New York Times CEO defends coverage of Kim Jong Un’s sister as ‘good reporting’

Key Points
  • Critics slam media outlets, including The New York Times, saying they were fawning over Kim Jong Un's sister at the Winter Olympics.
  • But Times CEO Mark Thompson says the coverage was only part of a larger story.
  • "It's absurd to imagine you have to pack everything about your coverage of the country into every single story. That's a naive and really, if I can say, a foolish kind of way of looking at news," he says.
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The New York Times' coverage of Kim Yo Jong at this year's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang is "good reporting," said Times CEO Mark Thompson, despite criticism.

"I read the piece. I thought it felt like good reporting to me," Thompson told CNBC.

Kim Yo Jong, the only sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was in Pyeongchang on Friday for a three-day visit to the South to kick off the 2018 Winter Olympics. Her presence was widely reported by many news outlets as she stood near U.S. Vice President Mike Pence during the opening ceremony.

On Sunday, a New York Times story, "Kim Jong-un's Sister Turns On the Charm, Taking Pence's Spotlight," said, "Ms. Kim managed to outflank Mr. Trump's envoy to the Olympics, Vice President Mike Pence, in the game of diplomatic image-making."

The article quickly drew criticism that it was fawning over her.

But Thompson said The New York Times covers North Korea regularly and the piece was only one slice of a larger story.

"It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that The New York Times elicits strong opinions," Thompson said Monday on "Power Lunch."

"It's absurd to imagine you have to pack everything about your coverage of the country into every single story," he said. "That's a naive and really, if I can say, a foolish kind of way of looking at news."

"The New York Times is for sophisticated readers of news," he said. "No one who reads the Times could think for a second that the Times doesn't understand about human rights abuses or North Korea's nuclear program."

The Times wasn't the only news organization that reported on Kim Yo Jong's attendance at the games. The Washington Post called her the "Ivanka Trump of North Korea." CNN said she was "stealing the show."

Meanwhile, Buzzfeed posted a critical piece about Kim Yo Jong on Saturday, describing her as "a garbage monster." The internet media company, known for its listicles and entertainment coverage, told readers that she is "believed to be part of the regime's Propaganda and Agitation Department" and that the "North Korean regime commits frequent public executions of its own citizens," among other things.

Spokesperson Katie Rayford said Buzzfeed News stands by its story.

"As we noted in our story, Kim Yo Jong has a problematic past as an official in the North Korean Regime, which commits frequent public executions of and enslaves its own citizens," Rayford said in an email.

Thompson said the overall coverage of this year's Winter Olympics in South Korea and, by extension, the political climate in that area of the world, has been "brilliant, actually."

"We're in the middle of the conversation," he said. "What's amazing about The New York Times, it's probably more in the middle of the conversation now than it was 10 or 20 years ago. And that inevitably means there will be occasions where not everyone likes everything we do."

Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal owns NBC Sports and NBC Olympics. NBC Olympics is the U.S. broadcast rights holder to all Summer and Winter Games through the year 2032.