April 1st 1957: the day Western mainstream media officially became masters of propaganda through a seemingly innocent April Fools’ Day joke
In 1957, BBC conducted a very interesting experiment. The spaghetti-tree hoax was a three-minute hoax report broadcast on April Fools’ Day 1957 by the BBC current-affairs programme Panorama, purportedly showing a family in southern Switzerland harvesting spaghetti from the family “spaghetti tree”.
At the time spaghetti was relatively little known in the UK, so that many Britons were unaware that it is made from wheat flour and water; a number of viewers afterwards contacted the BBC for advice on growing their own spaghetti trees.
Decades later, CNN called this broadcast “ the biggest hoax that any reputable news establishment ever pulled”.
This “innocent” farce showed dramatically the unimaginable power of TV and the mainstream media to shape massively the minds of millions. Earlier, Freud’s young nephew, Edward Bernays, had set the foundations of modern propaganda.
It is worth to add that the technology of real-time video manipulation is already available for at least twenty years now. So, imagine the corporate media power in building efficient propaganda, using modern technology.
One of the most memorable misinformation campaigns by the mainstream media was orchestrated around a teenage girl from Kuwait, named Nayirah, in the beginning of 90s. According to the testimony of the then 15-year-old girl before US Congress on October 10th, 1990, some Iraqi soldiers came into a hospital with guns, took the babies out of incubators and left them die on the cold floor.
Nayirah’s testimony was rebroadcast across the country and marked a turning point in public opinion on going to war. President George H.W. Bush repeatedly cited her claims. Three months after Nayirah testified, President George H.W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq.
But it turned out Nayirah’s claims weren’t true. No human rights group or news outlet could confirm what she said. It also turned out Nayirah was not just any Kuwaiti teenager. She was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States, Saud Nasser al-Sabah. She had been coached by the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton, which was working for the Kuwaiti government.
Yet, various studies and reports indicate that the trust of the public to the mainstream media rapidly declines, year by year.