Accuracy in Media

On the NBC Nightly News on Monday night, Brian Williams introduced a story about Russian claims to the North Pole that featured an image of what viewers were led to believe was a small Russian submarine under the polar ice. The image originally appeared on the Russian television channel Rossiya. But the image was not of a Russian sub under the Pole. It shows a min-sub at the scene of the wreckage of the Titanic. Similar images appeared in James Cameron’s 1997 movie Titanic.

By the time the report by correspondent Kerry Sanders was put up on the NBC News website, this controversial image and others had been taken off, leaving only a photo of a Russian flag allegedly having been planted on the ocean floor. Between the time of the broadcast and the posting of the Sanders piece on the website, it is apparent that somebody at NBC News became aware of the fact that the image had nothing to do with the Russian visit to the North Pole and was deceptive.

NBC News wasn’t the only media organ to fall for the scam. But it may have been the last to so do. Indeed, by the time the Sanders story aired on Monday night, several others had already focused on what the popular website “Regret the Error” called “Rossiya’s Titanic error.” Regret the Error, which documents errors by the media, had previously pointed out that the Russian TV image was also picked up by Reuters on its news wire and in video. The news organization admitted its mistake, sort of. “This story contains file shots of Russia’s MIR submersible. The story also contains video of a submersible which was shot during the search for the Titanic in the Atlantic,” Reuters said. Incredibly, a 13-year-old Finnish boy is being given credit for noticing how the Russian TV images, supposedly of the North Pole mission, were strikingly similar to images that Cameron used in the beginning of his movie.

In contrast to Reuters, which tried to explain the gaffe, NBC News simply eliminated the controversial image from one broadcast to another and hoped people wouldn’t notice. In discussions with NBC Nightly News personnel, they have not admitted to doing anything wrong.

The controversy raises the question of whether the photo or video of the planting of the Russian flag on the seabed floor under the North Pole was faked as well. This image was sent all around the world and was also featured by NBC News. What independent evidence is there that the Russians actually planted the flag under the Pole?

The mix-up with the images may not have been the most serious problem with the NBC News report. Sanders made the extraordinary claim that “Right now a United Nations treaty has the final word on who owns the Arctic Sea’s riches.” He cited no evidence for that statement. History shows―and the Russians have acknowledged―that American explorers actually set foot first on the North Pole. One of them, U.S. Navy Commander Robert E. Peary, did so in 1909 and claimed it for the U.S. “I have nailed the stars and stripes to the North Pole,” Peary himself was quoted as saying. His colleague, black explorer Matthew Henson, actually planted the American flag there. The USS Nautilus traveled under the Pole in 1958 and restated America’s claim to the region “for the United States and the United States Navy,” as recounted by Nautilus commander William R. Anderson in his book, First Under the North Pole. Under the “Doctrine of Discovery,” a well established legal principle, the Pole belongs to the U.S.

Sanders wasn’t the only reporter to demonstrate ignorance of historical facts. Several correspondents tried to insist that the United Nations somehow acquired the Pole. Helen Long of Reuters, in the same story featuring the misleading Titanic image, declared that “No single country has sovereignty over the North Pole, which is administered by the International Seabed Authority.” The International Seabed Authority is an agency of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. This treaty “came into effect” in 1994 but the U.S. has never ratified it. Long didn’t explain how the U.N. has managed to take sovereignty over a U.S. property.

This is how U.N. propaganda enters the lexicon, misleading people about who owns what. In the same vein, the CBC reported that “The North Pole is considered an international site and is administered by the International Seabed Authority.” Repeating the claim, a BBC article reported that “The North Pole is not currently regarded as part of any single country’s territory and is therefore administered by the International Seabed Authority.”

In a variation of this theme, Michael Peel and Daniel Dombey of the Financial Times insisted that another U.N. body, the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, “is the global authority that will determine how much territory the big five Arctic seabed claimants―Canada, Russia, the US, Denmark and Norway―will be able to bag for oil exploration and other uses.” How this U.N. commission became a “global authority,” with the ability to dissolve U.S. claims, was not explained.

Luke Harding of the British Guardian alleged that “Under international law, no country owns the North Pole.”

What we are witnessing is a full-blown propaganda campaign initiated by the Russians and joined by the U.N. and its apologists to force the U.S. Senate to ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty and turn over our rightful and historical claims to the North Pole region to this “global authority.” The U.N. wants a role because some of the lucrative proceeds could be siphoned off for the benefit of the International Seabed Authority and “the Enterprise,” a U.N. project to transfer some of the profits from and technology used in seabed mining to the third world.

Meanwhile, our media have failed to notice that Russia, while claiming the North Pole under the Law of the Sea Treaty, has just been found guilty by the U.N.’s Law of the Sea Tribunal of violating the pact. It found that the Russians failed to promptly release a Japanese fishing vessel, seized for alleged illegal fishing, as required. The Japanese say that the Russians have engaged in a pattern of illegal activity under the treaty. Could the Russian claim to the Pole be another deception? The evidence suggests that.

With tens of billions of barrels of oil and gas at stake in this ”new Cold War,” as NBC’s Brian Williams called it, the American people and the Senate, which may vote on the treaty in September, are entitled to the facts, not Russian and U.N. propaganda.

As long as the U.S. remains a non-party to the treaty, our rights are enforceable by the U.S. Navy. But once ratification takes place, we are at the mercy of foreign interests and international lawyers. This is the big story that NBC News and the rest of the major media won’t tell.

It is a replay of the Panama Canal Treaty debate. This time, however, our media are not even telling the public that there is a debate and that the stakes are even higher.

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