Yellow Rain


I recently listened to this Radiolab episode on Yellow Rain in Laos. It was a super fascinating interview told from the first person account of a man, Eng Yang, hired to observe the mysterious rain falling from the sky, killing thousands of Hmong. His daughter Kao Kalia Yang, an award-winning writer, served as interpreter for the interview with Pat and Robert from Radiolab. When I heard Kao cry on air about how the interview was not doing justice to the experience of the Hmong people, I cringed but I also could not completely feel empathy.

What I didn’t realize is how much of the interview was constructed to make me feel for Radiolab as a program rather than the ever-changing subject. My experience in journalism taught me storytelling can be something like 1 part multi-perspective inclusive and 1 part sleuthing. The product generally has some statements to make about the subject of the piece, but should remain objective. I felt like Radiolab did a decent job when the segment aired, but after reading this article by Kao herself, I hit the brakes on coasting uncritically after listening to the episode entitled “The Fact of the Matter.” She touches on inherent racism and Western privilege playing a huge role in how the interview was conducted, and the censored facts she brings to light in this article sure made me boil to think I sided with Pat and Robert on this one. Their journalism has many perspectives and does some sleuth work, but a glitch in the matrix allowed the public to see exactly how media constructs stories with their intention to leave Kao’s cries in the segment. In their minds, this was a clever tool to show how self-reflective they can be, when in reality, it sparked a huge controversy as to how exactly the radio hosts disrespected Eng’s perspective by not disclosing his official affiliation, local environmental knowledge, and turning the interview into a hearing among other things.

To understand more, take a look at the article and listen to the podcast here.