The Associated Press has long since carried the story and we've read the New York Times two-day analysis: Dennis Rodman has indeed been to North Korea, and strange as it may seem, he's the only American to have publicly met with its 28-year-old leader, Kim Jong Un.
VICE, who produced the trip for their new HBO series, knew that if they were going to get to one of the world's most mysterious news stories they'd have to think outside the box. They knew they'd have to create a context in which Kim Jong Un would voluntarily come to them. It worked.
(Backstory: While attending private school in Switzerland, Kim Jong Un's sports idol was Dennis Rodman, so when VICE staged an exhibition game in North Korea with a few Harlem Globetrotters, the young leader just couldn't resist.)
So be like Brian Stelter of the New York Times and dismiss this whole debacle as "daredevil journalism." Or loosen up a bit and enjoy that former NBA star Dennis Rodman -- nicknamed "The Worm" for his colorful antics and aggressive rebounding -- has better intelligence on the North Korean leader than the CIA.
In the world of brute serious journalism there is just no way to process that a drag queen like Rodman actually met with the youngest and most dangerous man alive. It's just not what they teach you at Harvard. But that's exactly why it worked. If what they taught in journalism school actually led to multiple day "hang out sessions" with the leader of the hermit kingdom then of course this story would have been done already. Nobody had figured out how to get through to the new leader of North Korea.
VICE found what I'm going to call a "linchpin" in the news. Rodman and the basketball game were the pin, that when pulled, caused Kim Jong Un to do something he's never done: socialize with Americans, requesting they ask the U.S. president to call him. This caused the media to go completely nuts, giving VICE and HBO massive press for their new series and a wild education to their viewers.
Yes, this event is more than just "stunt journalism". It is one example in an emerging genre of news. VICE's formula was to find a story with a hard news slant, figure out how to get the most interesting part of the story to come to them, and lace the actual substance of the event with jackass humor. The series hasn't even aired yet and the story has already gone viral.
So what kind of linchpin will somebody pull next? What other seemingly impossible issues are still out there? It'll have to be big; it'll have to be unconventional. And it'll have to top getting wasted with a nuclear-armed hermit named Kim Jong Un.
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