Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson suffered embarrassment recently when he couldn’t answer a question about “Aleppo,” a place of conflict in Syria. But maybe Johnson should be cut some slack, because it seems that very few Americans understand the issues in Syria’s civil war. Moreover, that lack of understanding is attributable in large part to misleading reports put out by the government and its myrmidons in the news media. The American media, argues Stephen Kinzer, paints an image of Syria almost diametrically opposed to the facts on the ground.
COVERAGE OF the Syrian war will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press.
Washington-based reporters tell us that one potent force in Syria, al-Nusra, is made up of “rebels” or “moderates,” not that it is the local al-Qaeda franchise. Saudi Arabia is portrayed as aiding freedom fighters when in fact it is a prime sponsor of ISIS. Turkey has for years been running a “rat line” for foreign fighters wanting to join terror groups in Syria, but because the United States wants to stay on Turkey’s good side, we hear little about it. Nor are we often reminded that although we want to support the secular and battle-hardened Kurds, Turkey wants to kill them. Everything Russia and Iran do in Syria is described as negative and destabilizing, simply because it is they who are doing it — and because that is the official line in Washington.
The U.S. government supports the rebels and depicts them as the good guys, but in reality they act more like the bad guys, particularly in Aleppo.
For three years, violent militants have run Aleppo. Their rule began with a wave of repression. They posted notices warning residents: “Don’t send your children to school. If you do, we will get the backpack and you will get the coffin.” Then they destroyed factories, hoping that unemployed workers would have no recourse other than to become fighters. They trucked looted machinery to Turkey and sold it.
This month, people in Aleppo have finally seen glimmers of hope. The Syrian army and its allies have been pushing militants out of the city. Last week they reclaimed the main power plant. Regular electricity may soon be restored. The militants’ hold on the city could be ending.
This does not fit with Washington’s narrative. As a result, much of the American press is reporting the opposite of what is actually happening. Many news reports suggest that Aleppo has been a “liberated zone” for three years but is now being pulled back into misery.
Kinzer attributes the media’s distorted reporting to “financial pressure.”
Under intense financial pressure, most American newspapers, magazines, and broadcast networks have drastically reduced their corps of foreign correspondents. Much important news about the world now comes from reporters based in Washington. In that environment, access and credibility depend on acceptance of official paradigms. Reporters who cover Syria check with the Pentagon, the State Department, the White House, and think tank “experts.” After a spin on that soiled carousel, they feel they have covered all sides of the story. This form of stenography produces the pabulum that passes for news about Syria.
Kinzer fails to note, however, another source of financial pressure on the media. The media is today owned by large corporations that depend on government for regulatory favors, thus creating an incentive for the media to curry favor by serving as the government’s stenographers.
So it would seem we’re being lied to. But don’t worry about it. Just go back to talking about the important issues, like Tom Brady’s deflategate suspension, or how Donald Tump ‘fat-shamed’ a beauty contestant 20 years ago.