As many of our readers know the Guardian recently published an article by Olivia Solon making the claim that all criticism of the White Helmets in Syria was part of a disinformation program ‘propagated online by a network of anti-imperialist activists, conspiracy theorists and trolls with the support of the Russian government’.
The article exhibits minimal research, has been deconstructed and rebutted many times over (see here and here and here on our own site, and especially this article by Eva Bartlett), and is little more than a clumsy, mostly fact-free hit piece.
In terms of journalistic politics the fact it was given to Solon – a “technology journalist” with no previous experience in Syria or related matters, suggests it was an article in search of an author and may well have been passed down to Solon from more senior or experienced people who did not want their names associated with anything quite so flagrantly anti-factual – just in case (as seems possible) the entire White Helmets mythology were to collapse irretrievably and force even the MSM to stop calling them heroes and start calling them terrorist-enablers.
As usual with the Guardian’s most unapologetically propagandist stories, this piece produced a strong negative reaction, both in social media and elsewhere. Many people were appalled at the standard of journalistic integrity on display, and were quick to call for explanations.
None were forthcoming. In fact the Guardian went into the siege mode that seems to be its new default response to any serious challenge to its favoured narratives. If comments were ever open on the Solon piece they were quickly closed and disappeared. Letters of complaint, and even requests for space to make a reasoned reply to the libellous allegations went unanswered. Even when one of those directly attacked in the piece (Vanessa Beeley) sent in a response, there was nothing but silence from the official Guardian. – Though not from Solon herself, who took vociferously to social media and, in the words of Tim Hayward
allowed herself to promote her piece while simply blocking critical voices.
Unsurprising perhaps, but arguably a new low in terms of accountability. But that was not the end of it. Soon afterwards no less a personality than George Monbiot leapt into the fray, tweeting impressively insulting rhetoric against those who dared question the White Helmets as the heroes of the hour.
— GeorgeMonbiot (@GeorgeMonbiot) December 20, 2017
When challenged to rebut the evidence in their own propaganda of WH links with terrorists he responded memorably:
Did you, er, read the report I linked to? While I’m at it, could I ask a genuine question? How do you make your living? Thanks.
— GeorgeMonbiot (@GeorgeMonbiot) December 21, 2017
Yes, that’s right. George Monbiot, respected Guardian journalist, actually resorted to an only slightly more sophisticated version of “what’s the weather like in St. Petersburg?” Lowest common denominator trolling reinvented as serious analysis. George, if you’re reading this, it’s you, not Hayward and Robinson, who has disgraced himself here.
The irony is that while he was taking these schoolboy pot shots at her, Beeley was actually on the ground in Syria, risking her life again to document the real experience of the people there. But George and Olivia probably think she was in that overcrowded Russian troll house where everyone who ever questions, well – anything is now apparently based.
In response to these egregious smears by Guardian journalists together with a denial of a platform to reply, the ‘academic Working Group on Syria, Propaganda & the Media’ wrote a formal letter of protest to ‘Comment is Free’ at The Guardian on 23 December.
The Guardian didn’t publish or respond to it.
So they sent a follow-up letter on January 5, this time to the Guardian Readers’ Editor.
The Guardian didn’t publish or respond to that one either.
Well, in fairness, the Guardian Readers’ Editor must be pretty busy these days – editing Guardian readers and slipping their comments down that Memory Hole. So maybe he’ll get round to replying when he has a moment.
We are reproducing both these letters in a separate post. When or if the Guardian recalls its responsibilities to journalism enough to volunteer a reply to these courteous and reasonable requests we will let our readers know.
And before anyone asks – none of us in the troll house know what the weather is like in St. Petersburg – because we’re never allowed outside.