Top US journalists spread fake news claiming North Korean official was ‘purged’ – then he shows up on TV

Virtually every major Western corporate media outlet and a who’s who of pundits circulated a blatantly false report that North Korean nuclear negotiators were killed and imprisoned, exposing their non-existent editorial standards on Official Enemies.

By Ben Norton


The corporate media’s editorial standards for reporting on Official Enemies of the US government, 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 of fake news disseminated without any hint of skepticism by America’s top journalists, 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 fake news 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 for this false story was South Korea’s far-right newspaper Chosun Ilbo, which has a long history of fabricating stories about North Korea. In turn, Chosun Ilbo’s story was based on a single unidentified source.

That is to say, the fake 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 false story was circulated by The New York Times, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, The Hill, The Daily Beast, Fox News, CNBC, TIME, ABC News, The Financial TimesThe Telegraph, VICE, Rolling Stone, The Independent, The Washington Times, The New York Post, HuffPost, France 24, The Japan Times, Haaretz, The Times of Israel, Democracy Now, the US 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 fake news.

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 this fake 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 Press, Reuters, 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.

The Grayzone has documented the long history of the US 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 bogus 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 US 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 Donald Trump for embarking on a historic peace process with the DPRK.

Journalists and activists who spread the fake news

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 Russiagate 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, a 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.