Caitlin Johnstone: When Journalism Standards Vanish

Because Russia and Iran are both viewed as enemies of Washington, Western news media often feel comfortable publishing any old claim about them as fact regardless of sourcing or evidence.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s motorcade in Iran, 2015. (Tasnim News Agency, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

By Caitlin Johnstone

Listen to a reading of this article.

Two false news reports went viral this week due to sloppy sourcing and journalistic malpractice. As usual they both featured bogus claims about U.S.-targeted nations, in this case Russia and Iran.

An article in Responsible Statecraft titled “How a lightly-sourced AP story almost set off World War III” details how the propaganda multiplier news agency published a one-source, one-sentence report claiming that Russia had launched a deadly missile strike at NATO member Poland, despite evidence having already come to light by that point that the missile had probably come from Ukraine. This set off calls for the implementation of a NATO Article 5 response, meaning hot warfare between NATO and Russia in retaliation for a Russian attack on one of the alliance members.


Mainstream news reports circulated the narrative that Poland had been struck by a “Russian-made” missile, which is at best a highly misleading framing of the fact that the inadvertent strike came from a Soviet-era surface-to-air missile system still used by Ukraine, a former Soviet state.

Headlines from the largest and most influential U.S. news outlets including The New York TimesCNN and NBC all repeated the misleading “Russian-made” framing, as did AP’s own correction to its false report that Poland was struck by Russia.

All current evidence indicates that Poland was accidentally hit by one of those missiles while Ukraine was defending itself from Russian missile strikes.

President Joe Biden has said it’s “unlikely” that the missile which killed two Poles came from Russia, while Polish President Andrzej Duda and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg both said it looks like it was an accidental strike from Ukrainian air defenses. Russia says its own missile strikes have been no closer than 35 km from the Polish border.

The only party still adamantly insisting that the strike did come from Russia is Ukraine, leading an exasperated diplomat from a NATO country to anonymously tell Financial Times:  “This is getting ridiculous. The Ukrainians are destroying [our] confidence in them. Nobody is blaming Ukraine and they are openly lying. This is more destructive than the missile.”

It is very sleazy for AP to continue to protect the anonymity of the U.S. official who fed them a lie of such immense significance and potential consequence. They should tell the world who it was who initiated that lie so we can demand explanations and accountability.

Another false story that went extremely viral was one that Newsweek has been forced to extensively revise and correct that was initially titled “Iran Votes to Execute Protesters, Says Rebels Need ‘Hard Lesson’,” but is now titled “Iran Parliament Chants ‘Death to Seditionists’ in Protest Punishment Call.” The latest correction notice now reads,

“This article and headline were updated to remove the reference to the Iranian Parliament voting for death sentences. A majority of the parliament supported a letter to the judiciary calling for harsh punishments of protesters, which could include the death penalty.”

Moon of Alabama explains how the Newsweek piece was the springboard that launched the viral false claim that the Iranian government had just sentenced 15,000 protesters to death, which was circulated by countless politicians, pundits and celebrities throughout social media. This claim has been debunked by mainstream outlets such as NBC News, which explains that “There has been no evidence that 15,000 protesters have been sentenced to death. Two protesters had been sentenced to death as of Tuesday, although they can appeal, according to state news agencies.”

An article by The Cradle, Fact check – Iran has not sentenced ‘15,000’ protesters to death,” explains that the Iranian parliament actually just signed a letter urging the Iranian judiciary to issue harsher sentences upon protesters who’ve been demonstrating against Tehran. Those sentences can include the death penalty as noted above, but up to this point have more often entailed prison sentences of five-to-10 years.

The Cradle also notes that even the “15,000” figure is suspect, as its sole source is an American organization funded by the U.S. government’s National Endowment for Democracy:

“Further muddying the waters, the figure of 15,000 protesters detained by Iranian authorities originates from the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA).

US-based HRANA is the media arm of the Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRAI), a group that receives funding from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) – a CIA soft power front that has for decades funded regime-change efforts across the globe.”

Indeed, it’s public knowledge that NED is funded directly by the U.S. government, and that according to its own cofounder was set up to do overtly what the C.I.A. used to do covertly. It’s possible that the 15,000 figure could be more or less accurate, and it’s possible that a great many more Iranian protesters will be sentenced to death for their actions, but reporting such possibilities as a currently established fact is plainly journalistic malpractice.

In April, Newsweek published an article titled “Russians Raped 11-Year-Old Boy, Forced Mom to Watch: Ukraine Official.” In May, Newsweek published an article titled “Ukraine Official Fired Over Handling of Russian Sexual Assault Claims.” It was the same official. Newsweek made no mention of the fact that its source for its sexual assault story had just been fired for disseminating unevidenced claims about sexual assault. To this day its April report contains no updates or corrections.


Contrast this complete dereliction of journalistic responsibility with Newsweek’s extreme caution when one of its reporters tried to report on the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, scandal which disrupted the U.S. government narrative about an alleged chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government. Reporter Tareq Haddad was forbidden by his superiors to write about the many leaks coming out exposing malfeasance in the Douma investigation by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, on the basis that NED-funded Bellingcat had disputed the leaks and that other respectable outlets had not reported on them.

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting has published numerous articles documenting what Adam Johnson calls the North Korea Law of Journalism, which holds that “editorial standards are inversely proportional to a country’s enemy status.” In other words, the more unfavorably a foreign government is viewed by the U.S. empire, the lower the editorial standards for reporting claims about them. Because Russia and Iran are both viewed as enemies of Washington, Western news media often feel comfortable just publishing any old claim about them as fact regardless of sourcing or evidence.

We saw this highlighted during the insanity of Russiagate, where mainstream news outlet after mainstream news outlet was caught publishing unevidenced conspiratorial hogwash that it was often (though not even always) forced to retract. This was possible because when it comes to implicating Russia the evidentiary standards for reporting are much lower than they would be for implicating a government that is held in favor by the U.S.

And this is the case because the Western mainstream media are the propaganda services of the U.S.-centralized empire. They do not exist to tell people the truth, they exist to manipulate the public into hating the official enemies of the empire and into consenting to foreign-policy agendas that they would not otherwise consent to.

Imperial propagandists lower their editorial standards when reporting on official enemies not because they are bad at their job, but because they are very good at their job. It’s just that their job isn’t what we’ve been told.

Caitlin Johnstone’s work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, following her on FacebookTwitterSoundcloud or YouTube, or throwing some money into her tip jar on Ko-fiPatreon or Paypal. If you want to read more you can buy her books. The best way to make sure you see the stuff she publishes is to subscribe to the mailing list at her website or on Substack, which will get you an email notification for everything she publishes.  For more info on who she is, where she stands and what she’s trying to do with her platform, click here. All works are co-authored with her American husband Tim Foley.

This article is from and re-published with permission.

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

30 comments for “Caitlin Johnstone: When Journalism Standards Vanish

  1. robert e williamson jr
    November 20, 2022 at 20:32

    Maybe Pelosi & Co. are about to prove W Churchill Right!

    You know his comment about, “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have tried everything else.”

    I’m of course referring to their intended hand off of the democratic leadership. To bad it didn’t happen under Obama.

    Heads up, “mgr ” relays a pivotal salient point about this missile system, describing the two modes of operation for this missile. A very clear argument the missile was intended to be ground ground.

    Ukraine is left with very little credibility trying to argue their well trained military made a mistake of this order.

    The clincher for me is this attempt was too easily used for advisors like the US and Israel, two leaders in false flag ops, not to do it.

    It’s time to wrap up this dirty little meat grinder of a war I’d say.

  2. Thhot
    November 19, 2022 at 23:27

    Si l’OTAN avait une seule petite chance de gagner contre les hypersoniques russes, elle l’aurait fait dans les premières semaines, mais l’otan a fait 16 simulations contre la Russie et a perdu 16 fois. Cette organisation de criminels a cette fois perdu, dommage qu’elle continue de faire comme si, d’ailleurs son hypocrisie totale se voit comme le nez au milieu de la figure et 80% du monde voit son impuissance. Pour les trusts américains, peu importe, ces fumiers font les poches de toutes les populations et comme d’habitude s’enrichissent sur la mort. Est-ce qu’un jour les Américains mettront fin à leur sanguinaire existence ? eux qui couvrent ces millions d’assassinats depuis si longtemps !

  3. Common Sense
    November 19, 2022 at 16:48

    Thank you for this excellent comment ^^

    And this

    “In other words, Washington would love a war, just not at this moment.”

    is unfortunately exactly what we must expect.

    • Common Sense
      November 19, 2022 at 16:49

      This was meant for “mgr”.

      Must have missed the right button :)

  4. Tony
    November 19, 2022 at 07:40

    Frank Luntz would remind us that it is not what you say that counts. It’s what people hear.

    And so, when ‘Russian-made’ is used people are likely to hear ‘Russian’.

    This is often quite deliberate.

  5. November 19, 2022 at 01:06

    The sad fact is the perpetual scapegoating of others shows the collective west to be weak and of poor character. The fact that western populations are so passively willing to lap up this drivel shows them to be gullible and infantilized. The fact that western populations have been so effectively infantilized worries me greatly.

  6. November 18, 2022 at 22:58

    There was method in the US madness. And the mediocratic slight of hand pays off — in the short term, through misdirection

  7. Paula
    November 18, 2022 at 20:42

    Do we not all understand what Michael Hudson has outlined? Have you read The Destiny of Civilization and understood it? I guess it depends on which side of the economic/military/corporate/congressional side you tend to identify with and profit from. Most of us are “losers” in their game and will extract from us all they can as they do the earth.

  8. Paula
    November 18, 2022 at 20:32

    looks very similar to what took out Iran’s leading general, no?

  9. CNfan
    November 18, 2022 at 19:33

    Two big questions are facing us. First, will the politicians of Europe and America let themselves be pushed into World War Three as they were pushed into World Wars One and Two?

    Second, will the people of Europe and America figure out that their mainstream media is feeding them a cover story of criminal war profiteers, rather than what is actually happening?

    The coverage of the NATO-Russia conflict is exactly like the coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Key facts, critical to understanding what is going on, are omitted. Falsehoods are inserted at key parts of the picture. The net result is a picture that is the exact reverse of reality regarding who is the predator and who is the victim.

    In the Israel-Palestine conflict the Palestinians, who have been attacked, murdered, and robbed with impunity since 1948, are depicted as the predators. The blatantly criminal Zionists are depicted as the victims.

    In the NATO-Russia conflict, NATO’s regime-change attack on Russia, aimed at looting its natural resources (again), is completely omitted. The banking cabal driving the NATO attack is completely hidden. And their Western political puppets, cowardly slaves, are depicted as heroically standing up for democracy.

    The public needs to become informed of this grand deception, abandon corporate newspapers, TV, and radio, and find honest, truly independent sources of news on the internet.

    Thankfully, there is a growing number of news and analysis outlets on the internet which are fact-oriented. Here are a few that I find to be of reliably high quality

    Consortium News
    The Duran
    <Alexander Mercouris
    Jimmy Dore
    The Grayzone
    Useful Idiots
    Chris Hedges
    Worlds Apart
    On Air

  10. Em
    November 18, 2022 at 16:48

    Anyone truly interested in “When Journalism Standards Vanish” and what becomes of Julian Assange they must watch

    this two hour movie on youtube:

    The Insider 1999 with Al Pacino and Russell Crowe


  11. Lois Gagnon
    November 18, 2022 at 16:39

    I suspect this was an attempt at a false flag to draw NATO into putting troops on the ground in Ukraine. It is worth remembering that members of ISIS from Syria volunteered to join the Nazi brigades in Ukraine early on. As Caitlin has pointed out, reports from OPCW investigators in Syria refuted claims of evidence of the Assad regime using chemical weapons. Those reports were not included in the final report. The idea to attempt a false flag in Ukraine may very well have been hatched among these ISIS infiltrated brigades. Geographically, an “accident” by Ukrainian forces makes no sense.

  12. Sanford Kelson
    November 18, 2022 at 15:35

    It is an exaggeration to say implementation of Article 5 means a hot war. Read it..

  13. Andrew Nichols
    November 18, 2022 at 14:42

    “…leading an exasperated diplomat from a NATO country to anonymously tell Financial Times: “This is getting ridiculous. The Ukrainians are destroying [our] confidence in them. Nobody is blaming Ukraine and they are openly lying.”

    No mate. The Uke response is just embarassing you in front of your voters already (unless completely brain dead) contemptuous of your risible coverup and acceptance of the US/ Brit destruction of Europes gas pipeline from Russia.

    • Bill Todd
      November 19, 2022 at 13:56

      Ah, but the continuation of what you quoted is even more ironic:


      The only party still adamantly insisting that the strike did come from Russia is Ukraine, leading an exasperated diplomat from a NATO country to anonymously tell Financial Times: “This is getting ridiculous. The Ukrainians are destroying [our] confidence in them. Nobody is blaming Ukraine and they are openly lying. This is more destructive than the missile.”

      (end quote)

      Now, exactly WHAT does this NATO official consider to be ‘destructive’ about the Ukrainians being exposed as the unabashed and insistent liars that they have been right along? When can liars exposing themselves be destructive? Why, when others (like NATO, for whom this unnamed official presumably speaks) have been diligently using those liars (and the captive mainstream media across the entire West) to build up a narrative that can cause hundreds of millions of people to suspend whatever critical faculties they may possess without questioning that house of cards edifice of lies which has been used to attempt to justify behavior which is demonstrably against their own interests.

      Lies can unravel with surprising speed once enough people begin to question them, especially when the rest of the world can be seen to be questioning them too.

  14. Rudy Haugeneder
    November 18, 2022 at 13:36

    As a retired once so-so journalist, I can say it has always been so: always. Unfortunately, more and more people are inclined to believe such fake news, more so now than during the Cold War. I suspect the same is true when media report on the real but not as bad as reported, news about pending end times due to climate change.

  15. Danny Miskinis
    November 18, 2022 at 13:27

    I believe the turning point for journalism came when Walter Cronkite went to Vietnam and saw what really was occurring there. His subsequent analysis that we had to consider compromise to achieve on honorable end to the conflict. Those already opposed to our involvement cheered that we now had the must trusted man in America on our side. However, much more powerful forces determined that we must not let journalists continue to be truth tellers. Cronkite and similar journalists, in their way of thinking must become a relic of the past and this must be done as soon as possible. This transformation had been, at first slow, but for some time now it appears to be complete.

  16. November 18, 2022 at 13:17

    so important are journalists like CJ and sites like CN, and all of us spreading true information about what is going on.

  17. DocHollywood
    November 18, 2022 at 12:32

    It may not have been an accident.

    Russia is on Ukraine’s Eastern border, while Poland is on its Western border. Scott Ritter points out that missiles launched by Russia against Ukraine come in from the East, so a Ukrainian air-defense missile must be aimed Eastward to intercept it.

    If I understand Mr. Ritter correctly, the S-300 can course correct but cannot reverse its trajectory, so the S-300 that landed in Poland had to have been launched from Ukraine in the direction of Poland and not Russia.

    • WillD
      November 18, 2022 at 21:42

      Exactly, and that makes it a deliberate action – an extremely dangerous and reckless action by Ukraine which its US/UK/EU/NATO backers need to stop BEFORE it triggers a hot war!

      It’s time for a regime change in Kiev. Puppet Zelensky has outlived his usefulness and has become a dangerous liability.

    • Realist
      November 19, 2022 at 06:03

      Yes, the way I interpreted Scott Ritter’s words on the matter is that the missile must have been launched out of Ukraine towards Poland in a deliberate attempt to start WWIII using the infamous Article 4. He said all of Nato would have tracked the missile from its point of origin to its destination and understood its purpose for which Poland and the Baltics states were quick to file charges against Russia. Zelensky also immediately sprang forth with the same charges for the same reason and refused to recant them when challenged on their veracity. It was only Washington (and Biden himself) that disputed the contrived narrative to at least delay the commencement of humanity’s demise. Expect other false flags to drag Nato and the US directly into open warfare with Russia. It’s the only way that Ukraine even slows down the planned Russian winter offensive. Zelensky apparently not only dismisses the massive casualties amongst his own people, but also the potential costs to Nato countries, the US and the 8 billion human inhabitants of the planet. It was Colonel Macgregor’s informed opinion that Mr. Zelensky would probably not be filling his role as President of Ukraine much longer, as he is pleasing no one right now.

  18. Bob Smith Jones
    November 18, 2022 at 12:01

    This headline describes in the present tense what happened long ago. I would say in the last century. And this is important to understand.

    Go back to Reagan. It was then that the concentration of ownership of the media began, or at least became apparent. America used to work on a pro-democracy system that had limits on how many outlets one person or corp could own. This began to be dismantled under Reagan. The giant corporations that now control almost everything you see began to be assembled around about this time.

    Before then, there was a tradition of a ‘wall’ between the Business side of the operation, and the News side of the operation. The News side was supposed to do their work, without any reference to who was buying ads from the Business side. If a News operation was trustworthy and could produce useful work, then the Business side could successfully sell ads for that trustworthy news service. They could sell, profitably I’m sure, Walter Cronkite. That’s the way ‘news’ in the USA was organized up until roughly the Reagan era.

    Of course, the corporations that were buying these outlets during Reagan wanted maximum profits. They tore down the wall. Today, the very concept has been disappeared down the Memory Hole. Thus, going back as far as the Reagan administration, the News side was subordinated to the Profit side of the corporation. This continued under the Corporate Clintons, when the consolidation of American media was completed into just a few hands.

    It has been a very long time since the American ‘news’ was useful for anything other than wrapping dead fish. The only thing that amazes me is that people keep reading, watching, and listening to them. Why? Please remember, every time you do so, you are giving them more money with which to manipulate you. They sell your ears and your eyeballs.

    If you want to see a couple of old mileposts along the way of this journey, I’d recommend the mid-1970’s movie “Network”. As well as reviewing the times and history of how Mr. Robert Parry left AP and founded this website. Both will help point to the notion that referring to this process in the present tense is rather incorrect.

    The reason why this is important to understand, is that for at least some of the people reading this website, they have never in their lifetimes seen an actual free and honest ‘news’ of the sort that was once said to be essential for democracy. Thus, even their ideas on what democracy looks like are set by the Profit side of the handful of corporations that control almost everything they see. That is what is important to understand …. the degree to which The Matrix has described the Matrix to them. Thus it all loops back upon itself, until you break free. Welcome to America.

    PS… it is possible to break free. Once upon a time, a whole generation did it. Make Love, Not War! Give it a try. Its more fun than the Matrix will allow you to think it will be. If you look back at pictures and films of that generation, you’ll find a lot of smiles. :) Make Love, Not War!

    • Realist
      November 19, 2022 at 06:26

      Both major parties worked vigorously to transform the American mass media into a strict political tool of the oligarchy. Reagan pushed hard to get the Fairness Doctrine repealed during his tenure and Clinton shepherded the Telecommunications Act of 1996 through Congress which allowed the monopolization of ownership. Even the Supreme Court took a bite of the apple during that era by declaring that the expenditure of money (including on political propaganda) is simply a form of free speech and cannot be limited through any act of Congress. Of course, much earlier it had already decreed that corporations are persons with the same rights and freedoms as any human being. Hence, six mega-corporations controlling all of media and all political speech and all alleged “news” over said media.

  19. mgr
    November 18, 2022 at 11:12

    “All current evidence indicates that Poland was accidentally hit by one of those missiles while Ukraine was defending itself from Russian missile strikes.” [Caitlin Johnstone]

    Even worse, it may have been meant as a deliberate provocation for bringing NATO fully into the fray based on its article 5, “collective defense”. Gilbert Doctorow explains:

    “Russian experts have noted that the S300 air defense missiles can in fact be flown in two modes: to shoot down aircraft or as a ground to ground missile. In the former mode, its inbuilt self-destruct mechanism is activated, so that if it misses its target in the air, it can cause no damage when it falls back to earth. In the second mode, the self-destruct mechanism is switched off so that the explosive charge can be detonated upon impact with earth. It was precisely in the second mode that the S300 which came down in Poland was flying, meaning that the damage and loss of life which occurred was planned by the launch team.” [hxxps://]

    Being a bit cynical (but not so much), I don’t think the US would mind NATO rushing into a full-fledged war, at least not its neocon State department. But the truth is that NATO would be creamed by Russia, especially now when its (NATO’s) weapon’s stockpiles are depleted (and the US’s as well).

    I’m sure the neos want a war because they are ethno-bigots and they are insane, and they would rather sacrifice everything including themselves rather than be wrong (of course the problem is that they are wrong, always have been and always will, nothing will change that). But “saner” (everything is relative) heads don’t want a war that they will lose. In other words, Washington would love a war, just not at this moment. The main worry for the neos is that it seems possible, perhaps even likely, that Russia will finish its SMO over the winter period and Ukraine may no longer be in the hands of its Nazi handlers. Sane people would consider that a good thing. It would certainly be a blessing for Europe (see Italy’s investigation into a Nazi terror cell linked to Ukraine’s Azov Nazis [hxxps://], certainly more to come).

    Ukraine was known previously as the most corrupt country in Europe, just a year ago. Now it is far worse. In any case, the Nazi’s are losing day by day. They were full of themselves with the CIA and State cheering them on at the beginning but now they are circling the drain. And so they are ready to draw the entire world into total war in order to save their own filthy selves. And Zelenski is fully onboard as their performance dummy.

    These people want to destroy everything because they cannot have their way and continue to abuse others without hindrance. They are utterly despicable.

    • Realist
      November 19, 2022 at 06:58

      The way Colonel Macgregor put it (or maybe it was Scott Ritter, possibly both) is that it’s a certainty that Ukraine is going to lose on the battlefield, both fairly soon and quite decisively. Then it will be left to the Washington regime whether it chooses to come in on a “soft landing” or a “hard landing.” A soft landing would pretty much simply mean to stop discussing the matter, sort of like the conflict in Afghanistan, being such an inconvenient truth, has disappeared down the memory hole. A hard landing would mean looking for ways (and probably precipitating them with false flags) to drag America’s military into a direct shooting war with Russia, inevitably culminating in mutual nuclear annihilation and taking the rest of the world with us. No one is confident that the megalo-maniacs in Washington will make the only sane and moral decision to simply stand down. These people cannot accept themselves as losers and recognise no one as having any authority over them. And, it’s not as simple as having just one all powerful dictator, like a Hitler, to take out and calm the herd. The Neo-cons are both rabid and ubiquitous.

  20. Tom Hall
    November 18, 2022 at 11:07

    Today the Guardian published a piece of rubbish from the FBI claiming that China now operates a system of “police stations” within the borders of the United States. There really is no shame.

    • Eddie S
      November 19, 2022 at 10:19

      Oh that’s so ridiculous (ie; ‘secret Chinese police stations in the US’) it’s funny-thanks for the laugh this AM! I haven’t bothered to read the link… who did The Guardian cite as its source, The Onion? It sounds almost as bad as that old movie ’Red Dawn’

  21. Vera Gottlieb
    November 18, 2022 at 10:39

    So much for journalistic integrity. Like caged hungry animals exterminating themselves. So much for our Western ‘culture’.

  22. michael888
    November 18, 2022 at 10:39

    It is disingenuous to blame journalists for vanishing journalism standards. These people are going along, to get along with the Establishment; their careers depend on them acting as stenographers for the stories passed down, and they totally avoid spiked stories, no matter how important, from above. It is the System.
    Since the abolition of the domestic anti-propaganda law (the “modernization” of the Smith Mundt Act under Obama) the State Dept/ CIA now LEGALLY control all Official Narratives spewed by the six or so remaining media. These media are now State Media, essentially part of the Federal Government. And the State Dept/ CIA are now focused on getting rid of all, small alt media that are disputing or even questioning the Official Narratives.

  23. Henry Smith
    November 18, 2022 at 10:34

    Let’s also remember the recent blatant lies about Lavrov’s health:

Comments are closed.