Anatomy of Media Lies About the Death of Kim Jong-un

Ben Norton says we just saw another example of how Washington-backed South Korean outlets conduct information warfare against the government in the north. 

By Ben Norton
The Grayzone

There may be no other country on Earth lied about more than North Korea. Western corporate media outlets have absolutely zero editorial standards when reporting on the country.

Absurd lies are routinely treated as newsworthy stories, from the cartoonish claim that Kim Jong-un executed his uncle by feeding him to a pack of starving dogs (fake news), to the notion that all North Koreans are drones forced to choose from state-mandated haircuts (racist-tinged fake news), to the assertion that state media swore it uncovered a unicorn lair (insanely stupid fake news based on a mistranslation).

But these lies are not just innocuous errors that come out of nowhere; they are part of an insidious pattern, and a decidedly political one. They are a form of information warfare aimed at destabilizing North Korea’s government, known officially as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), which has an independent foreign policy and geo-strategic location — and just so happens to be sitting on trillions of dollars’worth of mineral wealth.

Many of these fake news stories originate with Korean opposition groups that are funded to the hilt by the U.S. government’s National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a CIA cutout created by the Ronald Reagan administration to push regime change against foreign countries that don’t sufficiently kowtow to Washington.

The Grayzone Editor Max Blumenthal published a documentary demonstrating how the NED bankrolls a global network of regime-change activists, whose unsubstantiated accusations against the DPRK, China, Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Iran and other nations targeted by the U.S. are spun into unquestionable truths. North Korean defectors are a particularly unreliable source of information, and many of their claims have been proven to be false. They are highly incentivized, however, with offers of nearly $1 million to continue cranking out the disinformation.

This April, we saw another textbook example of how NED-backed South Korean outlets notorious for spreading fake news are amplified by the international press corps to the point that their deceptions dominate the news cycle for days.

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For nearly two weeks, dozens of major news networks across the globe provided a megaphone to unsubstantiated rumors that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was dead.

The disinformation campaign kicked off on April 20, when a little-known U.S. government-backed media publication called The Daily NK ran a report claiming North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had just undergone heart surgery and was in bad health.

This story was later expanded into a shocking claim: Kim had died, at the young age of 36.

The Daily NK followed up with an article stating that a video confirming that the supreme leader was dead had been going viral inside North Korea.

These reports unleashed a firestorm. Dozens of media outlets across the globe published story after story claiming Kim was either dead or incapacitated after a botched surgery.

The anatomy of this fake news campaign is dissected below.

And it all began with The Daily NK. But what exactly is this obscure publication?

NED Bankrolls Anti-DPRK Fake News Mill

The Daily NK is a South Korea-based propaganda outlet funded by Washington to conduct information warfare against the government in the north. It was founded by anti-DPRK activists who coalesced around the Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights.

This network has received millions of dollars in grants from the National Endowment for Democracy, the CIA cutout.

NED funding for The Daily NK goes back well over a decade, to when it was founded. A search of the NED grants database shows that The Daily NK received $400,000 in U.S. government funding in 2019 alone, and at least $1.2 million in American tax dollars between 2016 and 2019.

Ho Park, the head of North Korean research at Daily NK and one of the publication’s co-founders, is a grantee who has been publicly honored by the NED.

The U.S.-backed Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights is also linked to another major grantee called the Unification Media Group, which was given at least $2.4 million from the NED between 2016 and 2019.

The NED notes on its website that the South-Korea based Unification Media Group consists of The Daily NK, Radio Free Chosun and Open North Korea Radio.

In other words, the U.S. government has over the course of several decades carefully cultivated a cadre of anti-DPRK propaganda outlets in Seoul, using them to grease the wheels of a disinformation machine that regularly spreads fake news and rumors from North Korean defectors. This media apparatus is the spearhead of the U.S. government’s campaign of hybrid warfare against the DPRK.

Anatomy of a Fake News Campaign

Birthed from the belly of the U.S.-funded disinformation network in Seoul, the global press corps enthusiastically adopted the fake news and delivered it to the Western public.

After the initial Daily NK reports first appeared on April 20, major media outlets in Hong Kong and Japan helped popularize the rumor.

The New York Post followed with a stunning headline: “North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un rumored to be dead.” (Like many other outlets, the Post later edited this headline, as it became clear that the story was unconfirmed, but the original headlines of many of these false reports can be seen in their URLs or through internet archives.)

The New York Post based its claims on a report from a Hong Kong broadcast network (later identified as HKSTV – Hong Kong Satellite Television), which claimed it had a “very solid source” that Kim was dead.

The Post also amplified an article in a Japanese magazine insisting the North Korean leader was in a “vegetative state.” It even claimed that “senior Community Party sources in Beijing” had confirmed the rumor that Kim died in a botched surgery.

After The New York Post article, the fake news spread like wildfire through tabloids from TMZ to The Daily Express, to Metroto The Sun (UK), to The Toronto Sun, to The Irish Post, and finally, The Mirror.

It was then picked up by numerous local media networks in the United States and other countries.

Next, seemingly “respectable” media groups fueled the fake news frenzy, including The National Interest, The International Business Times, Yahoo News, and Foreign Policy.

Neoconservative American politicians pounced on the rumors in predictable fashion. Republican Lindsey Graham, the most fanatically militaristic member of the Senate since the death of his friend John McCain, told Fox News with an air of confidence, “I pretty well believe he [Kim] is dead or incapacitated.”

Graham continued, “I’d be shocked if he’s not dead or in some incapacitated state, because you don’t let rumors like this go forever or go unanswered in a closed society, which is really a cult, not a country, called North Korea.”

Americans’ gut instincts that the fake news just “feels true,” after decades of consuming a steady diet of loony regime-change rumors, was taken as proof that it must be true.

On Twitter, the hashtag #KimJongunDead went viral as well, and millions of users swallowed the fake news whole.

Next, a photoshopped picture went viral on social media purporting to show Kim dead in a glass coffin. The image was reported on by Western media outlets like The Sun, a tabloid owned by the same right-wing Rupert Murdoch-owned media group that controls The New York Post.

As the fake news spread across the media ecosystem, Western journalists and professional Korea watchers began mulling the possibility that the presumably dead North Korean leader’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, was being groomed to replace him.

Without any solid evidence, dozens of outlets ran stories confidently asserting that Yo-jong was preparing to take her brother’s place. The Daily Beast even published a piece purporting to explain why she is so “feared” in the country.

The Washington Post printed an op-ed by Jung H. Pak, a former senior analyst at the CIA and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, with the title, “Why we shouldn’t rule out a woman as North Korea’s next leader.”

The Guardian, Foreign Policy, the BBC, The New Yorker, TIMEDeutsche WelleThe Australian and Newsweek all added to the baseless speculation.

While some of these outlets amplified the phony story while feigning a tone of skepticism, VICE News threw all caution out the window. The “hipster arm of the empire” published an article trumpeting, “A Prominent North Korean Defector is ‘99% Certain’ Kim Jong Un Is Dead.” Its source was a defector trained and funded by the NED.

Days before, the U.S. government-funded Daily NK had also praised VICE for producing a slick documentary that effectively amounts to fawning PR for the disinformation outlet, in a perfect circle of propaganda.

Another ‘Dead’ Foreign Bogeyman Shows Up on TV

Then on May 1 – the same day VICE News claimed there was a 99 percent chance Kim was dead – the house of cards came crumbling down, as DPRK state media published photos of the leader cutting a ribbon at a fertilizer plant.

Now that it is indisputable that the rumors they amplified were totally unfounded, some of the aforementioned news outlets have scrambled to edit their headlines and leads to soften the language, noting there was still confusion at the time. But archived links do not lie.

And the fact of the matter is it was apparent from the beginning, to anyone with a brain, and the capacity to think critically outside of the corporate media bubble, that the rumors should not be trusted.

Actual experts, or even just expats in Korea who tweet in English, could tell from the get-go that this campaign was bogus.

Critics also pointed out that “Hyangsan Hospital — the hospital where Daily NK said Kim had undergone heart surgery — is similar to a community clinic and isn’t a facility where operations or surgeries can be performed.”

But one didn’t need to be a Korea specialist to recognize the pattern of disinformation. Anyone who is even mildly familiar with the practically non-existent standards of media reporting on North Korea knows how these fake news cycles work, and knew not to jump to conclusions.

In a refreshing albeit rare example of cautious skepticism, the media watchdog Fairness In Accuracy and Reporting (FAIR) called out corporate media outlets for spreading these rumors without any solid evidence, even before Kim appeared on state TV.

And while impressionable Western journalists were heavily circulating the fake news, South Korea’s government made it clear, “Kim Jong Un is alive and well. He has been staying in the Wonsan area since April 13. No suspicious movements have so far been detected.”

Chinese media outlets also emphasized from the beginning of the disinformation campaign that it was clearly false. But their insistence was dismissed as “Chinese propaganda.”

This was not even the first time that rumors went viral claiming Kim Jong-un had died. Back in 2012, a strikingly similar fake-news frenzy erupted when social media posts alleging Kim had passed away were momentarily amplified by mainstream outlets.

The latest paroxysm of propaganda was hardly the only regime-change disinformation campaign blown out of the water in recent weeks. In April, The Grayzone documented the wave of bogus corporate media stories claiming Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega was dead — before he, too, appeared on TV very much alive.

Indeed, the deployment of fake news is of a part with a larger strategy of information warfare aimed at nations that refuse to bow to U.S. domination.

From the waves of dubiously sourced reports about China’s supposed “concentration camps” full of millions of Uighur Muslims, to unhinged warnings of Russia’s supposed plans to hack the U.S.electrical grid in the dead of winter, to lurid stories of $750 condoms in Venezuela, to breathless presentations of Iranian nuclear weapons files, the program is always the same: lie without shame and shrink away after the deception is revealed for what it is.

Because by then, the damage has already been done.

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

This article is from The Grayzone.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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9 comments for “Anatomy of Media Lies About the Death of Kim Jong-un

  1. Philip B
    May 10, 2020 at 21:19

    Not to mention the misinformation by the Amerikan media about what’s REALLY going on in AMERIKA the last 200 odd years… No journalistic standards, just what the current regime and the 1% (owners of the media outlets) WANTS us to think!!!

  2. Paul Larudee
    May 8, 2020 at 14:36

    It’s a test of the ability of the propaganda machine to make truth and lies switch places. Aced it!

  3. mkb29
    May 8, 2020 at 13:30

    What I have noticed for quite some time is that when a story emerges that indicates corruption, catastrophe, disaster, crime and the like, emanating from our “adversaries”—Russia, China, Venezuela, Cuba, Iran,…, — then it is eagerly promulgated by the major media, in particular by the prestigious NYT; all this to denigrate the countries in question or prepare for sanctions or worse against these lands. It has been part and parcel of the U.S. foreign policy.

  4. elmerfudzie
    May 7, 2020 at 16:11

    The world court will hold the Five Eyes and it’s predecessors fully responsible for permitting, the Kim family to obtain nuclear weapons. Should major war break out in the Korean Peninsula, a manhunt will ensue. Those responsible policing agencies and their individuals will be held accountable. My comment might be off topic but serves as a reminder to everyone that congressional over site, even regarding the most secret of activities, must be re-established. By this I mean not closed sub-committees hearings, not a carefully chosen select group of congresspersons already in line at the revolving door into boardrooms of the MIC but an oversight comprised of senators who know how do differentiate between field operatives invested in mob-like activities as opposed to acting to protect and encourage, not install, big D Democracy.

    The world is now lurching towards another major conflict cycle and war. The Kim sensationalism is but a sliver of a larger story. Therefore it should come as no surprise that news outlets are drumming up the old propaganda routine. From the pre-conflict days following the sinking of the Lusitania to the recent flashback of Colin Powell raising his hand holding a little vial of horror (for the cameras to zoom in on), misinformation is generally speaking, being carefully framed into a raison d’etre for wars, spontaneous issuance of presidential Executive Orders and congressional legislation. This stagecraft has become a tiresome business for the proles who must sift through the MSM muck, as the erstwhile (communist) Pravda newspaper readers did. Today’s specialists are hired by corporate and Intel circles to hoodwink the public. But now the manipulators are fully aware of John Doe’s exhaustion with their media techniques, methodologies and expose’s. In reaction, the ante’s been upped. Example, State Governors issuing the wildest edicts aimed against common citizens. CONSORTIUMNEWS readers may have read about the arrest in Texas of a small business owner and single mom who violated a public health lock down order. Objective: if we can’t shake em up with jive talk, we’ll instruct the police to walk into their homes and arrest them. A new stratagem that, underneath the surface is quite logical because the Intel folks foreknow? that a more deadly COVID is on the horizon or even perhaps already in the making, this conclusion depends, of course, on one’s level of cynicism. In support of this thesis, Dick Cheney hinted at it when he publicly announced and I’m paraphrasing him here, 911 was only the beginning of even greater acts of terror…

  5. Tom Kath
    May 6, 2020 at 19:08

    Surely there is a silver lining to this cloud? MSM loses credibility big time.

    • AnneR
      May 7, 2020 at 09:59

      If only that were even a glimpse on the horizon – that the MSM (and the politico-economic ruling elites) would lose all credibility. Instead – it seems that it continues to seduce, induce, via its Bernaysian, Huxleyan and Orwellian propaganda, untruths, deflections, distractions, the bulk of the population into believing the latest set of falsehoods while learning nothing truthful about what we, as a nation, are doing abroad to other peoples.

  6. Jeff Harrison
    May 6, 2020 at 18:04

    Why doesn’t Russia and China do the same thing to the US and the UK and the EU?

    • AnneR
      May 7, 2020 at 09:54

      More principled (well, actually principled)? More concerned with their own countries than trying to rule the world? Minding their own business a part of their culture?

    • Philip B
      May 10, 2020 at 21:21

      OUR media is ALREADY doing it, have been for the last 200+ YEARS!!!

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