Mainstream news outlet headlines uncritically and recklessly repeat Trump administration’s justification for strike against Iranian military leader

After the United States military carried out a drone strike at the behest of President Donald Trump that killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a key Iranian military figure, major mainstream news outlets unquestionably repeated the Trump administration’s purported justification for the attack in their headlines.

Soleimani was killed while traveling in a convoy near the Baghdad International Airport on January 2 in a move that will have widespread repercussions throughout the Middle East, including the possibility of outright war with Iran. On January 3, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo posted on Twitter an overarching justification for the strike, saying it warded off “imminent threats to American lives.” Later, on CNN, Pompeo refused to disclose what those imminent threats were when asked about the statement.

Having apparently learned no lessons from the buildup to the Iraq War, when mainstream media outlets helped build a drumbeat for the war on the basis of false claims from the George W. Bush administration, major news outlets uncritically repeated Pompeo’s claim -- even though he and the administration he works for lack credibility and are already offering mixed public justifications for why the strike took place. 

Mainstream outlets routinely repeat claims from the Trump administration without context or skepticism. This latest round of uncritical headlines follows a major revelation last month, which was largely ignored by network news, that the U.S. government systematically spread false public information about the state of the war in Afghanistan.

Here is how some major news outlets framed the Trump administration’s claims:’s splash page:

“Pompeo: Airstrikes disrupted an imminent attack” and CNN International

“Strike on Soleimani disrupted an 'imminent attack' and 'saved American lives'”

 “Strike on Soleimani disrupted an 'imminent attack' and 'saved American lives'”

The Hill

“Pompeo: Soleimani killed due to 'imminent threats to American lives'”

USA Today:

“Pompeo says attack that killed Iran military leader Qasem Soleimani was in response to 'imminent attack'”

Reuters via The New York Times:

“Pompeo Says U.S. Killed Iranian Commander to Prevent 'Imminent Attack'”


“Pompeo says Soleimani strike disrupted ‘imminent’ attack”

ABC News:

“Pompeo: US strike on Iran's Soleimani 'saved American lives,' disrupted 'imminent attack'”