NEW YORK — An ABC News crew returned Saturday from North Korea, where it was granted a visit to a happy collective farm, but denied access to the Yongbyon nuclear facility.
The weeklong visit was the first time an American news crew has been allowed into the country since then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright visited in October 2000.
ABC director of foreign news Chuck Lustig told Daily Variety his crew’s every step was monitored by government “minders,” but he was pleasantly surprised at the level of access they were given.
“Before we traveled to North Korea I gave a list of things we would like to go and cover,” he said. “Almost all of these we’ve been able to do.”
The crew was denied only one visit, to the Yongbyon nuclear facilities, suspected of producing weapons-grade plutonium.
The North Korean-led tour stops skewed heavily in focusing on that nation’s war effort, and examples of better living through communism.
On Thursday, North Korean representatives escorted the crew two hours north of Pyongyang to an area bombed heavily by the Americans during the war.
Best face forward
The crew visited a Buddhist monastery and a collective farm, and was allowed to interview villagers fishing in a river.
Earlier the crew was escorted for the obligatory tour of the USS Pueblo, a U.S. spy ship captured in 1968 and now a major tourist attraction in Pyongyang.
The crew was shown no signs of famine, but was shown a World Food Program biscuit factory made possible, in part, with American aid dollars.
“There is a need here for aid and they know they need aid and they’re trying to resolve the nuclear issue in a way to get more aid into the country,” Lustig said.
The reports aired on “World News Tonight” and “Good Morning America.” A longer segment on North Korea is planned for “Nightline.”
“I hope we prove that ABC News is fair and objective in its reporting on North Korea and we will be invited back,” Lustig said.