medialens | As this alert was being written, one week after the massacre in Egypt, claims emerged of a major gas attack killing hundreds of civilians in Damascus, Syria. Channel 4's Sarah Smith asked the question that arises so readily, so naturally, for UK journalists:
'Syria chemical weapons horror - is it time for intervention?' (Smith, Snowmail, August 22, 2013)
No need for UN inspectors to gather factual evidence of chemical weapons use; Smith, Channel 4's business correspondent, already knew what had happened and who was to blame:
'There seems little doubt that red lines have now been crossed, broken and smashed to pieces. But what will anyone do about it?'
The 'red lines' of course referred to Obama's warning to the Syrian government that its use of chemical weapons would trigger US 'intervention'. No-one is pretending the US would bomb the 'rebels'.
In similar vein, a Guardian leader commented, again with no serious evidence:
'There is next to no doubt that chemical weapons were used in Ghouta in eastern Damascus... Nor is there much doubt about who committed the atrocity.'
A second leader continued to mislead readers, insisting on the need for 'clear and persuasive information' indicating that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons:
'That information may well exist – much of the evidence points in that direction.'
In reality, the truth is simply unknown. Even US intelligence officials argue that the responsibility of the Syrian government, let alone Assad, is no 'slam dunk'. Chemical weapons experts are also clear that much doubt remains.
It is of course possible that government forces launched the attacks, although it would have been an inexplicably foolish, indeed suicidal, act for Assad to order the mass gassing of civilians three days after UN inspectors had arrived in the country. In the Daily Mail, Peter Hitchens offered a rare rational comment on this theme:
'In those circumstances, what could possibly have possessed him to do something so completely crazy? He was, until this event, actually doing quite well in his war against the Sunni rebels. Any conceivable gains from using chemical weapons would be cancelled out a million times by the diplomatic risk. It does not make sense. Mr Assad is not Saddam Hussein, or some mad carpet-biting dictator, but a reasonably intelligent, medically-trained person who has no detectable reason to act in such an illogical and self-damaging fashion.
'The rebels, on the other hand (in many cases non-Syrian jihadists who are much disliked by many ordinary Syrians because of the misery they have brought upon them), have many good reasons to stage such an attack.'
And recall that on May 6, speaking for the United Nations independent commission of inquiry on Syria, Carla Del Ponte said, 'there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated. This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities'.
No matter, the front page of the Independent read:
'Syria: air attacks loom as West finally acts' (Independent, August 26, 2013)
Even the Independent's Robert Fisk commented:
'The gassing of hundreds in the outskirts of Damascus has now taken Syria across another of the West's famous "red lines" – and yet again, only words come from Washington and London.'
Once again, as in the case of Houla, there was instantly little or no doubt about responsibility.
Once again, the talk was of 'options', 'possibly airstrikes against missile depots and aircraft that Mr Assad would not like to lose,' the Guardian surmised.
And once again, discussion of the West's 'responsibility to protect' (R2P) exploded across the media 'spectrum': on the BBC, in an Independent leader and an article by Katherine Butler, in an Observer leader, in numerous editorials, letters and articles in the Telegraph, Times and elsewhere. In the last four days, the Guardian has published a flurry of articles discussing R2P in relation to Syria by Joshua Rozenberg, Malcolm Rifkind, Paul Lewis, John Holmes and Julian Borger.
The Lexis database continues to find (August 29) exactly no discussions of R2P in relation to the massacre by the West's military allies in Egypt.
We ought to find it astonishing that the corporate media can flip direction with such discipline - instantly, like a flock of starlings - between such clearly self-contradictory positions.
In truth, it takes a minimal capacity for rational thought to see that the corporate 'free press' is a structurally irrational and biased, and extremely violent, system of elite propaganda.