When CNN Misrepresented News on Ethiopia

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Repeated Inconsistencies Costing News Network’s Credibility

On September 10, 2021 CNN published an article entitled “Men are marched out of prison camps. Then corpses float down the river”, in which a gruesome portrayal of alleged executions of ethnic Tigray men in Northern Ethiopia is presented.

The town is Ethiopia’s Humera and the suspected perpetrators are Ethiopia’s security services. To the average Western audience, it all sounds plausible, and the premise is all too familiar. A poor African country, and a regime with a natural inclination to brutalize its own people is the image that comes up instinctively. Regrettably, this level of ignorance can easily pass unnoticed in the prejudiced framework in which many in the mainstream media dwell. This is exactly the agenda setting reporting exploited by authors of the article to mislead readers. Stories like this prey on an audience already steeped in many tropes and stereotypes about Africans that makes such egregious misinformation possible in the first place.

In brief, the article outlines how dead bodies had floated down the Tekeze and Setit rivers and made their way into Sudan where they were discovered. The authors’ investigations lead them to the town of Humera, where allegedly, Ethiopia’s security services are executing Tigrayan prisoners and dumping their bodies in the river. The story is indeed carefully designed to grab attention, illicit sadness and even anger among its readers. But it misses on critical feature of journalism, which is to provide evidence for the story being told. Indeed, very little evidence exists for the claim besides hearsay largely coming from TPLF fixers and activists.

In fact, the primary testimonial provided is from a certain Gebretensae Gebrekristos “Gerrie” who states “We get calls from people in Humera that witnesses — often escaped detainees — saw people marched down to the river in one of the facilities and heard gunshots, or that a number of people were taken by soldiers from the detention facilities and never returned.  We’re told to look out for their bodies coming down the river.” Of course, while Gerrie is giving his testimony he’s donning a ballcap with TPLF insignia. Clearly, he is a Sudan based fixer for the insurgents, yet the reporter never cares to consider this major inconsistency. they just run with the story.

The primary source for the story CNN relied upon is a man named Gebretensae Gebrekristos “Gerrie”. He is seen in the interview video wearing a ballcap with TPLF’s founding date and insignia. This is a clear indication the man is a TPLF fixer.

Perhaps more intriguing is the original article published on September 5, 2021 clearly mentions “Ongoing independent investigations by international and local forensic experts found no evidence that the victims had drowned. The experts, who asked not to be identified due to security concerns, told CNN that the bodies had all been exposed to some form of chemical agent after death, leading to a process which had effectively preserved them before entering the water”. For what purpose the bodies would be injected with preservatives after being killed is not elaborated. However, a closer look at a later version published on the 10th of September 2021, raises some serious issues of credibility. Namely, the new version of article features a silent edit, in which CNN removed all mention of finding chemical agents, likely preservatives in the dead bodies floating down river. Why disguise such an important piece of information?  

The presence of preservatives in the corpses is intriguing. Ethiopian News outlets have alleged these are the bodies of TPLF’s war dead, which had been injected with chemical preservatives, disguised as tortured civilians, dumped in the river, and then later fished out by the group for attention grabbing sensational news story to deceive the International Community. Certainly, this needs more corroboration. But can we really say it’s too far fetched? For a group that has thus far shown the depths of its depravity, anything is possible.

Screenshot of the unredacted version of the report published on 9/5/2021. Clearly mentioned the bodies found in the river had been preserved by a chemical agent, however when critics started to question why the killers would want to preserve the bodies before dumping them in the river, CNN erased all mention of chemical preservatives, as you can see in the later article that came out on 9/9/2021

All of this lends credence to forewarning provided by many social media commentators and bloggers that had indicated the TPLF had been planning to stage an attention-grabbing news around the time of USAID’s Samantha Power’s visit to Sudan in late July to early August of 2021. Right on cue, Reuters reports on August 2, 2021 “At least 30 bodies float down river between Ethiopia’s Tigray region and Sudan”; while AP News on the same day writes, “Bodies found in river between Ethiopia’s Tigray, Sudan” In a seemingly coordinated propaganda ploy, mainstream media pick up the tidbits of information and run with without confirming the sources or the evidence whatsoever.

This sort of irresponsible journalism has unfortunately become the norm when it comes to reporting current events in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa in general. At this point it has become clear mainstream media has willfully and deliberately choosing to misinform its audiences on a continues bases. However, manufacturing consent for regime change has proven difficult as more people continue to challenge the credibility of such stories.

Readers can find both the original and the modified versions through links provided below. In this Regard, we would like to thank the important services provided by the Wayback Machine, an internet archives platform preserving digital history.


Silently edited version of the report with no mention of chemical agents. in this later version, CNN removed this as it would pose serious credibility based question.

The original version before redactions. This version is currently only found on CNN Philippines website. It has been erased from other CNN sources. But don’t worry. We have it achieved, just in case.

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