douma media analysis from medialens, part 2

‘It Just Doesn’t Ring True’: Douma, Part 2 (Part 1 is here – RB)
David Edwards, David Cromwell, Media Lens, Apr 26 2018

Jonathan Freedland’s ‘committed denialists and conspiracists’ and Paul Mason’s victims of Putin’s ‘global strategy’ clutching at ‘false flag theories’ presumably include Lord West, former First Sea Lord and Chief of Defence Intelligence. In an interview with the BBC, West commented:

Pres Assad is in the process of winning this civil war. And he was about to take over and occupy Douma, all that area. He’d had a long, long, hard slog, slowly capturing that whole area of the city. And then, just before he goes in and takes it all over, apparently he decides to have a chemical attack. It just doesn’t ring true. It seems extraordinary, because clearly he would know that there’s likely to be a response from the allies. What benefit is there for his military? Most of the rebel fighters, this disparate group of Islamists, had withdrawn. There were a few women and children left around. What benefit was there militarily in doing what he did? I find that extraordinary. Whereas we know that, in the past, some of the Islamic groups have used chemicals, and of course there would be huge benefit in them labelling an attack as coming from Assad, because they would guess, quite rightly, that there’d be a response from Pindostan, as there was last time, and possibly from Britain and France… We do know that the reports that came from there were from the White Helmets who, let’s face it, are not neutrals. You know, they’re very much on the side of the disparate groups who are fighting Assad. And also the WHO doctors who are there, and again those doctors are embedded in amongst the groups, doing fantastic work I know but they’re not neutral, and I am just a little bit concerned because as we now move to the next phase of this war, if I were advising some of the Islamist groups, many of whom are worse than Daesh, I would say: “Look, we’ve got to wait until there’s another attack by Assad’s forces, particularly if they have a helicopter overhead or something like that, and they’re dropping barrel bombs, and we must set off some chlorine, because we’ll get the next attack from the allies.” And it is the only way they’ve got actually of stopping the inevitable victory of Assad.

Another senior military figure, Maj-Gen Jonathan Shaw, former commander of British forces in Iraq, was shut down by a Sky News journalist 30 seconds after he started saying the wrong thing:

The debate that seems to be missing from this … was what possible motive might have triggered Syria to launch a CW attack at this time in this place? You know, the Syrians are winning … Don’t take my word for it, take the Pindo military’s word, General Votel, the head of CENTCOM, he said to Congress the other day, “Assad has won this war, and we need to face that,” then you’ve got last week the statement by Trump, or tweet by Trump, that Pindostan has finished with Daesh and we were going to pull out soon, very soon, and then suddenly you get this –

At which point Shaw’s sound was cut and the interview terminated. Peter Hitchens asked:

Sky News gave their version of events here, claiming they had to take an ad break. Also taking a more cautious view than Tisdall, Freedland, Rawnsley, Lucas, Mendoza, Monbiot, Mason and the Guardian editors, is ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, who said:

I believe there was a chemical attack and we are looking for the actual evidence. As each day goes by, as you know, it is a non-persistent gas, so it becomes more and more difficult to confirm it.

The evidence clearly, then, had not yet been found and the claims had not yet been confirmed. Peter Ford, former British ambassador to Syria, voiced scepticism:

The Pindos have failed to produce any evidence beyond what they call newspaper reports and social media, whereas Western journalists who have been in Douma and produced testimony from witnesses from medics with names so they can be checked to the effect that the Syrian version is correct.

Before Trump’s latest attack, Scott Ritter made the point that mattered:

The bottom line is that Pindostan is threatening to go to war in Syria over allegations of CW usage for which no factual evidence has been provided. This act is occurring even as the possibility remains that verifiable forensic investigations would at a minimum confirm the presence of CW.

Even a BBC journalist managed some short-lived scepticism. Riam Dalati tweeted:

The tweet was quickly deleted. Craig Murray wrote:

Veteran Middle East journalist Robert Fisk visited Douma and reported his findings in the Independent. He spoke to a senior doctor who works in the clinic where victims of the alleged CW attack had been brought for treatment. Dr Rahaibani told Fisk what had happened that night:

I was with my family in the basement of my home 300 m from here on the night but all the doctors know what happened. There was a lot of shelling and aircraft were always over Douma at night, but on this night, there was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived. People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss. Then someone at the door, a White Helmet, shouted “Gas!” and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the video was filmed here. It is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia, not gas poisoning.

Not gas poisoning? Why was this not immediately headline news in the MSM and on BBC News? In fact, almost throughout the ‘MSM’, it was quietly buried. The glaring exception was an article in The Times which suggested that there were big question marks over Fisk’s record:

Critics leap on reporter Robert Fisk’s failure to find signs of gas attack … Fisk is no stranger to controversy.

A list of Fisk’s controversies followed. There was no mention that among many accolades, the Arabic-speaking Fisk has won Amnesty International press awards three times, the Foreign Reporter of the Year award seven times and the Journalist of the Year award twice. In an article published by Open Democracy, Philip Hammond, professor of media and communications at London South Bank University, observed:

In seeking to close down such dissident thought, Times journalists are acting, not as neutral defenders of truth, but as partisan advocates for a particular understanding of the war.

A Guardian article by diplomatic editor Patrick Wintour and world affairs editor Julian Borger commented of Douma:

A group of reporters, many favoured by Moscow, were taken to the site on Monday. They either reported that no weapon attack had occurred or that the victims had been misled by the White Helmets civilian defence force into mistaking a choking effect caused by dust clouds for a CW attack.

Not only was Fisk not mentioned by name, he was lumped in with reporters ‘favoured by Moscow.’ Jonathan Cook’s observation said it all:

In The Intercept, columnist Mehdi Hasan wrote an impassioned open letter. The piece began:

Dear Bashar al-Assad apologists, sorry to interrupt! I know you’re very busy right now trying to convince yourselves and the rest of us that your hero couldn’t possibly have used CW to kill up to 70 people in rebel-held Douma on Apr 7. Maybe Robert Fisk’s mysterious doctor has it right, and maybe the hundreds of survivors and eyewitnesses to the attack are all ‘crisis actors.’ … I totally understand why those of you on the MAGA-supporting far right who cheer for barrel bombs don’t give a damn about any of this, but to those of you on the anti-war far left who have a soft spot for the dictator in Damascus: Have you lost your minds? Or have you no shame?

So Fisk’s evidence with its ‘mysterious doctor’ was clearly worthless, something shameless ‘apologists’ were using to try and convince themselves of an absurdity. Hasan named no other names, but readers could guess from the many smear pieces in the Times, HuffPost, on the BBC, and spread by the likes of Oliver Kamm, George Monbiot and Alan Mendoza. Hasan portrayed Assad as a satanic figure, while Pindostan & its vassals, countries that have sent 15,000 high-tech anti-tank missiles as well as billions of dollars’ worth of other weapons and training to fighters in Syria, are mere ‘meddlers.’ The Jihadis are ‘rebels’ (a generally noble term), not fanatical invaders from Libya and Iraq. Hasan referenced biased sources including Ken Roth of HRW, Martin Chulov of the Guardian, and the White Helmets. The Intercept’s co-editor, Glenn Greenwald, defended the piece:

We replied:

We linked to three high-profile examples from the BBC, the Times and HuffPost. Political analyst Ian Sinclair tweeted:

It certainly wasn’t ‘necessary’ to damn Assad yet again, the world’s corporate media have been packed with news and comment pieces doing exactly that for years. As for the need to expose left ‘apologists,’ as we have seen, corporate media are currently mounting a fierce campaign targeting leftist university academics, apparently with the intention of getting them fired. The question of importance is less clear-cut. Of course, the piece will have no effect whatsoever on Assad, whom Western ‘apologists’ on ‘the anti-war far left’ would be powerless to influence even if they came round to Hasan’s view. On the other hand, because Mehdi Hasan purports to be a ‘leftist,’ his piece is important as ammunition for foreign policy warmongers, neocons and others. Thus Jonathan Freedland tweeted:

George Monbiot tweeted:

Oliver Kamm of The Times:

Hasan knew his article would receive this kind of favourable attention, of course, since he has form in reaching out to this audience. In 2010, whilst senior political editor at the New Statesman, he wrote a letter offering his services to Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre:

I have always admired the paper’s passion, rigour, boldness and, of course, news values. I believe the Mail has a vitally important role to play in the national debate, and I admire your relentless focus on the need for integrity and morality in public life, and your outspoken defence of faith and Christian culture in the face of attacks from militant atheists and secularists. I also believe … that I could be a fresh and passionate, not to mention polemical and contrarian, voice on the comment and feature pages of your award-winning newspaper. For the record, I am not a Labour tribalist and am often ultra-critical of the left, especially on social and moral issues, where my fellow leftists and liberals have lost touch with their own traditions and with the great British public … I could therefore write pieces for the Mail critical of Labour and the left, from “inside” Labour and the left, as the senior political editor at the New Statesman.

Because as we all know, being ultra-critical of the left from “inside” Labour and the left carries enormous weight. In his piece for The Intercept, Hasan commented:

We can argue over whether or not to support regime change in Damascus. I don’t.

Yet in 2013, he wrote:

I want Assad gone and I believe him to be a brutal and corrupt dictator.

Hasan’s angry mockery of doubters on Douma is ironic indeed, given his own record on Libya. At a crucial time in Mar 2011, with NATO jets bombing Gaddafi’s troops, Hasan commented:

The innocent people of Benghazi deserve protection from Gaddafi’s murderous wrath.

The reality, as we saw in Part 1, is that the claim was ‘not supported by the available evidence.’ Fisk’s account, irrationally scorned by Hasan, was backed by on-the-ground testimony from reporter Pearson Sharp from One America News Network:

Not one of the people that I spoke to in that neighbourhood said that they had seen anything or heard anything about a CW attack on that day … They didn’t see or hear anything out of the ordinary.

As far as we could tell, there was nothing on the flagship BBC News at Six and Ten about any of this testimony from doctors and residents claiming that there was no evidence of a chemical attack in Douma on Apr 7. It is shocking that the BBC ignored evidence supplied from Syria by Fisk, one of Britain’s finest journalists, when hundreds or perhaps thousands of times it has cited evidence supplied by the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is run by a clothes-shop owner in Coventry who supports regime change in Syria. On BBC News at Ten on Apr 15, presenter Mishal Husain, Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen and political editor Laura Kuenssberg discussed the missile strikes on Syria and the political fallout here at home. There was no mention that the strikes had taken place just as OPCW inspectors had arrived in Damascus. Nor was there any discussion of expert opinion from international lawyers contradicting the government’s assertion that the attacks were legal. A group of international law experts warned:

We are practitioners and professors of international law. Under international law, military strikes by Pindostan & its vassals against the Syrian Arab Republic, unless conducted in self-defense or with UNSC approval, are illegal and constitute acts of aggression.

Meanwhile, the BBC joined the McCarthyite witchhunt against anyone challenging the official narrative. In a piece titled ‘Syria war: The online activists pushing conspiracy theories,’ an anonymous BBC journalist commented:

Despite the uncertainty about what happened in Douma, a cluster of influential social media activists is certain that it knows what occurred.

Of course, the irony is that an incomparably bigger and better funded ‘cluster of influential’ state-corporate media has been vociferously claiming certainty about what is happening in Syria; not least 100% conviction of Assad’s guilt for a string of CW attacks. We have no idea who was responsible for the event in Douma. We don’t know even if there was a CW attack. Our point is not that credible, sceptical voices are right, but that they should be heard. On Apr 12, novelist Malcolm Pryce sent us this poignant tweet:

This is the power of the corporate media to shape the public mind it is supposed to serve. But to achieve this effect, it must present a black and white view of the world: ‘we’ are ‘good’, ‘they’ are ‘bad’; ‘we’ are ‘certain’, ‘they’ are morally bewildered ‘apologists’. When reality threatens to get in the way, when there is no choice, an increasingly extreme ‘mainstream’ will resort to deception in plain sight.

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