Two of the most remarkable facts concerning the April 14th attack on Syria by the US, UK and France are:
- Materially, the attacks were completely ineffective, as explained by Joe Quinn’s article About Those ‘Nice, New, Smart’ Missiles And The ‘Chemical Weapons’ Sites in Syria. The Syrians understood this, which is why they were celebrating rather than mourning when the sun came up.
- They were carried out hours before the OPCW mission reached Syria and right after the Russian Ministry of Defense began showing testimonies of local doctors denying there was a chemical attack in Douma. This suggests F.UK.US. were in a hurry to make a show of force before the facts could be properly analyzed while distracting attention away from the evidence.
Rather than demonstrating strength, these facts speak of weakness, impotence and a desire to compensate with theatrics. The US knows it cannot go too far in its pursuit of regime change in Syria because it risks paying a heavy price at the hands of Russia. Even if it could take out all Russian forces in Syria, it is not willing to lose any ships, aircraft or personnel and thus lose its status as the supreme global military force. Furthermore, there is always the risk of escalation, which is madness when it comes to nuclear powers. The Americans are acutely aware that they are playing with fire, which explains how careful they were to stay away from Russian targets. The attack was carefully measured to appear stronger than last year’s, yet not strong enough to provoke Russia into action. This could also explain, in part, why the Trump administration is seeking to replace US troops in Syria with an Arab force, as it is much safer (and cheaper) to fight with proxy forces.
In the aftermath of the strikes on Syria, and as more information is coming out about the chemical attack that never was, it is becoming increasingly clear that Western mainstream media outlets are also losing their dominant positions and their grip on the narrative.
The Truth is Coming Out
On Friday 13th April, Russian Major General Igor Konashenkov addressed the media and revealed that two doctors who appeared in the video of the alleged chemical attack said that the people there were being treated for smoke and dust suffocation and presented no symptoms of chemical exposure. Someone rushed into the room shouting and spreading panic about chemicals and filmed while civilians doused each other with water. Since then, we have seen:
- A video with the above and further testimonies of medical staff who were present during the event
- An article written by Robert Fisk, veteran Middle East correspondent for The Independent, which quotes local testimonies confirming the same story
- A video report from One America’s Pearson Sharp, again providing testimonies denying any chemical attack in Douma at the time
- A video testimony by a child who appeared on the video of the alleged victims of the attack, declaring that he was among a number of people who were urged to go to the hospital where he was doused with water for no apparent reason
As far as evidence goes, this is as good as it gets. But apart from Fisk’s article on The Independent and Tucker Carlson openly questioning on Fox News whether the chemical attack even took place, these testimonies have not appeared in Western media. However, there does appear to be a change in the attitude of Western mainstream outlets.
Signs of Desperation
You know that media outlets resent alternative narratives when they feel the need to address and smear those voices directly, rather than pretend they don’t exist, as they normally do. Take this BBC article:
As the investigation continues into another alleged chemical attack in Syria, one group of influential online activists is busy spreading their version of events.
Inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are attempting to access the previously rebel-held town of Douma, where medical organisations and rescue workers say President Bashar al-Assad’s forces dropped bombs filled with toxic chemicals in an attack on 7 April, killing more than 40 people.
The “medical organisations and rescue workers”, which the BBC fails to mention by name, are none other than the Syrian American Medical Society and the White Helmets. The former is a USAID-funded lobbying group led by Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers, which aims for regime-change in Syria and which operates exclusively in territories held by the ‘opposition’, including Al-Qaeda. Likewise, the latter is a group founded in Turkey by James Le Mesurier, a British private security specialist, and which has been repeatedly shown to work as the propaganda arm of terrorists such as Al Qaeda and ISIS.
The BBC singles out Twitter user Sarah Abdallah and independent journalist Vanessa Beeley as two examples of influential ‘conspiracy theorists’ on Syria. The article includes two pictures of Abdallah taken from her Twitter account. The first includes the following suggestive caption:
Sarah Abdallah is one of the most influential Twitter users commenting on conversations about the conflict in Syria, although little is known about the person behind the account
And the second:
In several pictures posted by Sarah Abdallah, items in the background – such as the house in this picture – are common to North America, rather than Lebanon
Ironically, the BBC is making use of ‘conspiratorial’ suggestions to discredit Abdallah, by pointing out that we don’t really know who she is, and that she might not even be in Lebanon. Note that she describes herself as an “independent Lebanese geopolitical commentator” – not that she is necessarily living in Lebanon. The BBC takes issue with this too, as there are no published articles of hers to be found online, even though “commentator” can easily apply to a Twitter user.
Taking aim at Vanessa Beeley, the BBC objects that she writes for 21st Century Wire (although interestingly the BBC does not bother to mention it by name), which has been called by Media Bias/Fact Check a “conspiracy and conjecture site” that has “an extreme right bias.” Furthermore, the state-owned BBC complains that Beeley appears in “state-owned Russian channel RT.” Never mind that Vanessa Beeley has performed much more valuable journalistic work on Syria by reporting from the ground and actually talking to the Syrian people – something that the BBC rarely, if ever, does. Strangely enough, Media Bias/Fact Check declares that the BBC has a “very high” factual reporting level, while 21st Century Wire is “mixed”. Such assessments speak more of Media Bias/Fact Check’s bias than that of 21st Century Wire.
Ultimately, the BBC’s case against Abdallah and Beeley is merely an ad hominem attack. Rather than examining the validity of their arguments or the evidence presented, the BBC finds it easier to disqualify them for being what they claim to be: a Twitter commentator and an independent journalist.
The London Times too has recently sought to engage in the smear campaign against independent journalists by accusing British academic members of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media (SPM) of “spreading pro-Assad disinformation and conspiracy theories promoted by Russia.” These “apologists for Assad”, according to the Times, have been propagating the “slur” that the White Helmets fabricated the video of the chemical attacks. The Times also points out that these academics have tweeted Vanessa Beeley’s material – as if this in itself was a problem – while neglecting to examine Beeley’s work.
Dr Idrees Ahmad has criticized an article written by professor Tim Hayward, one of the so-called “Assad apologists”. The debate between Ahmad and Hayward and SPM is related in another article on The Times – with a clear bias in favour of Ahmad. It is interesting that Ahmad is quoted as saying:
“Where this gets serious is that not only are this group pushing the [same line as the Russians] but they are also trying to intimidate academics,” he said. “It’s fine to have your own opinion but evidence for their views is weakly sourced and often disinformation. If you devalue facts and the basics of an investigation, you create a morass of uncertainty. We can all disagree about the war in Syria, but to deny an event like a chemical attack even occurred is to fall into an Orwellian world.”
As an academic, Dr Ahmad should understand that the truth is not determined by who pushes a line of argument, yet it is clearly a turn-off for him that the Russians hold certain opinions. Ahmad proceeds to ask for well-sourced evidence, entirely missing the point that the parties which claim that a chemical attack took place in Douma have presented no such evidence, as US Secretary of Defense James Mattis admitted himself a little more than a day before the bombing of Syria. Does he not realize that is a prime example of Orwellian thinking? Is Mattis an “Assad apologist” too?
It is indeed Orwellian that when the former head of the Royal Navy, Admiral Alan West, echoed the logic of the Russian government on the alleged chemical attack in Syria in a BBC interview…
“I just wonder, you know we’ve had some bad experiences on intelligence. When I was chief of defense intelligence, I had huge pressure put on me politically to try and say that our bombing campaign in Bosnia was achieving all sorts of things which it wasn’t. I was put under huge pressure, so I know the things that can happen with intelligence.”
…the interviewer, Anita McVeigh, replied:
“We know that the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday, or accused a western state on Friday, of perhaps fabricating evidence in Douma or somehow being involved with what happened in Douma. Given that we’re in an information war with Russia on so many fronts, do you think perhaps it’s inadvisable to be stating this so publicly given your position and your profile? Isn’t there a danger that you’re muddying the waters?”
Clearly, countering anything that Russia says or does is more important to the BBC than the actual truth of the matter.
A similarly shocking interview was aired by British Sky News. The interviewee, General Jonathan Shaw, former commander of the British forces in Iraq, was following Admiral West’s same line of thought, doubting that Assad would foolishly bomb civilians with chemicals when he was winning the war. At which point the Sky News host abruptly terminated the interview:
Finally, The Guardian deserves special mention for valiantly attempting to hold back the surge of testimonies from eyewitnesses and doctors in freshly-liberated Douma by citing Dr Ghanem Tayara, a Birmingham (UK)-based GP and director of the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations (UOSSM), who claims that medics who responded to the ‘gas attack’ were subjected to “extreme intimidation” by Syrian officials going around seizing biological samples. This is damage control at its best: the ‘logic’ here seems to be that if no proof of a chemical attack is found, then that means the doctors were intimidated by the “regime” and all the evidence seized!
According to their website, the UOSSM provides medical training courses “led by Professor Pitti from France, a previous medical advisor for NATO.” It prides itself on having trained the infamous White Helmets and cooperates with SAMS. Birds of a feather, as they also say.
Dr Tayara himself has made no effort to hide his allegiance to the Western Empire. He has claimed in the past that the Russians have bombed hospitals in Syria, a dubious accusation at best, which Russia has denied by pointing out that some of the allegedly bombed hospitals did not even exist. He is currently reporting from Turkey, but that doesn’t stop him from describing Douma as if he could see it from his location: “There has been a very heavy security presence on the ground ever since the attack and they have been targeting doctors and medics in a very straightforward way.” Unfortunately, his medical sources and any others who have spoken to The Guardian all wish to remain anonymous, so we can only take Tayara’s word for it (or not).
How Not to Lose Gracefully
What these examples of media bias from just the last 36 hours or so have in common is the clumsy desperation that comes when a political ‘house of cards’ is beginning to fall. While the US and its Western allies are slowly losing the political and economic war, the media – which serves as the foundation for their power – is losing the information war… and they know it.
When Western powers felt cornered by the possibility of the truth about Douma coming out, they lashed out in anger with 103 missiles fired at Syria. Thanks to Russia, these caused minimal damage, but if the masses keep insisting on learning the truth, it’s anybody’s guess how Western powers will react next time.
As for the media, there is no graceful way for them to fix the mess in which they find themselves except by apologizing and starting to engage in real, honest journalism. The more chaos is created, the more lies will be uncovered and, ultimately, the truth shall set us free.
Andrés Perezalonso has been a contributing editor for Signs of the Times in both its English and Spanish versions since 2007. He holds a PhD in Politics, an MA in International Studies, a first degree in Communication, and has a professional background in Media Analysis. He thinks that understanding world events is not unlike detective work – paying attention to often ignored details and connections, and thinking outside of the box. He was born and raised in Mexico and currently resides in Europe.