Media Watch

Written By: Mike Parker
Published: April 25, 2017 Last modified: April 21, 2017

So, if we put to one side Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s claim that the entire chemical attack on Kheir Shakhoun in his country’s Idlib province was faked, who do we think actually committed the crime? The ‘mainstream media’ have been in no doubt that it was an air strike by Assad’s forces, and some have implied that the Russians knew about it in advance and were therefore complicit. This general assumption has tended to gloss over the question of what Assad had to gain from an illegal action that was hardly likely to go unnoticed, as well as the fact that, unlike many pundits and politicians, the NGOs and investigators on the ground have been more circumspect about jumping to the required conclusions.

Where then to find a morsel or two of doubt? Setting aside the lunatic fringe at Anonymous, one could start, if one dares, at MediaLens, that clearing house for any opinion that calls into question the integrity of the ‘western’ media, especially if expressed by Noam Chomsky or John Pilger.

ML has many merits. It winds up Times hack and Wikipedia fiddler Oliver Kamm, for a start, a job for which it deserves to be awarded a barrel or two of Lottery cash. Its raison d’etre is supposedly to critique our ‘corporate media’ and to highlight the bias, prejudices and assumptions that govern mainstream coverage of news and current affairs. They often do a good job, too; when they concentrate on analysis their forensic skills and tenacity have sometimes embarrassed journalists and media execs – though not to the extent that any of them have ever admitted they were wrong, of course. And there’s no harm in rattling the cage of George Monbiot or Owen Jones from time to time, either, though criticising them for earning a living writing for the Guardian suggests that ML’s puritanism sometimes verges on the stupid.

Unfortunately, ML too often adopts the simple assumption that anything reported by the western media must be a lie, or if not a lie, an incorrect assertion based on its slavish obeisance to neo-liberal economics and western foreign policy aims. It adopts the indefensible philosophy of political illiterates that ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ and their hostility to western political policy is translated into a largely uncritical presentation of ‘alternative’ narratives as inherently more credible.

ML’s alternatives, however, often have their own agendas, such as RT (Russia Today, owned by the Russian government) and Press TV (owned by the Iranian government). These sources and the alternative commentators on which ML relies, such as Chomsky, Pilger, Jonathan Cook and Craig Murray, are never subjected to the same critical analysis as the ‘mainstream’ media. It can be legitimately argued that as part of the ‘western’ cultural hegemony it is our duty to subject our own government and media to scrutiny, not those of other regimes, and that the presentation of any alternative view that might otherwise not get an airing is legitimate. Fair enough. But the implication, in the presentation, that these alternatives are inherently more reliable, simply because they are the alternatives, is as lazy and infantile as suggesting that Jeremy Bowen’s word is The Law.

One ML post highlights an RT report citing MIT professor Theodore Postol – who “challenged the 2013 claims of a chemical attack in Syria” – as stating that a declassified US government report on the Idlib events “does not provide any evidence whatsoever” that the Syrian government carried out the attack. “I have only had a few hours to quickly review the alleged White House intelligence report. But a quick perusal shows without a lot of analysis that this report cannot be correct,” Postol added.

However, apart from being described as a “CW [chemical weapons] expert”, no information is given about Prof Postol’s academic position, qualifications, expertise or ability to make such a judgement. He may be correct, but apart from being quoted by RT, how are we to know if he can be trusted any more than the US Department of Defense?

Another source publicised by ML is the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS), the “International Committee of the Fourth International”, whose Patrick Martin also cites Postol (who, he says, carried out a “detailed analysis”) during an “Anatomy Of A Lie” article in which he states that “The charges against the Syrian government are absurd and unbelievable.”

Martin writes that it was the rebels, rather than the government, who had “motive, means and opportunity” for the Idlib attack, though he offers little evidence for this other than a claim that the rebels have stockpiles of nerve gas and were responsible for the 2013 Ghouta attack, something which many would dispute.

His main argument is that since the government had not used chemical weapons on other, possibly more useful occasions, it would have been “pointless” to use them at Khan Sheikhoun. Again, he may be right. It’s a thesis, but not backed up by any actual evidence.

One of the allegations loved by ML sources, and even more so by its small but vociferous cabal of fanatical followers, is of the ‘false flag’ operation (as you may know, the most famous of these is the 9/11 attacks, carried out by the US government, or the Israeli government, or, even better, both). Thus, the ‘alternative’ consensus seems to be that Kheir Shakhoun was the responsibility of one or more of the Syrian rebel factions backed by the CIA, who exploded a CW mortar during a government bombing raid; or, it was a rebel CW factory hit by a government bomb (though, as yet, the evidence for this is non-existent … if we are to believe the mainstream media, which, of course, we can’t).

So, who did kill Roger Rabbit? And is Jeremy Bowen always wrong?

About Mike Parker

Mike Parker is Literary Editor and Production Editor of Tribune