Accuracy in Media

The old lie about Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s daughter supposedly being killed in a 1986 raid ordered by then-President Reagan is back. Several stories in U.S. and foreign media about the turmoil in Libya have discussed Gaddafi’s rule in Libya, involvement in terrorism, and the time when we had a President, Ronald Reagan, who ordered military retaliation against pro-terrorist dictators.

On Monday’s NBC Nightly News, reporter Andrea Mitchell said 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 showed Gaddafi visiting someone in a hospital.

Mitchell had also flashed a photo of Gaddafi standing next to a girl—the “daughter”—who looked about six or seven years old.

In fact, he had no daughter. It appears that Gaddafi “adopted” the girl after the strike in order to generate sympathy for himself after the raid. The phrase, “adopted daughter,” is the usual formulation that we found in reports about the raid. Mitchell omitted the “adopted” part.

Making Reagan out to be a heartless brute, Mitchell showed Reagan justifying the attack on Libya by saying, “if necessary we will do it again.”

Contrary to Mitchell’s claim about Libyan involvement in the nightclub bombing being just an accusation, John Koehler’s book, Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police, documents the Libyan role, with East German support, in the La Belle bombing in Berlin in April of 1986. Koehler says the East Germans were operating with the knowledge and approval of the Soviet intelligence service, the KGB.

Mitchell also neglected to note that the bombing killed two Americans and a Turkish woman and injured well over 200 persons, including 41 Americans.

But the alleged death of Gaddafi’s “daughter” was the worst part of the broadcast. The fact that stories about this alleged dead daughter are still appearing this many years later shows how easy it is to fool the major media.

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.”

So we have a girl, anywhere from a year to six or seven years old, allegedly being killed. The Libyan regime was probably the source of the various claims.

Former USA Today reporter Barbara Slavin, who was in Libya at the time, set the record straight. “His adopted daughter was not killed,” she told me. “An infant girl was killed. I actually saw her body. She was adopted posthumously by Gadhafi. She was not related to Gadhafi.”

On Monday night, CBS Evening News correspondent Mark Phillips said that Reagan’s raid on Libya “killed about 60 people, including Gaddafi’s 15-month-old adopted daughter.”

Time magazine claimed Reagan’s strike “killed 41 people including Gaddafi’s adopted daughter.”

ABC News claimed the victim was his “adopted baby daughter.”

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.’”

So the death toll is anywhere from 35 to 60. The media don’t know, and don’t seem to care whether they get it right or wrong.

We can be sure that resurrecting these allegations in this case gave the media the opportunity to bash Ronald Reagan while discussing Gaddafi’s tenuous hold on power.

It is true that the bombing of Libya was followed by Gaddafi’s bombing in 1988 of Pan Am 103, killing 270 people, including 189 Americans. Leaving no doubt about who was responsible, Mitchell flat out accused Libyan agents of carrying out the bombing. But what was Gaddafi’s role?

The incoming administration of President George H.W. Bush developed the evidence linking Libya to the crime, but did not pursue military retaliation. Instead, it was turned over to the U.N., which imposed economic sanctions on Libya. The result years later under the Clinton Administration was that a deal was brokered by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that saw a Scottish court in 2001 convict a top Libyan intelligence agent, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, of the bombing and sentence him to life imprisonment.

It turned out, of course, not to be life imprisonment. He was released in 2009 by Scottish authorities. The British Government denies that he was released because London was anxious for oil deals with Gaddafi.

But many in the media want to forget the Clinton Administration role in this fiasco.

Libya had surrendered al-Megrahi over for trial after lengthy negotiations with Annan and the Clinton Administration. The deal included an agreement, which was kept secret for over a year, in which Gaddafi was promised that the trial would not “undermine” his regime. This was seen as a guarantee not to charge Gaddafi or his top aides. In effect, Gaddafi was given immunity from prosecution.

But don’t expect to see the Clinton role in Gaddafi’s survival highlighted by a news network, MSNBC, which just aired the Chris Matthews film, “President of the World: The Bill Clinton Phenomenon.” The film depicted the former president as a “humanitarian.”

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