Home > Global, Media, The Body Politic > Syria: the mendacities of the mainstream media (part tahi)

Syria: the mendacities of the mainstream media (part tahi)

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“The first casualty when war comes is truth…” Hiram Johnson, 1866 – 1945

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Recent Timeline*

4 April: Trump announces he wants all remaining US forces out of Syria “very quickly”. Trump says; “Saudi Arabia is very interested in our decision. And I said, Well, you know, you want us to stay? Maybe you’re going to have to pay”.

8 April: First reports emerge of chemical gas attack in Douma, the last rebel-held town in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta province. Reports are unverified.

8 April: Russian government calls reports of alleged gas attack in Douma “fake news” and describes the story as a “false flag” operation. Russia’s Foreign Ministry states; “The goal of this… baseless speculation is to shield the terrorists and… the radical opposition that refuse to engage in a political settlement [process], as well as to justify potential military strikes from the outside”.

9 April: Trump promises major decision in next twentyfour hours  on alleged gas attack.

10 April: Syria  and  Russia invite Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to investigate allegations of chemical attack in Douma.

10 April:  Chairman of the State Duma’s Defense Committee,  Colonel General Vladimir Shamanov warned the West; “ The double standard policy has overstepped all possible boundaries. At this point, the [pro-Putin parliamentary majority] United Russia party must responsibly state that we are going to take all political and diplomatic measures, and also military measures if such need arises. Not a single unlawful action will be left without response.”

11 April: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says it will support any military strike on Syria in retaliation for the alleged gas attack in Douma; “If our alliance with our partners requires it, we will be present”.

11 April: Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, repeats Colonel General Shamanov’s warning to the US: “If there is a US missile attack, we – in line with both Putin and Russia’s chief of staff’s remarks – will shoot down US rockets and even the sources that launched the missiles.

12 April: French President Emmanuel Macron declared that France has evidence that Syria carried out the gas attack in Douma; “We have proof that last week, now 10 days ago, that chemical weapons were used, at least with chlorine, and that they were used by the regime of (President) Bashar al-Assad. Our teams have been working on this all week and we will need to take decisions in due course, when we judge it most useful and effective.”

Two days later, hours after the US-led attack on Syria, France releases statement on evidence of alleged gas attack: “After examining the videos and images of victims published online, (French intelligence services) were able to conclude with a high degree of confidence that the vast majority are recent and not fabricated.

12 April: OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) fact-finding team lands in Syria to investigate alleged gas attack in Douma. Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, said; “We will facilitate the arrival of the team to anywhere they want, in Douma, to check whether or not there was use of chemical substances”.

14 April: Trump announces US-led attack on Syria, launching 105 missiles at targets in that country. Trump  states: “So today, the nations of Britain, France, and the United States of America have marshaled their righteous power against barbarism and brutality”.

14 April: President Putin of Russia states categorically: “Just as one year ago, when the Shayrat Airbase in Syria came under attack, the US used as a pretext a staged chemical attack against civilians, this time in Douma, a Damascus suburb. Having visited the site of the would-be chemical attack, Russian military experts did not find any traces of chlorine or any other toxic agent. Not a single local resident was able to confirm that a chemical attack had actually taken place.”

15 April: Trump declares: “Mission accomplished!”

15 April: Russia loses vote in UN Security Country to condemn US-led military strike. Russian UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia said: “Today is a very sad day for the world, the UN, its charter, which was blatantly, blatantly violated.”

15 April: US Ambassador to UN, Nikki Haley, tells Fox News Sunday that US troops will remain in Syria: “Yes, it is all of our goal to see American troops come home. But we’re not going to leave until we know we’ve accomplished those things. ”

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* International time-zones not taken into account: above dates are approximate.

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Saturday: a proven crime of aggression

On 14 April, the  United States launched 105 ‘Tomahawk‘ cruise missiles against Syria. The United Kingdom sent four RAF  ‘Tornado‘ jetfighters to attack and destroy targets at a former missile base near Homs. France also participated.

Despite assurances from Western governments that Bashar al-Assad’s forces were responsible for the alleged gas attack, no actual evidence has been presented regarding;

(a) who carried out the alleged attack

(b) if the so-called ‘attack’ happened at all.

Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, was not even certain what gas weapons were used. At a Press Briefing after the attack, he disclosed;

We are very much aware of one of the agents. There may have been more than one agent used. We are not clear on that yet. We know at least one chemical agent was used.

An OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) fact-finding team had barely reached Syria to determine what took place at Douma (if anything), when the US-led attack took place shortly afterwards. The OPCW team could not have found evidence or reached conclusions in the brief period of time (see timeline above) available to carry out their UN-mandated duties.

Local media reporting…

The response of our local media to report Saturday’s missile strike has been largely superficial and followed the Western narrative;

(a) the gas attack happened

(b) Syrian government forces were responsible

…From Radio NZ

Radio NZ has attempted to maintain a measure of cautious agnosticism, referring to “a suspected chemical attack“; “alleged chemical weapons sites“; and, “suspected poison gas attack“.

In most instances, the terms “suspected” and “alleged” are used. In one of it’s first stories, Radio NZ explicitly stated;

There has been no independent verification of the reports.

That caveat was not repeated on most (if any)  updates from Radio NZ.

On occasion, though, Radio NZ has reported US and other sources without questioning veracity or indicating that statements presented as facts may or may not be accurate;

At a Pentagon briefing shortly after Mr Trump’s announcement, Gen Joseph Dunford listed three targets that had been struck:

  • A scientific research facility in Damascus, allegedly connected to the production of chemical and biological weapons
  • A chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs
  • A chemical weapons equipment storage and an important command post, also near Homs

And;

UK strikes carried out by four Tornado jets hit one of the targets mentioned by the Pentagon – a military site near the city of Homs which is believed to have housed precursor materials for chemical weapons, according to the UK ministry of defence.

The term “allegedly” is noticeably missing in these paragraphs from a 13 April story;

The attack on the city on Saturday is said by activists and medics to have killed dozens of people when government aircraft dropped bombs filled with toxic chemicals.

The international Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is due to send monitors to Douma, but it is [unclear] how much evidence of any chemical attack might remain.

And from this 12 April story;

May, also speaking earlier on Wednesday, said all the indications were that the Syrian authorities were responsible for the chemical attack in the town of Douma and that such shocking assaults could not go unchallenged.

Radio NZ had reported that a OPCW fact-finding team had landed in Damascus on Saturday, the day of the U.S.-led attack, and in subsequent stories;

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) says a fact-finding mission has been “gathering information from all available sources and analysing it”.

Inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are currently in Damascus and are expected to visit Douma this weekend.

No reference to the fact that Syria and Russia had both invited the OPCW to send a fact-finding team.

…From Newstalk ZB

Commercial radio station , NewstalkZB,  was the complete polar opposite to Radio NZ.  They made no pretense to journalistic impartiality, and the term “alleged” was notably missing from their stories;

14 April:

President Donald Trump says the United States has “launched precision strikes” on targets associated with Syrian chemical weapons program.

This coordinated strike marked the second time in a year that Trump has used force against Assad, who U.S. officials believe has continued to test the West’s willingness to accept gruesome chemical attacks.

…since the reported chemical attack that killed civilians in the rebel-held town outside Damascus last weekend.

…an attack could pull the United States into Syria’s civil war and trigger a dangerous conflict with Assad ally Russia – without necessarily halting chemical attacks.

In the wake of last weekend’s gruesome attack, some U.S. officials advocated a larger, and therefore riskier, strike than the limited action Trump had ordered in April 2017, also in response to suspected chemical weapons use.

But the airfield targeted by the Pentagon resumed operations shortly after the attack and, according to Western intelligence assessments, chemical attacks resumed.

And  just in case anyone doubted who NewstalkZB held responsible for the alleged gas attack in Douma;

Planning for these strikes focused on ways to curb Assad’s ability to use such weapons again.

Since last year’s strike, multiple chemical attacks have been reported in opposition areas, most of them involving chlorine rather than the nerve agent sarin, as was used in 2017, suggesting the government may have adjusted its tactics.

An attribution at the bottom revealed; “Additional reporting by AP and The Washington Post“. Not surprising then that NewstalkZB’s story looked more like a rehash of a Pentagon press release than any notion of impartial reporting;

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A subsequent story on 16 April stated;

It’s unknown whether missile strikes in Syria will prevent or evoke the use of chemical weapons in future.

The only thing missing from NewstalkZB stories on Syria is a disclosure, “Approved by The White House Politburo”.

…From Fairfax

Fairfax media fared not much better than NewstalkZB, making only cursory attempts to qualify reports. As far as can be determined by this blogger, the phrase ‘unverified’ was used only once on the day the reports were first published in various Fairfax publications.

On 9 April, in a story headlined “Dozens killed in apparent chemical weapons attack on civilians in Syria, rescue workers say“, the term ‘apparent’ was as close as Fairfax dared in lieu of ‘alleged’;

Dozens of men, women and children have been killed in an apparent chemical attack on a besieged Syrian enclave near Damascus, doctors and rescue workers say.

Even when the term ‘alleged’ should have been used, it was omitted – giving reportage an air of conclusive factuality when it was not deserved;

Gregory D Koblentz, the director of George Mason University’s Biodefense Program, said the [alleged*] attack appeared to reflect how much the clout of US policy has faded in Syria.

[…]

US President Donald Trump responded to the [alleged*]   attack Sunday morning on Twitter.

[…]

The [alleged*]   attack came as Syrian government forces stepped up an eight-week long offensive against Douma, outside Damascus, the last stronghold controlled by hardline rebels from the Jaish al-Islam group.

[…]

Multiple reports, including from rescue workers and the US State Department, said an initial [alleged*]   attack had targeted a hospital. It was unclear, however, what type of [alleged*] chemicals may have been used.

[…]

Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert described the [alleged*] reports from Eastern Douma as “disturbing and “horrifying,” saying they required an “immediate response by the international community.”

[…]

Syrian doctors and rescue workers on Sunday shared with journalists [alleged*] graphic images of men, women and children they said had been [allegedly*] killed or wounded in the [alleged*] attack.

[* Author’s insert: ‘alleged’]

A statement  from UN Secretary General, António Guterres, was the only instance where the reader was reminded that reports of a so-called “gas attack” were unconfirmed and nothing more than unproven allegations;

A representative for the United Nations said that Secretary General António Guterres was “particularly alarmed by allegations that chemical weapons have been used against civilian populations in Douma” but that the United Nations was “not in a position to verify these reports.”

At no point does the 9 April Fairfax story mention that an OPCW fact-finding team had landed in Damascus after the alleged gas attack and had not yet had an opportunity to verify events. Once again, the U.S. had circumvented an ongoing investigation to judge and apportion guilt without any corroborating, independent evidence.

Another  Fairfax story on 9 April attempted to put a caveat on the alleged gas attack with the term “suspected” – but that does not convey the same meaning as ‘alleged’;

The reported strike comes after a suspected poison gas attack killed at least 40 in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, the last foothold for the Syrian opposition in the area.

US President Donald Trump has promised a “big price to pay” for the suspected chemical attack.

Curiously, the end of the story makes a brief reference to another state ‘actor’ in the Syrian civil war, citing;

Israel has also struck inside Syria in recent years.

Again, no mention  that the alleged incident was unproven and that the OPCW  had yet to determine the facts.

Also on 9 April, an emotive piece penned by Josie Ensor presented a seemingly chilling “eye witness account” of victims of the alleged attack. The story presented the so-called “attack” as factual, with supposed “eye witness” statements and descriptions of “victims”.

The sympathies of the author is evident when she writes;

Both Syria and its Russian backer denounced the allegations as “fabrications”, while Iran, another of Bashar al-Assad’s patrons, called it a “conspiracy”.

There is no questioning of the incident’s veracity – until near the end of the article;

Saturday’s alleged attack pushed the holdout rebels back to the negotiating table. Hours later, they agreed to a Russian evacuation deal, signalling the end of the rebellion in one of the opposition’s most important territories.

Despite belatedly describing the so-called ‘attack’  as “alleged”, the author then reverted to indicating that it was a factual, proven event;

Reports sparked international outrage. But as Syrians have learned over the years, those responsible are unlikely to ever be held to account.

How can anyone be “responsible” if the so-called “attack” was “alleged” and not yet proven? If the “attack” is shown to be false, then no one could be held “responsible” for an incident that never happened. QED?!

The following day, another Fairfax article abandoned any pretext of an ‘alleged’ gas attack;

The prime minister has expressed “the strongest condemnation” of the chemical attack in eastern Ghouta, Syria, while the foreign minister has labelled it a war crime.

Dozens of men, women and children have been killed in the chemical attack on a besieged Syrian enclave near Damascus.

The deadly attack came as Syrian Government forces escalated their offensive to recapture the last rebel strongholds near the capital.

At least 40 people were killed on Saturday evening (local time) in the attack in Douma, eastern Ghouta, about 20 kilometres from Damascus, according to the Syrian-American Medical Society (SAMS), a Washington-based nonprofit group that supports health facilities in the area.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Foreign Minister Winston Peters condemned the attack, and said those behind it needed to be held to account.

[…]

News of the attack comes after the Labour-led Government promised to double New Zealand’s refugee quota from 750 to 1500 each year.

Only Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters, to his credit, held out by keeping an open mind;

“When we know who to point the finger at, we’ll point the finger then… It’s abhorrent, and it’s against international laws and standards.”

Only on 14 April – six days after reports emerged of the alleged attack –  Fairfax deigned to refer to the supposed incident as ‘alleged’;

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The story even referred to an impending investigation by the OPCW and carried substantial statements from the Russians.

Was this a realisation by Fairfax management that the alleged incident in Douma had yet to be verified? That coverage by New Zealand’s mainstream media had been less than “fair and balanced”?

Unfortunately, no. The above story emanated from PBS News Hour and was carried via Associated Press, which Fairfax picked up. It did not originate from the hands of any New Zealand journalist. (Much to our shame.)

A day later, after the U.S. had launched 105 cruise missiles at various locations in Syria, Trump announced with glee; “Mission Accomplished”.  Fairfax reported the post-strike event, abandoning all notions of keeping an open mind on the alleged gas attack;

Allied missiles struck at the heart of Syrian chemical weapons arsenal in a show of force and resolve aimed at punishing the Assad government for a suspected poison gas attack against civilians and deterring the possible future use of such banned weapons.

Notice that the opening paragraph referred to “Syrian chemical weapons arsenal” – not “Syria’s [alleged] chemical weapons arsenal“. There is zero evidence that Syria possessed any chemical weapons after they were removed under international supervision in 2014;

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If such banned weapons still remained in Syria, Western powers were mysteriously silent on the issue.

The “Mission accomplished” story goes on to point out – albeit briefly,  almost as an afterthought – that the OPCW had sent a team to Syria;

A global chemical warfare watchdog group said its fact-finding mission would go as planned in Douma, where the apparent use of poison gas against civilians on April 7 that killed more than 40 people compelled the Western allies to launch their attack. Syria has denied the accusation.

None of the  story’s three writers could bring themselves to use the word ‘alleged’, substituting instead  the more bland “apparent use of poison gas”.

The next paragraph again abandons any notion of journalistic skepticism;

But France’s foreign minister said there was “no doubt” the Assad government was responsible, and he threatened further retaliatory strikes if chemical weapons were used again, as did Pentagon chief Jim Mattis, who said the assault was a “one-time shot,” as long as chemical weapons weren’t used again.

As far as Fairfax’s journalists were concerned, there was no doubt that the attack had occurred; gas was used against civilians; and Assad’s forces were the guilty party. No doubt at all; no question that Western governments were 100% truthful.

The OPCW had yet to find any evidence, but that seemed not to matter for most Western journalists.

What other areas of state-government activities draws such unquestioning fealty from our much-vaunted “free press”?

For example, when the story reported that;

Dunford said missiles first struck a scientific research centre in the Damascus area that he said was a centre of Syrian research, development, production and testing of chemical and biological warfare technology. The second target was a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs. He said this was believed to be the main site of Syrian sarin and precursor chemical production equipment.

The third target was a chemical weapons equipment storage facility and an important command post, also west of Homs, Dunford said.

– did no one in the Fourth Estate bother to ask the most basic question: why were those “facilities” destroyed when they potentially held vital evidence that the OPCW team could have uncovered?

By 16 April, the murky smog of  chemical weapon hysteria began to part just a little so that questioning voices could be heard. Perhaps someone at Fairfax realised that Western allegations of a so-called “gas attack” were just that: unproven allegations.

A story entitled “Syrian government deploys forces in Douma after alleged chemical attack” used the term ‘alleged’ three times, once in the title;

Syrian state TV says another 5,000 security forces are deploying in a town near the capital that was brought under full government control a week after an alleged chemical attack.

[…]

In Assad’s view, the airstrikes that were launched in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack by Syrian forces on the town of Douma will unify the country.

Following paragraphs returned to the less neutral term ‘suspected’;

The town was also the scene of a suspected poison gas attack on April 7 that prompted the US, Britain and France to launch missiles on Syrian military targets early Saturday.

[…]

The pope spoke after airstrikes by the United States, France and Britain aimed at taking out Syria’s chemical weapons capacity, following a suspected poison gas attack on a Damascus suburb that killed dozens, including children.

The OPCW fact-finding mission to Syria was again only briefly alluded to;

An international fact-finding mission from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is in Syria and expected to visit Douma.

Better than previous reporting, without doubt. But not by much.

[To be concluded in Syria: the mendacities of the mainstream media (part rua).]

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Acknowledgements

Thanks to ‘Francesca‘ for the OPCW link,  Progress in the elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons programme.

References

Wikiquotes: Hiram Johnson

Politico:  Trump – ‘I want to get out’ of Syria

BBC:  Syria war – At least 70 killed in suspected chemical attack in Douma

RT News:  Moscow calls ‘chemical attack’ in Douma ‘fake news,’ warns against Syrian intervention

BBC:  Trump promises ‘major decision’ on Syria chemical attack

Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons:  OPCW Will Deploy Fact-Finding Mission to Douma, Syria

RT News:  Duma defense chief says Russia may respond with military force to US strike on Syria

Reuters:  Saudi could take part in military response in Syria – Crown Prince

Al Jazeera:  Russia threatens to shoot down any US missiles fired at Syria

Reuters:  France has proof Syrian government conducted chemical weapons attack – Macron

USA Today: French report lays out the evidence – Assad forces conducted chemical attack on civilians

RT News:  ‘They can go anywhere they want in Douma’: OPCW team arrives in Syria to investigate alleged attack

Military Times:  President Trump’s statement on the U.S. military action in Syria

Kremlin.ru:  Statement by President of Russia Vladimir Putin

Bloomberg:  Trump Says ‘Mission Accomplished’ With Syria Strike Unanswered

The Guardian:  Russia loses vote condemning strikes

Fox News:  Amb. Nikki Haley on Trump administration’s Syria strategy

The Guardian: ‘No alternative’ – Theresa May sends British jets to join airstrikes on Syria

US Department of Defense:  Briefing by Secretary Mattis on U.S. Strikes in Syria

Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons:   Progress in the elimination of the Syrian chemiucal weapons programme

Radio NZ:  Syria – Toxic gas attack kills at least 70 in Douma

Radio NZ:  US and allies launch strikes on Syria chemical weapons sites

Radio NZ:  US ‘has no moral right to blame other countries’ – Russia

Radio NZ:  Macron has ‘proof’, to decide on Syria air strikes

Radio NZ:  UK’s May summons ministers for Syria meeting

Radio NZ:  The path to the attack on Syria

Radio NZ:  Syria warned US still ‘locked and loaded’

Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons:  OPCW Will Deploy Fact-Finding Mission to Douma, Syria

NewstalkZB: Russia vows to retaliate after missiles target Syria

NewstalkZB:  Effects of Syria strikes unknown

Fairfax: Dozens killed in apparent chemical weapons attack on civilians in Syria, rescue workers say

Fairfax: Syrian news agency reports missile attack

Fairfax:  Nowhere to hide from Syria ‘gas attack’

Fairfax:  NZ expresses ‘strongest condemnation’ of chemical attack on Syrians

Fairfax:  Russia claims alleged chemical attack in Syria staged by UK

PBS News Hour:  Russia says suspected chemical attack in Syria was staged by UK

Fairfax:  ‘Mission Accomplished’ in Syria, Trump declares on Twitter

BBC:  Last of Syria’s chemical weapons shipped out

NPR:  Syria Gives Up Chemical Weapons … But A War Rages On

Reuters:  Syria hands over remaining chemical weapons for destruction

Fairfax: Syrian government deploys forces in Douma after alleged chemical attack

Additional

The Independent:  The search for truth in the rubble of Douma – and one doctor’s doubts over the chemical attack

Reuters:  French declassified intelligence report on Syria gas attacks

Previous related blogposts

The Sweet’n’Sour Deliciousness of Irony: Russia accused of meddling in US Election

Trump escalates, Putin congratulates

Trumpwatch: The Drum(pf)s of War

Trumpwatch: One minute closer to midnight on the Doomsday Clock

One minute to midnight?

It is ten seconds to midnight

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 23 April 2018.

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= fs =

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  1. 16 May 2018 at 8:01 am

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