Fake news propagated by the US government and collaborating organizations such as the New York Times and Washington Post helped create an environment in which the US was able to illegally invade Iraq in 2003, killing at least one million and possibly upwards of two million people, including the deaths of some 4,500 US soldiers, according to a meta-study by Nobel-winning Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Just this November, nearly 6,000 people were killed in Iraq thanks to the conflicts that are still raging due to the invasion (which is ongoing), and it was not an atypical month – even more were killed in October.
Regarding the fake news that laid the groundwork for the US war of aggression, award-winning journalist Robert Parry notes that, for example, Judith Miller of NYT and Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt “repeatedly stated the ‘fact’ of Iraq’s hidden WMD as flat fact and mocked anyone who doubted the ‘group think.'”
Parry also traces the use of fake news by these outlets and the government to the present, raising interesting legal questions about whether and how the individuals who perpetrate fake news should be punished, and to what extent they are protected by the US first amendment.
Trevor Timm of The Atlantic cites a Supreme Court decision which ruled that speech is protected unless it “is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action”.
According to the highest UN officials and many others (including most of the world), the invasion of Iraq was a lawless action, which would make statements directed to precipitating it ineligible for protection under US law.
The next question that arises would be how to punish the offenders of the illegal speech. Sticking to US legal precedent, we may note that the US, at Nuremberg, executed Germans who it determined had issued fake news in service of creating the conditions for Germany to invade other nations. And though the death penalty has since been eradicated in most of the world, it has not been in the US.
Parry notes that none of the fake-news peddlers have yet faced any legal recourse for their apparent crimes. Hiatt, for example, “remains the Post’s editorial-page editor continuing to enforce ‘conventional wisdoms’ and to disparage those who deviate.” Miller and others maintain similar positions.
People at these outlets have recently begun to express that there should be limits on fake news. However, they have only made such statements in reference to others, not themselves, perhaps illustrating the level of regard they have for the thousands of US soldiers and million-plus Iraqis that have died and are dying thanks in part to the fake news they disseminate.
Robert J. Barsocchini is an independent researcher and reporter who focuses on global force dynamics and has served as a cross-cultural intermediary for the film and Television industry. His work has been cited, published, or followed by numerous professors, economists, lawyers, military and intelligence veterans, and journalists. Updates on Twitter.