After the recent revelation that almost every major news site has been promoting unverified video and eye-witness testimony originating in some of the most extreme, violent and debauched terrorist elements currently operating in Syria, we have to ask – is there any longer even a minimum of verification or investigative process required before news agencies and publications endorse a breaking story?
In the case of that notorious “Omran rescue vid”, for example, AP broke the story, but of the three journalists credited, one was in Beirut, one in Geneva and one in Moscow.
None of them were in Aleppo, or even in Syria. Given what’s now transpired about the discredited and even criminal nature of the source, we need to ask – how did they get word of this event and how did they verify it? Did AP talk to ordinary people on the spot, and directly interview the witnesses? Did they get this video direct from the terrorist-supporting “Aleppo Media Center”, or via an intermediary? Did they know about the terrorist-connections of both the AMC and the “photo-journalist” Mahmoud Raslan, and just not inform their readers, or did they genuinely not know who their sources were?
These are important questions because the mere fact an event is reported in the mainstream press is enough to give it a sense of unquestionable reality for most people. They assume the reporters telling the story have been their on the ground and seen things for themselves. Even sophisticated media analysts, well aware of bias and narrative-manipulation, will still tend to believe implicitly that the events being reported have been witnessed and verified by the ones doing the reporting. Yet we know this is increasingly not the case.
In the last ten or fifteen years the numbers of foreign correspondents employed by major newspapers and networks has dwindled.In the age of the internet they are considered unnecessary, and in a time of declining circulations, a luxury few major outlets can afford. Bureaus have been closed. There are fewer of them, covering wider catchment areas. The situation behind that AP report in which a correspondent in Lebanon or Switzerland ends up reporting on an event happening many hundreds of miles away is now very common. Shaun Walker filed most of his stories about the Anti-Terror Operation in Donbass from Kiev or Moscow, hundreds of miles from the scene, and this did not make him unique.
This increasing tendency toward distance-reporting means stories can give an impression of eye-witness immediacy they don’t merit. Walker in Moscow was no better able to verify or refute supposed events happening in Donbass than most of his readers. An AP reporter in Geneva or Beirut will simply know what he’s told about alleged events in Aleppo. His credibility is as good as his source’s credibility. The fact the story has AP’s imprimitur on it, which seems to give it a badge of authenticity, is completely misleading – almost amounting to a lie – if all we really have is a second or third hand account from some shadowy group or entity with undeclared agendas and zero credibility.
I may be wrong but I hazard to suggest those AP journos credited with the story had no clue who their sources were. They didn’t ask, didn’t see the need to find out. For all we know they didn’t even talk to the men directly but just received a transcript or a recording or a few quotes from a helpful intermediary or publicity agent somewhere.
What we are witnessing here is the result of – as so memorably phrased by our frequent contributor Eric Zuesse – “stenographic journalism”, the mere typing up of stories handed out by governments, NGOs etc, without any fact-checking or investigation. Without anyone noticing it’s become the New Normal.
In these dangerous times we have to face the fact that our press is no longer willing or, more importantly, able to speak truth to power. Rigour, scepticism, independent thought are no longer required parts of the journalist’s skill set, and they have been bred out of the species. Complacency, deference to authority and groupthink have taken their place. A journalist is now required to be an obedient stenographer, happy to witter interminable nonsense about identity politics and/or put his/her name to any kind of grotesque propaganda deemed necessary by the ones picking up the tab.
Even the award-winners and heavyweights are now “fearless critics” of western “enemies” alone. You win awards by applying scepticism or interrogation to “them” and never “us”. The evasion and bias is so complete it’s allowed a generation of readers to believe in the absolute moral superiority of “our” side, simply because they never get to read about our failures, our lies, our nefarious and questionable tactics.
This state of affairs would always be deplorable, but right now it’s desperately dangerous. While our press hand-wrings about imaginary levels of “sexual abuse” or worries about gender pronouns or campus safe zones, or writes pompous columns about imaginary “Russian aggression”, a world war is being semi-accidentally orchestrated by the most swivel-eyed of the lunatic clowns in Washington.
Just like the less mad elements of the political class, the media have enabled and encouraged these madmen over many years, because there was political capital and hegemonic benefits in stoking the notion of an ideological confrontation between the forces of good (“us”, of course) and evil (“them”, naturally). It was intended mostly as a front for the looting and political neutralising of resource-rich and uppity nations, and it’s proved a very successful system, enriched many of the 1%, subsumed freedom in the West under the perceived necessity to “protect” ourselves from “them.”
But the whirlwind has proved impossible to control, and the Washington political class is now riven in two. On the one hand the familiar gang of sane but cynical opportunists, which includes Obama and his closest allies, on the other a small group of well-placed and influential ideologues who really seem to believe in the truth of this crusade, or at least are too stupid to understand the pretence can go too far. And it’s the latter currently setting most of the agenda.
Rather than just posturing about confrontation to stoke military spending, justify foreign wars and get rich, these idiots are for real. The “war party”, as we can call it, psychopathic to the point of impairment, believes the propaganda, including the absurd notions of US invulnerability and a winnable nuclear war.
It really looks as if the usual safety-valves of caution or self-preservation don’t count for them. They want to crush their perceived enemies at any price, maybe they even believe in a righteous Armageddon. They are drunk on the idea of a defeated Russia, prone at their feet, themselves lords of the globe, raking in riches, exercising limitless power. They dream of Putin in the dock like Saddam or murdered and brutalised like Gaddafi. And they seem to think – really think – they can achieve it. And if achieving it means paying sadists to torture children, slaughtering millions in phoney humanitarian wars or driving the Russian federation into a corner from which there’s no escape but a nuclear holocaust, so what, right?
It’s becoming increasingly obvious they’ll do it, they really will, unless someone stops them. The media currently enabling them, assuming the normal checks and balances that have saved us in the past are still in place and that the war-with-Russia talk is just talk, need to absolutely realise the talk is no longer just talk. These Strangeloves and Jack D. Rippers mean what they say. Listen to Putin in his recent address to representatives of the western media. Have you ever heard words quite like this from a head of state before? His country is being pushed and threatened by the crazies who simply will not stop. Ever. He knows if they are not somehow called off, and soon, there will be a nuclear war, and he’s trying to tell the hypnotised journos, in barely coded language, to wake up before it’s too late.
The newest and most disgraceful revelation of across-the-board abdication by the media must be something they aren’t allowed to forget. They daily ignore the crimes of their own side and the horrors of the terrorist and US bombardment of western Aleppo, yet stepped up when asked to sell dodgy and unverified war-porn without even knowing what it was.
It tells us and them what they’ve become. They need to be made to face it for everyone’s sake. Individual journalists need to take responsibility for what is said in their name or by their outlets. They need to understand the real stakes here. They have to realise they are now routinely, on a daily basis, signing off on a war-propaganda campaign grown so extreme, so deluded it’s even alienating veteran intelligence professionals, has non-crazy highly respected political commentators in a state of horrified despair, and is even worrying writers at Foreign Policy
We have to ask them nicely, and repeatedly, if they can possibly start to deal with this quite soon, while there’s still time.