The most successful piece of Iranian propaganda circulating in the media today is the false claim that the Saudis, not the Iranians, have caused a famine in Yemen. I remember when the fake news had just begun bouncing around social media. Then it became the official media narrative.
Saudi attacks on Iran's Houthi terrorists had caused a famine in Yemen. Children were dying. The truth was that the Houthis were hijacking the food.
The AP conducted a report in January showing that was the case. But most of the media kept the echo chamber going.
In the northern province of Saada, a Houthi stronghold, international aid groups estimate that 445,000 people need food assistance. Some months the U.N. has sent enough food to feed twice that many people. Yet the latest figures from the U.N. and other relief organizations show that 65 percent of residents are facing severe food shortages, including at least 7,000 people who are in pockets of outright famine.
The Houthis, a Zaidi-Shiite religious movement turned rebel militia, control an expanse of northern and western Yemen that is home to more than 70 percent of the country’s population. In these areas, officials and relief workers say, Houthi rebels have moved aggressively to control the flow of food aid, putting pressure on international relief workers with threats of arrest or exile and setting up checkpoints that demand payments of “customs taxes” as trucks carrying aid try to move across rebel territory.
“Since the Houthis came to power, looting has been on a large scale,” said Abdullah al-Hamidi, who served as acting education minister in the Houthi-run government in the north before defecting to the coalition side earlier this year. “This is why the poor get nothing. What really arrives to people is very little.”
Each month in Sanaa, he said, at least 15,000 food baskets that the education ministry was supposed to provide to hungry families were instead diverted to the black market or used to feed Houthi militiamen serving on the front lines.
Now CNN, of all organizations, has its report in.
One local journalist said he was detained and threatened by Houthi security officials for reporting the abuse of aid, and another reporter said he was afraid of being associated with anything that might reflect badly on the rebel government.
Sanaa residents twice approached us to complain, in English, of living in a police state.
"If I told you the truth about living here, I'd be shot," one whispered before slipping away.
And yet, perversely enough, the media will keep the Yemen famine lie alive.