSN on Saturday morning, NBC said that they ‘understand the Korean people were insulted by these comments and we apologize.’ The way in which this apology reads simply emphasizes the need for NBC to take cultural sensitivity more seriously.”

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