English and Journalism

Jai Lee

Jai Lee (1929-2005)
Macomb

By Bill Knight

Unlike journalists born in west-central Illinois, Jai Lee chose the region, and he did so after achieving international success as a reporter and writer, a press secretary and a correspondent, an embassy official and a whistleblower.

Born in southern Korea, Jai was jailed and tortured by Japanese troops during World War II, after which he served in South Korea’s army. Following his service, Jai became a newspaperman, covering U.S. President Eisenhower, French President Charles DeGaulle, novelist Somerset Maugham and South Korean President Syngmon Ree.

Jai became Syngmon’s ghost writer, then the press secretary for his successor, Huh Chung, and then a foreign correspondent in Paris. After working for the United Nations and various South Korean embassy posts, Jai himself made news.

Following Park Chung Hee’s 1973 coup in South Korea, the freedom-loving Jai was threatened by the South Korean CIA and granted refuge in the United States. The U.S. state Department advised him to move to a place where possible KCIA agents would stand out, and Jai moved to Macomb to teach journalism at Western. He also remained a truth-teller, helping to uncover Park’s scheme to bribe more than 100 Congressmen—a scandal dubbed “Koreagate” by the press and featured on CBS-TV’s 60 Minutes and other world media.

A few years after testifying before a Congressional subcommittee, Jai became a U.S. citizen and, as WIU’s Journalism Director, at one time or another taught very journalism class offered between 1974-1996. For one year, he returned to Korea to teach, and came back to Macomb to finish his career, retiring in 2000.

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