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Trump’s Tomahawks – The Instant Certainty Of The ‘Mainstream’ Press

Media Lens - Mið, 12/04/2017 - 13:08

As ever, it didn't take long for them to make up their minds. Roy Greenslade reports in the Guardian on the media reaction to Donald Trump's bombardment of Syria in 'retaliation' (USA Today) for the alleged chemical weapons attacks on Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib, Syria:

'There was an identifiable theme in almost every leading article and commentary: "Well done Donald, but ... " The "buts" amounted to eloquent judgments on the president's character, conveying explicit messages of disquiet and distrust.'

In other words, almost every leading article and commentary in every UK newspaper supported Trump's blitz.

Much the same was true in the United States where Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) found that of 46 major editorials, only one, in the Houston Chronicle, opposed the attack. FAIR's Adam Johnson reported:

'83% of major editorial boards supported Trump's Syria strikes, 15% were ambiguous and 2% - or one publication - opposed.'

FAIR found similar bias in media coverage of the 2003 Iraq war and the 2011 Libya war.

The support for Trump's attack was of course based on instant certainty that Assad had deployed chemical weapons in Idlib. Barely two days after the alleged attacks, a leader in The Times commented:

'Assad's latest atrocity, the dropping of several hundred kilograms of toxic sarin gas on civilians, including children, is a breach of international law...'

An Independent leader one day later titled, 'The US strike against Assad was justified', explained:

'The use of chemical weapons is a special crime. It is prohibited by international law. It follows that the sarin gas attack in Idlib, Syria, on Tuesday, ought to have consequences.'

The editors noted that 'we are not in a position to be completely certain about Mr Assad's complicity in this case' - but the attack was 'justified' anyway.

A confused leader in the Sunday Telegraph observed that 'the alleged use of chemical weapons last week demanded a reaction'. Does an allegation demand a reaction? In reality, the paper waved away any doubts:

'Inaction against Assad would mean tolerance of a war crime.'

This near-universal support came despite the fact, as Elizabeth Jackson noted on Australia's ABC website, that 'international law experts today are warning that the US strikes were, in fact, illegal'. Ben Saul, professor of international law at the University of Sydney, commented:

'It's pretty clear that the strikes are illegal under international law, because they're not a use of force in self-defence, or with the authorisation of the Security Council, which are the only two circumstances in which the use of military force is legal under the United Nations Charter of 1945.'

Saul added:

'So, international law very tightly regulates the use of military force, and using violence to punish another country is simply not permitted under international law. Syria hasn't attacked another country.'

We looked in vain for scepticism about the pretext for bombing from the handful of dissidents at the 'liberal left' of the corporate 'spectrum'. The Guardian's Owen Jones wrote of 'the gassing of little kids who suffered unbearable torture as they were murdered by the Assad regime'. No doubt there, then. Jones's dissident colleague at the Guardian, George Monbiot, tweeted:

'We can be 99% sure the chemical weapons attack came from Syrian govt'

Senior Guardian columnist and former comment editor Jonathan Freedland wrote:

'And we almost certainly know who did it. Every sign points to the regime of Bashar al-Assad.'

Freedland dismissed alternative explanations with the familiar mixture of certainty and contempt that is such a feature of Western warmongering:

'Sure, Damascus blamed the rebels who hold the town of Khan Sheikhoun, as they always do. And, yes, Assad's enablers and accomplices in Moscow offered a variation on that theme, saying that Syrian planes had struck a rebel stockpile of nerve agents, accidentally releasing them into the atmosphere.'

On April 5, the day after the alleged attack, Democracy Now! led with a headline that appeared to endorse the 'mainstream' view:

'"The Assad Regime is a Moral Disgrace": Noam Chomsky on Ongoing Syrian War'

Chomsky doubtless had nothing to do with a headline that flew in the face of his astute observation on the need for caution in criticising Official Enemies:

'Suppose I criticise Iran. What impact does that have? The only impact it has is in fortifying those who want to carry out policies I don't agree with, like bombing.'

That was certainly true on April 5, two days before Trump bombed Syria at a time when US-UK media were executing a classic propaganda blitz.

The day before Trump's attack, the Stop the War Coalition, no less, affirmed that there had indeed been a chemical weapons attack in Idlib 'which appears to have been carried out by Assad's forces'.

Remarkably, given the extent to which the media's 'pussy-grabbing' bete orange has been damned as an existential, Hitlerian threat to the world, corporate journalists actually egged Trump on to wage war. A Guardian piece by Warren Murray noted:

'A military intervention would mean going directly up against Vladimir Putin, who is fighting on the side of Assad, and probably killing Russians. But failing to act [violently] would look weak.'

Julian Borger and Spencer Ackerman wrote:

'Trump has consistently argued that the failure to deliver on the "red line" threat projected US weakness. But it was far from clear on Wednesday what action his own administration would take now that Assad had crossed "many, many lines".'

Also in the Guardian, former Spectator editor, Matthew d'Ancona went even further in making 'a strong [sic], principled [sic] case for Britain to offer every form of assistance: diplomatic, humanitarian and – yes – military' to Trump's attack on Syria.

Ironically, the only real scepticism on the case for war came from conservative commentators in the Tory press: Peter Oborne and Peter Hitchens in the Daily Mail. Hitchens was asked if he had been invited by the BBC or Sky to share his views. He replied:

'My phone grows more silent, the more I oppose foreign wars.'

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