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[Editorial] Family matters

Presidential candidate’s wife at the center of raging disputes, raising questions about family in politics

Political leaders often confront accusations about their family members meddling in state affairs or peddling influence due to the inherently intimate relationships they have with each other.

A striking example is the raging dispute over Kim Kun-hee, wife of the main opposition People Power Party’s candidate, Yoon Suk-yeol, after a local broadcaster aired recordings taken from phone calls she had with a reporter of a pro-government YouTube channel Sunday.

Even before the controversial recordings were revealed, Kim had already attracted plenty of media attention -- largely negative -- when she apologized for falsifying her career records to get a job as a college professor. In the latest controversy, Kim proved her potential as an electoral liability for her husband, who is competing with Lee Jae-myung, the candidate for the ruling Democratic Party of Korea.

Kim’s raw comments, taken from 7 hours and 45 minutes of recordings made during 52 calls that took place over the last six months, raised three troubling issues that plague Korean politics in general and the forthcoming election in particular.

The first is the bewildering public image she has been cultivating that could backfire in a big way. The phone conversations give the impression that she was involved in the electioneering team’s operations as well as in past investigations her husband led as a prosecutor general.

The way Kim talked about politics and political figures is far from appropriate for her status, which is now predominantly in a public domain.

Given that Korean prosecutors and police rarely, if ever, conduct real investigations into the wrongdoings of family members of the incumbent president, it is not surprising that Kim’s reckless remarks are generating public concern.

Yoon Suk-yeol’s response to his wife’s phone calls is also problematic. Asked about the broadcast, Yoon said he didn’t watch it, but he felt sorry anyway for raising concerns. He appeared to suggest that he was too busy to check in on his wife’s potentially controversial behavior.

His logic in denying her influence-peddling on the election team was equally strange. If she was indeed involved in the team, she would not have had the time for such long phone calls since she must have been, like her husband, too busy.

Kim’s explicit support for a liberal ex-governor who is currently serving a prison team for sexual assault is the second issue that has touched off a wave of criticism regarding the country’s #MeToo movement.

The victim of the sexual assault case demanded a formal apology from Kim, who said she and her husband support the convicted governor and implied the conservative bloc avoided exposure of sexual scandals through illicit means.

Holding such preposterous views about the #MeToo movement is not only deplorable, but also dangerous at a time when the country continues to see victims.

The last explosive issue raised by Kim’s recording is the way her phone calls were recorded. Critics, including the People Power Party, slammed the way the YouTube channel’s reporter approached Kim and recorded the phone calls, claiming that his behavior violated media ethics.

There is no question that private phone calls should be protected. But MBC, the broadcaster that aired the recordings, and the YouTube channel seemed to have a different idea, even though the timing of the revelation is just ahead of the presidential election in March.

Yoon’s camp and the PPP seem to have been somewhat relieved, as the phone call recordings did not contain “bombshell content.” Yet, it’s too early to say that it’s a done deal, as the rest of the recordings have yet to be released.

By Korea Herald (khnews@heraldcorp.com)
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