NBC’s Andrea Mitchell Should
By Cliff Kincaid – September, 2011*
After years of spreading the lie that Gaddafi’s “adopted daughter” had died in the 1986 American bombing raid on Libya, many in the media are finally admitting it was all a hoax. Will Andrea Mitchell of NBC News now apologize and resign for passing off terrorist disinformation as “news?”
As we noted in a column earlier this year, Mitchell went on the NBC Nightly News to say that Libya was “accused of bombing a Berlin nightclub frequented by U.S. soldiers” and that “Ronald Reagan retaliated, ordering an air strike against Gaddafi’s tent, accidentally killing his young daughter. Gaddafi escaped unharmed.” Mitchell even showed Gaddafi visiting a hospital. It was pro-Gaddafi and anti-Reagan propaganda.
The facts, which we have consistently provided, are that there were no public media reports of Gaddafi having a daughter at the time of the raid, and so it wasn’t possible that she was killed. Now it appears that Gaddafi did have a daughter with the same name, Hana or Hanna, who may have been born around the same time as the raid, and is said to be very much alive.
Whatever the ultimate truth about this girl, who may have studied to be a doctor in Libya, the dead “adopted daughter” story was a pure lie, as we have maintained for years.
The revelations are a big black eye for Mitchell, NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent and host of an all political hour from 1 to 2 p.m. EST on the MSNBC cable channel. Her bio says, “Mitchell currently covers foreign policy, intelligence and national security issues, including the diplomacy of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for all NBC News properties.”
In addition to parroting Gaddafi propaganda and disinformation, Mitchell is known for her “extensive and varied reports [which] include a series of exclusive interviews over the years with Cuban President Fidel Castro. Her unprecedented access resulted in a one-hour documentary on Cuba in December 2003.” (In fact, Humberto Fontova’s book, Fidel: Hollywood ‘s Favorite Tyrant, portrays Mitchell as a Castro shill, noting that she said about the dictator, “Castro is old-fashioned, courtly—even paternal…a thoroughly fascinating figure!”)
We noted that Gaddafi had “adopted” the girl after the strike in order to generate sympathy for himself. The phrase, “adopted daughter,” is the usual formulation that we found in reports about the raid. Mitchell omitted the “adopted” part in her story, which means she further embellished the phony story.
This should go down in journalism history as a case study of how easy it is to fool the American media. In fact, it was too easy. In the case of NBC News, however, this was not a poorly paid stringer who was duped. Rather, it was one of their top correspondents and the host of an MSNBC talk show.
The facts are important. As we noted in a 2004 column, “Back in 1986, before the bombing of Libya, Time magazine had carried a photograph of Gadhafi and ‘three of their sons’ but no daughter. After the raid, Time said that an 18-month-old girl, ‘reportedly’ his adopted daughter, had been killed. The New York Times reported that she was 15 months old. The Washington Post said she was a year old.”
But these different ages and reports of sons but no daughter didn’t cause the major media to review the facts in the case and question the information.
In a profile of Gaddafi, Al-Jazeera reported that “Libya’s alleged involvement in the 1986 bombing of a Berlin nightclub in which two American soldiers were killed prompted US air attacks on Tripoli and Benghazi, killing 35 Libyans, including Gaddafi’s adopted daughter. Ronald Reagan, the then US president, called him a ‘mad dog.’”
This serves as an explanation by an Arab propaganda channel of why the story was so important to Gaddafi. The lie about the daughter was designed, in part, to generate sympathy for Gaddafi and hatred toward Reagan, never a favorite of the U.S. news media. Gaddafi and his henchmen, who had learned the techniques of disinformation and propaganda from their Soviet patrons, knew that the ploy would work with suckers in the U.S. and foreign media.
Little did they realize it would still be working 25 years later on NBC News.
It would seem hard to generate sympathy for a global terrorist like Gaddafi, but the major media led by Andrea Mitchell were determined to try. Mitchell should resign in disgrace because of her service for the dictator.
NBC’s Mitchell Should Resign Over
The truth that Gaddafi had no “adopted daughter” has been known since before the 1986 raid. But our media went forward with the propaganda and disinformation anyway. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell repeated the lie in a February NBC Nightly News report this year.
However, many in the media are now publicly starting to have second thoughts because documents obtained from the Gaddafi family compound in Libya show that Gaddafi did have a daughter and that she did not die but lived and studied to be a doctor. This is “Hanna” or “Hana,” depending on the spelling.
The strange turn of events suggests that Gaddafi, after using the dead “adopted daughter” story for anti-American propaganda purposes in 1986, raised a real daughter by the same name. Why? Gaddafi was always considered unstable and his behavior cannot be rationally understood. But the short answer is that he thought he could get away with it. And he almost did – until his regime began crumbling and the secrets started leaking out.
The big loser in all of this is not only Gaddafi but his dupes in the media, led by Andrea Mitchell of NBC news.
Another big loser is Charlie Rose, who in 2001 interviewed Gaddafi for the CBS News “60 Minutes” show and prominently mentioned that “it was reported that his 15-month-old adopted daughter was killed” (at about 6:07 in the broadcast) in the 1986 strike. Author Milton Viorst said that Gaddafi had been psychologically “wounded” by the death of his daughter. “He talks about his daughter who was killed in one of those bombings. My judgment seeing him talk about her is that he was profoundly wounded by this event and he has not recovered from it,” he said. Viorst added, “He remembers this child.”
As we noted at the time, Barbara Slavin of USA Today offered an insight into how the lie was concocted during a public appearance in 2004. I was there to record her observations. She said, “His adopted daughter was not killed,” adding, “An infant girl was killed. I actually saw her body. She was adopted posthumously by Gadhafi. She was not related to Gadhafi.”
Slavin’s comments have been on the record for about seven years. Mitchell and others ignored them. Why? The stories made Reagan, who ordered the raid, out to be a cold-blooded child-killer. The truth would have made Gaddafi out to be a cynical exploiter of the Western media.
The fact that a well-known diplomatic correspondent such as Slavin knew the truth and went on the record about the nature of the lie did not stop the media from repeating the lie many times over the years. This demonstrates how untrustworthy the media can be on a sensitive issue with international importance and ramifications. In this case, they preferred to air Gaddafi’s lies rather than report the truth, even when their hero Obama was preparing to wage war on him.
If it is this easy for a global terrorist to deceive the media, what about their coverage of other matters, such as the Obama Administration’s foreign policy? Obama waged war against the Libyan regime, after Gaddafi gave up a nuclear weapons program and turned on al-Qaeda. Where are the investigative stories into the nature of what Al-Jazeera calls the “pro-democracy” rebels? It is yet another media failure.
Increasing doubts about the “adopted daughter” death story have surfaced only recently as the Gaddafi regime was falling and the media have wondered what happened to his family members.
An August 22 Guardian article said, “After the 1986 US bombing of the Gaddafi compound in Tripoli, Libyan state media reported that Muammar Gaddafi’s adopted infant daughter, Hanna, had been killed. Prior to that point she had never been mentioned, leading to speculation the story might have been concocted for propaganda reasons. Equally mysterious are reports that she is still alive. Earlier this year Germany’s Die Welt said it had seen a document relating to Gaddafi family assets in Switzerland which listed 23 members of the clan, Hanna among them. The report claimed she spent time in London and was now a doctor.”
But it wasn’t just the Libyan “state media” which had reported her death. Many in the U.S. media had done so as well. And the “speculation” that the story was propaganda was obvious from the time of the 1986 raid when it was clear, based on the evidence, that Gaddafi did not have a daughter.
An August 22 New York Times article on Gaddafi’s “family tree” listed no member named Hanna or Hana. Yet, other stories talk about her life and schooling.
A breakthrough occurred in an August 26 blog post by Elizabeth Flock at The Washington Post which was headlined, “Gaddafi’s daughter Hana’s death in 1986 all a hoax?” Flock reported, “When the U.S. bombed Col. Moammar Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli in 1986, the Libyan leader said his adopted infant daughter Hana had been killed, inspiring sympathy around the world for the loss of a daughter Gaddafi had never before mentioned.”
Since she had “never before been mentioned,” shouldn’t this have caused the Post and other media to question whether she had died?
Flock goes on, “For years, mystery surrounded Hana: Had she ever existed? Was she really dead? Had Gaddafi concocted the story as propaganda?”
Any good reporter would have recognized it as propaganda from the get-go. But in the confrontation between Gaddafi and Reagan, the media chose Gaddafi. The liberal media regarded Reagan as the villain, not Gaddafi.
Flock added, “Now, an investigation by the Irish Times in Gaddafi’s compound, overtaken by rebel forces this week, seems to lay these questions to rest. In a room that is believed to have been Hana’s, the newspaper found documents and photographs that show it’s likely Hana is alive and working as a doctor in Tripoli.”
The Irish Times story had a passport photo of this “Hana.” It said, “The adopted daughter of Muammar Gadafy, whom he claimed died as an infant in the 1986 US bombing of his Tripoli compound, appears to be alive and worked as a doctor in the Libyan capital, documents discovered by The Irish Times indicate.”
The paper went on, “Many Libyans have long doubted the story of Hana’s death, which Gadafy used to bolster the notion that he was a victim of western military aggression.”
But if “many Libyans” in Libya were doubting it, why did Andrea Mitchell repeat it as fact in February of this year, even to the point of showing film footage of Gaddafi visiting a hospital? The answer, again, is that it made Reagan look bad.
In a separate story, the Irish Times said that Hana’s phony “death” may have been a “myth to spark sympathy” for Gaddafi, explaining, “For decades her name was invoked by Muammar Gadafy and his apologists as proof of his personal suffering as a result of the US bombing of his Tripoli compound in 1986.” Yes indeed. But his “apologists” include many members of the American media who bought the “myth” hook, line, and sinker.
Andrea Mitchell, who took the bait, should now have the decency to resign.
NBC’s Mitchell Should Resign Over
Although Gaddafi’s dead “adopted daughter” story is now widely recognized as regime propaganda, the disinformation will continue, perhaps for many months. Reporters such as NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, who publicized the lie, are reluctant to admit that they fell for a Gaddafi trick.
Consider a Carl Bagh story in the “International Business Times” on August 5 of this year. It said, “Gadhafi lost his nine-year-old adopted daughter Hana in a 1986 U.S. airstrike.”
A story in August at another website called Allgov.com said, “The Americans did kill Gaddafi’s eighteen-month-old adopted daughter and injured two of his sons.” She was now just 18 months old when she died.
Writer Will Colvin reported last month: “Barbara Slavin of USA Today reported in 2004 that on several occasions, female journalists slept with Gaddafi in bids to gain interviews. She also claimed Gaddafi’s ‘adopted daughter,’ who was killed in the 1986 US airstrikes on Benghazi and Tripoli, was in fact adopted posthumously and had no relation to the dictator.”
This column appears to be recycling my information about Slavin’s comments – that she saw evidence of Gaddafi claiming a dead girl as his own, and insisting she was killed in the raid – back in 2004. But there was never any evidence that Gaddafi ever had an adopted daughter in the first place.
Yet the stories continue:
Isn’t it amazing how the media report things that aren’t true years after they have been exposed as false? If they can be so susceptible to the propaganda of someone as evil as Gaddafi, what other lies are they presenting as truth?
In one of the most amazing blunders, in a story about the Gaddafi compound after the rebels had ransacked the place, Andrew Malone and Vanessa Allen of the Daily Mail said, “If there was any morsel of sympathy to be gleaned for Gaddafi, it was from the ghostly bedroom of his adopted daughter Hana, who was only a few months old when she was killed in the raid.” Her bedroom had been made into a “shrine,” they said.
Even at this late date, these reporters are buying into the propaganda. They saw this ghostly “shrine” and accepted it as face value, in the same way that the North Koreans erected a phony village on their side of the border that blares propaganda to the south.
“The fact that Hana Qaddafi had been killed in the bombing was presented as historical record by the media,” notes Chris Richardson of the Christian Science Monitor. In other words, this was not just Libyan regime propaganda. And it is a major blot on the record of the American and international media.
Richardson goes on, “Given the propaganda seen in the final days of his regime, it may not be so far-fetched that his claims of murder, baby Hana’s elaborate funeral in 1986, and even the ‘Hana Festival of Freedom and Peace’ in 2006, were just part of his elaborate propaganda machine.” Lionel Richie reportedly performed at this function.
Time magazine is now reporting, “In Libya, it’s an open secret that a Hana Gaddafi studied medicine in Tripoli. The young woman was apparently protected by bodyguards. ‘When I asked who she was, I was told she was Hana Gaddafi, Gaddafi’s adopted daughter who was supposedly killed in 1986,’ says an anonymous Internet commentator who claimed to have studied medicine at the university at the same time.”
The major media should set the record straight, not only by telling the truth, but by exposing how they fell for the lies.
Mark Whittington at Yahoo!News put it this way:
“President Reagan has been dead these past seven years. Those who vilified him in life have largely been silent, mainly because of his undoubted role in winning the Cold War and removing from the world the specter of nuclear annihilation. But perhaps an acknowledgement from the mainstream media, starting with Mitchell, that they were, after all, repeating Libyan propaganda uncritically and thus smearing a great president would be warranted.”
It would be nice for Andrea Mitchell to go on the air and simply say, “I’m sorry. I was duped. I have lost your trust. I resign.”
But a news organization that hires a racial charlatan like Al Sharpton does not have very high standards. Still, Mitchell should do the right thing – resign.
*This is a special report from the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism.