How the press swallows MoD propaganda


In January 2007 the British papers went wild over a “Rescue bid by heroes strapped to helicopters“. Describing how British soldiers had tied themselves to the wings of a helicopter to retrive a soldier’s body, an army spokesperson told the Mail:

“It was a leap into the unknown. It was an extraordinary tale of heroism and bravery of our airmen, soldiers and Marines who were all prepared to put themselves back into the line of fire to rescue a fallen comrade.”



Under the headline “Heroes of Helmand: the first amazing pictures“, the Observer talked of “a mission that carried echoes of Saving Private Ryan”, “a trip into the unknown, a mercy mission that has already etched itself into contemporary military folklore”.


The Guardian effused that the mission evoked “the manner of the heroes of the second world war film Flight of the Phoenix”.

The Times had this wonderful line: “Reports said that soldiers from 45 Commando Royal Marines did not want their 30-year-old section commander falling into the hands of insurgents, who they feared would mutilate his body.” Top marks there for demonising the enemy.


The Telegraph reported the operation’s success, followed by an army spokesperson’s words that it showed “the level of camaraderie and bravery of those soldiers involved.”

Now that the full MoD report on the mission is out, however, we learn that it was a tale of “poor training, confusion and friendly fire“. In the midst of the chaos, a British gunner had opened fire and shot another soldier dead. “A devastating board of inquiry report released by the Ministry of Defence exposed a catalogue of errors,” said the Guardian.


Of course most papers buried this news, and the Sun managed to tell it as a story of “MoD betrayal“.


So — when will the British media learn not to take MoD press releases at face value?