Members of the press and the general public found themselves flummoxed by a five-minute film made by or on the orders of President Donald Trump's White House which depicts the president and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in what the president calls an elevator pitch, similar to what he, during his time working in real estate, would have used to persuade potential investors to finance a hotel.
Others, however, have likened the film to a propaganda video which appears to exalt Kim despite his lengthy record of human rights abuses which include torturing, starving, and killing his own people and charges of indefinite detention.
“Of those alive today, only a small number will leave a lasting impact,” the narrator says near the video's start, as shots of Trump, Kim and North Korean pageantry appear on the screen. “And only a very few will make decisions or take actions to renew their homeland, or change the course of history.”
The film progresses, showing images from the Korean War.
“The past doesn't have to be the future,” the narrator says. “What if a people that share a common and rich heritage can find a common future?”
The video proceeds into a montage of destruction from the conflict before giving way to what The Washington Postrefers to as a "science-fiction like version North Korea," in which "crane-dotted skylines, crowded highways, computerized factories and drones" signal what the country could become should Kim choose to forge positive relations with the United States.
“You can have medical breakthroughs, an abundance of resources, innovative technology and new discoveries,” the narrator continues, before concluding, in pure Hollywood movie trailer fashion: “Featuring President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un in a meeting to remake history."
Many reporters expressed disbelief. Judd Legum, the editor and founder of ThinkProgress condemned the United States government for producing the film, which he called "propaganda for a murderous dicatator [sic]."
It is deeply weird and embarrassing that the United States government produced this video We are literally creati… https://t.co/6uwxcD8K8B— Judd Legum (@Judd Legum) 1528808453.0
After a reporter asked President Trump if he was at all concerned that Kim might use the film as propaganda, perhaps in an effort to legitimize his relationship with the United States, the president responded, "No, I'm not concerned at all."
Trump said he showed Kim a video made on his behalf. That video was then broadcast on screens at Trump's presser.… https://t.co/9bw55HTfJF— Kyle Griffin (@Kyle Griffin) 1528804802.0
Joe Walsh, a former Congressman and conservative from Illinois who now hosts his own radio show, slammed not just the video, but what he purports are concessions made by President Trump to a hostile totalitarian dictator.
"He makes a propaganda video for North Korea, he stops our joint military exercises with South Korea, he puts the North Korean Flag up there right next to ours, and he says Kim Jong Un is a great man who loves his own people," Walsh wrote. "Uh... Trump is a tough guy? No wonder Kim is smiling."
He makes a propaganda video for North Korea, he stops our joint military exercises with South Korea, he puts the No… https://t.co/DwpXwwR0Zy— Joe Walsh (@Joe Walsh) 1528811195.0
Others were just as baffled:
Wow this video is weird, Rule #1 Influence/Propaganda - do it in the language of the target audience. This White Ho… https://t.co/MIVFKgi42G— Clint Watts (@Clint Watts) 1528830791.0
This is insane. Reporters in Singapore thought they were being subjected to a North Korean propaganda film. It was… https://t.co/toWZ9Bdn7y— Greg Miller (@Greg Miller) 1528835441.0
They are playing a propaganda video before Trump presser. Not kidding. What is happening??!!— Andrew Beatty (@Andrew Beatty) 1528791006.0
The president, during a conference after screening the film to the press, told reporters that he showed the film to Kim in a private meeting earlier that day.
“We didn’t have a big screen like you have the luxury of having,” Trump said. “We didn't need it, because we had it on cassette, uh, an iPad."
He continued: "And they played it. About eight of their representatives were watching it, and I thought they were fascinated by it. I thought it was well done. I showed it to you because that's the future. I mean, that could very well be the future. And the other alternative is just not a very good alternative. It's just not good.”
The film is billed as "A Destiny Pictures Production,” though a film company by the same name in Los Angeles denied any involvement in making it. The White House has not yet responded to questions about the film's production. The president, meanwhile, insisted that the film is merely a pitch, adding that he is aware that the North Korea he envisions as the pinnacle of technological advancement and economic prowess is, in fact, impoverished.
“That was done at the highest level of future development,” Trump said.“I told him [Kim], you may not want this. You may want to do a much smaller version. ... You may not want that — with the trains and everything. You know, with super everything, to the top. It's going to be up to them."
Trump also came under fire for his praise of Kim.
"Anybody that takes over a situation like he did, at 26 years of age, and is able to run it, and run it tough -- I don't say he was nice or I don't say anything about it -- he ran it," he told his audience.
The president's statement prompted CNN's Chris Cillizza to observe that "As he has demonstrated in the past with his praise for Vladimir Putin as well as the leaders of Egypt and Turkey, Trump offers little outward concern for authoritarian tactics and human rights abuses -- focusing instead on the loyalty these rulers inspire."
Of his time with Kim, Trump said: "We spent very intensive hours together, and I think most of you have received the signed document, or you will very shortly. It's very comprehensive, it's going to happen."