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Thursday, 16 March 2017

When the children crashed dad’s BBC interview: The family speaks

In their first interview, Korea expert Robert Kelly and his wife, Kim Jung-A, describe the circumstances, chaos, and global reaction to their now-infamous home-office Skype catastrophe; ‘she was in a hippity-hoppity mood’

Near the end of a long day of radio and TV appearances from home, Robert Kelly, an expert on East Asian affairs, prepared for another live video interview at 7 p.m.

As he finished up a soda and tightened his necktie before a Skype call from the BBC, he forgot to lock the door of his office in his high-rise apartment in Busan, South Korea’s second-biggest city, something he usually does.

That oversight has set off one of the biggest viral internet sensations of the year, featuring cameo appearances in the Friday interview by his wife and two young children. The buzz has even overshadowed the major news Mr. Kelly was on air to discuss: the impeachment of South Korea’s president.

“It’s a comedy of errors,” Mr. Kelly said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

As Mr. Kelly began his BBC appearance, his wife, Kim Jung-A, was with their two children in the living room, watching it. To ensure he had a copy of the clip, Ms. Kim videoed the TV screen with her phone.

They had ordered in pizza so they could follow news updates closely, and because of Mr. Kelly’s back-to-back media appearances. He dressed smartly, in a jacket and tie, but more comfortable jeans out of camera shot.

As the interview began, the couple’s 4-year-old daughter Marion jumped up and down at the sight of her father on the screen. Perhaps recognizing his location, a room at the end of the hallway, she wandered off to find him. She was in high spirits after enjoying her birthday party earlier that day at kindergarten, her father says.

The couple’s 8-month-old son, James, followed behind his sister in his baby-walker, as he often does. Ms. Kim continued to concentrate on the screen, filming her husband.

Then, there she was: Marion was in the same room as her father in a bright yellow sweater.

“As soon as she opened the door I saw her image on my screen,” Mr. Kelly said.

One of the most highlighted moments of the BBC clip on social media has been Marion’s swagger as she walked toward her father. “She was in a hippity-hoppity mood that day because of the school party,” said Mr. Kelly, an associate professor of political science at Pusan National University in South Korea.

Mr. Kelly rode it out, smiling and trying to guide his daughter with his left arm to some toys near an inflatable mattress while continuing with the interview. He thought the BBC might cut away to other footage or try to narrow the camera angle.

It didn’t, and as Marion sat down, James was making his entrance. As Mr. Kelly began to answer a question about inter-Korean relations, James glided across the room behind him.

“Then I knew it was over,” Mr. Kelly said.

In a heroic effort to try to save the day, Ms. Kim slid across the apartment hardwood floor into the room in her socks. In Korean homes, shoes are usually left at the door. Ms. Kim tried to stay out of camera shot before rounding up the children. She said the delay on the TV feed she was watching meant she didn’t see the children in the room for a few seconds.

“He usually locks the door,” Ms. Kim said. “Most of the time they come back to me after they find the locked door. But they didn’t. And then I saw the door was open. It was chaos for me.”


The video had been viewed over 84 million times on the BBC Facebook page as of Tuesday morning U.S. time. It has been covered by media from Uruguay to Nigeria to Australia, and dissected in thousands of news articles and social media posts around the world. Many have expressed warm feelings toward the family, although it’s also stirred some controversy, including over the assumption made by some watchers that Ms. Kim was the family nanny.

The video is also the latest example of the rough edges in broadcast media when handling urgent news events. When news breaks, networks will try to get experts on air as soon as possible, which has made live video interviews filmed at home more common, says Karen Koh, a veteran broadcast journalist based in Hong Kong.

Broadcasters strongly prefer to have guests come into their studios, but time pressure overrides everything, says Ms. Koh, CNBC’s Hong Kong bureau chief from 1997-1998. Some live interviews from home fall far short of the standards expected for prerecorded material, Ms. Koh says, but she praised both Mr. Kelly and his BBC interviewer, James Menendez, for their handling of the disruption.

A spokeswoman for the BBC declined to comment on the interview, while Mr. Menendez didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment.

Problematic live interviews can also have potential negative career consequences for those involved. Mr. Kelly and his wife immediately feared the worst, assuming that he wouldn’t be contacted again to appear on TV.

“We said to each other, ‘Wow, what just happened?’ ” Mr. Kelly, said, adding the blame was entirely on him for not locking the door.

He immediately wrote to the BBC to apologize, but within 15 minutes the broadcaster asked if it could put a clip of the interview on the internet. The couple initially declined, feeling uncomfortable that people might laugh at their children. But they were eventually persuaded that the video would show they were just a regular family.

Within a couple of hours, it became clear to them that the video would disrupt their lives. Mr. Kelly said his Twitter and Facebook notifications began going haywire as people shared the video online. The next day he put his phone in airplane mode as the number of emails and calls, many from journalists, became overwhelming.

“I made this minor mistake that turned my family into YouTube stars. It’s pretty ridiculous,” he said.

The couple spent most of Saturday trying to decide how to handle the attention. Offers from major U.S. TV networks and media came flooding in. Some journalists tracked down Mr. Kelly’s parents in the east side of Cleveland to ask them about it.

“We stonewalled because we didn’t know what to do,” Mr. Kelly said.

In a video interview from home, Mr. Kelly’s son sat on his lap banging on his desk and computer keyboard while his 4-year-old daughter played rock, paper, scissors with her mother.

Mr. Kelly describes his reaction as a mixture of surprise, embarrassment and amusement but also love and affection. The couple says they weren’t mad and didn’t scold the children. “I mean it was terribly cute,” Mr. Kelly said. “I saw the video like everybody else. My wife did a great job cleaning up a really unanticipated situation as best she possibly could... It was funny. If you watch the tape I was sort of struggling to keep my own laughs down. They’re little kids and that’s how things are.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Kelly and his family plan to hold a press conference at his university to answer questions from the Korean media, which have a strong interest in the video. Most important to them is that people can laugh at the video as unvarnished but normal family life.

“Yes I was mortified, but I also want my kids to feel comfortable coming to me,” Mr. Kelly said.

(Source: WSJ)

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