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Media and Propaganda: The Northcliffe Press and the Corpse Factory Story of World War I

Author(s): Joachim Neander | Randal Marlin

Journal: Global Media Journal : Canadian Edition
ISSN 1918-5901

Volume: 3;
Issue: 2;
Start page: 67;
Date: 2010;
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Keywords: Arthur Ponsonby | Atrocity Stories | Brigadier General Charteris | Corpse Factory | Corpse Utilization Plant | Fake Credentials | Lord Northcliffe | Media Manipulation | World War I Propaganda

Demonization of Germans was an early feature of British propaganda in World War I, with numerous atrocities reported in the Bryce Report, 1915. But in April, 1917, a particularly gripping, gruesome, and odium-inducing tale was given credence by the press of Lord Northcliffe, notably The Times and The Daily Mail.These papers seemed to provide convincing proof that the Germans boiled down corpses of their own soldiers for the purpose of producing useful products such as fats, bone meal, pig food and the like. The story is well known, but significant details have been obscured or misrepresented with regard to the way in which it came to be so widely believed. Our purpose here is to straighten out key elements of the record, based on archival findings, and to draw attention to the techniques employed to ensure widespread credence in this false tale. These techniques, and the principles behind their use, have recent and contemporary parallels, some of which are drawn in this paper. The Corpse Factory story succeeded in its goal, but may have made a lasting peace more difficult. Also, official repudiation of the story in 1925 encouraged later disbelief when early reports circulated about the Holocaust under Hitler, thus contributing to the early lack of response by nations asked to accept Jewish refugees.
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