Monday, May 16, 2016

Media Bias on Syria


 By Reginald Johnson

    Over the past several years, traditional rules of journalistic fairness and objectivity seem to have disappeared on the subject of Syria.

  American reporters and commentators repeatedly present just one side of the conflict --- the American side --- and little else. Syrian leader Bashar al—Assad is portrayed as a demon, carrying out a brutal campaign to retain power in a fight with rebel forces, who are being aided by the United States.

  When terrible things happen in this conflict, such as civilians getting bombed or poisoned, the blame is always laid at the doorstep of the Syrian government. Claims of misdeeds by Assad’s forces are spit out almost word for word from State Department releases. There’s rarely any attempt to seek comment or get the Syrian side of the story.

  In these reports or commentaries, there’s rarely any mention of the fact that the United States has been involved in Syria for five years, first covertly aiding the anti-Assad forces, some of whom are al-Qaeda spinoffs, and now bombing areas held by the terrorist group, ISIS. There’s no mention in the reporting that the American presence is completely illegal under international law, since Syria never attacked the U.S., the United Nations never authorized any intervention, and Syria never gave permission to the Americans to conduct bombing raids against ISIS in its sovereign territory.

  The United States is simply there in Syria, along with its “NATO allies” because it thinks it has the automatic right to be there, and the terrible Mr. Assad and ISIS, must be removed.

  The New York Times on April 29 ran a piece entitled “Divided Syrian City Plunges Back Into War as Hospital Is Destroyed,” which was an example of the one-sided reporting. The story described the carnage that resulted from an air attack on the al-Quds hospital in Aleppo, which resulted in 27 deaths, including children and staff. The article, written by a reporter in Beirut, simply said that “government forces” had carried out the attack, according to “witnesses and health workers.” There was no comment from the government.

  The bombing of a hospital is certainly a terrible crime, and it is in fact a war crime. It may well be true that Assad’s forces are guilty of this horrendous attack. But isn’t it incumbent on the newspaper reporting this information to get a response from the alleged perpetrator? Just because they are likely to deny the claim doesn’t mean you don’t try to get their side.

  The article later said that “groups such as Physicians for Human Rights” maintain that they had tracked “a deliberate targeting of health services by government forces.”

   Now this is a sweeping claim, that the government is deliberately bombing health facilities, committing multiple war crimes. It cries out for additional verification, statements from other named sources, any witnesses or corroboration by an independent journalist who investigated the charges. It also demands a response from the government. But none of that was in the Times’ story.

  Also left out of this article was context. There should have been some background given --- that this is a five-year-old conflict, with rebels aided by the United States, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, attempting to overthrow Assad, and the government, aided by Russia (whose help Assad requested) and Hezbollah and Iran trying to keep Assad in power.

   Another one-sided report came surprisingly in a piece by Chris Hayes of MSNBC, on May 5.  Taking the word of the State Department that the Syrian government was responsible for the al-Quds hospital attack, Hayes blasted the Assad regime for what he said were repeated human rights violations.

   Hayes said the Syrian leader had “engaged in one of the most ghastly campaigns of slaughter and war crimes in this century and there is no just solution or any solution for the horror of Syria that does not hold him accountable.”

  Hayes' statement seemed to mirror the Obama administration's position that there could be no settlement in Syria unless Assad is removed.

   Hayes, like the Times, didn’t provide any response from a Syrian representative and failed to mention that the United States was deeply involved in the Syrian conflict, funneling arms to anti-government forces, and prolonging the war.

The MSNBC commentator noted with disgust that the Syrian government had been responsible for 183,827 deaths since the conflict began, without breaking that number down between combatants and civilians, and without giving a source.

 But a lot of other people have been killed in this conflict, also. According to the UN, about 100,000 government or pro-government fighters have been killed by the U.S.-backed forces, but that fact apparently wasn’t worth mentioning in Hayes’ report. Are members of the government military not people too?

  CNN has often presented a slanted view on foreign affairs, and their Syrian coverage has fit the pattern. The network has consistently aired reports giving a pro-America, rebel perspective, while casting Assad and his allies, like Russia, in a negative light.
  Just last week Wolf Blitzer ran a segment on Russia’s continuing involvement in Syria, months after Russian President Vladimir Putin said his nation was going to withdraw some of its forces. While showing a video captioned “Russia still has a strong military presence in Syria,” a reporter said that “Violence still rages in most of the countryside. Conciliation seems nowhere in sight and neither is an end to Russia's involvement in the conflict.”
   Neither the reporter nor Blitzer bothered to note America’s continuing involvement in Syria --- that U.S. planes have been bombing the Syrian countryside since last fall, that 250 special forces were recently sent to Syria allegedly to fight ISIS, and that U.S. proxies Turkey and Saudi Arabia have been giving weaponry to the anti-Assad forces for years.
  I’m wondering if CNN will ever run a news video with the caption “America still bombing Syria.”
   I don’t think so.

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