Fired Blue House spokesperson Yoon Chang-jung’s alleged improprieties and criminal behavior in a Washington, D.C. hotel during the first official visit of South Korea’s first woman president, Park Geun-hye, to the United States have sapped the popularity of her administration among South Koreans.
The war of words between Yoon and Cheong Wa Dae over what happened on the night of the incident has been seen to have exposed lax crisis management procedures and damaged the credibility and administrative capacity of the Park government.
The latest opinion poll conducted by the party’s think tank showed that approval ratings for Park that had started to bounce back upon the U.S. trip had started to decline again.
Her approval numbers surged to 64.5 percent at the beginning of the U.S. visit but dived to 54.6 percent by the end of the second week.
Yoon said he scolded his “guide,” as he called the intern, for her poor performance and later took her to a bar to drink because he felt sorry for her. He said his chauffeur joined them for the quick drink on Tuesday night at the W Hotel, which lasted about 30 minutes.
While the Washington police report registers a complaint that Yoon “grabbed her buttocks without her permission,” Yoon argued that he simply patted the intern’s waist to cheer her up, claiming it was a “cultural misunderstanding.”
Despite Yoon’s claim that he drank from 9:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. with the victim and the driver, witnesses in Washington said the drinking session involved two bottles of wine and took another two hours. The driver drank cola.
The alleged groping took place around midnight, while the driver was fetching the car, a government official informed about the case said. Although Yoon stressed that the driver was with them all along, the alleged sexual assault took place when he was not with them.
The group returned around midnight to the Fairfax Hotel, where Yoon was staying along with members of the press and a group of interns, including the intern from the Korean Embassy. Yoon drank at the temporary administrative office of the Blue House press center until 2 a.m. Wednesday, the source said.
From 2 a.m. to 4 a.m., Yoon’s whereabouts are unclear, but the source said Yoon appeared to have drunk more during the period. Around 4 a.m., he was spotted by several journalists around the hotel.
Yoon claimed he retired to his room around 11 p.m. and slept until the morning.
Yoon reportedly made his second pass at the intern around 6 a.m. Wednesday. He reportedly summoned the intern to his room and opened the door stark naked. The intern returned to her room crying, according to her roommate and a co-worker.
At Saturday’s press conference, Yoon also gave a different story about what happened Wednesday morning. He said he heard a knock on the door, opened it and saw the intern standing outside. He said he told her to leave right away and she never entered the room. He claimed he was wearing underwear at the time.
Around 6:50 a.m., Yoon left the hotel to accompany Park to a breakfast meeting with Korean tycoons.
Around 7 a.m., the head of the Korea Culture Center (the technical employer of the intern) informed a Blue House official about the incident.
Yoon reportedly came back to the hotel and tried to meet with the victim between 7:20 a.m. and 7:40 a.m., but she refused to meet with him.
Yoon returned to the breakfast event. The intern’s roommate called the Washington police and they visited the hotel. The co-worker recently tendered her resignation to the Korea Culture Center, the JoongAng Ilbo reported yesterday.
Around 9:20 a.m., Yoon met with his supervisor, Senior Secretary for Public Relations Lee Nam-ki, outside Blair House, the U.S. presidential guest house where Park stayed. At 1:35 p.m., Yoon left Washington aboard a Korean Air flight.
It’s really hard to comprehend how any executive would hire a man like Yoon to be part of her public relations team, but Choe Sang-hun does a decent job explaining how backward South Korean gender relations are.
The case caught fire partly because of mounting frustration in South Korea with the widespread tendency among men, especially those in positions of power, to trivialize the harassment of young women. Although government agencies and businesses have begun educating their employees about sexual misconduct, it is still common to hear of male bosses who grope young women while socializing after business hours and then later disclaim responsibility by saying they were drunk, an excuse no longer as accepted as it once was.
The scandal surrounding Mr. Yoon also fed into a larger criticism leveled at Ms. Park’s administration — that she is appointing people with questionable ethical standards to important posts in her administration and staff. At least half a dozen of her appointees have already been forced to quit amid charges of tax evasion and other misdeeds. Opposition politicians, and even conservative newspapers that are generally supportive of her, have faulted Ms. Park for failing to heed the criticism.
Mr. Yoon was accused of mistreating a young Korean-American intern at the South Korean Embassy in Washington who was serving as his guide. In a Washington police report, the victim said Mr. Yoon had grabbed her buttocks without her permission. Ms. Park’s office said Mr. Yoon’s “indecent acts damaged the national prestige,” but it did not give details. Mr. Yoon has denied behaving inappropriately.
The presidential office had previously apologized for the appointments of problematic people in the government, but until Monday, Ms. Park had not apologized personally. “I hope this will serve as an opportunity for all public officials to reflect on their attitudes and have greater control over their own attitudes,” she said.
Ms. Park, the country’s first female president, has cited sexual violence as one of “the four biggest evils” in the country. But she did not mention sexual harassment in her statement on Monday, an omission that also drew criticism.
“We have seen recurring cases of sexual violence involving politicians and high-ranking public servants, but the government has treated them as individual responsibilities and neglected in proper punishment and preventive measures,” the Korean Women’s Association United said in a statement.
Fortunately, what the Korean Women’s Association United complains about could at least become a legal relic. Until then, Neoul explains the cultural mindset among men that has resulted, what South Koreans egregiously term “flower snakes“. The Dong-A Daily would just prefer it, if Yoon flew back to the United States to face justice. The Joong-ang Daily, Kyunghyang Daily, and Hankyoreh want the Park administration to demonstrate basic competence.
Optimistically, I hope this scandal sparks change and introspection, and that the Park administration can educate the South Korean public, that culture is not an excuse for criminal behavior.