Ever since foreign journalists arrived in Tripoli at Muammar Qaddafi's invitation, they've complained about the Libyan regime fabricating evidence of civilian casualties from NATO airstrikes--planting fake bloodstains on hospital sheets, say, or placing bodies from the morgue at a bombing site. But in The New York Times today, John F. Burns says an increasingly desperate and disorganized government is employing its "propaganda machine" more than ever before, especially now that its leader is on the run and the rebels are advancing in the western mountains.
A case in point: Early Monday morning, a government "handler" took journalists to a backyard in Tripoli where he said a family had narrowly escaped a NATO missile. When the journalists asked how the missile--which sported Cyrillic script--could possibly belong to NATO, the official conceded that it was a Russian missile from Libya's arsenal but claimed that a NATO bomb had hit the arsenal and ignited the Russian missile, in what reporters branded the "pinball" method. What journalists in Tripoli have discovered, Burns adds, is that NATO's strikes have actually been incredibly precise, with scant evidence of civilian causalities.
One of the most egregious examples of the regime's deception came on Sunday, when Libyan officials escorted reporters to a hospital to see an unconscious seven-month-old infant hooked up to medical equipment, who they claimed was wounded in a NATO strike. A man identified as the girl's neighbor leaned over her and shouted the pro-Qaddafi slogan, "God, Muammar, Libya and that's all!" and condemned NATO. But a hospital staffer slipped one journalist a note in English denying the regime's narrative. "This is a case of road traffic accident," the note read. "This is the truth." That night at another media event, reporters spotted the alleged "neighbor," who admitted that he was employed by the regime's media operations team. Libya's Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid Kaim (pictured above with a journalist) later apologized for the incident, saying that anger over the airstrikes may have made some Libyans "overenthusiastic." Reuters snapped a picture of the infant: