US Media Spreads False Claims About Purging of North Korean Official

The episode exposes non-existent editorial standards on official enemies, writes Ben Norton.

By Ben Norton

The corporate media’s editorial standards for reporting on official enemies of the U.S., especially North Korea, are as low as ever. Blatantly false stories are regularly circulated by leading news outlets without any kind of accountability.

In the latest example, virtually every major media outlet reported that a senior North Korean official named Kim Yong-chol was supposedly forced into a “labor camp,” as part of a larger deadly “purge.”

Two days later, that same official turned up alive at a public art performance, seated next to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Bloomberg kicked off the frenzy on May 30 by publishing a report claiming, “North Korea executed its former top nuclear envoy to the U.S. and four other foreign ministry officials in March after a failed summit between Kim and Donald Trump.”

Bloomberg’s source was South Korea’s far-right newspaper Chosun Ilbo, which has a long history of fabricating stories about North Korea. Chosen Ilbo’s story was based on a single unidentified source.

That is to say, the false report obediently echoed by the Western press corps was based entirely on the claims of one unnamed person.

This obvious lack of evidence did not stop credulous reporters from jumping on the sensationalist propaganda. The story was circulated by The New York TimesReutersThe Wall Street JournalThe Hill, The Daily BeastFox News, CNBCTIME, ABC News, The Financial TimesThe TelegraphVICE NewsRolling StoneThe Independent, The Washington Times, The New York Post, HuffPostFrance 24The Japan Times, HaaretzThe Times of IsraelDemocracy Now, the U.S. government’s Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and many more.

Twitter even went out of its way to create a shareable Moment based on the false report.

Careful readers (only a small percentage of total readers) might have noticed that Bloomberg quietly admitted in its original report, “Previous South Korean media reports about senior North Korean officials being executed following the talks have proven false.” But this concession didn’t stop the rest of the corporate media from running with the story.

On June 2, the commentariat’s favorite fable fell apart: North Korea’s nuclear negotiator Kim Yong-chol showed up on state media, sitting a few seats away from Kim Jong-un at a musical performance.

The Associated PressReuters, The New York Times, and CNN quickly published new reports making light of the news  — but none of these contained mea culpas or official retractions.

As of June 3, the vast majority of blatantly false reports published in dozens of outlets remain uncorrected.

Grayzone has documented the long history of U.S. corporate media printing cartoonish lies about North Korea (officially known as the DPRK), especially in the form of execution stories that are quickly debunked. (The New York Times once even cited an obvious parody Twitter account as if it were the DPRK’s real state media.)

A few actual experts on Korea did raise concerns about the latest hoax. Among them was veteran reporter Tim Shorrock, who has spent decades reporting on Korea, and who joined prominent peace activists Christine Ahn and Simone Chun in questioning the story.

Shorrock cautioned on May 31, “It’s important to keep tabs on this one, which if uncorroborated could turn out to be one of the biggest fiascos in journalism history.”

As usual, Shorrock was right — but he was an outlier whose critical thinking was drowned out by a mob of mainstream pundits.

Below is a list of some of the top journalists in the U.S. corporate media and political class, including ostensible “progressives,” who spread this blatantly false story. Many of these self-styled progressives promoted the hoax in hopes of embarrassing Presdient Donald Trump for embarking on a historic peace process with the DPRK.

Journalists and Activists Who Spread the Story

-Chris Hayes, a media celebrity and MSNBC host who used the fake news to get in a cheap joke about Trump

-Julia Ioffe, a prominent journalist, GQ Magazine correspondent, and so-called Russia expert

-Yashar Ali, a contributor to New York Magazine and The Huffington Post and liberal mini-celebrity

-Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for The New York Times and an analyst for MSNBC

-Jon Cooper, the chairman of the Democratic Coalition Against Trump, which proudly boasts, “We help run #TheResistance”

-Katie Phang, a legal contributor for NBC and MSNBC

-David Roberts, a reporter for Vox

-Caroline Orr, a neoliberal “Resistance” influencer who rose to prominence by pumping up the Russia-gate narrative

-Oz Katerji, a rabid pro-military intervention regime-change activist dedicated to harassing anti-imperialists online

-Josh Smith, a Reuters senior correspondent covering North and South Korea

-Vivian Salama, a White House reporter for The Wall Street Journal, who previously worked as AP’s Baghdad bureau chief

-Matt Bevan, the host and writer of ABC News Australia’s Russia, If You’re Listening podcast

-Kaitlan Collins, a CNN White House reporter

-Geoff Bennett, a White House correspondent for NBC News

-Andrew Desiderio, a political reporter at Politico

-David Nakamura, a Washington Post reporter

-Amy Siskind, a prominent liberal anti-Trump activist and former Wall Street executive

-Steve Silberman, longtime writer for Wired magazine

Rare Exceptions

There were a few exceptions to the norm. Some reporters who specialize on Korea did raise concerns, pointing out South Korean media outlets have a long history of publishing false stories about the DPRK.

These warnings, however, were ignored.

Ben Norton is a journalist and writer. He is a reporter for Grayzone, and the producer of the Moderate Rebels podcast, which he co-hosts with Max Blumenthal. His website is, and he tweets at @BenjaminNorton.

This article is from Grayzone.

24 comments for “US Media Spreads False Claims About Purging of North Korean Official

  1. Zman
    June 12, 2019 at 14:56

    The most important take-away from this article? That our media, almost without exception, are conspirators at best and traitors at worst. They have the morals of bankers, that is to say…none.

  2. June 9, 2019 at 12:21

    Western MSM has completely devolved into a form of what appears to be simply slapstick comedy in service to empire. MSM now spends it’s time and energy completely and totally in service to Western empire, whether promoting fake “heros” in the form of the illustrious “Netflix” promoted, “award winning” – ‘White Helmets’ – to promoting multiple fake gas & chemical weapons attacks as a reason for yet another Western military intervention, to the absolutely “three stooges like” slapstick comedy special that is the “Skripnal” affair (by the way – does anyone in MSM anywhere in the West evidence any interest whatsoever in the fact that the British government has essentially simply “disappeared” Sergi and his daughter without a trace?). I mean really? Instead of asking “where are the Skripnals?” we get propaganda stories about dead N. Koreans who just happen “not” to be dead while the Skripnal’s fate at the hands of the British government simply disappears into Orwell’s “memory hole.”

    Ironically, in keeping with the “slap-stick comedy theme,” MSM millionaire comedians like Colbert, John Oliver, Maher and many others are now seamlessly integrated into the propaganda apparatus of empire, disseminating the latest CIA Russiagate, or regime-change disinfo on Venezuela or Syria or North Korea in hip cynical fashion for their oh so hip cynical followers – the cost in human suffering that may result from their lies seemingly a “non-issue” for them. One can even imagine a CIA black-op “jokes department” assisting by placing their “writers” throughout late-night comedy media to insure no one veers off script into “Jimmy Dore” territory. From Hollywood movies, to hip comedy, to the production of MSM “news” we in the West, and in the U.S. in particular are the target of the most seamless 24/7 propaganda apparatus ever constructed in human history. No need for incarceration in an actual barbed wire gulag when here in the West the “gulag” is simply our own completely deluded and propagandized minds?

  3. June 7, 2019 at 19:56

    So the one who was supposedly sentenced to hard labor turns up on a NK photo holding his hands over his eyes a few seats away from Kim. OK, nobody reported his execution but have the ones reportedly executed, have they turned up alive?

    • CitizenOne
      June 11, 2019 at 21:44

      Interesting point. Have all the other officials reportedly executed by Kim Jong Un magically reappeared? Another interesting point. If they did would the news service report the story. All the major media simply regurgitate the press released by the UPI and AP newswire services which are in turn carefully controlled to present the propaganda of the day for mass consumption.

      This photo op might have been a giant miss by the news agencies as they missed his image in the video and inadvertently allowed news to get out that countered their story. After all it was easy enough to miss that this official was on the video footage. It could have easily slipped past the censors.

      On the other hand it could be true that the news agencies merely got it wrong that he had been sent off to a labor camp when he hadn’t.

      It is especially easy for the western media to make up stories about a hermit kingdom that tightly controls its own news and only presents what they want to present. The western nations can make up all kinds of unverifiable stories about NK since NK does its level best to be opaque and not to reveal any information not cleared by the state.

      It might also be a gaff on the part of the NK media that they released a video showing his presence spoiling their own lie that he was in a labor camp.

      When we try to uncover the truth in these matters we enter a forest of mirrors where nothing we see or hear can be trusted. Each side has used disinformation for years to concoct deliberately misleading stories and the secrecy of North Korea combined with the government control of news in the US makes verification of what is fact and what is fiction difficult at best. It is hard to tell who is lying when it is likely that both sides are lying.

      This reminds me of a problem with a solution:

      You are a prisoner in a room with two unmarked doors and two guards. You are made aware by the guards that one of the doors leads to freedom and the other leads to certain death. The guards further inform you that one them always tells the truth and the other always lies. You don’t know which one is the truth-teller or the liar either. You have to choose and open one of these doors, but you can only ask a single question to one of the guards. What do you ask so you can pick the door to freedom?
      Ask either guard, “Which door would the other guard say is the safe route”. Picking the opposite door based on either guards answer will lead to freedom

      The truth telling guard will tell you that the lying guard will tell you that the door to death is the door to freedom. Pick the opposite door and you are free.

      The lying guard will tell you that the truth telling guard will tell you that the door to death is the door to freedom. Pick the opposite door and you are free.

      Unfortunately this scenario breaks down if both guards are liars and they certainly both can’t be telling the truth.

      With both the US media and the North Korean media publishing lies it really is difficult to tell who is telling the truth especially since we cannot directly verify any claims except one which in this case seems to prove that the US media is lying. It does not however remotely imply the NK is telling the truth.

      Best plan is to not believe any of it that is not verifiable.

  4. Jeff Harrison
    June 7, 2019 at 12:33

    I suspected this story was BS from jump street. Why? Well, while the summit was a failure, it wasn’t the US that stood up and walked away, it was the DPRK. Why would Kim Jong Un hold a DPRK official responsible for his actions/decisions? I get the sense that most Americans and certainly most American news outlets think that anything is possible from a government that they don’t understand or like regardless of how illogical or bizarre the “anything” is.

    That’s also part of the reason that I tend to simply ignore the MSM when it comes to news, especially sensational news. The other part of the reason is a link posted here on CN by a reader to a Swiss study about the news. It seems the Swiss found that most of the news originated from about 6 news outlets. I don’t remember them all but it was like Reuters, AFP, BBC (I think), and a couple of others. The problem with this is that these outlets are not really news outlets. They are propaganda outlets. For example, they suppressed the UN report on Assange when they saw how critical it was of the US/UK et al. Why read something that is deliberately trying to mislead you?

  5. Brian James
    June 7, 2019 at 10:47

    May 16, 2018 Korea and the U.S.: Towards a Peace Treaty?

    The pathbreaking April 27 Panmunjeom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula signed by Chairman Kim Jong-un and President Moon Jae-in constitutes an expression of solidarity and commitment.

  6. Blake
    June 7, 2019 at 08:03

    Wao.. That sucks. But my favorite news source, Consortiumnews, just ran a story above this one that says “The U.S. has obtained intelligence that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia “significantly escalated” its ballistic missile program with Chinese help, CNN reported on Wednesday. CNN is a joke too, right? Haha.. So Democracy Now is reporting what some stupid paper reported. And we are reporting what some stupid CNN reported. I got a lot of respect for you guys.. we have a tough job trying to decipher what’s true, huh? Peace.. :)

  7. triekc
    June 7, 2019 at 07:04

    The US corporate/oligarch owned MSM is clearly propaganda and entertainment produced for control and profit. The model actors playing journalists on these newstainment shows are paid millions to read what they are told from prepared script. It is a great gig if you are pretty enough and have zero morals or principles. That millions of Americans continue to view and believe what these actors reading prepared script say is what is fascinating. Americans are Lucy from the movie 50 First Dates, each day they wake up and forget everything that happened the previous day, week, year, century. Our oligarchs do not even need to change the premise of their cons, they simply re-package them and serve it to us again, Americans eat it up, no questions asked.

    • Martin - Swedish citizen
      June 7, 2019 at 12:35

      Yes! And the same in Western Europe.
      Perhaps the major difference between the situation with the MSM in the West of today and the MSM in the Soviet bloc prior to perestroika is that we believe the msm, while people in the Soviet bloc saw through it.

  8. Tom Kath
    June 7, 2019 at 00:03

    I stand to be corrected, but regardless of context, I believe Donald Trump was the first to actually coin the term “Fake News”, or at least to put it into common usage.

    • Rochelle
      June 8, 2019 at 03:26

      The actual English phrase itself, maybe. I’m not sure about this. The concept, however, is most certainly not new. The most popular comparison is the German term Lügenpresse (lying press), used since the 19th century by people of all sorts of political persuasions — liberals and religious conservatives, Marxists and Nazis. (Worth noting: if you learn this term from the mainstream media, you’ll likely find that they associate it with Nazism — in their quest to smear Trump — which isn’t totally false, but misleading in the highest order since the term predated Hitler.)

    • Steve
      June 8, 2019 at 08:16

      Trump didn’t come up with ‘fake news’. The MSM came up with that themselves, in reference to blatantly bogus internet ‘news’ stories (like Pizzagate and the Pope endorsing Trump). Trump then turned it around on them and used it to describe all the poorly sourced debunked stories that the MSM puts out. Everyone forgets the press created the ‘fake news’ monster to attack their enemies, only to see their enemy use it against them.

      • Miranda M Keefe
        June 8, 2019 at 20:22

        Steve is right. In fact when the corporate media coined the term it was also when they decided to go after alternative media as ‘fake news’ and lumped in lots of sites, like this one, with click bait sites. This was when PropOrNot did their dirty work and listed this site and many other leftist sites as Russian Propaganda.

        The mainstream media was thrilled to attack those diverting from their official narrative with this term “Fake News” and were totally take aback when Trump turned it on them. They quickly pivoted to acting as if anyone who said it was an idiot.

  9. Don Bacon
    June 7, 2019 at 00:02

    “To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea.” — Henry David Thoreau

  10. Marko
    June 6, 2019 at 23:48

    An alternative title for this piece : ” Handy List of Worthless MSM Hacks You Should Avoid At All Costs “

  11. Eddie S
    June 6, 2019 at 23:05

    Excellent article providing virtually irrefutable evidence of grossly shoddy reporting that would make the old Pravda proud. When did the MSM turn the corner and decide that fact-checking info about our ‘enemies’ (real or imagined) is passé, especially when the info can be used against an unpopular US president? I can’t help but believe that the turning point was the MSM’s performance in the lead-up to the Iraq ‘war’(crime) of 2003, which was also an irrefutably proven case of propaganda/group-think with NO discernible penalties for being SO wrong. And of course the MSM has only gotten MORE casual about factual reporting since the’ve become so profit driven, and have also lost readers/viewers to personal electronic media platforms.

  12. Tom Kath
    June 6, 2019 at 20:25

    Good to see these specific people and outlets publicly SHAMED like this ! We are aware of it of course, in pretty well every MSM narrative from Assange, Gas attacks in Syria, Salisbury Scripal, Iran, Venezuela, etc. etc.
    The joke springs to mind about MSM – “Hello, he lied.”

    • Joe Wallace
      June 7, 2019 at 15:29

      Tom Kath:

      Thank you for “Hello, he lied.” It’s right up there with Ring Lardner’s “Shut up, he explained.”

    • Zhu
      June 8, 2019 at 07:37

      They feel shame?

  13. certainquirk
    June 6, 2019 at 19:52

    This is why I read alternative media. They have to read the MSM crap for me. I can’t read it without wanting to gouge my eyes out in a matter of minutes. So, thank you, you real journalists! :)

    • Zhu
      June 8, 2019 at 07:42

      Unfortunately, alternative media are not necessarily better. Leftish alternative news sites can be quite as gullible. So long as it’s anti-Trump somehow, it must be true.

  14. Fran Macadam
    June 6, 2019 at 19:41

    So Julian Assange, who has ever only reported the truth about governments, is not a real journalist, while all the unprofessional liars above are “real”?!?

  15. Bif Webster
    June 6, 2019 at 18:56

    Yesterday, I watched as MSNBC ran a “story” about Kim Jong Un and their last “point” was to tell everyone that apparently — fasten your seatbelts tightly kiddies — Un “had been seen ‘chain-smoking’ a lot lately.” Of course, as if you weren’t a third grader (and even they would get it), we’re supposed to see this as Un panicking. “He’s losing his shit,” they’d say… if allowed.

    Hey, unless the guy’s gripping a handle of anything alcoholic in one hand, and a blunt in the other, while kicking a cat, maybe, don’t bother telling me about it.


  16. UserFriendly
    June 6, 2019 at 18:52

    I know you and b from Moon of Alabama had a little falling out a while ago, but giving him credit for calling this too might have been a good way to build a bridge.

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