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Intro: "It's been a long, slow slide for CNN. The once-proud cable news pioneer has consistently crawled under the media's lowering bar, but this week it blazed a new trail to the bottom."

CNN propagated what appears to have become a massive disinformation campaign to drum up support for war, reporting Gaddhafi loyalists were using Viagra for mass rape. (photo: CNBC)
CNN propagated what appears to have become a massive disinformation campaign to drum up support for war, reporting Gaddhafi loyalists were using Viagra for mass rape. (photo: CNBC)

Journalism 101 - How to Avoid Being a Propaganda Tool

By Leslie Griffith, Reader Supported News

18 June 11

Reader Supported News | Perspective


How to avoid being a propaganda tool in one easy step.

t's been a long, slow slide for CNN. The once-proud cable news pioneer has consistently crawled under the media's lowering bar, but this week it blazed a new trail to the bottom.

In at least one glaring example this week, the CNN editorial staff threw out the basics of textbook journalism in favor of racy innuendo. I don't blame reporters, I blame their bosses who don't insist on responsible reporting.

Reporters are pressured to find "edgy" and "sexy" stories to fill the never-ending news cycle. So, reporters make compromises. This week's most glaring compromise involved two things Americans like to talk about more than just about anything else - Viagra and Sex. I could shout "Viva Viagra" in an attempt to lighten things up a bit ... but this story has far-reaching ramifications. It's no laughing matter.

Here's a quote from Russ Baker, reporter and editor of the investigative website

"Last week at WhoWhatWhy we put out an important story about what's going unreported concerning the bombing of Libya. Now, our concern is about what is being reported. We're amassing indications that the Libya mass rape story being used to drum up support among NATO allies for continued bombing ... may be false. In other words, part of an intense disinformation campaign. And one that is working, with the BBC the latest to buy into it."

Now we get CNN's titillating installment, which involves an alleged cell-phone video of a Libyan woman being sexually abused by alleged Gaddhafi loyalists and, for good measure, complete with all the repulsive details and heart-breaking screams. But this is where we have to pay close attention ... because the reporter told us in the content of the story that it could actually be nothing more than planted propaganda.

She cautions: "We've been unable to verify its authenticity. We don't know where it was taken, or when, or by whom."

What? Did we read that right?

In any responsible newsroom, that alone is reason enough not to publish the story or run the video. Without confirmation and without knowing where and from whom it came, it is little more than a baseless story with no attribution. In fact, after running the story, CNN is in danger of propagating what appears to have become a massive disinformation campaign to drum up support for a war. And that's why reporters and editors always ask for multiple sources, direct attribution and some concrete evidence that the story is indeed based in fact. This is chapter one in any journalist's textbook. It keeps reporters from becoming little more than mouthpieces or stenographers and, Murrow forbid, from reporting lies.

But this is how most news organizations operate today. They rush to out-titillate the competition without checking the facts and before considering whether or not they've been manipulated ... and their eye-catching story simply planted.

Obviously, "We the people" need to buy newsroom bean counters a set of journalism textbooks, perhaps highlighting the chapter on how to avoid becoming a tool.

Leslie Griffith has been a television anchor, foreign correspondent and an investigative reporter in newspaper, radio and television for over 25 years. Among her many achievements are two Edward R Murrow Awards, nine Emmies, 37 Emmy Nominations, a National Emmy nomination for writing, and more than a dozen other awards for journalism. She is currently working on a documentary, giving speeches on "Reforming the Media," and writing for many on-line publications, as well as writing a book called "Shut Up and Read." She hopes the book, her speeches, and her articles on the media will help remind the nation that journalism was once about public service ... not profit. To contact Leslie, go to

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+15 # Activista 2011-06-18 17:08
The NATO Rebel "news" from Libya is such a bad propaganda - it almost looks like an intentional news parody by journalists to keep their job till the regime change in the USA - till we will have freedom of speech again..
+2 # twocreeks 2011-06-18 19:58
As the classic "news", or "journalism" concept withers away under the information "climate change" the internet and access to it has engendered, one wonders what one can believe, or not. CNN and other organizations, in their struggle to survive, will throw journalism's ideals under the wheels to do so. That's inevitable. Good? Bad? Who's to say? It's sheer ego to assume that ANY human system of standards is an absolute. The ones that have survived longest are ones that have adapted. Survival or self-righteousn ess, what imperative will CNN, CBS, NBC, Newscorp, et al. "like?" Methinks journalism $101,
+64 # RSJ 2011-06-18 20:05
This is nothing new -- CNN's Nic Robertson, in the ramp up to Junior Bush's Iraq invasion, ran a story about Saddam Hussein testing poison gas on dogs, complete with an unsourced video of dogs dying inside cages. The tale turned out to be a complete fabrication later, as did the horrifying piece of business about Iraqi troops killing Kuwaiti babies to drum up support for Poppy Bush's first Gulf War. CNN slathered over that false propaganda, as well. They also trumpeted the discovery of barrels of Saddam's scary bio-weapons that turned out to be dry cleaning products. CNN should stand for the 'Co-opted News Network' -- they've never seen a war they didn't like to sell.
+7 # Merschrod 2011-06-19 16:58
Let's simply ask that RSN post CNN pieces with the warniung that "THis is unsubstantiated CNN material. The reader should excercise extreme skepticsm unless supported by other, non-suspect sources."
+53 # Yakpsyche 2011-06-18 21:56
How can you, dear author, "blame their bosses" when the entire company is nothing but an owned subsidy of the very financial interests which you bemoan that they are subverted to?

Of course they "threw out the basics of textbook journalism in favor of racy innuendo". This is what they do. Its the basic propaganda technique of distraction from the real issues.

You don't believe these are actually news organizations any more, do you? They don't report news, they spread propaganda for their owners, the moneyed interests that are gradually hypnotizing the public so the knife can be slid between their ribs without protest.

Come on. Where's your spirit of true journalism? Why don't YOU show us your stuff? Why don't you speak up about the truth, how so-called journalism has been bought up by the moneyed manipulators of public opinion? That would be journalism. Why does a reader have to make this point in a comment? Why aren't you saying it?

This is no democracy. That is no "free press". You know that. Let's not have the pot calling the kettle black here.

Take responsibility for yourself and give us some true journalism, please.
+3 # jwo 2011-06-19 10:45
Yes. That reporters are afraid of losing their jobs takes them all under the "lowering bar!"
+6 # Russ Hagan 2011-06-19 15:20
That's exactly her point. What the heck do you think she's saying Yak, did you read the piece? No matter whom they report to, reporters have a duty to Journalism, and Leslie is a true champion.
0 # photonracer 2011-06-19 14:31
Quoting Yakpsyche:

Come on. Where's your spirit of true journalism? Why don't YOU show us your stuff? Why don't you speak up about the truth, how so-called journalism has been bought up by the moneyed manipulators of public opinion? That would be journalism. Why does a reader have to make this point in a comment? Why aren't you saying it?

This is no democracy. That is no "free press". You know that. Let's not have the pot calling the kettle black here.

Take responsibility for yourself and give us some true journalism, please.

Amen Yakpsyche!!! We have lots of critics yammering to the peanut gallery about "real journalism" but I have yet to see some real journalism from the yammering "journalists". I am all for holding editors, journalists AND readers accountable. Reader citizens of every genre have an obligation to let the rest of us know that their opinion of an article, story, book or interview is positive or negative. No "freedom of speech" is not free. It comes with responsibilitie s.
+1 # shrikaant 2011-06-21 11:52
market is dictating the content and presentation of scientists either ignoring its ramifications or entire machine is so strong that it has left very little space for geniune journalism,howe ver, by surrendering before the market will not only discredit the once responsible occupation to a mere subsrevient to the system,but it will push the journalism to virtually oblivion.
+4 # RSJ 2011-06-21 17:09
George Orwell had a great quote on the atmosphere of the CNN sort of newsroom:

"Circus dogs jump when the trainer cracks his whip, but the really well-trained dog is the one that turns his somersault when there is no whip."

Like Fox News, whips are not needed at CNN, or the other corporately-own ed broadcast news outfits that are now run by the entertainment divisions of the networks. The baffling thing is that many of these media circus performers, like boy-reporter Ed Henry who recently left CNN to go to Fox, don't seem to realize how in the tank they are for the Power Elite; they roll over for the corporate belly scratch without ever questioning their own journalistic ethics. These yuppie opportunists actually think their job is to comfort the comfortable, read the press release, and piss on everybody else, if they think at all.
+38 # Virginia 2011-06-18 22:13
It's all linked. Media is highly leveraged through Wall Street. Wall Street does the bidding of the beasts and the beasts control the politics, and the politics control the people...who are influenced by the propaganda aired by the media. Wag the Dog.
+8 # jon 2011-06-18 23:20

I would not want to meet my maker in their shoes.
+3 # RSJ 2011-06-21 17:11
Prostitutes and whores are of a higher moral caliber than these reporters, jon. They generally deliver on their promises instead of disguising their true intentions, and what they do doesn't help bring down democracy.
+9 # h.m. sutton 2011-06-18 23:54
Hey folks, a new scam: get some actors and stage these events, film it, sell it to these great news agencies and since the stuff is popular, it should bring a great "exclusive" price for it's billing--and oh what an easy way to make some big bucks!
+16 # Capn Canard 2011-06-19 08:12
ABSOLUTELY RSJ, it is nothing new!!! it is Standard Operating Procedure. I suspect that I am not alone in being distrustful of the media since 1991, but I believe it is something we should've all accepted after 9-11. Now I am not exactly sure of what happened on 9-11, but lets revisit 1933, a year in which former Marine General Smedley D. Butler made allegations that Wall Street Financiers wanted him to lead a rag tag group of vets of WWI to pressure FDR into de facto coup and thus giving power to the Financial titans. In 1933 Germany the Nazis burned down the Reichstag and blamed the fire on a communist foreigner and then took total power and eliminated all other political parties. Our media is a major problem. There is a show on NPR called This American Life which aired the story of an Iraqi who would often set up a booth called "Ask an Iraqi" and then anyone could question him and learn about Iraq. Problem was most Americans believe they are better informed about a foreign nation than the people who actually live in that nation. CNN, FOX, CBS, NBC, ABC are all just Public Relations tools. They only give us the news that is beneficial for their corporate sponsors.
0 # historyguy 2011-06-20 01:12
Uhh, the Nazis did not burn down the Reichstag; the fire was started by a demented Dutch Communist angry over Hitler becoming Chancellor. The Nazis did, however, exploit the national anger and outlaw the entire Communist Party, open Dachau as a political prison camp (like Guantanamo) and begin to curtail and end civil rights.
+2 # RSJ 2011-06-21 17:22
@ historyguy: There is some debate as to whether the Reichstag fire was caused by an independent actor, or was part of a plot by the Nazis to crack down on Communists and socialists as a danger to the Fatherland but, either way, it did lead to curtailment of free speech and the like in Germany. Similarly, Kristallnacht was dreamed up by Josef Goebbels as a way to inflame anti-semitism and as an excuse to send Jews to camps and later execution.
0 # RSJ 2011-06-22 16:30
@ Cap'n Canard: Yes, the great Smedley Butler, who received the Cong. Medal of Honor TWICE and is probably the bravest and most honest Marine who ever lived. His "War is a Racket" should be required reading for every member of our armed services.

Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler's 1933 "War is a Racket" speech:
0 # RSJ 2011-06-24 03:07
@ h.m. sutton: It really is that bad. Years ago an unsung local actress I met told me she was paid $10K, plus air fare and living expenses, for a week's work in Dallas, TX. Her job was to appear each day during a corporate seminar in a different costume and make-up and using a different voice, reciting from a script she had memorized. One day she played a supposedly 'real' single mother on welfare, the next she was a middle-class housewife, then a working professional woman, and so on. The attendees were being told her characters, and those of the other actors this organization hired, were real people talking about their lives and problems, not actors reading from a memorized script. In attendance were politicians and top media executives, unaware they were watching a theatrical performance. Not suprisingly, since it was financed by a right-wing group, all of her characters thought lower taxes, better family values and less corporate regulation would somehow help their lot in life. She had qualms about this job once she was there -- they had misled her on exactly what she'd be doing -- but she was a nearly-penniles s unknown actress in local theater and that ten grand was just too hard to turn down.
+11 # Pat Tibbs 2011-06-19 00:11
Leslie, I miss seeing you regularly on local tv and am glad to read you every chance I get. Keep holding their feet to the fire. We need you. I'm looking forward to the book.
+16 # moby doug 2011-06-19 01:57
Most of the mass news outlets tell us what to think, not what is happening. We are profitized: we exist to fatten the bottomlines of the media conglomerates. Guys like Murdoch and Malone and Redstone don't think that their networks exist to serve us: they think that we exist to profit them. Accordingly, the "news" is tailored to THEIR needs. Facts? They don't need no steenking facts. They create their own reality....and serve it to us as they please. Occasionally they'll toss a fact or two into our feed if they think it will sharpen our appetites and keep our snouts in the swill.
+13 # pagrad 2011-06-19 02:45
CNN is known to be an unreliable news source. But, the great unwashed keep watching because it is NOT News, it is entertainment.
-6 # chris999 2011-06-19 03:58
Somehow I believe that if the the source of a video of our troops behaving badly was not verified this would not be a problem.

In a world of phone cams and the internet not all videos can be sourced, but the fact that the video is out that on the net is indeed news.
-24 # an0nym0use 2011-06-19 04:43
Am I the only one who would prefer to get dubious information with a caution clearly stated than valid information withheld because of potential reliability with authenticity?
+23 # snowcampandrea 2011-06-19 05:25
One of the many reasons i don't even watch American media anymore... i get top notch reporting from all over the world by watching foreign news broadcasts. The American media has resorted to "info-tainment" and spreading propaganda, while journalists throughout the world still take their calling very seriously and still have standards of journalistic integrity not found in the US media anymore.
+13 # Glen 2011-06-19 06:23
Time to put a short wave radio to use and scan the world for news, and turn off the television. I have heard reports of events involving the U.S. from local reports quite a bit before there was reporting in the U.S. - simple, straight forward reports with no unnecessary additions.

The first time I heard local news overseas was in the eighties, when Haley's comet shot by, and it has been a daily routine ever since. Forget U.S. "news". You can find out more about U.S. activities, both national and state, reading about it in a basement library in Europe than you can right here.
+5 # trottydt 2011-06-19 06:44
A lot of folk recognize more subtle and insidious propaganda than this Viagra/rape story; most people are not idiots!
+7 # Activista 2011-06-19 09:20
take a look at the tweets under the story (where the media allow the tweets) - 80% are anti NATO rebels - most people are not idiots!
And consider that most comments criticizing Israel did not show - they are CENSORED as "anti-Semitic".
+4 # Gringaryan 2011-06-19 10:16
Quoting trottydt:
A lot of folk recognize more subtle and insidious propaganda than this Viagra/rape story; most people are not idiots!

Are you sure about that? "most people are not idiots!" How did we get into this mes if that is true?
+7 # Sully747 2011-06-19 07:29
The story below is right out of the CIA playbook of the fifties or the MI-8 (SOS) , the covert ops and dirty tricks organization the Brits had during WWII. The story copied below is identical to the story of CIA operation in Vietnam during the fifties. If you don’t know to what I refer, read the book The Quiet American, by Graham Greene. Or,.. just rent the 2002 movie of the same name.
+11 # Michael C 2011-06-19 07:59
Isn't it time for CNN to start reporting tales of Gaddafi loyalists pulling the plug on babies in incubators?

That worked well for Bush and the Kuwaiti royal family in 1990 and no one will remember.
+3 # rm 2011-06-20 11:36
Don't worry, Michael, you can be sure that is in the bag of the disinformation specialists at the CIA, Pentagon, NED, and a dozen more well funded programs dedicated to psychological warfare operations against the American people.
+15 # Dick Huopana 2011-06-19 08:51
Farmers spread odorous manure on their fields. This is a good and necessary practice and surely appreciated by their livestock back in the barns.
Today's "news media" spreads odorous Republican political propaganda into every American household 24/7. Is it a good practice? Well, it got George W. Bush and Dick Cheney elected - and even re-elected after their administration' s massive propaganda campaign accusing Iraq of having WMD had proven to be absolutely false.
Anyone remember the news media expressing any outrage after the WMD propaganda was exposed as lies. Anyone remember any apologies from the "news media" for their role in deceiving the American people? Anyone remember editorial demands that Bush and Cheney be impeached for the unnecessary death, mutilation and destruction they unleashed?
CNN was a leader in executing the WMD propaganda campaign and why I no longer go to it for news.
+12 # wfalco 2011-06-19 09:29
This tactic was used to rally the masses against Saddam Hussein before Gulf War I when Iraq went into Kuwait. There were unfounded reports of mass rapings and baby killings. Totally unsubstantiated but reported nonetheless. What is of utmost importance in these matters is that it is the initial reporting that matters most and why it is essential to report facts, not rumors. But what is of gravest concern is that main stream media knows this but do it anyway. It is all about the story and the whole GOTCHA factor. Its all about getting viewers to create ratings. The hell with the truth-especiall y when your competition(Fox ) has lowered the bar to unprecedented levels while maintaining the highest ratings.
+10 # Realist 2011-06-19 10:35
I don't have a TV set. I get my news and entertainment the old fashioned way- I read and I listen. Sure there is still lots of propaganda out there, but without the scary pictures, it is easier to siphon out the junk.
+8 # Jimi 2011-06-19 11:19
Journalist Economics 101: If you want a six or seven figure income for being on the tv or in print, you say what your employer tells you. If you aspire to making that kind of money you must never, ever point out the journalistic shortcomings and failures of the current reigning cadre. Not if you ever want a shot at making six or seven figures. Lips firmly planted on keisters is how it's done (think Walsh/Matthews/ Hardball). Names aren't named because it simply isn't done!
+13 # fredboy 2011-06-19 11:49
I have two degrees and years of experience in journalism--obj ective, extremely careful, at times courageous investigative journalism. I never needed to summon courage to face off with organized crime, the KKK, hoodlums, even an FBI director and President who misinformed the public. No, it was to face off with the lowest of the low, my editors. Were they stupid? Corrupt? Ignorant of the profession's ethical and performance expectations--p articularly the DUTY to share objective, factual information? I don't know.

I left the field when I saw it going straight to hell. Before we were told of the mass rapes and infant bayoneting in Kuwait--all a lie. And now this. Topped with Lacey Peterson and the latest "-acey" sensation in Orlando.

The watchdog euthanized itself. And its news teams, now gelded, regurgitate handouts, sleaze, and the public be damned. The latest code of news ethics: everything is bad, and sell fear, sleaze and hatred.
+9 # Kayjay 2011-06-19 11:49
Journalists need to stay off the "bus" and find truly newsworthy stories. They also need to avoid pursuing lazy stories... eg. Weinergate. It takes no brains and benefits no one to regurgitate sensational fluff.
+4 # pixel 2011-06-19 11:56
Happy to see Leslie Griffith's article, I always appreciate her brilliant analyses of so many subjects, and especially the media. I'm waiting for her book, "Shut Up and Read". When can we expect to be able to purchase it?
+6 # futhark 2011-06-19 18:14
In the Iraq wars, "embedded" (read "controlled") journalists were celebrated as being allowed to report from the areas of most intense action. CNN bought into this sham wholesale and delivered stories friendly to "our troops" at the expense of any objectivity in looking at the situation from both sides.

CNN delivers corporate plutocratic military-indust rial complex propaganda and little else. They are the corporate institutions' propaganda whores.

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