Why Journalist’s “Staged” Beheading Matters - WhoWhatWhy

Why Journalist’s “Staged” Beheading Matters

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Screenshot of James Foley execution video

Screenshot of James Foley execution video

James Foley’s beheading made him into something no journalist wants to be: a part of the story.

Not only has his murder by ISIS terrorists made him part of the story, it has made the freelancer for GlobalPost a central figure in the story about America going back to war in Iraq.

In what has become a grim kabuki theater since the beheading of Daniel Pearl by al-Qaeda, Foley’s death was apparently recorded in high definition and broadcast globally on social media.

Now the question of whether Foley’s killing was staged for the cameras has arisen, the suggestion being that his murder took place off-camera. The analysis holds that his apparent beheading by a British-accented jihadi was merely a show. The big question is why, and why would that matter?

Let’s start off with one major premise that those stories missed. Foley’s death was absolutely staged for the cameras. The very nature of terrorism is that it is staged. What separates ordinary barbarity from terrorism is that the latter is by definition a gruesome performance art.

Terrorism is about headlines.

So why would ISIS fake it? Firstly, and it’s only speculation, is the possibility that Foley and his killers struck a deal: He reads their message to America clearly for maximum impact and plays along with the cameras in exchange for a quick death later.

What does ISIS gain from that? A huge propaganda victory that grabs the attention of the Western, and particularly, American, media. If they did negotiate a “humane death” in exchange for getting their message out, then it represents a whole other level of sophisticated evil. Ordinary terrorists operate in absolutes and don’t usually negotiate with a focus on perfecting their propaganda.

The sad part is that Foley is another victim in the post-9/11 war. He is perhaps even the victim of a second-generation jihadi, the son of a man involved in Osama Bin Laden’s bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

There is still a spate of coverage about his killing, including the analysis of his video, enduring and questionable criticisms about how freelancers like him face risks that staff journalists for big companies don’t, and the typical post-event questions about how President Obama handled the situation. There is even a debate on whether the U.S. should follow its European counterparts in paying ransoms to terrorists.

All of this ignores an elemental question about the news coverage of Foley’s deaths and others like his.

If terrorists derive power, propaganda value and even recruiting strength from the publication and media coverage of their atrocities, then are journalists who cover their unfortunately newsworthy atrocities encouraging the very people who target them for death?

Correction: The original posting incorrectly listed the date of the US embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya. The date is now correct. 

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61 responses to “Why Journalist’s “Staged” Beheading Matters”

  1. Avatar leonardo777 says:


  2. Avatar misterkel says:

    I guess I drank the conspiracy kool-aid on this one. I think ISIS is a CIA/ASSAD joint op, designed to give excuse for more war against those pesky oil-rich, geopolitically situated Middle Easterners.

  3. Avatar FiuToYou says:

    AMERICA….”IF THERE’S NO WAR WE’LL MAKE AN EXCUSE TO HAVE ANOTHER ONE”. (even if it means killing our own people and lying to the masses). Hell, we’ve been doing it since day one, (Columbus), can’t stop now….Making to much money for the 2%’ers. People will never wake-up and get rid of this most corrupt government in history, (for the past 300 tears, oh I meant years). GIVE PEACE A CHANCE!!!!

  4. Avatar MARY4RP says:

    jdirtNOW has the arrow hitting the bull’s eye. We do not know if this was staged or not, because we have been so thoroughly lied to, we can only pray that it is an untruth that a blameless journalist has been murdered, and that the demons which start wars for money will speed back to their homes below the surface. These same demons begin and control all wars, media and the US of A. Perhaps they always have, but we have instant state-of-the-art communication, today, and their doings are becoming transparent.

  5. Avatar jdirtNOW says:

    it’s too bad we don’t get videos of soldiers being wounded or killed in action. if everyone is so up in arms over these beheading videos, i wonder how they’d react if we saw more troops coming home wounded/maimed, and if they’d continue to allow the war to continue. we know exactly why we don’t see such videos.

    • Avatar MARY4RP says:

      Exactly. If you are old enough, you will remember this is the way the Vietnam war ended- the wounded on TV.

  6. Avatar Jeff Grotke says:

    my analysis is the same as 9/11 conspiracy issues. ….it doesn’t matter if there was or wasn’t a conspiracy, if in the end, you use the event for some amoral purpose, then the issue of whether it was concocted or not is immaterial. i will say it all seems DAMNED convenient that the “greatest threat” we have ever faced just pops up right as we are finally getting ourselves out of that mess. And probably, no further journalists would get their heads cut off if we just left.

    • Avatar leonardo777 says:

      I F–KING HATE THAT WORD “CONSPIRACY”, the way it’s being used today!!

      If you read the GOSPELS you will read of the CONSPIRACY between the High Priest, Scribes and Pharisees to MURDER Jesus of Galilee!


  7. Still not enlightened;

    “Don’t take me wrong I abhor the atrocities happening in the Middle East by these crazy ISMFs but,… there is something really fishy, if you ask me, about the “youtube videos/removed the gory scenes/only photos now/supposedly ISMFs propaganda,” deemed authentic by the US. I’m talking about the beheadings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff. I believe ISMFs are capable of doing it, as are many other groups some accepted some outlawed but, nevertheless what leaves me wondering is the calmness the victims portrait when they deliver a message, so totally contrary to their ideologies I’d suppose, just before their execution… Someone care to enlighten me on this?… Anyone?… (JR)”

  8. Avatar denis says:

    Get your heads out of your asses. Staged video, it was just that. Staged to instill fear into our western society. Staged in such a way to get publicity for ISIS so vulnerable young men and women will join their organization. The video represents the New World Order with Islamic Sharia law and the Muslim cabal running the United Nations. ISIS or IS is the most barbaric inhumane organization this world has ever seen, ever. All its members are psychopaths and sociopaths and Muslims.
    Ask yourself this question. Was the video Real? You bet your ass its real.
    This video also shows what happens in a world that lacks leadership from America.

  9. Avatar bob rob says:

    Hey folks! How about an explanation that seems to be the status quo these days? The whole thing was staged to excite an emotional response and that no one was actually killed! Best for some of you to just gobble up the official narrative. It perpetuates that kind of Bravo Sierra.

  10. Avatar whatwaysup says:

    “staged” looks like the most accurate word in play here.

  11. Avatar Suze O says:

    The “beheading” of Nicolas (sp?) Berg was also faked and ostensibly even performed by fake jihadis. The last I heard, the family was pounding on government doors trying to find out more. I have never heard what happened with that controversy.

    • Avatar barbara henninger says:

      Nick Berg’s looked plenty real to me, but what do I know. These recent ones are not believable. Naomi Wolff correctly pointed out that we still have no proof that these men were even killed. She didn’t say it didn’t happen, but why should we believe something just because an “authority” says so? Especially after the video is shown to be a hoax?

  12. Avatar ICFubar says:

    Speculation indeed. on the psychological driving of terrorists and their commanders and those commanders imperial handlers. I doubt ISIS negotiated with Foley. They probably fooled him into delivering his speech and then to Foley’s surprise killed him afterward to make “good” on the video’s content. How else was his talk delivered in so much a matter of fact manner without any sign of duress or outright involuntary fear? Of course the western elites and media also use this murder to their own propaganda ends, in manufacturing consent for more imperial war (Syria/Assad is still the target) with the cultural bias/revulsion of the citizenry to death in such a manner as having the head cut off. So who is staging this death, and to what ends? Watch out America the next false flag for a really big war against the chosen enemy is going to be off the scale, perhaps nuclear,(?) as the rumor has already made the rounds as being attempted but foiled by conscientious objectors, since fired or seriously demoted.

  13. The French thought the guillotine was civilized. Henry VIII preferred a swift axe or sword.

    ISIS claim they beheaded this American because of Americans dropping bombs in Iraq so far from the American Homeland that behead from the air with the push of a button. Which is more moral?

    Once the war on terror gains it’s own momentum, terror will automatically increase, fed by both sides, eventually consuming the consumer society.

    • Avatar tomherzog says:

      Forgive me for this tangential aside but the guillotine was indeed a civilized form of death compared to what preceded it in the Middle Ages: the torture of being “drawn and quartered” in which the alive victim was first hung by the neck, then taken down before asphyxiation, then while still alive disemboweled and who was then forced to watch his entrails burned while slowly and exceedingly painfully dying. The alleged miscreant’s head was then usually exhibited on a stake as a warning to other potential miscreants and his limbs might be sent to the four corners of the kingdom.

      Compared to this the guillotine was a relatively humane method of execution.

      The process of drawing and quartering was demonstrated in the final scene of Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart”. The executioner showed mercy to William Wallace by severing his head to spare him a slow agonizing death after being eviscerated.

    • Thank you for the added understandings. So the Islamists are where the Christians were long ago?

    • Avatar tomherzog says:

      Yes. At least the most extreme reactionary groups such as ISIS are.

      What is disturbing about the ideological orientation of member of this group (I’ve heard it saliently referred to as a “cult”) is that they seem to turn morality on its head; they feel it is their religious duty to kill “infidels” and “apostates” which seems to invert the “Golden Rule” of “do unto others…”

      It is interesting in a macabre sort of manner to see the Middle East reverting to a kind of Dark Age mentality. Under the nominal rule of the Ottoman Empire (c. 1450-1917) the diverse tribes, clans, religions, and nations of the region stretching from the Eastern Mediterranean through Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent mostly managed to work out their differences amicably and “live and let live”. The Western Imperialists took over in 1917 with the Sykes-Picot “agreement” (not a formal treaty) turning the region into Western type nation-states e.g. Syria, Iraq, Jordon, Egypt, etc. which began the process of pitting group against group such as e.g. putting Sunni, Shia, ad Kurds under the control of Baghdad were these factions were compelled to via for resources and where they were controlled by “strong men” like Saddam Hussein. Then once the US got directly involved in 2003 the wheels completely came off so to speak. Now we are witnessing a Medieval Caliphate come into existence in a nation that once had one of the highest per capita rates of medical doctors per citizen in the world (Iraq).

      There is a school of geo-political thought that puts forth the thesis that both Israel and the US want the region balkanized into impotent “bantustan” type entities rather than relatively strong nation-states. Although I haven’t verified it, I’ve heard that Vice-Pres. Biden has endorsed this. Divide and Conquer, indeed.

    • Avatar FiuToYou says:

      Well said and sooooo true. America…Stand up and shout “We’re fed up with this government bullshit and we’re not going to take it anymore”!

  14. Avatar brtanner says:

    1) Not Foley 2) Skin tone of “body” not remotely like that of rubber head 3) Blood not spattered realistically as in actual beheading 4) “Cut line” at neck totally clean and bloodless 5) Complete lack of other jihadis witnessing and chanting. Conclusion: Psy-Op, Now, British Intelligence are sending SAS looking for their actor/informant. Right.

  15. Avatar stevor says:

    To me, that doesn’t even look like Foley. Here is a link to pictures of him and the “beheading”. To me, there are several facial features that just don’t match, the main one being the general shape of the head.


  16. Avatar slobotnavich says:

    Oh, for Christ’s sake – they killed the poor bastard because they’re 11th Century religious fanatics. Let’s not ridiculously over-analyze this ghastly incident. And the proper response should not be verbal – it should be massive napalm and CBU attacks on all known al Queda installations and encampments. And if that doesn’t get the message across it should be followed up with tactical nuclear strikes. It’s far better to be feared than loved when you’re dealing with a bunch of barbaric savages.

    • Avatar Dutch says:

      “Barbaric savages” armed with our weapons and funded by our allies in the ME. So therein lies the catch 22. We could do all the things you suggest easily. Unfortunately the flaw in your argument is the assumption that our ‘leaders’ even want this.

      So much political and monetary capital keeps flowing their way so long as this war on terror, real or fake, persists. Why do you think they would change that? Because they care about your well being? The well being of people in the ME? Hahahahahahahahahahah. I shudder to think that anyone is this naive.

    • Avatar hollywoodjeff says:

      Guess it takes one to know one, Slobo. And it wasn’t Al Qaeda or Al Capone that did the job, but napalm ’em or nuke ’em anyway, right?

    • Avatar Draebe Killas says:

      So you want to use napalm and nuclear strikes against what would end up being largely civilian targets to prove how civilized the US is to these barbarians?

      The ones indiscriminately raining death from above with no regard for the innocent people below would more aptly be described as the ‘barbaric’ ones.

      Barbarians are the ones who kill and displace millions of people who never did them any wrong.

      You are those who think like you are the true barbarians.

    • Avatar slobotnavich says:

      I said Al Qaeda installations – not hapless and innocent civilians, whom we and the British murdered with such joyous abandon in WW II. We’re damn lucky we won the war, else we and British would have been on the receiving end of the Nuremberg trials.

  17. Avatar esquimaux says:

    I’d imagine that effective terrorism would consist of selecting purely random targets with neither rhyme nor reason and no taking credit afterwards. A shopping mall, a dentist’s office, a school gym after hours, a nondescript neighborhood in a small, inconsequential town. The point would be to strike enduring fear into the hearts of ordinary people, turning them against one another and undermining any sense of community. Fiction writers have often described these kinds of scenarios.

    Some time ago, one of the networks aired an interview with one of Saudi Arabia’s royal executioners. Speaking via a translator, he described his work and exhibited his sword. His two small children were present. The man was the son of an executioner and hoped that his son would follow in his footsteps.Beheading is done with a curved sword held in two hands right over left. One clean stroke above the bony knot at the base of the neck. It would be a personal disgrace and an affront to the Prophet to do a sloppy job.

  18. Avatar Dimitri Ledkovsky says:

    The writer assumes that Foley is some kind of an innocent neutral. How about that he’s a plant, is part of the ISIS elitist global terror promotion and was totally a cooperative actor in this totally faked “atrocity” incident? “HowWhatWhy” just didn’t cut it on this one by not digging deeper, or not digging at all!

  19. Avatar edwardrynearson says:

    I assume by default that the continuing “global war on terror” narrative is synthetic

  20. Avatar Peter says:

    Terrorism is theater.

    I am pleased to see that this essential point was made in the article. Terrorism is directed, not at the victim, but at those watching and whose political behavior and thoughts will be molded by the event.

  21. Avatar Emil Enchev says:

    20 AUGUST – weak before them – Best Gore site

    MadManEE said:

    Look at THE KNIFE “use” by the man who is “beheading” the “journalist” – it is quite different from the knife that is on the ground next to the already beheaded body!

    ISIS would never stream a video that doesn’t show the act of
    beheading – because purpose of this beheading is exactly to show the ACT ITSELF to INDUCE FEAR!


    By the way for every who believe in this video – the executor move his knife almost 6 times and there was no drop of blood at all. After the 3 cutting blood will flow abundantly – this is not only fake, this is totally stupid fake.

    Of course, there may be other reason to not show act of beheading.

    Simple guy with “FAKE” KNIFE (look like made from plastic) and fluent English is not able to do beheading. Someone else do it instead of him. He is only spokesmen. But I don’t believe much in this – because they would just use two man do it – one to speak, and one to behead.

  22. Avatar Nick Miller says:

    If he was killed by legit ISIS members they are killing under the law stating that you may behead for food or for punishment. Under such Islamic law it it illegal to do do with your left hand. The killer in the video is clearly using his left hand……?
    If they truly represent ISIS wouldn’t an Islamic Diehard catch the left hand thing immediately?

    • Avatar Kent Wayne Hilbert says:


    • Avatar InfoSeeker says:

      Really? I have some huge, burning questions about the authenticity of the video and I thought I had read all of the evidence that it is fake. (I said evidence, not proof, I’m sure that what we saw on video was not his actual death but I have no opinion on whether he’s still alive or not. We have no evidence of either case).
      This is the first time I’ve seen anything on the part about it being against Islamic law to behead with the left hand. Of course, I’m off to googleland right now to see what I can find, but can you tell us where you learned this or read this? Thanks for the info.
      There are sooooo many of us out here who are seriously questioning this video, with valid points and legitimate questions. Why isn’t anyone answering them? Why isn’t the media reporting on this? I don’t get it. They know that this time, it’s not all a bunch of crazy conspiracy theorists. This time, it’s intelligent people with intelligent questions and we’re being ignored with no answers. It makes no sense.

    • Avatar Nick Miller says:

      Noagenda.com episodes 646 & 647 do a great job of eviscerating the video and Global Post which is the fake ass news site he freelanced for

    • Avatar InfoSeeker says:

      I meant my below post to be a response to this. First time on this site!

  23. Avatar Bob says:

    Glenn Greenwald writes: “Now the Obama administration is starting a new campaign to bomb those fighting against Assad – the very same side the U.S. has been arming over the last two years.

    It’s as though the U.S. knew for certain all along that it wanted to fight in the war in Syria, and just needed a little time to figure out on which side it would fight. It switched sides virtually on a dime”


    • Avatar Draebe Killas says:

      The ideal scenario for those who control our government is to fight on both sides of a conflict. More profit when you support both sides.

      You get to count the profits in dollars and the losses in lives.

  24. Avatar Gary Welsh says:

    Why do you assume James Foley was a legitimate journalist? He worked for USAID-funded projects in Iraq. As I’m sure you are aware, the CIA has used USAID workers for covert purposes. Following his capture and subsequent release in Libya, he gladly used his story to be exploited for purposes of urging our military intervention in that country. Also, if the video was staged, why shouldn’t we question whether he actually was killed by ISIS terrorists? Have we forgotten already that our own CIA is responsible for covertly funding these insurgents that are now causing chaos in Syria and Iraq? Does it remind anyone of the origins of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda?

    • Avatar Rebecca Clark says:

      I was wondering the same thing. Also, I wouldn’t call a man in his forties a “young freelancer” and I’ve never heard of “Global Post.” It all sounds a bit sketchy.

    • Avatar usamnesia says:

      At this point…given all the revelations about the sordid activities of the death merchants from the land of the free…why would anyone believe anything offered up by this regime? Seriously…they have pulled these staged events for so long now…even they dont give a shit anymore

    • Avatar Roberto says:

      Right on usamnesia,

      I think the comment below by the US newspaper columnist Sydney Schanberg writing at the time of the first Gulf War says it all in a nutshell:

      ‘during the Gulf War, columnist Sydney Schanberg warned journalists
      not to forget “our unquestioning chorus of agreeability when Lyndon
      Johnson bamboozled us with his fabrication of the Gulf of Tonkin

      Schanberg blamed not only the press but also “the apparent amnesia of the wider American public.”

      And he added: “We Americans are the ultimate innocents. We are
      forever desperate to believe that this time the government is telling us
      the truth.””


    • Avatar bewisetoday says:

      It is all fake, theater, warmongers wanting to keep building bombs and dropping them..ask the question…who profits for a war in Syria?

    • Avatar russbaker says:

      why post such a comment without even taking a second to verify what you said? GlobalPost is a fairly major and established news website. Please!

    • Avatar Bob says:

      If you consider that GP was founded 5 years ago,established…

      Glen Greenwald describes how the Bomb Assad campaign has been replaced by a campaign to bomb those fighting against

      Assad – the very same side the U.S. has been arming over the last two years.

    • Avatar Rebecca Clark says:

      Hmm…actually, all I said was that I hadn’t heard of GlobalPost, my inference being that it lacks the presence & longevity of AP or BBC etc… I did in fact look it up before posting and it seems as if it’s relatively new.

    • Avatar russbaker says:

      it has been around for 5 and a half years, and was founded by Charlie Sennott, a Pulitzer winner and a good journalist. It is really important to be fair and precise. That’s what we are all about here. Besides, the AP and BBC have been around for…ever… so that can hardly be the standard in a world where things are changing.

    • Avatar nicho says:

      It’s been around for five years, is funded by subscriptions and donations, and has the resources to maintain a stable of journalists in major cities all around the world — and has enough cash to send reporters into dangerous war zones. All this while longer established news outlet with huge subscriptions bases (albeit falling) are pinching every penny and closing foreign bureaus.

      My first reaction to the story was what the hell he was doing there in the first place. There are no good guys in this fight, and with so many factions involved, being on the ground inside the fight gives you absolutely no insight into the overall picture. There is no journalistic rationale for exposing someone to that level of danger.

    • Avatar ICFubar says:

      Easy Mr. Baker, Hull’s a big boy and took care of this point in what I thought was a quite diplomatic manner.

    • Avatar nicho says:

      The CIA during its long and sordid history has run a wide variety of major and established organizations.

    • Avatar Bryson Hull says:

      Rebecca, you make a good point about his age, thank you. I’ve removed young from the description. A couple of things I’d like to share with you, and not specifically about James Foley. I can’t, based on evidence, discount anything either of you suggest. It all merits further examination. There is no doubt that USAID has for a long time and does still have operations that are intelligence fronts. In my experience as a foreign correspondent, a lot of freelancers scraping to make a name took USAID or other development work (NGOs etc) contracts to pay their living expenses while trying to break into journalism. His work history does bear further scrutiny. As for Global Post, it’s a five-year-old company that employs a lot of people like Foley as freelancers, as well as more experienced career journalists. My larger point with the story is about how much coverage these kind of events merit, and does widespread coverage give the perpetrators exactly what they seek.

    • Avatar Rebecca Clark says:

      The USAID connection could be a red flag but you’re correct in not attributing any significance to it without further information. Your article does raise a number of interesting points and I’m sure we’ll all be looking forward to the follow up.

    • Avatar ICFubar says:

      The problem being in today’s world of ever knowing who the real perpetrators actually are….ISIS acting independently or the CIA as part of the American “Deep State”?

    • Avatar Bob says:

      The Kurds are now selling hot oil – a tanker is stting in the Gulf waiting for a Texas Judge…

      “Also, if the video was staged,…”

      After three decades of covering wars in the Mideast, Africa and Afghanistan, Eric Margolis also has doubts:

      “The alleged beheading of freelance journalist James Foley by the shadowy ISIS (or Islamic State) has sparked outrage and horror around the globe.

      I say “alleged” because we are not sure if the decapitation was real or faked.”

      “The same day Foley was allegedly being decapitated, 19 people in Saudi Arabia, a close US ally, were publicly beheaded for various crimes. One of the men was executed for witchcraft. There was no outcry at all over this medieval horror. Saudi Arabia is suspected of charging political opponents of the monarchy with drug offenses, which carry the penalty of beheading by a sword-wielding executioner. Not a peep about this in the US media trumpeting the Foley story.”

      “We westerners have a charming and quaint belief that killing people from the air by using bombs, rockets, shells, napalm and cluster munitions – or even nuclear weapons – is somehow not really as bad as ramming a bayonet into an enemy, blowing him to pieces with heavy artillery, or slashing his throat the way sheep are killed”

    • Avatar rws450 says:

      Foley’s last significant article is interesting and quite good:

      interesting, and part of the massive propaganda war around Syria, are
      the false reports about Foley being held prisoner by the Syrian
      government forces. These reports are still being spread even after a
      seemingly thorough investigation reported in the May 2014 issue of
      Vanity Fair.

    • Avatar John says:

      Couldn’t agree with you more, Gary.