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The silent treatment didn't work

When North Korea captured reporters Euna Lee and Laura Ling 83 days ago, it barely made the news. AP moved a short story, and papers such as the Chronicle buried it inside.

For the next couple of months, there was mostly silience. Their employer, San Francisco’s Current TV, refused to comment and has been deleting comments from readers about Lee and Ling from the company’s Web sites. Al Gore, co-founder of Current TV, has had little to say. Two months after their capture, Gore told CNN that he had been talking extensively to people in the State Department and others who might persuade the North Koreans to release the reporters. It was brief sound bite and Gore hasn’t had anything to say since.

Some observers have suggested the silence was intended to allow diplomats to do their work of freeing Lee and Ling without the glare of publicity. If that was the strategy, it didn’t work.

The silence ended eight days ago when the women’s relatives went on several TV news programs including “Today” and “Larry King Live” to plead for their release. It helped that Ling’s sister is former “The View” panelist Lisa Ling (In the photo at right, Lisa’s on the left, Laura’s on the right). Now that Lee and Ling have been convicted in a North Korean court and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor, the story has made the front pages of the Chronicle, Mercury News and papers around the world. (The AP photo above shows a man in South Korea reading a paper that has the story on the front page.)

If there is a strategy for gaining their release, it’s unclear what it is. The State Department says it may send an envoy to North Korea this week. The list of possible envoys includes Gore and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who negotiated an anti-nuclear proliferation treaty with the North Koreans for the Clinton administration.

Meanwhile, the media is speculating what prison will be like for the two reporters. The New York Daily News says it will be like “hell on earth” while the AP says they probably won’t go to the gulag because they’re too valuable as pawns.

The case has not gone unnoticed in Hollywood. According to “Access Hollywood,” Ashton Kutcher (left) is telling friends via Twitter that “this should be a national crisis … We have to demand that something be done … I say it’s special ops time … if we can save that captain from the pirates, we can save these journalist[sic].” Star Jones, a former panelist on “The View” with Lisa Ling, is urging her fans to write President Obama and others to ask them to do more to gain the release of Ling and Lee. And Katie Couric has devoted a page in her notebook to the two women.

Finally, Lisa Ling has tattooed her lower calf with a dove in honor of her sister. She told RadarOnline.com that it was her first tattoo — and that it hurt.

“I’m not going to lie it definitely didn’t feel good, but right now my sister is going through a challenging time,” Ling said. “I just sort of sat there and took the pain and I said to myself, ‘I’m going to take this for Laura.’ It totally got me through it.”

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