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The Man Behind Dennis Rodman's North Korea Trip

Dennis Rodman's trip to North Korea has sparked a slew of headlines, raised a lot of eyebrows, and drawn a ton of criticism. It was engineered Vice Media CEO Shane Smith, who wanted to get his camera crews the most access possible for the HBO show the company is producing.

"We know that North Koreans love basketball and in particular they love the Chicago Bulls," Smith said. "So we put a delegation together, actually mostly for community outreach to play basketball with the kids."

Enter Dennis Rodman. Smith put together the trip and organized the basketball game. The fact that Kim Jong Un showed up and ended up embracing Rodman was not part of the plan.

"The story of Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong Un is an absurdist one—and so the media picked up on it and said this is crazy, which it is, and it's insane that they sort of were hugging and all this stuff," Smith said. "But all we cared about was getting in and getting the documentary made, so it was a huge success."

(Read More: Daredevil Media Outlet Behind Rodman's Trip)

Smith rejected criticism that the interaction of Rodman and Kim Jong Un was a stunt, saying that he was simply looking to do real journalism.

"We do storytelling in a different way, we got into NK in a different way, and we're going to show people things they aren't going to see anywhere else. And that's the basis of Vice. Vice gets into places and does stories in a different way and that other people don't do. So this is a perfect example of sort of the absurdity of the modern condition, a hard to get into place, and showing you things that you're not going to see anywhere else but on Vice or on HBO."

As for the criticism that this 'stunt' was perhaps unethical, Smith said, "I'm not Denis Rodman. I work for Vice. No, I don't take responsibility for what he said, he's his own man. He can say what he wants. I work for Vice and I'll say our point of view which is we went in to make a documentary and that's what we did."

(Read More: Dennis Rodman Gets His 'Gangnam Style' Mixed Up in Pyongyang)

Stunt or not, these kinds of events attract a Gen Y audience to Vice's brand. The company that started off as a magazine now has a series of websites, a music label, a book label, an ad network and a marketing agency. It attracts Fortune 500 brands like Intel, HTC, and Ford. The company generated an estimated $170 million in revenue last year, with consistent double digit percentage growth.

And despite its edgy content, Vice has backing from media heavyweights beyond HBO's parent Time Warner which is broadcasting the show, and Viacom's MTV, which broadcast its last show. In 2011 it raised more than $50 million in financing from ad giant WPP group, former Viacom CEO Tom Freston and boutique bank the Raine Group, which is affiliated with Ari Emanuel's WME.

The show is set to launch on HBO in April.

—By CNBC's Julia Boorstin; Follow her on Twitter: @JBoorstin

  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.