Syria chemical attacks: Smoke and mirrors, truth and lies – The Listening Post
June 25, 2018
Courtesy: Al Jazeera
Seen as one of the most contentious aspects of the Syrian war, the alleged use of chemical weapons has alternately shocked and confused media outlets and consumers alike.
Chemical attacks, said to be conducted by the Bashar al-Assad regime against rebel forces since 2012, have elicited the most widely broadcast footage of the war.
However, the legitimacy of footage procured, the motives of specific sources, news outlets and individuals, and the validity – and at times lack thereof – of the evidence put forward have all created an information war, with players battling to make sense of the “facts” at hand.
“We should be sceptical of everything coming out of Syria, because, at the end of the day, there’s not people on the ground to actually know what’s happening,” says journalist and co-presenter of podcast Unauthorized Disclosure, Rania Khalek.
“Reporters can’t go in, civilians can’t go out. So, internet videos are the only evidence of their suffering. All we’re hearing is from biased sources, whether it be the Syrian government, or whether it be Western governments or insurgents on the ground who have been pushing for regime change. We should be sceptical of all allegations coming out of this war.”
Writer at global news and current affairs publication Foreign Policy, Elias Groll, echoes Khalek’s sentiment and cites the historical false claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as a potentially equivocal comparison to what could be happening in Syria.
“The Iraq War is exhibit-A for why it is so important to critically evaluate these types of statements by the government,” says Groll. “It shattered trust in government, it shattered trust in media, there was not enough critical reporting.”
Max Blumenthal, journalist and editor of online news website the Grayzone Project, is of the opinion that regime change has taken precedence over the verity of the facts put forward.
“I cannot think of one pundit on the national scene, in cable news or in any major newspaper who has questioned the drive for regime change in Syria,” says Blumenthal. “And so, it’s really left to a small group of journalists and online activists to really sift through what we believe is disinformation from our own governments aimed at stimulating a war of regime change.”
While the Syrian war remains one of the most-covered military conflicts in the history of the world, propaganda, misinformation and denialism continue to create a labyrinth of truths and falsities for journalists to decipher. And it appears whether a more satisfactory explanation is available or not, the average consumer will continue to imbibe whatever information is easiest to digest.
“People generally have less time to read an 80-page report from the United Nations,” says Kristyan Benedict, campaign manager at Amnesty International. “They’re going to pick the tweet which says, Jaysh al-Islam were responsible for the attack in Douma. And they’re going to go with that because they have a sense that that’s some information that they can run with. It’s easily digestible. It’s like the McDonald’s of information.”