‘Confirmed’ Is a Meaningless Word In MSM News Reporting

When the MSM says a report has been ‘confirmed,’ what it really means is it has been agreed upon, says Caity Johnstone.

By Caitlin Johnstone

Last week Politico published a major exclusive report that the “Iranian government is weighing an assassination attempt against the American ambassador to South Africa” in retaliation for the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani earlier this year, citing (you guessed it) anonymous government officials.

The claim was nonsensical on its face; the idea that Iran would see the assassination of some random ambassador to an irrelevant country as a proportionate response to the killing of its wildly beloved top military commander would only make sense to someone with a very U.S.-centric worldview who knows nothing about Iran.

On top of that, the South African government published a statement that “the information provided is not sufficient to sustain the allegation that there is a credible threat against the United States Ambassador to South Africa”.

The flimsy nature of this allegation was of course not enough to prevent bombastic Twitter threats from America’s manchild-in-chief that this nonexistent assassination plot “will be met with an attack on Iran that will be 1,000 times greater in magnitude!” if carried out. 

It also wasn’t enough to prevent the Politico article’s co-author, Natasha Bertrand, from falsely claiming that The New York Times had “confirmed” her reporting.

“The NYT has confirmed Nahal Toosi and my reporting about Iran,” Bertrand tweeted today with a link to a new Times article, quoting the excerpt “Lana Marks, the American ambassador to South Africa and a political supporter of Trump, was a potential target of an Iranian attack…Politico earlier reported that Ms. Marks was a target.”

The New York Times has in fact not confirmed Bertrand and Toosi’s reporting, and Bertrand omits a very significant portion of text from her excerpt. Here is the quote in full, bold mine:

Lana Marks, the American ambassador to South Africa and a political supporter of Mr. Trump, was a potential target of an Iranian attack, according to national security officials. But some briefed on the intelligence said Iran has not decided to directly target any American official, and other current and former officials accused the Trump administration of overstating the threat. Politico earlier reported that Ms. Marks was a target.

Awful lot of important information hiding in that ellipsis of yours, Ms Bertrand.

So the NYT had in fact merely spoken to unnamed officials (probably some of the same ones) and found there to be misgivings about the claim Bertrand had promoted, and then Bertrand deceptively omitted text which contradicted the claim she was making that her report had been “confirmed”.


It should surprise no one that Bertrand would abuse the trust of her followers in such a phenomenally sleazy way. As Antiwar‘s Dave DeCamp explained after the Politico report was discredited by the South African government, Bertrand “built her career on hyping the Steele Dossier, now-discredited document that made unverified claims about the Russian government and the Trump campaign in 2016.”

But Bertrand’s slimy manipulation is also to be expected because she knows she can get away with it. The word “confirmed” has been misused and abused to such a spectacular extent in mainstream news reporting of late that it doesn’t actually mean anything anymore when they say it.

When a news reporter announces that they have independently confirmed another outlet’s reporting, the reader imagines that they have done actual investigative journalism, traveled to the places about which the claims are being made, done deep digging and looked at the evidence with their own two eyes and found that the claim is true.

In practice, all it often means is that they spoke to the same sources the other reporter spoke to and are in fact just confirming that the source did indeed make a given assertion. The reader assumes they’re confirming the source’s claim is true, but all they’re actually confirming is that the first reporter didn’t just make up the claim they’re uncritically parroting.

Take when the anonymously sourced story about Russia paying bounties to Taliban-linked fighters in Afghanistan for killing occupying coalition forces was first reported by The New York Times. We now know this story was completely baseless, but when it first broke there were a bunch of mass media reporters buzzing around claiming to have “confirmed” one another’s stories on the matter.

“The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post have confirmed our reporting,” the NYT story’s co-author Charlie Savage tweeted after the story broke.

“We have confirmed the New York Times’ scoop: A Russian military spy unit offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to attack coalition forces in Afghanistan,” tweeted The Washington Post‘s John Hudson.

“We matched The New York Times’ great reporting on how U.S. intel has assessed that Russians paid Taliban to target U.S., coalition forces in Afg which is a pretty stunning development,” tweeted Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold.

All three of these men were lying.

John Hudson’s claim that the Washington Post article he co-authored “confirmed the New York Times’ scoop” twice used the words “if confirmed” with regard to his central claim, saying “Russian involvement in operations targeting Americans, if confirmed,” and “The attempt to stoke violence against Americans, if confirmed“. This is of course an acknowledgement that these things had not, in fact, been confirmed.

The Wall Street Journal article co-authored by Gordon Lubold cited only anonymous “people”, who we have no reason to believe are different people than NYT’s sources, repeating the same unsubstantiated assertions about an intelligence report. The article cited no evidence that Lubold’s “stunning development” actually occurred beyond “people familiar with the report said” and “a person familiar with it said“.

The fact that both Hudson and Lubold were lying about having confirmed The New York Times‘ reporting means that Savage was also lying when he said they did. When they said the report has been “confirmed”, what they really meant was that it had been agreed upon.

All the three of them actually did was use their profoundly influential outlets to uncritically parrot something nameless spooks wanted the public to believe, which is the same as just publishing a CIA press release free of charge. It is unprincipled stenography for opaque and unaccountable intelligence agencies, and it is odious.

Earlier this month The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald published an article titled “Journalism’s New Propaganda Tool: Using ‘Confirmed’ to Mean Its Opposite“, about an anonymously sourced claim by The Atlantic that Trump had said disparaging things about U.S. troops. An excerpt:

Other media outlets — including Associated Press and Fox News — now claim that they did exactly that: “confirmed” the Atlantic story. But if one looks at what they actually did, at what this “confirmation” consists of, it is the opposite of what that word would mean, or should mean, in any minimally responsible sense. AP, for instance, merely claims that “a senior Defense Department official with firsthand knowledge of events and a senior U.S. Marine Corps officer who was told about Trump’s comments confirmed some of the remarks to The Associated Press,” while Fox merely said “a former senior Trump administration official who was in France traveling with the president in November 2018 did confirm other details surrounding that trip.”

Greenwald also documents how in 2017 CNN falsely reported that Donald Trump Jr had received an encryption key to WikiLeaks which let him preview the 2016 DNC leaks ten days before they were published, which we shortly thereafter learned was actually due to nobody involved in the story bothering to read the date on the email correctly. The whole entire story, in reality, was that Trump had merely received an email about an already published WikiLeaks drop.

Greenwald writes the following:

Very shortly after CNN unveiled its false story, MSNBC’s intelligence community spokesman Ken Dilanian went on air and breathlessly announced that he had obtained independent confirmation that the CNN story was true. In a video segment I cannot recommend highly enough, Dilanian was introduced by an incredibly excited Hallie Jackson — who urged Dilanian to “tell us what we’ve just now learned,” adding, “I know you and some of our colleagues have confirmed some of this information: What’s up?” Dilanian then proceeded to explain what he had learned:

“That’s right, Hallie. Two sources with direct knowledge of this are telling us that congressional investigators have obtained an email from a man named ‘Mike Erickson’ — obviously they don’t know if that’s his real name — offering Donald Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. access to WikiLeaks documents. … It goes to the heart of the collusion question. … One of the big questions is: Did [Trump Jr.] call the FBI?”

How could that happen? How could MSNBC purport to confirm a false story from CNN? Shortly after, CBS News also purported to have “confirmed” the same false story: that Trump Jr. received advanced access to the WikiLeaks documents. It’s one thing for a news outlet to make a mistake in reporting by, for instance, misreporting the date of an email and thus getting the story completely wrong. But how is it possible that multiple other outlets could “confirm” the same false report?

That’s three mainstream outlets–CNN, MSNBC, and CBS, all claiming to have independently “confirmed” a story that would have been recognized as false if even one person in any of those outlets had done the tiniest bare minimum of independent investigation into the claim that its source was making, namely looking with their eyeballs at the actual information they were being presented with.

“When they said the report has been ‘confirmed,’ what they really meant was that it had been agreed upon.”

They didn’t, because that’s the state of the mass media today. That is its culture. That, in answer to Greenwald’s question above, is how this could happen: the western mass media are nothing but a bunch of lackeys mindlessly regurgitating incendiary narratives by those in power in their rapacious search for ratings.

Natasha Bertrand is acutely aware of this, which is why she feels comfortable falsely telling the world that her absurd reporting has been “confirmed”.

So now you know. Whenever you see the mass media saying an important claim has been “confirmed”, just ignore them. They have no respect for that word, and it has lost all meaning among their ranks. The western media class does not exist to tell you the truth about the world, it exists to distort your understanding of the world for the advantage of the powerful.

MSM Promotes Yet Another
CIA Press Release As News

The Washington Post, whose sole owner is a CIA contractor, has published yet another anonymously sourced CIA press release disguised as a news report which just so happens to facilitate longstanding CIA foreign policy.

In an article titled “Secret CIA assessment: Putin ‘probably directing’ influence operation to denigrate Biden“, WaPo’s virulent neoconservative war pig Josh Rogin describes what was told to him by unnamed sources about the contents of a “secret” CIA document which alleges that Vladimir Putin is “probably” overseeing an interference operation in America’s presidential election.

True to form, at no point does WaPo follow standard journalistic protocol and disclose its blatant financial conflict of interest with the CIA when promoting an unproven CIA narrative which happens to serve the consent-manufacturing agendas of the CIA for its new cold war with Russia.

And somehow in our crazy, propaganda-addled society, this is accepted as “news”.

The CIA has had a hard-on for the collapse of the Russian Federation for many years, and preventing the rise of another multipolar world at all cost has been an open agenda of U.S. imperialism since the fall of the Soviet Union. Indeed it is clear that the escalations we’ve been watching unfold against Russia were in fact planned well in advance of 2016, and it is only by propaganda narratives like this one that consent has been manufactured for a new cold war which imperils the life of every organism on this planet.

There is no excuse for a prominent news outlet publishing a CIA press release disguised as news in facilitation of these CIA agendas. It is still more inexcusable to merely publish anonymous assertions about the contents of that CIA press release. It is especially inexcusable to publish anonymous assertions about a CIA press release which merely says that something is “probably” happening, meaning those making the claim don’t even know.

None of this stopped The Washington Post from publishing this propaganda piece on behalf of the CIA. None of it stopped this story from being widely shared by prominent voices on social media and repeated by major news outlets like CNNThe New York Times, and NBC. And none of it stopped all the usual liberal influencers from taking the claims and exaggerating the certainty:

The CIA-to-pundit pipeline, wherein intelligence agencies “leak” information that is picked up by news agencies and then wildly exaggerated by popular influencers, has always been an important part of manufacturing establishment Russia hysteria. We saw it recently when the now completely debunked claim that Russia paid bounties on U.S. troops to Taliban-linked fighters in Afghanistan first surfaced; unverified anonymous intelligence claims were published by mass media news outlets, then by the time it got to spinmeisters like Rachel Maddow it was being treated not as an unconfirmed analysis but as an established fact:

If you’ve ever wondered how rank-and-file members of the public can be so certain of completely unproven intelligence claims, the CIA-to-pundit pipeline is a big part of it. The most influential voices who political partisans actually hear things from are often a few clicks removed from the news report they’re talking about, and by the time it gets to them it’s being waved around like a rock-solid truth when at the beginning it was just presented as a tenuous speculation (the original aforementioned WaPo report appeared on the opinion page).

The CIA has a well-documented history of infiltrating and manipulating the mass media for propaganda purposes, and to this day the largest supplier of leaked information from the Central Intelligence Agency to the news media is the CIA itself.

They have a whole process for leaking information to reporters they like (with an internal form that asks whether the information leaked is Accurate, Partially Accurate, or Inaccurate), as was highlighted in a recent court case which found that the CIA can even leak documents to select journalists while refusing to release them to others via Freedom of Information Act requests.

lying, torturingpropagandizingdrug traffickingassassinatingcoup-stagingwarmongeringpsychopathic spook agency with an extensive history of deceit and depravity that selectively gives information to news reporters with whom it has a good relationship is never doing so for noble reasons. It is doing so for the same rapacious power-grabbing reasons it does all the other evil things it does.

The way mainstream media has become split along increasingly hostile ideological lines means that all the manipulators need to do to advance a given narrative is set it up to make one side look bad and then share it with a news outlet from the other side. The way media is set up to masturbate people’s confirmation bias instead of report objective facts will then cause the narrative to go viral throughout that partisan faction, regardless of how true or false it might be.

The coming U.S. election and its aftermath is looking like it will be even more insane and hysterical than the last one, and the enmity and outrage it creates will give manipulators every opportunity to slide favorable narratives into the slipstream of people’s hot-headed abandonment of their own critical faculties.

And indeed they are clearly prepared to do exactly that. An ODNI press release last month which was uncritically passed along by the most prominent U.S. media outlets reported that China and Iran are trying to help Biden win the November election while Russia is trying to help Trump. So no matter which way these things go the U.S. intelligence cartel will be able to surf its own consent-manufacturing foreign policy agendas upon the tide of outrage which ensues.

The propaganda machine is only getting louder and more aggressive. We’re being prepped for something.

Caitlin Johnstone is a rogue journalist, poet, and utopia prepper who publishes regularly at Medium.   Her work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, liking her on Facebook, following her antics on Twitter, checking out her podcast on either YoutubesoundcloudApple podcasts or Spotify, following her on Steemit, throwing some money into her tip jar on Patreon or Paypal, purchasing some of her sweet merchandise, buying her books “Rogue Nation: Psychonautical Adventures With Caitlin Johnstone and “Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers.”

This article was re-published with permission.

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

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7 comments for “‘Confirmed’ Is a Meaningless Word In MSM News Reporting

  1. ranney
    September 27, 2020 at 19:20

    OMG things are getting really bad and out of hand! Maybe we should start a movement to get Biden to eliminate the CIA if he is elected. I think that might help cool a good deal of the insanity that is going around. And maybe we could stop a nuclear war.
    What do you think guys?

    • Christian J. Chuba
      September 28, 2020 at 09:30

      A bit tongue in cheek but I have a related suggestion. Abolish the CIA’s charter to sabotage enemy govt’s, their cloak and dagger operations, and only use them for Intelligence gathering. There current dual purpose of attack and gather Intel creates a conflict of interest and it shows in their product.
      For example …
      Executive: ‘Find out if there was a Chemical weapons attack at Khan Sheikhoun (and later Ghouta)’
      CIA report: ‘Good news, it wasn’t the rebels we trained, it was the Syrian govt we are trying to overthrow’
      Executive: ‘WOW, I did not see that coming. Great, let’s launch the cruise missiles’.

      I know that many here, including myself do not like the cloak and dagger stuff at all but to the extent that you have to have it, it should be done by the Pentagon and keep the CIA focused on gathering Intel.

  2. robert e williamson jr
    September 27, 2020 at 17:36

    Isn’t mass communications a great thing.

    I’m pretty sure the CIA at the behest of the Deep State leadership is prepping us alright.

    I’m also pretty sure what ever “it’ is will not be good for the have-nots.

    That said it is a very interesting time to be alive.

    A few words of caution, The CIA seems to be out of control at a time when their work leaves much to be desired. The DOJ seems to be perverted and is engaging in fascist actions against the public at large and the MSM has bought into their bull shit. Bad things are coming kids.

    Thanks to Caitlin great stuff and thanks to CN.

  3. dfnslblty
    September 27, 2020 at 15:16

    Excellent essay … exposing the Orwellian news we read and hear and see.
    Keep writing.

  4. Jeff Harrison
    September 27, 2020 at 12:44

    Excellent Caitlin but it’s really SSDD although it needs repeating over and over. About 6 months or so ago, I came across a very interesting link in one of the comments here on CN. It was a link to a Swiss study on propaganda that said that the way things work is this: Something is sent out by the White House, the CIA, or the DoD. It gets picked up by the next level – AP, Reuters, AFP and the lesser news outlets, NYT, WaPo, the Guardian, etc take it from there.

    What we’re being prepped for is the death of our republic.

  5. Dave
    September 27, 2020 at 12:37

    Ms Johnson’s brief and clear-headed description of the USA’s Christian Investment Authority (acronym: CIA) should be a wake-up-call to every American who wants to trim out one of our nation’s extraordinarily crude, self-defeating, secretive, propaganda-supplying, and outright prevaricating branches of our criminally diseased imperialist nation. Make no mistake; the bourgeois, Ivy-League, Cambridge-Oxford (MI-6), Stanford, et al, nexus of international capitalist interests will not magically disappear. But the USA taxpayer should not have to pay for the promotion and subsistence of an amalgam of cynical capitalist profit seekers in the process. The extensive literature exposing and attacking CIA is legion, as is its manifestly illegal infiltration of many USA civilian organizations. David Wise/Thomas Ross, Doug Valentine, Frances Saunders, Alexander Cockburn, John Pilger, John Prados, and many, many others (include the Senator Frank Church committee’s Congressional exposes of the mid-1970s), have all contributed to exposing CIA for what it really is: a USA taxpayer-subsidized, murderous, secretive, bureaucratic behemoth designed to promote, retain, and expand the financial and political powers of the USA’s relatively small—and disproportionately powerful—Deep & Murky Ruling Class. USA and the other Four Eyes have too many serious environmental and economic problems confronting their respective societies rather than subsidizing useless and outdated imperial front organizations such as CIA and its subsidiaries, such as NED / USAID.

  6. jmg
    September 27, 2020 at 09:02

    Caitlin Johnstone wrote:
    > When a news reporter announces that they have independently confirmed another outlet’s reporting, the reader imagines that they have done actual investigative journalism, traveled to the places about which the claims are being made, done deep digging and looked at the evidence with their own two eyes and found that the claim is true.

    That’s it, like Julian Assange and WikiLeaks:

    “1.4 How WikiLeaks verifies its news stories

    “We assess all news stories and test their veracity. We send a submitted document through a very detailed examination a procedure. Is it real? What elements prove it is real? Who would have the motive to fake such a document and why?

    “We use traditional investigative journalism techniques as well as more modern technology-based methods. Typically we will do a forensic analysis of the document, determine the cost of forgery, means, motive, opportunity, the claims of the apparent authoring organisation, and answer a set of other detailed questions about the document.

    “We may also seek external verification of the document. For example, for our release of the Collateral Murder video, we sent a team of journalists to Iraq to interview the victims and observers of the helicopter attack. The team obtained copies of hospital records, death certificates, eye witness statements and other corroborating evidence supporting the truth of the story.

    “Our verification process does not mean we will never make a mistake, but so far our method has meant that WikiLeaks has correctly identified the veracity of every document it has published.

    “Publishing the original source material behind each of our stories is the way in which we show the public that our story is authentic. Readers don’t have to take our word for it; they can see for themselves.

    “In this way, we also support the work of other journalism organisations, for they can view and use the original documents freely as well. Other journalists may well see an angle or detail in the document that we were not aware of in the first instance. By making the documents freely available, we hope to expand analysis and comment by all the media.

    “Most of all, we want readers know the truth so they can make up their own minds.”

    (About — WikiLeaks — 7 May 2011)

    “WikiLeaks coined a new type of journalism: scientific journalism. We work with other media outlets to bring people the news, but also to prove it is true. Scientific journalism allows you to read a news story, then to click online to see the original document it is based on. That way you can judge for yourself: Is the story true? Did the journalist report it accurately?”

    (‘The truth will always win’ — Julian Assange writes — The Australian, Dec 7, 2010)

    “It’s Julian Assange and WikiLeaks that have returned honour to journalism. Julian is a truth teller and that’s what has upset those who continue what Goebbels called ‘The Big Lie’.”

    (John Pilger — Interview on WBAI Radio NYC, 11 April 2017)

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