A Brief History of Fake News

by | Aug 7, 2017 | Videos | 13 comments

[NOTE: This video was produced for BoilingFrogsPost.com on October 31, 2012. It is being made available in its entirety here for the first time.]

by James Corbett
October 31, 2012

The old adage that “Knowledge is power” has been apparent to warriors and would-be rulers throughout history.

A well-known illustration from the annals of history revolves around Nathan Rothschild, the British representative of Meyer Amschel’s infamous Rothschild banking dynasty. At the Battle of Waterloo, Rothschild’s riders and messengers were able to get news of Napoleon’s defeat home to Nathan a full day in advance of the government’s own news carriers. As the story goes, Nathan was able to convince the public that he had in fact received news of Wellington’s defeat by selling heavily on the English stock market. When panic selling ensued, Rothschild had his agents buying up the stocks at pennies on the pound. By the time the news of Napoleon’s defeat actually reached Britain’s shores, Rothschild had already secured his position as one of the richest men in Britain, a fortune that was only further leveraged in the ensuing years lending post-war stabilization funds to Europe’s monarchy

Regardless of the story’s historical veracity, it serves to illustrate the fundamental precept: knowledge is indeed power. It also suggests a corollary: misinformation is a way of leveraging one’s power over an enemy. This, too, is an ancient idea that has been used throughout the centuries as a tool of psychological warfare to confer one’s army an advantage over its enemies.

Military deception is an ancient and time-honoured art. Throughout recorded history, military commanders have attempted to spread false news and seed false information as part of psychological warfare operations to deceive, confuse, and demoralize the enemy.

During the Crusades in 1271, Sultan Baibars successfully took the Crusaders’ Krak des Chevaliers in Syria by conveying a letter to the knights garrisoned there telling them to surrender. The letter, supposedly from the head of their order in Jerusalem, was in fact a crude forgery, but the gambit worked. The knights capitulated and the Sultan took the castle.

However it wasn’t until the invention and widespread use of technologies like the printing press and then the radio and the television, that the modern conception of “news” was formulated. The broadsheet, the magazine and the newspaper started to give people a sense of a regularly published digest of “news” stories. These technologies also enabled the possibility of mechanizing “false” news to spread propaganda to the enemy.

Some of the most dramatic examples of this came in the 20th century, with the use of airplanes to spread propaganda leaflets, and the use of radio to direct transmissions across enemy lines in a hope to sway public opinion.

This was by no means limited to psyops against the enemy, though. The very same techniques have been used throughout history to fool one’s own troops in an effort to raise morale.

In the Civil War, false “news” was routinely distributed to Confederate soldiers to boost their sprits before a battle, from false reports of Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s death to rumours that a world war was about to break out with England and France siding with the Confederates.

In WWII, false news of reinforcements for the beleaguered American-Filipino garrison resisting the Japanese invasion of the Philippines kept them fighting long past the point of their impending defeat.

One of the most extreme examples of “false information” spread to confuse, panic or disarm a nation, however, are news stories that are completely made up from whole cloth and broadcast as if they are real. These stories, too, although more rare, can be devastatingly effective in confusing and demoralizing enemies or panicking the public.

The pedigree of fake news stories goes back some time, but perhaps the most famous was the Halloween 1938 edition of the weekly radio drama, Mercury Theatre on the Air. This adaptation of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds was presented as a fake news broadcast of an alien invasion. Famously, many of the people listening did not realize that the transmission was fake, and assumed the nation was actually being invaded. Some believed aliens had actually landed, others assumed it was a Nazi ploy, as tensions swelled in the run-up to WWII.

Although commonly dismissed as a sensationalistic media hoax, the phenomenon provoked by the broadcast became the subject of intense academic research. One of the bodies that took special interest in the broadcast was the Princeton Radio Project, a Rockefeller Foundation-funded body researching the effect of radio in influencing public opinion. Closely connected to organs of the US psychological warfare program, the group, which included Nelson Rockefeller’s Dartmouth College roommate, Hadley Cantril, eventually published a study on the public reaction to War of the Worlds.

Since that time, fake news broadcasts have been aired on otherwise “mainstream” networks from time to time, often with little or no notice that the “news” story being aired is completely fictitious.

Sometimes the fake news is deliberately seeded into the public consciousness by way of a carefully coordinated public relations campaign.

Other times the fake news consists of staged or manipulated interviews, designed to give a false impression that the on-the-ground reality is different than it really is.

Yet another method of implanting fake news is to merely make large-scale accusations that can later be exposed as being completely baseless. The widespread coverage of the original allegation and the almost non-existent coverage of the retraction is enough to assure the effectiveness of this particular psyop tactic.

All of these methods of psychological warfare, however, are only as effective as they are believable. To a jaded public, or even just one that has learned not to trust the news from a given source that is known to have a bias for or against given entities, the effectiveness of such propaganda is severely limited. This is where a new and altogether more insidious form of misinformation comes into play, however: the video news release.

The VNR, or video news release is a short video production that is made to look like a news report. Often employing actors or PR specialists to represent the “reporter” and even the interviewees, the VNR has been used as a way for companies to work their products and services into the nightly news in the guise of a “news” broadcast.

More disturbing by far than the widespread use of this PR trick by companies like Microsoft and Phillip Morris is the use of VNRs by the federal government

Some will dismiss the fears about VNRs out of hand. After all, they will argue, psychological warfare is by definition something that is used against one’s enemies, not one’s own people. This is in fact a mistaken assumption, and one that we will address in next week’s edition of this series.

For now, it will suffice to not our original premise: knowledge is indeed power. This implies another corollary, as well: ignorance is weakness. In this case, it is the public who time again perish for lack of knowledge, and the entities that seek to control their minds, be they governments foreign or domestic, or non-governmental actors altogether such as corporations and media entities, who can win the battle for the hearts and minds of the public by feeding them a steady stream of misinformation.

If the public is to have any hope at all in this bleak landscape, it can only come from a commitment to verifying and sourcing all of the information they receive. The psychological warriors can only have their way with a public who refuses to question their own sources of information and demand proof for the claims that are being made by their supposedly neutral sources of news.


  1. To give a personal anecdote on this topic that hits close to home, I have noticed that Corbett Report comment sections on YouTube seem to be loaded with commenters putting out misinformation and trolling the comment section for seemingly no reason. I’m not surprised by this, from what we know about government-payed Internet trolls, but it is interesting to see nonetheless.

    • scpat,
      You hit a good point.

      It seems a tremendous amount of effort goes into the trolling of comment sections.
      Tremendous amount of effort.

      But I guess a full time “troll” person could rack up a lot of comments on an 8 hour shift, especially with software which facilitates “comments” and sock-puppets.
      And with an army of these trolls, it certainly could create a false impression of what “public think” is.

      2 minute clip of a Troll boiler room

        • Thanks for that, HRS. I’m actually looking for little clips like that from the archives that most people will have forgotten about (or maybe never seen) to extract and put on the Extras channel, so if you (or anyone else) have any other favourites, please do recommend.

        • …more on this line of thought…
          A recent August 9th TruthStreamMedia video (It’s Official: This Is Straight out of Orwell’s 1984… ) ties into this line of thought. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrKs_vduiKU
          Melissa is talking about new policies which Google and YouTube are implementing in order to provide people with ONLY “established facts”. Melissa gives some examples on how this will affect society.

          She also suggests that this might be one of the reasons why we have seen some wacko way-out-there conspiracy theories in recent years. In other words, the Powers That Shouldn’t Be were paving the way using nutty way-out-there theories as a justification for these new 1984 policies.

          Corbett has a phrase for this “paving the way”, but it is late and I’m fuzzy. James has often talked about how they are preparing us for what is to come, and about how they are trying to shape society.

          It is interesting that “The Powers That Shouldn’t Be” seem to be straining very hard with acceleration in order to mold and shape society.

      • Those two clips you linked to really tie in nicely to each other. You have the almost overwhelming babble and negativity and obvious sabatogers of any useful conversion occurring in important forums, and then you have the learned helplessness, the perception that it’s as if that’s the way everyone thinks (negativity in those forums, comment sections, etc) and there isn’t anything we can do about it. A one-two combination punch if you will. I believe taking the will away from the people is there ultimate goal in this regard.

        Thought-provoking round table conversation with BFP, I hadn’t seen that one yet.

      • Help.
        Could someone help me?
        I need help with a word and its definition.

        What is the word in the blank?
        “…It clearly is part of the cultural, political, social __________ of the United States….”

        I build my vocabulary every time I listen to or read a Corbett Report.
        Fortunately, back in the 1960’s my Father encouraged us 5 sons to learn words and their various context definitions. Reader’s Digest had a page called ‘It Pays to Increase Your Word Power.’ He would entice us to take the word challenge, passing around the magazine much like the can of Schlitz got passed around from Dad to oldest son to high chair at the Sunday after-church dinner.

        • n4x5,
          Thanks so much!

          I need to practice using that word.

  2. Dear. PeaceFrogg. The press is dead in America . yes dead as a door nail. Though like the nail it still has its uses. MY little town in Joklahoma has a news paper that is a Berkshire Hathaway Media owned Neo-Con rag.
    They had a story from The Associated Press yesterday about the DNA of the meat found at the World Trade 911 disaster that was 16 years old but they(?) where still trying to match it up so they(?) could wrap it up. What really pleased me was the call to the city op-ed editor telling him I would like to see the local paper retract and correct the AP story that Arab hijackers flew planes into the building , knocking the building down and causing the deaths of 2700 or so people whose DNA they(?) were trying to identify. The Editor Wayne Greene said the paper was correct and I was wrong and there was no debate , no correction coming my way.
    So dearest Frogg the corporate news is not serving the truth of any matter and regurgitated party line is all we are gonna-get. Look elsewhere for the truth, the old calvary is not coming to save the day. Listen to others , make the course corrections that will bring you to the new paradiem. Otherwise. scpats statement may be correct. Bless you little Frogg.you’ll make to the other side.I have all the faith in the world in your opinions changing.

    • Dear Frogg ; honestly I wondered about the comment screen and how it is formatted. The comment I referenced appeared
      just after your ” Bush comment ” and before HRS “Hit the mark” reply to scpat. Have you thought critically why Pablo’s so down on your case from an objective angle.
      I have nothing but support for dialog that may even be conciderd abstract having many anecdotal stories about dyslexia and cognition Deficiency of visual to verbal mechanical disorders. You drive Pablo nuts sometimes. He seems to be tri-lingual and takes concepts as passionate as any Latino I’ve ever known. Just speculating and not saying its a proof and it could be a flawed one on several points. His English is excellent as to meaning and remarkably versatile in use of colloquial idioms. He is coherent, consistent and convincing in the new paradigms that from my perspective have and is slowly shattering the old paradiem. Americans are like bears coming out of hibernation. They will be much more dangerous than the Venezuelans who are being tested now. The deep state have a plan but don’t have all the answers. Watch what happens down there very closely.
      Have you ever wondered why so few comment here?. Corbett has over 200,000 subscribers and I estimated only 20 regularly comment. 50 to 75 comment every once in awhile. Soon I will have the total different subscribed commenters counted. Have you ever read the public comments? James says the data discs have those public comments included but the subscriber comments are not available for data mining. Where is the value in the communication? In the context of the message or the completed delivery and the interpretation and cognitive dissemination. Why is Corbett doing what he does? Why does it matter? I paint pictures , the art is in the communication. Keep communicating Frogg , what’s the picture going to look like when your done? Im tired , they(?) sprayed the crap out of the sky last week and it rained over 5 inches here, now its back to 95 and humid as Bangladesh .
      One last thing from your comment earlier, why are we the “fifth estate?”

  3. I guess things have been happening down under (Australia).
    VAXXED and also Al Gore.

    VAXXED – Producer of film Vaxxed banned from Australia for 3 years

    Face to Face: Morano confronts Gore with ‘Climate Hustle’ DVD in Australia!
    Interview on OAN – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q40xJsQbkcc

    • Richard,
      I want to commend you for taking it upon yourself to do the Dutch subtitles for VAXXED.

      For me, actions like this exemplify what it means to be a free spirit, a REAL human being.
      Like often pointed out at Corbett Report, actions like this are “solutions”. They are what we can do to better conditions within our sphere of influence.

      Thank you!

      …a community based on cooperation, exchange and friendship… (Catallaxy) helps us all better conditions.
      Catallaxy defined – https://www.corbettreport.com/what-are-you-going-to-be-when-you-grow-up/#comment-38612

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