Dennis Rodman, in an interview from Pyongyang on Tuesday, blew up at a CNN reporter who asked Rodman if he would use his relationship with Kim Jong Un to advocate for the release of an American citizen currently imprisoned by the North Korean regime. This happened for one of four reasons:

A. The North Koreans had guns pointed at Rodman during the interview.

B. Rodman fears that the North Koreans wouldn’t let him leave if he spoke out against them.

C. Rodman is crazy.

D. All of the above.

We can only speculate on which answer is correct. But, no matter which one it is, Rodman’s freak-out was entirely predictable. It is not a secret that the North Korean government punishes people who speak out against it. It is also not a secret that Dennis Rodman is…well, Dennis Rodman.

‘I’m getting interviewed on CNN. Better wear my three face piercings, a suit jacket, and running pants. Oh, and smoke a cigar.’
–An actual likely thought that Dennis Rodman had

In short, we should have seen this coming. Since we didn’t, it makes for great television. But there is one part of the government whose job it is to see stuff like this on the horizon, and to stop it before it starts. That’s the United States Department of State. The stated purpose of the State Department “is to advance the interests of the United States and its people.” To meet that goal, the State Department controls diplomatic relations, including who is allowed to pass in or out of the country.

One would think that the State Department would do everything possible to keep U.S. citizens from traveling to a country that 1) actively hates America, and 2) has at least one (Kenneth Bae) imprisoned unjustly. The travel warnings are loud and clear. But it turns out that the rules you and I must observe do not apply to celebrities. When asked about the former NBA players’ trip to North Korea, a State Department spokesperson said that she “didn’t want to give more attention to Dennis Rodman’s antics in North Korea by even commenting or reacting to them.”

Too bad that’s her department’s job. This isn’t the first time that the department has declined to stand up to Rodman either; in the wake of his trip last February, a spokesman told the press, “we take no position” on Rodman’s trip.

This “see no evil” policy towards Rodman and his teammates has not been extended to other Americans. When Google’s Eric Schmidt traveled to North Korea one year ago, the State Department openly criticized him and his travel group, saying, “”We don’t think the timing of the visit is helpful, and they are well aware of our views.” The double standard becomes even more glaring in light of the purpose of each trip. Schmidt traveled to North Korea to advocate for opening up the internet in the Hermit Kingdom. Rodman’s humanitarian angle? Basketball. On the list of North Korea’s humanitarian needs, freedom of information ranks fairly high. Basketball, one would imagine, is towards the bottom of the list.

The State Department has a chance to stand up to Rodman and tell him that his behavior is absolutely not appropriate. By turning a blind eye to his publicity stunts while actively condemning true humanitarian travel to the DPRK, the government discourages positive cultural exchange, but lets a man who continually apologizes for America run unchecked.


Angela Morabito | Georgetown University | @_AngelaMorabito


UPDATE: For what it’s worth, Rodman offered an apology for his explosion Thursday in a statement, saying he had been drinking and that he was “overwhelmed.”