FAKE NEWS WEEK: A Guide to Mainstream Media ‘Fake News’ War Propaganda


In response to the establishment media’s contrived ‘fake news’ crisis designed to marginalise independent and alternative media sources of news and analysis, 21WIRE is running its own #FakeNewsWeek campaign, where each day our editorial team at 21st Century Wire will feature media critiques and analysis of mainstream corporate media coverage of current events – exposing the government and the mainstream media as the real purveyors of ‘fake news’ throughout modern history…

Patrick Henningsen
21st Century Wire

As mainstream media pundits, government officials and Silicon Valley technocrats continue the alarmist crusade over the perceived scourge of ‘fake news’ circulating on social media, their misplaced obsession belies the fact that the government-media complex has long been waging its own private disinformation war, against the global public. 

As the establishment continues its attempt to discredit alternative sources of information through its fake news faux crisis, it’s clear that some corporate media moguls would like to turn back the clock – back to the days when a handful of powerful institutions enjoyed a complete monopoly over the production of news and dissemination of information.

Through this information syndicate, they have been able to create a type of consensus reality.By channeling public opinion, the establishment has been able to facilitate a number of engineered outcomes, including war.

More than ever, it’s important to highlight how for many decades, these same media organizations, including the most respected brands in western mainstream media, have been the driving force behind some of most deceptive reporting and militaristic propaganda campaigns which have enabled the conditions for violent conflict worldwide. These acts of media malice have contributed to the unnecessary deaths of countless innocent people.

Undoubtedly, many who work in the media will not see it that way, but history speaks for itself.

Here are but a few of the greatest war propaganda deceptions of all-time – brought to you by the establishment’s own mainstream media. Here are the real consequences of fake news…

‘Remember the Maine!’

War propaganda is as old as the media itself.

In the winter of 1898, a terrible incident befell America after the USS Maine, one of its flagship Naval vessels had sunk following an unexplained explosion in Havana harbor in Cuba. Afterwards some leading US newspapers took advantage of the confusion and emotive nature of the story, including William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal and its racy sister publication, the Evening Journal, and also Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, blaming the incident on Spanish saboteurs. Shortly afterwards, the US entered the Spanish-American War in order to capture Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines. This practice of over-reporting and embellishing a story to stir public outrage became known as “yellow journalism” – a badge proudly worn by Hearst in his day. Certainly, Hearst was well ahead of his time in believing media outlets should insert themselves into events in order to affect political outcomes on behalf on the government. One year earlier in 1897, Hearst’s New York World [1] opined the doctrine of “journalism of action” which meant that a newspaper should inject itself into public life, in order to “fitly render any public service within its power.”

Are things really much different today?

The Gulf of Tonkin Deception

On August 4, 1964, a joint US Navy patrol ran into bad weather off the coast of Vietnam, causing problems with US radar and sonar, at a time when heightened tensions in the region had placed the US national security team on red alert. Amid the confusion, some US agent or official, either in the CIA, the NSA or the Pentagon national security structure – circulated a false report that the US Navy vessels and planes were under attack from North Vietnamese patrol attack boats in international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin. The next day, President Lyndon B. Johnson appeared on national television to announce[2] his intent to retaliate against North Vietnamese targets, stating, “Repeated acts of violence against the armed forces of the United States must be met not only with alert defense, but with positive reply. The reply is being given as I speak to you tonight.” The infamous event came to known as ‘The Gulf of Tonkin Incident.’ Despite the fact that there were obvious discrepancies in some of the government account of events, the mainstream media accepted the government’s fake story without question. With the media providing public relations backing, Washington was then able to take the next step and declared War on Vietnam, albeit on false pretenses. This was the beginning a 10 year-long bloody conflict which saw 55,000 US servicemen killed and 250,000 injured and maimed, along with over 1 million Vietnamese killed.

The First Gulf War 

It seems that Saddam Hussein’s incursion in neighboring Kuwait wasn’t enough to justify this historic US military operation because the first Gulf War, or ‘Persian Gulf War’ featured a number of fabricated and fake reports produced or circulated by the corporate mainstream media.

On October 10th, 1990, 15 year-old Nayirah al-abah, daughter of Saud bin Nasir Al-Sabah (the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US) provided a tearful testimony in front of the mainstream media TV cameras, in tears recounting alleged human rights abuses in front of a US Congressional Committee. The Kuwaiti teenager claimed that Iraqi soldiers took hundreds of babies out of incubators in a Kuwaiti hospital during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Her dramatic testimony later turned out to be completely false.

During the 1990-1991 Gulf War when a leaked clip showed how CNN had constructed a fake blue screen studio set-up to give a false impression that reporters like Charles Jaco were at alternative locations, including a live sound stage used to simulate missile attacks in Saudi Arabia complete with fake date palm trees.

This was also the first war where US cable TV provided the bulk of 24 hour mainstream media propaganda promoting every aspect of America’s military operation, led by CNN. Since then, CNN has become the Pentagon’s premier military and war propaganda outlet in the US.

Kosovo ‘Genocide’

After the Rwanda massacres of 1994 the ‘genocide’ alarm has become a tried and true tool used by western media outlets. As the narrative commonly goes, because the US “did not act” in 1994, over 500,000 Tutsis were killed. Granted, the desire to intervene in such a tragedy is born out of compassion and concern for humanity, but when the term ‘genocide’ is casually tossed about in the media in order to invoke an emotional reaction of public outrage, then the media risks stripping the term of its real meaning, and its potency as a call to humanity.

From 1998-1999, Europe and NATO backed Kosovan Liberation Army (KLA) ‘rebel’ fighters from the Kosovo region of Yugoslavia in a poxy war against the military forces of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. With the help of NATO intelligence and military assets, the KLA began attacks on police and Yugoslavian government facilities in Kosovo, which led to an increased presence of Serb paramilitaries and ‘regular forces’ who then began targeting KLA personnel and political sympathisers and political opponents. It is estimated that Federal forces killed some 1,500 to 2,000 civilians and KLA combatants. From here, the conflict, or “civil war” as it was portrayed in the Western mainstream media, began to escalate dramatically, and with that, a flurry of alarmist and sensational western media reporting. Independent journalist Justin Raimondo editor of Antiwar.com reported back in 2000:

“The headline in the London Guardian [18 Aug. 2000] was really a bit of an understatement: “Serb killings ‘exaggerated’ by West.” The subhead, however, underscored the enormity of the lie: “Claims of up to 100,000 ethnic Albanians massacred in Kosovo revised to under 3,000 as exhumations near end.” Think of what this has to mean: Madeleine Albright, James Rubin, and Jamie Shea didn’t pull this off single-handedly. Not only the US government, but the worldwide media fabricated a “genocide” and, on that basis, launched a savage war against a sovereign nation that had never attacked us, in the name of “humanitarianism – a war, I might add, that was stopped but has not ended.”

Raimondo continues, “Where are the bodies, all 100,000 of them? This became the task of the “war crimes experts,” as the Guardian describes them: to produce what never existed in the first place – a task that naturally had to end in failure. The Guardian reports:

“As war crimes experts from Britain and other countries prepare to wind down the exhumation of hundreds of graves in Kosovo on behalf of the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague, officials concede they have not borne out the worst wartime reports. These were given by refugees and repeated by western government spokesmen during the campaign. They talked of indiscriminate killings and as many as 100,000 civilians missing or taken out of refugee columns by the Serbs.”

As the standard progression goes, on back of the humanitarian outrage which was playing out in the western media, the west soon demanded a “No Fly Zone’ over Kosovo and parts of Yugoslavia. In the end, it decided to proceed unilaterally, outside of the remit of international law, and in true Matador fashion – the western press offered no resistance at all. Journalist Lewis MacKenzie of the Globe and Mail explains:

“In 1999, with NATO celebrating its 50th anniversary and no enemy in sight to justify its existence, it sought a new role and solicited a UN resolution to establish a no-fly zone over Serbia/Kosovo – the scene of a civil conflict in the latter, with involvement of the former. When it proved impossible for the UN Security Council to approve such a resolution, NATO, in a highly questionable and arguably illegal move, commenced bombing a sovereign nation, the former Yugoslavia (Serbia/Kosovo). Justification, it was argued, was provided by a dated, no-longer-applicable UN resolution that provided for a no-fly zone to protect European Union monitors in Kosovo. The fact that the EU monitors were no longer deployed in Kosovo was conveniently ignored. What followed was an all-out bombing campaign against the infrastructure of the former Yugoslavia, all under the guise of enforcing a “no-fly zone.” The term was beginning to get a bad reputation.”

By the end of the war, you could see a clear process had been formalized – the production and dissemination between political leaders and the mainstream media outlets – in order to steadily advance the agenda of the war. Antiwar’s Raimondo concludes:

“It was lies, all lies, from beginning to end. They may have originated from government sources, in most cases, but in spreading these lies far and wide the Western media were more than willing accomplices. Keeping in mind that over 5,000 civilians were slaughtered in the NATO air strikes, the ladies and gentlemen of the Fourth Estate might fairly be characterized as Madeleine’s willing executioners. This is a takeoff, of course, on the favored phrase of the New Republic wing of the War Party, which condemns the entire Serb nation as “Milosevic’s willing executioners.” Based on the myth of an Albanian Kosovar “holocaust” perpetrated by the Serbs, not only Milosevic and his regime but the entire Serbian people are condemned as being no better than the “good Germans” who voted Hitler into power and tacitly supported the Holocaust. Here was classic war propaganda, on a par with stories of Belgian babies impaled on German bayonets during World War I and tall tales told during the Gulf war of babies dumped out of incubators and gasping for breath on the floor of a Kuwaiti hospital. The idea is to get public opinion behind the complete subjugation and “reeducation” of the Serbian people, utilizing the postwar German model.”

It has to mentioned also, that one of the leading agents of disinformation in NATO’s Kosovo operation was CNN’s ‘war correspondent’ Christiane Amanpour, whom Raimondo singles out as a key purveyor fake news that moulded public opinion enough to allow the war to escalate on schedule for NATO:

“In the case of the Kosovo war, the retreat has already begun. Far too late to help the victims of the vicious “Allied” air war: they are dead and buried, or else mutilated beyond repair. Yet we are still waiting for some acknowledgment – aside from a few stories in overseas newspapers – from the media that they were wrong. After endless horror stories illustrated with fantastically high death tolls were aired day after day on CNN, when will we hear a retraction? Christiane Amanpour repeated her husband’s lies with a perfectly straight face: tens of thousands slaughtered, we were told, and the murderous drug-dealing KLA were really “freedom fighters,” the Albanian equivalent of George Washington and his Continental Army! Journalists didn’t question the government line about alleged Serbian “genocide”: instead they wanted to know if the President would send in the ground troops – and if not, why not?”

Incredibly, we would see a near repeat of this planned model again in Syria.

Osama Bin Laden: A Mythology of Convenience  

A really big lie which was already baked into the official 9/11 narrative: “The terrorist known as Osama bin Laden carried out the 9/11 attacks and he is being given shelter in the nation of Afghanistan. If the Taliban government does not hand over this fugitive, then the US will have no choice but to retaliate against Afghanistan.” Kabul then asked if the US would provide evidence that bin Laden was indeed responsible for the spectacular attacks. This request was ignored by US authorities, but Washington’s ignorance paled in comparison to the mainstream media’s collective inability to follow-up on this, the most crucial piece in the story. In reality, the US was not going to wait for answers, or for the illusive bin Laden to appear. Washington had already mapped out its ‘strategic’ targets and scrambled its long-range stealth bombers. Assets were being mobilized and a new war began as ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ launched on October 7, 2001.  Some 15 years later, the Afghans are still having to endure the Pentagon’s version of freedom, as US-led forces are still occupying and controlling large regions of the country, but doing so conveniently under a NATO banner. To understand the scale and scope of the Afghanistan lie, consider the following:  In 2006, the Muckraker Report[3] contacted FBI Headquarters to inquire why Bin Laden’s “Most Wanted” poster did not indicate any connection to 9/11. When asked why, the FBI official stated that, “The reason why 9/11 is not mentioned on Usama Bin Laden’s Most Wanted page is because the FBI has no hard evidence connecting Bin Laden to 9/11.” You’d think that would have been the big scoop, for some investigative journalist working at the New York Times, or the Washington Post. Instead, the press simply fell into line with the official narrative coming out of the Bush Administration.

Beyond all this however, a bigger media failure which still continues to this day, is the total redaction of the fact that Obama Bin Laden was an intelligence asset of the CIA since the 1980’s during Operation Cyclone, facilitating a US policy of funding and arming a radical Islamist Mujahideen ‘rebels.’ Sound familiar?

The Media’s WMD Deception in Iraq

In March 2003, on the eve of the Iraq War, US and UK government officials had managed to convince their respective mainstream media cadres that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was harboring massive stockpiles of chemical weapons which came to be commonly known as “Weapons of Mass Destruction.” Despite repeated assurances by UN weapons inspectors and long-time US weapons experts on the ground like Scott Ritter, both President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair appeared to have already made up their minds that Saddam was hiding vast stores of deadly munitions and therefore a US-led invasion was a fait accompli. Despite the fact  they had no proof or actual evidence, the press didn’t seem to mind because they were “very confident” about the “intelligence.” The White House then dispatched Secretary of State Colin Powell to the United Nations in New York where he regurgitated a made-up story about Saddam Hussein’s deadly mobile anthrax labs, aka “The Winnebagos of Death” [4]. Yes, it sounded completely crazy to millions of intelligent, normal people at the time, and yet – it was good enough for the mainstream media circa 2002 – 2003.

Aside from CNN, ABC, and NBC’s complete allegiance to the government’s fraudulent war effort, America’s alleged ‘papers of record,’ The New York Times and The Washington Post, helped endlessly in republishing government-issued fictional accounts. One ‘journalist’ in particular, Judith Miller from the New York Times, managed to dupe the public by citing the same ‘sources’, like disgraced Iraqi dissident Ahmed Chalabi, that were feeding the US intelligence community false information about Iraq’s supposed stockpiles of WMDs.

The Times Later admitted that many of Miller’s stories were false. Still, the damage was already done. The result of this government-media complex campaign of actual fake news was 1 million dead Iraqis, thousands of dead US servicemen, tens of thousands wounded and maimed, along with trillions of US taxpayer funds spent – an open bill which continues to this day.

Miller has since been rewarded for her patriotic efforts with a job at FOX News.

The Planned Take-Down of Libya

Next was a revamp of the Iraq narrative, this time spear-headed by the new liberal ‘humanitarian interventionists,’ led by America’s Barack Obama and France’s Nicholas Sarkozy against Libya in 2010, and under cover of the NATO flag. To get the ball rolling, western politicians and the media tried to frame political dissent in Libya as part of the wider ‘Arab Spring’ movement, while simultaneously supporting armed opposition groups on the ground.

In 2011, after working behind the scenes helping to organize, arm and equip militant Jihadis fighters and rebel operatives in Libya, the Obama Administration, led by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, desperately needed an excuse to ground the Libyan Air Force in order that NATO-backed Jihadi fighters on the ground could successfully overthrow the government of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The most direct route to achieve air superiority would be to implement a ‘No Fly Zone’ over Libya, but with the public relations scars still fresh from the Iraq debacle, Presidents Obama and Sarkozy knew that a No Fly Zone needed broad international support and therefore had to be done through the United Nations. In order to get the global public behind the campaign, a series of fake news stories were concocted by the US State Department and the mainstream media. The first one was the popular talking point that Gaddafi was using military fighter jets to “gun down peaceful protesters in the streets.” Despite the lack of any proof or evidence that this actually happened, the entire mainstream media in the US and Europe ran with it anyway. This bogus claim became the keystone of the No Fly Zone campaign. Another outlandish tale was that Gaddafi was issuing Viagra to his troops so that they could go out and commit “mass rape” against the women of Libya. This invented story was originally disseminated by Qatari government media outlet Al Jazeera[5], and was specifically designed to help generate more liberal leftwing sympathy for a ‘humanitarian intervention’ by NATO, particularly from women in the US and Europe. The key emissary who delivered this fake news item to the public –and gave it credibility, was none other that Obama’s former US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice[6].

The other media lie which was promulgated in partnership with the US political establishment was the myth that ‘Genocide’ was imminent in Libya at the hands of Colonel Gaddafi’s black ‘African Mercenary’ brigades, prompting the routine trope in the the Responsibility to Protect script of, ‘We must act now, before it’s too late.” Writer Maximilian Forte describes how this narrative was constructed:

“Just a few days after the street protests began, on February 21 the very quick to defect Libyan deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Ibrahim Dabbashi, stated: “We are expecting a real genocide in Tripoli. The airplanes are still bringing mercenaries to the airports”. This is excellent: a myth that is composed of myths. With that statement he linked three key myths together—the role of airports (hence the need for that gateway drug of military intervention: the no-fly zone), the role of “mercenaries” (meaning, simply, black people), and the threat of “genocide” (geared toward the language of the UN’s doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect). As ham-fisted and wholly unsubstantiated as the assertion was, he was clever in cobbling together three ugly myths, one of them grounded in racist discourse and practice that endures to the present, with newer atrocities reported against black Libyan and African migrants on a daily basis. He was not alone in making these assertions. Among others like him, Soliman Bouchuiguir, president of the Libyan League for Human Rights, told Reuters on March 14 that if Gaddafi’s forces reached Benghazi, “there will be a real bloodbath, a massacre like we saw in Rwanda”.[7]

As a result of these and other unfounded ‘human rights’ abuses trumpeted by the mainstream media, on 17 March 2011, UN Resolution 1973 was passed by the UN Security Council and the No Fly Zone was then immediately transformed into a US-led mass-bombing campaign of Libya by NATO. It is estimated that 30,000 Libyans were killed through ‘rebel’ ground fighting, artillery and relentless NATO bombing which toppled the Libyan government, turning the country into a permanent failed state and terrorist haven. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that so few questioned these made-up stories, but like with Iraq and so many other wars, the media played their role in propelling the fake news.