- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 20, 2002

Korean bombshell
Major stories break in different ways: Some come out in an orderly fashion with a formal announcement or news conference; others with an exclusive story in a major newspaper or broadcast outlet that forces the rest of us to follow up the next day.
But few break in as chaotic a manner as last week's story that North Korea has been continuing its nuclear weapons program in violation of its international agreements and that it admitted as much to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly at a meeting in Pyongyang earlier this month.
The Bush administration managed to keep the story under wraps for a week and a half and presumably would have done so longer if not for the hard work of at least two and perhaps other enterprising State Department reporters.
One of those, Barbara Slavin of USA Today, had been digging hard since Mr. Kelly returned from North Korea to find out what had really gone on in his meetings.
She knew by Tuesday about North Korea's stunning admission, but still had no on-the-record confirmation that she could cite as a source. She continued to press officials at the State Department and the National Security Council (NSC) and by 2 p.m. on Wednesday had a story ready for publication in USA Today's international edition.
Reuters news agency reporter Carol Giacomo had also been working the story since Mr. Kelly's return, picking up things "bit by bit," according to her editor, Robert Doherty.
On Wednesday, he said, "Carol got some indications that someone was getting close to breaking the story and went into overdrive."
Others may also have been asking the right questions, and a partially erroneous version of the story was starting to come out in the South Korean media. The Bush administration decided, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage explained the next day, that "we had to go ahead and get out our story before the leak came out."

Scramble on deadline
At that point, the White House set up a conference call for 7 p.m. on Wednesday for reporters from a select group of newspapers the New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal and Mrs. Slavin from USA Today.
Our own White House bureau chief Bill Sammon had left work by then for the thoroughly admirable purpose of seeing his 16-year-old daughter, Brooke, inducted into the National Honor Society. We don't know whether he would have been asked to participate.
Two NSC officials participated in the conference call, confirming what the North Koreans had told Mr. Kelly and answering a couple of brief questions. Only those who took part in the call had some of the most interesting details in their stories the next day, such as that the Koreans denied having a nuclear program when first confronted with the evidence but came back and admitted it a day later.
The wire services and other news organizations were left in the dark a source of some anger and frustration the next day. Nevertheless, with the sense that the story was breaking, Reuters went ahead with Miss Giacomo's story, filing a bulletin that appeared on our wires at 7:23 p.m.
Now the scramble was on, with the rest of the press corps calling for confirmation from administration sources, who by that time appear to have been authorized to comment, though not for attribution.
First out of the blocks was Associated Press State Department correspondent George Gedda, who had a bulletin on the AP wire at 7:33 p.m., just 10 minutes behind Reuters. Agence France-Press was a little slower, picking up a partly erroneous South Korean TV report at 7:46 and getting U.S. confirmation at 8 p.m.
Here at The Washington Times, foreign desk night editor Gus Constantine called State Department reporter David Sands and national security reporter Bill Gertz, getting both of them to work from their homes. He also initiated calls to government agencies seeking our own independent confirmation of the story.
Mr. Sands took the lead on the story, working the telephone and using his home computer to pull up background information from wire services and the Internet.
Senior editors remade the front page to accommodate the story and we had our own staff coverage in time for two of our three daily editions.

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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