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Yoon's symbolic in-office interviews put on pause. Why?

Presidential office says it is due to coronavirus resurge, but critics blame his unprepared remarks

President Yoon Suk-yeol answers reporters’ questions when he goes to the presidential office building in Yongsan, Seoul, on Friday. (Yonhap)
President Yoon Suk-yeol answers reporters’ questions when he goes to the presidential office building in Yongsan, Seoul, on Friday. (Yonhap)


President Yoon Suk-yeol‘s symbolic efforts to communicate with the press every morning have been temporarily suspended. The presidential office said the halt is due to coronavirus resurge, but some critics say the recent plunge in Yoon’s approval ratings and his unprepared remarks could have affected the decision.

On Monday, Yoon went to his office without talking to the press for the first time since his inauguration.

The presidential office said, “It is inevitable to adjust the operation due to confirmed patients in the press corps. Considering the spread of COVID-19, the timing and method of operation will be decided again.”

Yoon‘s interviews were conducted by answering reporters’ questions without a script for about two to three minutes on the way to work every morning -- referred to as “doorstepping” by the Korean media, though both sides have sought out the encounters.

It was a symbolic move by the new government to “strengthen communication” with the media. Initially, his communication efforts, which were different from the previous presidents, were highly praised.

However, Yoon‘s ad-lib, unfiltered remarks on his feelings and comparisons to the previous administration have at times caused controversy.

Last week, when asked about the “failure of his personnel appointments,” he responded angrily, saying, “Have you seen such great people nominated by the previous administration?” He immediately added, “Next question.”

According to a recent survey by the Korea Society Opinion Institute at the request of TBS, 47.3 percent of the respondents -- the largest portion -- said controversies were raised during these encounters because “he was not ready when he answered.”

Political commentator Park Chang-hwan said he sees these impromptu interviews as the best tool Yoon has.

“For a president who narrowly wins the election and has a small political base against a parliament dominated by the opposition party, it could be the best tool to capture public attention,” Park said.

“However, despite being a useful tool, his unfiltered words -- saying he doesn’t care about the public‘s opinion and criticizing the previous administration -- have turned the public against him.”

For Yoon to use these interviews to their full effect, he must prepare his remarks more carefully and have spokespeople make corrections and additions when needed, the commentator said.

The presidential office, however, denied such views, stressing that the halt is due to COVID-19.

“We decided (to cancel them) because the safety of the people staying in the building was more important,” said a senior official of the presidential office on the condition of anonymity.

“If the presidential office responded incorrectly and the spread was strengthened, the criticism of us would be heavier,” the official said. “We know the possibility of many misunderstandings, but we made a difficult decision in a hurry.”



By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)
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