SAN MARCOS — Journalist and documentarian Lisa Ling spoke to a full crowd on March 19 inside of the student union ballroom at California State University-San Marcos.
Ling, former co-host of the show “The View” and current host of the CNN and Netflix show “This Is Life,” spoke at CSUSM for its “Women Breaking Boundaries” lecture.
In her remarks, Ling shared stories from working in the field throughout the world. She also emphasized the importance of keeping an open mind and dialogue with cultures different from one’s own, doing so by removing “American style of glasses.”
Ling’s sister, Laura, was held captive in North Korea from five months before former President Bill Clinton helped broker a deal to bring her back to the U.S. in September 2009.
Lesser known is that, Lisa — who lives nearby in Los Angeles — also has spent time reporting in North Korea.
In discussing the country led by the Kim dynasty since 1948, Ling said people in the U.S. should have empathy toward North Koreans due to the all-encompassing propaganda system which prevails there.
“People always ask me, aren’t they curious about how the rest of the world lives?” asked Ling. “And what I say to people is that when you are born indoctrinated into believing this is the only way of life, every show that you watch on TV, every book that you read, every song that you say, I’m not kidding. Everyone is about struggle against the rest of the world in North Korea. You’re almost are prevented from being curious, right? Because your frame of reference is so limited.”
Despite being in a totalitarian state, Ling said that it was by jogging in a pre-approved area within Pyongyang that she experienced a sense of shared humanity with a North Korean citizen.
And what started as jog turned into an all-out sprint.
“At a certain point (after sprinting) we just stopped and started laughing because we realize that we’re just a couple of girls having a good time and laughing irrespective of the fact that our two countries have this really challenged, contentious relationship,” said Ling. “It was just really a beautiful moment that I’ll never forget.”
Pointing to North Korea’s neighbor China — another country of focus for her reporting — Ling said that one of the things she discovered during her time abroad there was some of the troubles with the one-child policy due to a gender imbalance.
According to Ling, there are 30 million more men than women in the country and has led to sexual-related violence.
”Large numbers of young men competing for dominance can elevate local rates of violence, homicide and even lawlessness,” said Ling. “And then there’s the issue of not being able to find wives, particularly for men at the lower levels of the economic ladder.”
Ling discussed human trafficking of women and young girls as another by-product of North Korea’s gender differential.
Though an international correspondent, Ling also has focused her lens on the U.S., as well, covering a whole host of social issues faced by populations living on the margins of society.
One of those populations is prisoners, in particular how intimate relationships can persist despite the incarceration of a loved one.
Pointing to the U.S. prison population, Ling said that she believes it is a travesty that so many African-American men have been locked up in the age of mass incarceration.
“And that’s because of America’s war on drugs,” Ling said. “Although according to statistics, white sellers and users of illegal narcotics did so at roughly the same rates as black users and sellers. The number of African-American men in prisons has soared. And this has had a devastating impact on entire communities and generations. There are even some towns in this country that can be characterized as fatherless due to how many men are locked up behind bars.”
Ling also encouraged the crowd members to think critically for themselves and avoid falling into echo chambers when it comes to consuming news.
And she said to appreciate and utilize the plethora of information out there for research, which is censored in many parts of the world she has visited as a correspondent.
“We live in a country where we have access to unlimited amounts of information at the tip of our fingertips, right? We can access any score of any game at any moment,” said Ling. “But I just wonder how often we actually seek out information about the rest of the world. You know, I still wonder how many Americans can accurately identify Afghanistan on a map today, despite how long we been engaged in that conflict.”
Ling’s talk was the fourth of six lectures schedules for CSUSM’s spring semester Arts & Lecture series. Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement, previously spoke at the event.