In his interview on Monday with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, Dennis Rodman lowered his head so that viewers could see the lettering on his “Make America Great Again” hat. He spoke about how the people of North Korea have a heart and a soul. He said that he once promised North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that he’d take a professional basketball team to that country. And he said that after he delivered on that pledge, Kim later said that “this is the first time someone’s ever, ever kept their word to me and my country.”
That was before he suggested that the mendacious President Trump might represent a nice break from an allegedly deceitful past. “I think that country is normally hearing people that is always lying, deceitful and not trustworthy and I think that if Trump goes in there with a great heart, with his heart on the table and let Kim Jong Un see him really emotional as far as, like, speaking to him — it ain’t got to be about war, it ain’t got to be about hatred or about what happened in the future or in the past or the past, I’m sorry, the past,” said Rodman. “We’ll move on to the future and I’ve told people about Kim Jong Un. He’s all about the 21st century. He’s trying to progress his country. And Donald Trump is going to do a great job in trying to reach out and make sure that our hands, America’s, our hands are open.”
Very faithful cable-news watchers know that Rodman and Cuomo have a history on the matter of North Korea. In a blockbuster of a grilling back in January 2014, Cuomo pressed Rodman on whether his brand of basketball diplomacy might gloss over the dark realities of the North Korea, which is run by a murderous and oppressive regime. “I know that you’ve had good experiences with the leader of North Korea. And this is a nice moment: I’m not looking to get into it with you again. But you know now things you didn’t know then…This man isn’t all selfies and smiles,” said Cuomo in a clear reference to that long-ago appearance.
Rodman pulled his stock response off the rack: “I’m not a politician. …He’s a good friend to me. …I don’t see the politics of this whole situation,” he said, adding that it would be nice if both sides could have a “glass of iced tea.” Rodman cried when he recalled when people criticized him for his diplomatic opening to Kim’s dictatorship. “I got so many death threats…I couldn’t even go home. I had to hide out for 30 days. … I took those bullets, I took all that,” Rodman told Cuomo.
As this blog has written many times before, the endless cycle of cable news television creates a lot of unhelpful dynamics. Filling that much airtime induces anchors to over-hype stories, to run the same unspectacular footage of the same unspectacular event, to spend interminable panel discussions plowing the same news field as 15 other panel discussions over the previous five hours. But to its credit, the long news day on cable enables times like this, when a former NBA player can shed light on his improbably long-running role in one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.
And then yield to an analyst. Former director of national intelligence James Clapper, chatting with Cuomo, agreed that Rodman is the “best resource” for the United States in understanding Kim. “I saw a Dennis Rodman I’d never seen before in the course of that interview and you drew that out of him,” said Clapper, who added that there’s “a lot more depth there than meets the eye. He does understand Kim Jong Un.”