2. Overview of Recent Events


2-3. Media Coverage: Misinformation & Disinformation
     2-3-1. Korean Media Coverage
     2-3-2. Japanese Media Coverage
     2-3-3. International Media Coverage

2-3. Media Coverage: Misinformation & Disinformation1

After a photo of Jimin in the T-shirt surfaced online in mid-October, the debate around the T-shirt was quickly picked up and spread by Korean and Japanese Internet users and media. After TV Asahi canceled BTS’ appearance on Music Station over the T-shirt, international media joined the reporting race. Surprisingly (or, not so surprisingly) and interestingly, the focus of each – of Korean, Japanese, and international media – have been vastly different from each other. This inevitably made different consumers gather different understandings and interpretations of the same situation.

Do note that because of how the story was handled – and how it changed – when international media began reporting on the story, the section addressing international coverage provides both a summary of the news cycle and an analysis of it.

2-3-1. Korean Media Coverage2

Due to the extensive coverage this topic received in Korea, we have compiled an overview of articles from November 8, 2018 to November 19, 2018 from major news outlets with different political leanings.

Liberal/left-wing: The Korea Times, JTBC, and Hankyoreh
Moderate/center: KBS, MBC, SBS, Yonhap News
Conservative/right-wing: Chosun Ilbo, DongA Ilbo, and JoongAng Ilbo

Entertainment news outlet Newsen was included for its important role in reporting breaking stories and updates throughout the 12-day affair.

On November 8, Newsen broke the story that BTS’ Japanese schedule was cancelled after questions were raised when they did not show up to board the KE711 plane from Gimpo Airport to Haneda Airport on November 8 at 7:30 pm for a scheduled appearance on TV Asahi ’s Music Station. TV Asahi and Big Hit released statements confirming the postponed appearance.The Korea Times explained that the South Korean Supreme Court’s decision ordering a Japanese company to compensate workers for forced labor during wartime caused a spark that spread to popular culture and arts in “Amidst the Worsening of Korean-Japan Relations, BTS’ Japanese TV Appearance Suddenly Cancelled.”

Fig. 10. Newsen. (n.d.). [One of the first Korean-language articles addressing the cancellation of BTS’s Japan Music Bank performance: “Amidst the Worsening of Korean-Japan Relations, BTS’ Japanese TV Appearance Suddenly Cancelled”].  Retrieved November 29, 2018, from https://entertain.naver.com/read?oid=609&aid=0000013468. Screenshot by author.

The next day, JoongAng Ilbo expressed dismay at the situation, and Newsen asked why a photo of Jimin wearing a t-shirt two years ago was an issue now before sharing the t-shirt designer’s creative and patriotic intent. JTBC and KBS included this during their morning news segments. Newsen then asked if Japan was politically retaliating by using BTS and Hallyu, and DongA Ilbo revealed that 6,000 comments by Japanese netizens showed BTS’ immense popularity in Japan. DongA Ilbo and Hankyoreh said BTS’ global popularity caused extensive international media coverage which led to the world learning about Japan’s past war crimes. KBS, SBS, and MBC shared Japanese media (Yomiuri Shimbun, Kyodo News, and Asahi) reports while The Korea Times asserted that BTS proved their chart and ticket power through the Oricon chart and a sold-out dome tour.

As the situation continued to develop on November 10 (Day 3),  DongA Ilbo published an article on the “strong aftermath” of the Supreme Court decision that was “hitting Hallyu.” MBC and KBS continued to inform viewers with a summary of events. Newsen revealed that Sponichi Annex said, “BTS were in talks to appear on NHK’s Kōhaku Uta Gassen, FNS Music Festival, Music Station Super Live, but they’re no longer happening” and named Jimin’s shirt as the reason for these plans falling through. According to JoongAng Ilbo on November 10, Japan’s past war crimes caught the attention of the international media thanks to the help of ARMYs on Twitter. Yonhap News emphasized that Billboard and CNN wrote that history played into the cancellation of BTS’ TV appearance. Korean lawmakers showed a united front in voicing their support for BTS and/or against Japan in the matter as reported by KBS, Yonhap News, and JoongAng Ilbo.

November 11 (Day 4) saw Japanese ARMYs showing support for BTS on social media despite far-right protests. On November 12 (Day 5), Chosun Ilbo mentioned previously contentious times in Korean-Japan relations that led to the exclusion of Korean singers on NHK’s Kōhaku Uta Gassen. DongA Ilbo said a far-right group’s protest in front of Tokyo Dome on the first day of BTS’ concert was cancelled because of ARMYs. Hankyoreh gave insight on Japan’s new generation with the article, “Despite BTS’ T-shirt Controversy, Their Popularity in Japan Remains the Same. Why? Global YouTube Fans Are Different.”

On November 13 (Day 6), Korean media outlets reported on Simon Wiesenthal Center’s statement as well as ARMYs’ explanations. MBC, KBS, The Korea Times, and more touted BTS’ Oricon accomplishments despite ongoing controversies. The press extensively covered BTS’ successful first Tokyo Dome concert. Jimin’s statement during the concert was printed followed by Big Hit’s official statement.

On November 14 (Day 7), Chosun Ilbo wrote about pre-sale numbers for BTS’ documentary “Burn the Stage: the Movie” while the Japanese media continued to spread negative articles about K-pop. Korean singer Kim Jang-hoon also spoke up about the incident. DongA Ilbo reported on Simon Wiesenthal Center’s response “welcoming” Big Hit’s statement. BTS was not included in the final lineup for NHK’s Kōhaku Uta Gassen, but TWICE was. A Big Hit employee also personally apologized to the Japanese Atomic Bombs Victim Association. The second day of BTS’ Tokyo Dome concert was also a success without a protestor in sight.

By November 15 (Day 8), MBC said the “anti-Korean atmosphere” had calmed down. ARMYs continued to support BTS by making donations to the House of Sharing3 with a total of 10 million won ($8,875) in 2018. The following day, Big Hit’s operations representative Lee Jin-hyung personally apologized to the Korean Atomic Bombs Victim Association in Hapcheon, and the association accepted the apology.

Fig. 11. [Big Hit Entertainment official Lee Jin-hyung (left) meets with Korean atomic bomb victims]. (2018)  Retrieved from https://news.naver.com/main/read.nhn?mode=LSD&mid=sec&sid1=102&oid=055&aid=0000689681

TWICE became the next target by Japanese right-wing members on November 16 (Day 9), as Japanese politician Onodera Masaru shared a photo of member Dahyun wearing a Marymond T-shirt from 2017. Marymond is a company that works to promote active remembering of the Korean victims of Japanese sex slavery, colloquially known as “comfort women,” by making products in living memory of their lives and donating at least half of its profits to support surviving victims. Masaru claimed that Marymond uses its funds inappropriately for “anti-Japanese” campaign purposes and pointed out that despite this, TWICE would be appearing on Kōhaku Uta Gassen.

On the same day, JoongAng Ilbo reported that a Japanese far-right wing member made a bomb threat to a university in Nagoya to suspend a female college student who’s a BTS fan. Despite such incidents, the outlet emphasized that BTS’ popularity is at an all-time high and that the group will continue its sold-out dome tour after successfully completing two nights at Tokyo Dome.  

According to The Korea Times, 100 ARMYs participated in donating to the House of Sharing. From November 16, donations such as $5 and $10 amounted to a total of around 2 million won ($1,803). News about donations for the comfort women victims spread through BTS’ Twitter community through November 17 and 18 (Day 10 and 11). A source from House of Sharing said, “It means a lot that the movement of remembering Japan’s invasion and Japan’s ‘comfort women’ issue is expanding worldwide.”

SBS also reported that word about donations spread on Twitter. A fan stated, “The hearts of many fans abroad were hurt after they learned what the grandmas (victims) went through when they were teenagers. Let’s help the victims and correctly learn history.”

Final Remarks

As its name states, the Korean media reports its news in Korean for a Korean audience, which is already aware of – and often passionate about – their own history and contemporary international relations. Newsen was not only the first Korean outlet to break the news about the cancellation of BTS’ Japanese schedule, but also the first to contextualize the situation and label the shirt: “In the background of this is Jimin’s T-shirt. Jimin recently wore a Liberation Day T-shirt.”

The articles that followed from other Korean media outlets also frequently called it “a Liberation Day T-shirt,” rather than “an atomic bomb shirt” (though were were some instances of that), and described it as “a T-shirt that has a picture of Korean citizens celebrating liberation and a picture of an atomic bomb explosion.” They highlighted the words “patriotism,” “our history,” “liberation,” and “Korea” on the T-shirt. Some even presented it as “the T-shirt the Japanese media outlet has found a problem with,” suggesting that the T-shirt was not necessarily a problem until the Japanese media made it out to be one.

It also gave political context for the issue, immediately referencing the October 30 South Korean Supreme Court decision and growing anti-Korean sentiments by the far-right wing. It seemed to present the shirt onto a larger scope of contemporary and historical events to diffuse the blame from BTS to other variables at work.

Some even began their articles by introducing BTS as “global idols” and concluded with mentions of BTS’ latest round of accomplishments, including a sold-out dome concert tour in Japan and Oricon daily music chart achievements. Although Korean entertainment articles usually end with a summary of the artist’s upcoming scheduleit could be read as a pointed remark that BTS’ popularity is secure in this particular scenario.

When the issue gained traction in Western and Japanese media, the Korean media welcomed the coverage as more proof of BTS’ global popularity. It celebrated the number of international fans, who as a result of this issue, became more conscious of Korean history and Japan’s past war crimes – and it was perhaps too quiet on the outrage that a large number of fans felt in regards to the shirt.

Although media outlets usually differ in their tone when reporting certain topics based on their political leanings, BTS seemed to be a shining exception. Lawmakers of different parties presented a united front in condemning Japan’s far-right movements towards BTS and the Korean media outlets also largely sympathized with BTS. Throughout this incident, it was clear that being pro-BTS meant being pro-Korea in the eyes of the Korean media; the two entities seemed to be indistinguishable in the reports. BTS was Korea personified, and the Korean media rose loudly to the occasion as they took on the angle that their cultural diplomats had become tarnished by their past colonizer.

2-3-2. Japanese Media Coverage

In the first half of October, matome sites, blog sites that summarize daily posts of 5ch, the biggest Japanese online community, and other social media, began to spread information about the issue. One of the earliest Japanese articles covering the incident was published on October 18 by Myjitsu and shared on Nifty, a Japanese portal site. The article has since been taken down, but according to an archived post on Shared News Japan, an online news forum, it talked about the T-shirt controversy and a rumor that BTS is almost certainly to appear on this year’s Kōhaku Uta Gassen, an annual New Year’s Eve television special produced by Japanese public broadcaster NHK.

On October 20, the same news forum posted a translation of a Korean article published on October 16, “A nation that forgets its past has no future – BTS, 6 years of solid historical awareness despite its Japanese antis.” The translated portion of the article describes different reactions of Korean and Japanese fans of the group to the controversial T-shirt and continues to talk about BTS’ past actions indicative of their solid historical awareness. Examples mentioned were V and J-Hope’s use of Marymond merchandise and RM and Jin’s tweets on National Liberation Day of Korea, celebrating the liberation and soliciting their readers to take a moment to remember those who fought and died for their independence. The comment section was filled with people suggesting to ban BTS’ appearance on Kōhaku, its concerts in Japan, and even its entry to Japan. Tokyo Sports, citing the same Korean article, argued that BTS continue to show “anti-Japanese” behavior after the group allegedly had been confirmed to appear on Kōhaku.

Fig. 12. Tokyo Sports. (n.d.). [Tokyo Sports article accusing BTS of anti-Japanese sentiment: “Korean Group BTS’s Senseless “Atomic Bomb Shirt”: The Leader’s Tweets Criticizing Japan, published on November 13th, 2018].  Retrieved November 29, 2018, from https://www.tokyo-sports.co.jp/entame/entertainment/1167181/. Screenshot by author.

A number of internet users came together to demand cancellation of BTS’ appearance on Kōhaku (although nothing had been officially announced regarding the group’s appearance). The movement, which also included refusal of subscription fee payment4, was immediately picked up and reported by Asagei Plus. On November 1, two days after the Supreme Court of South Korea’s ruling that a Japanese steel firm must compensate living victims of forced labor,Tokyo Sports published an article on the possibility of NHK’s elimination of BTS and TWICE from the performer list of this year’s Kōhaku.

On November 8, the day before BTS’ scheduled appearance on Music Station, TV Asahi announced its decision to cancel the appearance due to the controversy surrounding the T-shirt. Multiple news outlets, including Sponichi, reported on the cancellation, and added their prediction of the shutdown of “the third Hallyu boom” in Japan. They revisited the case of Fuji TV, which faced a huge backlash for “favoring” Korean artists and pointed to the increasing tension between the two countries. On the other hand, an article posted on LITERA offered a different angle, suggesting the true reason behind the cancellation was Netouyo5’s anti-Korean sentiment and hypothesizing that the T-shirt was simply used as a scapegoat. The article also revealed that Sakurai Makoto, the former president of Zaitokukai and an ultranationalist and far-right extremist, encouraged his blog readers to “spam call” Music Station‘s sponsor companies three days before the announcement of the cancellation.

On November 9, during the opening remarks at a press conference on the Korean Supreme Court’s decision on forced labor, Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tarō Kōno, said, “Thus, despite these incidents, I would like people-to-people exchanges, exchanges between municipalities, and sports and cultural exchanges to firmly continue.”

However, more rumors started to surface online, and some media outlets consequently reported them. BuzzPlus was one of the news outlets that spread unconfirmed rumors. Specifically, the outlet made a claim that the miniature airships BTS held during their launching event of LOVE MYSELF, a part of UNICEF’s END VIOLENCE campaign, resemble nuclear bombs – specifically those that were used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On the same day, Buzzfeed Japan published an article to rebut the rumor and argue that misinformation is spread by online media.

In the morning of November 14, after the release of Big Hit’s statement on November 13, NHK published an article with the title “An apology by the agency of BTS on wearing a mushroom cloud T-shirt.” However, later in the afternoon on the same day, Sankei reported that BTS was not included in the list of performers for Kōhaku. Further, major news outlets such as Tokyo Sports and Weekly Asahi predicted in articles published on November 17 that BTS’ future Japanese activities would be negatively affected by the recent events and that they would not be able to appear on Japanese TV this year.

On November 18, Leave it to Atko, an entertainment show broadcasted on TBS, narrated, “on the 13th, during the BTS Tokyo Dome Concert, Jimin apologized over the controversial T-shirt issue,” then showed a clip of Jimin along with a Japanese dubbing that stated “I’m aware that I worried not only Japanese fans, but also fans all over the world,” and “I’m sorry, everyone in Japan (ごめんなさい、日本の皆さん).6J-Cast published an article on TBS’ fabrication on November 20, reporting that it had inquired TBS for clarification but was told that TBS has no comment on the issue. On November 23, TBS aired a correction and apology on N Star, a Kantō region local news program.7

Final Remarks

From the beginning, the Japanese media’s focus was on BTS’ appearance on Kōhaku Uta Gassen, an  NHK year-end TV show that first aired in 1951. The program boasts great popularity, achieving 80 percent in viewership ratings.8 Thus, appearances on Kōhaku Uta Gassen became a natural way for singers to measure their success in the Japanese music industry.

After controversy arose surrounding the shirt, Japanese media continuously asked if BTS would still be able to appear on Kōhaku Uta Gassen despite the recent events. The day that the controversy reached its peak following the cancellation of BTS’ scheduled appearance on Music Station also happened to be the day NHK announced their lineup for the 2018 Kōhaku Uta Gassen. Although it was unclear if BTS’ appearance on the year-end show was actually confirmed prior to the controversy, the internet was flooded with Japanese articles with  headlines such as “BTS Eliminated” and “BTS Not Included in Lineup” as if their appearance on Kōhaku Uta Gassen was canceled as a result of the controversy. There were very few articles about the atomic bombing, recognition of the victims, or actions to be made going forward.

In online forums, netizens debated about BTS’ past actions, such as celebrating National Liberation Day and showing support for companies linked to helping comfort women survivors. Many people felt that these kinds of actions were the result of South Korea’s anti-Japanese education. There were also those who felt that it was absolutely unacceptable to have people with this kind of education and thoughts coming to Japan and earning money. A vicious cycle then ensued, wherein many outlets continued to produce articles based on online rumors and speculations, and these kinds of reports were then spread further through social media.

It is worth noting the Japanese media’s tendency to generalize the T-shirt issue as a problem solely related to Koreans, Korean education, or Korean culture as a whole. There were reports that predicted a halt in Hallyu after the T-shirt issue and Korean Supreme Court’s ruling on forced laborers. Similar to how the Korean media portrayed BTS as the symbol of Korea, the Japanese media, too, presented BTS as national representatives of Korea rather than a boy group.

2-3-3. International Media Coverage9

Though it took weeks for the rest of the world to become involved in the debate Korea and Japan were having over an idol’s T-shirt, once they did, the conversation quickly escalated.

The Article Read Around the World

Fig. 13. Associated Press. (n.d.). [Associated Press initial article on shirt controversy, published on November 13th, 2018].  Retrieved November 8th, 2018, from https://apnews.com/81bfc490e29d46fda0e61495bf29fb38. Screenshot by author.

Global coverage began on November 9, when news agency10 Associated Press (AP) published an article about TV Asahi’s cancellation of BTS’ Music Station performance due to a controversy over the T-shirt. Other news agencies11 also put out similar stories on the same day, which ensured that coverage would be international. This is due to how news agencies operate: media outlets ranging from newspapers with global readership to those that cater to small towns subscribe to a news agency’s service and receive stories on a variety of topics and then usually reprint them verbatim. These word-for-word transmissions only offer basic facts and little context. For this particular story, context about Japan’s 20th century occupation of Korea (see Section 3.1.1.) and how the effects of that oppression impact the present-day diplomatic relationship between Japan and South Korea is crucial for a balanced reading.

Unfortunately, thorough context was not provided by news agencies. Instead, the only angle of the story provided in English to the international media was the Japanese interpretation of the shirt. It should be noted here that the story AP reported originated from the statement released by Music Station. This statement informed its audience that the BTS performance was canceled because of the debate surrounding the T-shirt, which in turn validated the online interpretations of the-shirt that originated from predominantly right-wing Japanese online forums.12 Because of this, the story was already objectively compromised, even when the facts as they were presented by Music Station were reported accurately by news agency reporters.

Thus, the news agency articles that followed propagated the idea that the shirt seemed to be celebrating the bombing of Nagasaki, which in Western society is widely considered an atrocity. However, it can be argued that this view of the event is an opinion that ignores the Korean – and wider Asian-Pacific – WWII narrative, and that frames Japan as a victim of war, rather than as an aggressor. Due to this, the majority of articles discussed the Japanese reaction to the shirt from a Western point of view, but did not address how the garment was being interpreted by people in Korea and of the Korean diaspora.

But even if each of the more than 100 articles had all been thoroughly researched and carefully reported with a full representation of the complex topic, there is no guarantee that the general public would have read them – and that very much has to do with the headlines that were crafted for these articles.

Getting the All-Important Click

Since the advent of newspapers, headlines have been used to grab the reader’s attention, appeal to their curiosity, and entice them to pay to read the story. Though journalism has evolved significantly from the era of newsboys barking headlines, the same basic principle is still at play when it comes to headline writing.

But in this era of online publications and social media, headlines are often the only part of an article that people read. In fact, a 2016 study conducted by HAL-Inria found that 59% of people who shared articles via social media did not read past the headline. So copy editors creating headlines have a very important job, because they aren’t just working to command attention in order to make their publication money anymore; they are shaping the landscape of online discourse.

In this case, the very nature of the story – the cancellation of a beloved Korean music group’s much-anticipated performance on a Japanese music show because of a T-shirt with an image of an atomic bomb – provided a perfect storm of words that lead to headlines that were textbook attention grabbers:

“Japanese TV cancels BTS show over band member’s A-bomb shirt” – The Associated Press

“Pop Band BTS Is Dropped From Japanese TV Show Over T-Shirt” – New York Times

“Japan TV cancels show of K-pop’s BTS over atom bomb t-shirt furor13” – Reuters

“BTS performance axed by Japanese TV show over atomic bomb T-shirt” – The Guardian

These examples are indicative of how the majority of news outlets fashioned their headlines, which include enough vague information to pique interest, while also ensuring solid search engine optimization.14 These factors made it possible for people to feel as if they knew what was happening, even if they did not actually read the article.

And thus the story – or, at least, the one told by the headlines – spread.

However, these articles came out on the Friday before a public holiday in the United States, and throughout the three-day weekend, the story seemed to be losing momentum outside of Korea and Japan.

But then, an unexpected statement changed the course of the conversation and spurred a whole new wave of disinformation-laden international news coverage.

SWC Intervenes, and the Narrative Takes a Turn

On Monday, November 12 (KST), the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) released a statement that denounced BTS, stating that the group had an established pattern of promoting Nazism. Furthermore, they demanded the members of the group apologize to Japan and to victims of the atomic bombings.15 

Fig. 14. Simon Wiesenthal Center. (n.d.). [Simon Wiesenthal Center statement on BTS, published on November 11th, 2018].  Retrieved November 8th, 2018, from http://www.wiesenthal.com/site/apps/nlnet/content.aspx?c=lsKWLbPJLnF&b=8776547&ct=15022213. Screenshot by author.

With this rebuke, the SWC pivoted the international conversation16 from a young man’s ill-advised wardrobe choice to an internationally renowned Korean music group repeatedly and flagrantly displaying WWII imagery.

The statement was particularly newsworthy because it introduced “new” evidence: a 2014 photograph of RM wearing a hat emblazoned with the Nazi Death’s Head Unit logo, and concert footage17 of BTS carrying flags with a design the SWC deemed similar to a swastika. Despite the facts that claim about the flags was not just misleading, but incorrect, and that the statement based its claims on a Twitter thread with Japanese captions posted by an account that had been created just weeks before the controversy caught international attention, news outlets ran stories quoting a rabbi’s scurrilous allegations without fully investigating the validity of these claims. This in turn lead to a news cycle filled with the disinformation the SWC introduced.

Big Hit Attempts to Reclaim the Narrative, With Limited Success

Big Hit released a statement addressing the allegations on Tuesday, November 13 (KST). This set off another round of international media coverage, including more articles from news agencies.18 In addition to the statement, Big Hit also sent a private letter to the SWC.

Between the statement and the letter, Big Hit thoroughly debunked the SWC’s claim about the flags and explained why it was inappropriate to allege Nazi association given the different social and lyrical contexts. Even so, the Jewish organization still did not acknowledge that their claim was inaccurate. Their public response19 to both Big Hit’s statement and the separate letter stated:

“The Simon Wiesenthal Center today welcomed an apology from Korean pop group BTS’ management for incidents – a band member wearing a hat emblazoned with the Nazi SS “Totenkopf” emblem, another member wearing a t-shirt with pictures of the WWII atomic bombs, and the band performing in costumes resembling SS uniforms and flying Nazi-like flags…”

As such, the SWC conclusively lumped all allegations together and released a final statement void of the same type of reflection and apology they demanded from BTS. Many people following the story found the response to be purposefully misleading and disturbing, especially considering the SWC’s reputation as a well-known humanitarian organization that international journalists regard as a newsworthy source.

In another example of a reputable organization refusing to admit their factual errors, The Guardian’s Readers’ Editor, Paul Chadwick, responded to ARMYs’ request for a factual clarification regarding their report on the Nazi flag accusation, which was included in Justin McCurry’s November 12 article:

“Thank you for writing to outline your concerns.
Since your email was received in this office the management of BTS has made a public
explanation and
It appears to have been
This I take to mean that the management of BTS recognises that there was validity in criticisms that the Guardian reported, or at least that an explanation was necessary.
The matter appears to be at an end.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Chadwick
Readers’ editor
Guardian Readers’ editor’s office
twitter: @GdnReadersEd”

Chadwick provided no link to Big Hit’s official statement of clarification in his email and instead cited the SWC’s purposefully misleading response, one which failed to acknowledge its own factual inaccuracies regarding the flag accusation, as reason not to correct the article.The editor’s overall response is even more confounding given that the second link provided by him – an article by The Korea Times – actually quotes Big Hit’s explanation on the inappropriateness of the flag accusation:

“Regarding the controversial stage performance, the company explained it was during a 2017 concert commemorating the legendary Korean musician Seo Taiji where the band performed ‘Gyosil Idea’ (classroom ideology). The flags and images were created to carry the message of criticism against restrictively uniform and authoritarian educational systems, but had no relation with Nazism, said the agency. ‘In fact the performance includes creative elements that are designed to direct criticism against these very elements of totalitarianism,’  read the statement.”

It’s unclear whether Big Hit’s clarification on the matter bypassed Chadwick or if it was not considered significant enough to warrant a factual correction in The Guardian. Whatever the case, both the SWC and a number of international news outlets20 have yet to publicly acknowledge the factual inaccuracy of their misinformed accusation and reporting regarding the flag.

Context Too Late

The first article21 covering Big Hit’s statement and the SWC’s response was released by the Associated Press on November 15, accompanied by the headline “BTS’s agency apologizes for atom-bomb shirt, Nazi-emblem hat,” and the majority of the headlines were framed in a similar fashion. There were headlines that took a harsher tone, such as “BTS: Korean band’s managers apologise over Nazi photos,” as well as more diplomatic headlines, such as, “BTS’s management issue apology for band’s controversial clothes”  – but, ultimately, the general consensus was that Big Hit had apologized for their wrongdoings.

It should be mentioned that AP updated their article on this issue: the first version included one of the harshest quotes from the SWC’s response, but shortly after it went live, the article was updated to remove the quote, add information about how Korean politicians were responding to the matter, and provide details of the Japanese leg of BTS’ tour.

Indeed, this round of coverage saw much more historical and political context woven into articles, addressing at least some of the political reasons why the image of Jimin wearing the shirt – which was worn more than a year before becoming a topic of controversy – had been unearthed and spread at the time that it was. But, the headlines undermined the contextual background provided in the full text and contributed to the spread of a reductive narrative. The opportunity to educate readers about the truly complex, nuanced story playing out in real time was ultimately lost.

Final Remarks

As the week of November 12 came to a close, it saw opinion pieces, think pieces, and in-depth explorations about why a T-shirt created such a uproar.

But the global release of Burn the Stage: the Movie, a documentary about BTS, on November 15 and the debut of the music video for Steve Aoki and BTS’ “Waste It On Me,” on November 20 brought coverage of the box office results and the response to the music video. By November 21, the international conversation had largely moved away from a T-shirt and on to other topics.

That said, as news surrounding the recent reparations decisions made by the Supreme Court of South Korea are being discussed, it is likely the T-shirt will continue to be referenced as evidence of the two countries’ fraught relations. Indeed, it was mentioned in articles by the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post published on November 30 (KST), as well as in an opinion piece in Ryuku Shimpo published on December 2 (KST) and a Vox article about K-pop and fashion, published on December 4 (KST).

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  1. Due to the large number of articles we cite and for sake of space, in this section we do not follow the citation method we adopt in the rest of the essay. All articles we directly mention or base our argument on are still hyperlinked.
  2. A full, 7-page version of this section is available in Appendix.
  3. The House of Sharing is a shelter for comfort women. It also holds The Museum of Sexual Slavery by Japanese Military.
  4. All TV owners are legally required to sign up with NHK and pay a subscription fee.
  5. ネトウヨ; Japanese neo-nationalists who interact almost entirely within their own cyber community
  6. What Jimin said during the concert is, “It saddens me to think that not only you ARMY, but many people around the world must’ve been surprised recently because of the many circumstances.”
  7. Leave it to Atko is a nationally aired program.
  8. The show, however, is not as popular as before especially among younger generations.
  9. As mentioned in the media section’s introduction, the international media subsection is different from the others because the way the story was handled – and how it changed – when international media began reporting on it requires not just a summary, but analysis.
  10. AP is a news agency. News agencies have offices and reporters around the world, and provide international news coverage to their subscribers: other news sources.
  11. The other news agencies were Reuters, Agence France-Presse, and Bloomberg, to be specific.
  12. Though the shirt has been a topic of discussion online for months, it flared up in mid-October when it was posted to Pann – a Korean forum – and then spread to right-wing Japanese forums.
  13. Though this word is a relevant choice, it is hard to ignore its phonetic similarity to the German word “führer”.
  14. Search engine optimization is the practice of crafting headlines that are similar to how people search for information online in order to maximize website traffic
  15. It’s notable that the SWC is located in California and that their statement was released on the Sunday (PST) ahead of a U.S. public holiday (read: slow news days).
  16. These images cited by the SWC were being discussed together in Japan, though.
  17. The statement made it seem as if the flags were used at a BTS concert, but it was actually the Seo Taiji 25th Anniversary Concert BTS performed in in 2017.
  18. AP, Agence France-Presse, and Bloomberg all published stories, while Reuters did not.
  19. Update: April 7, 2019. It came to our attention that the organization has since removed the statement from its website. The link will direct you to the archived page.
  20. See, out of many, reports from ABS-CBN, The Sun (du Cann, 2018), The Korea Times (Lee, 2018), and The Guardian (McCurry, 2018) for international reports spreading SWC’s claims on Nazi flag accusation without due process of factual verification.
  21. AP does not cache previous versions of their articles, so it is impossible to link back to the original version. The link included here is to a source that published the first version of the AP story– link provided by @msbeatrice_81.