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One of my conspiracy theorist friends on Facebook recently linked an article claiming that Amber Lyon was fired from CNN for blowing the whistle on the Obama administration paying CNN to not air certain story.

Associated with the article was the following "infographic": enter image description here

The article linked above makes this specific claim:

She says she was ordered to report fake stories, delete unfriendly stories adverse to the Obama administration (like the Nick Robertson report), and construct stories in specific manners while working for the left-wing network.

CNN is paid by foreign and domestic Government agencies for specific content.

Let me repeat that.

CNN is paid by the US government for reporting on some events, and not reporting on others. The Obama Administration pays for CNN content.

I could not find any mention of these allegations on Amber Lyon's own website.

Furthermore, the article referenced as a primary source for the claim makes no mention of anything besides the suspicion that the government of Bahrain influenced CNNi's decision to not air a specific documentary of Lyon's in its entirety.

A unverified google document is cited as the back-and-forth between Lyon and CNN, but it seems limited to the discussion of Bahrain.

However, Lyon has stated during at least one interview that she believes CNN runs featured news pieces that are financially sponsored by various foreign governments, including Bahrain, Georgia, Lebanon and Kazakhstan. These pieces are purportedly paid propaganda pieces, funded directly by the foreign governments.

Is there any evidence to support this claim? Lyon claimed to have found this out through research; has she ever detailed this research, or provided supporting evidence? Did she also claim the United States government was also paying CNN for specific content?

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AFAIK, "paying" is BS, governments usually bully news outlets to play along by a) not accrediting journalists from these who don't b) sending exclusive controlled leaks to these who do. –  vartec Apr 12 '13 at 14:11
    
@vartec That's my feeling as well. Even the simple threat of withholding interviews with government officials would likely be sufficient motivation for some level of compliance. –  Beofett Apr 12 '13 at 14:27
    
@Sancho Some claims are unfalsifiable, but this seems (so far) to be acceptable for this site. The claim about Lyon may not fall into that category; it is possible that she has publically stated quotations available that would contradict the claim. The claim about Bahrain could conceivably be falsified by detailing documented reasons why such financial incentives wouldn't be feasible. Otherwise, a well-cited answer that demonstrates the claims are simply unlikely may be enough. –  Beofett Apr 12 '13 at 16:02
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The claim is repeated by a Syrian news agency, but the article fails to mention the name of the website it claims as a primary source. –  Yannis Apr 13 '13 at 4:06
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Here's Lyon talking about it: youtube.com/watch?v=CFDC7zmJgQg –  Django Reinhardt Apr 13 '13 at 19:50
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1 Answer 1

up vote 31 down vote accepted

Ironically, the article and the infographic are both spreading the same type of propaganda they accuse CNN of.

Some background: Firstly, CNN and CNN International are two very separate organizations. Secondly, Journalist Amber Lyon became concerned about the credibility of CNN International (not to be confused with CNN -- which is the US arm) because of their handling of a documentary she made called iRevolution: Online Warriors of the Arab Spring for CNN (not CNN International). I know, it's a little confusing, but bear with me.

13 minutes of her hour long documentary was about Bahrain and its corrupt government. She claims she wondered why her documentary wasn't going to be aired on CNN International -- even though it was actually made for CNN -- because she believed it was of direct interest to CNN International's audience. So confused was she by this, that she decided to dig a little deeper, and that's when she discovered what she claims were financial connections between CNN International and the Bahrain government that showed the country had paid for pro-Bahrain content to be aired on CNN International. (She also claims she found similar connections with Lebanon, Georgia and Kazakhstan.)

This is the basis for saying that Lyon made accusations about governments paying for content on "CNN" -- it was actually CNN International she was accusing, not the US arm, CNN.

CNN International issued a response to her claims, which stated,

“[The documentary] was never intended to air on CNN International. It was an hour-long program about the impact of social media on the Arab Spring that was commissioned for CNN US, where it ran in June of 2011 ... There is nothing unusual about this programming decision [to not air the documentary on CNN International].”

So yes, CNN aired her documentary in the US in June 2011, they just didn't show it on CNN International. Given that CNN International is the most watched English speaking news outlet in the Middle East, Lyon's concerns might be somewhat justified, but CNN maintains that they had already aired similar Bahrain programming, including some of Lyon's other work.

With regards to Lyon's accusation that CNN International aired "sponsored" content from corrupt regimes, they also stated that,

CNN International has carried advertising and sponsored content since the 1990s. The critical issue is that our editorial operations and our commercial operations are completely separate. No deal ever buys any editorial influence.

This is where a gray area appears. You can read their back-and-forth debate here, and decide for yourself:

The infographic also is very focused on CNN (US) and the Obama Administration, neither of which have anything to do with the above.

So, to recap, let's take a look at the points of that infographic:

  • Was Amber Lyon ordered to report fake stories? NO

  • Was she ordered to delete stories that were unfriendly to the Obama Administration? NO

  • Has she made any claims that the US Government pays for content on CNN or any other news outlet? NO

  • Has she specifically accused the Obama Administration of paying for stories or propaganda pieces? NO

With regards to her actual concerns with American news outlets (including CNN) and its relationship with the US government, Amber Lyon is very clear about what they are -- and they have nothing to do with the claims of the infographic:

She believes that major American news outlets seem to be pushing "anti-Iran" messages, much like they pushed the phrase "weapons of mass destruction" prior to the invasion of Iraq (that's the example she uses). She says that, due to the earlier messages preceding the Iraq War, she feels that the US government may be gearing up to war with Iran in the same deceitful manner. (You can hear her talk about this in her own words here.)

She considers ALL American news outlets suspect, and she uses news outlets that were FOR the Iraq War (and who reported about "weapons of mass destruction") as prime examples of this sort of propaganda. In other words, her concerns on this matter have nothing to do with CNN or the Obama Administration specifically, and actually she implies big accusations towards other networks (Fox) and other administrations (Bush's).

Now, to be fair, Lyon does have some issues with the Obama Administration -- even though they have nothing to do with them paying for news content or CNN. In her interview with (ahem) Alex Jones, she talks about how she feels the present Administration has made all news outlets afraid of publishing stories that include sources they've deemed as "terrorists".

This, she says, has put the government in control of what gets reported, because journalists don't want to be indicted to reveal their sources. She says the government should not be in control of who is deemed a terrorist, and who is not, and that journalists shouldn't be threatened with indictment to reveal their sources, even if the government considers those sources to be threats to national security. (Source)

I think this is a interesting claim, and it's a shame that this isn't what's being spread around in infographics and overwrought websites.

Also, she was also never "fired" from CNN for blowing any whistles, she was laid off (along with 60 other people) as they closed a whole division down as part of restructuring. And if you need further proof of this, consider the fact that it was only after she was laid off that she started talking publicly about her concerns. As an aside, she also specifically says that she never saw any evidence of US Government officials controlling the news during her time at CNN. (You can hear her talk about both of these things in her own words here)

It's hard to know where the truth lies and the conspiracy theories begin with regards to CNN International's ties to corrupt regimes. She talked with Alex Jones (ahem) in September 2012, but it's worth watching for what she says (provided you ignore what Alex Jones says) and that you're aware that she's referring to the Bahrain government and CNN International.

Her claims that the US Government's attempts to crack down on terrorism is negatively affecting the free press is troubling, but she's never claimed they paid CNN (or anyone else) for content.

So, regardless of all of this, one thing is for sure; both the infographic and article are absolute nonsense.

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The passive-aggressive comments about Alex Jones are unnecessary and unwarranted. –  Brian S May 13 at 17:22
    
Alex Jones is a crackpot conspiracy theorist, plain and simple. He is also the furthest thing from a reliable source, which is why I acknowledge the unfortunate reality that it's on his show that Amber Lyon talks about her experiences. I'm sorry if you're a fan of his, but I'm not changing my answer. –  Django Reinhardt May 14 at 9:47
    
Not a fan (not even familiar with him), I just don't think the personal attacks are something you should have in your answer. If you don't feel he adds value to what Amber's doing, mention that, instead of "coughing" every time you mention Alex's name. –  Brian S May 14 at 13:44
    
I suggest you look him up. –  Django Reinhardt May 15 at 13:53
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