The New York Times, The Washington Post and the New Yorker all declined to publish the second installment of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh’s reports on Syria which alleges Turkey as behind the sarin gas attacks last August.
Published in the London Review of Books, “The Red Line and The Rat Line” suggests the United States’ near-invasion of Syria last fall was likely based on a false pretext. It also alleges that the corporate media once again failed to question unsubstantiated claims made by U.S. intelligence officials who accused the Bashar al-Assad regime of being responsible for the the Aug. 21, 2013 chemical weapons attack.
His first report, “Whose Sarin?,” cast a spotlight on who could be behind the sarin gas attacks. Published by the London Review of Books in December, it was also largely ignored by the corporate media despite the report including evidence from reports conducted by the United Nations, the White House and the intelligence communities.
In his most recent investigation, Hersh reports that President Barack Obama’s decision to not invade Syria was not because Obama is against war, but because “[t]he American and British intelligence communities had been aware since the spring of 2013 that some rebel units in Syria were developing chemical weapons.”
In addition, it claims the Obama administration neglected to share with the public unsettling facts about al-Qaida-linked rebels with sarin gas capabilities. It also alleges that Turkey and Saudi Arabia were providing the rebels with these capabilities to create a false flag in Syria to push the United States to invade the sovereign nation.
Hersh notes an intelligence briefing from June 2009, which said, “Turkey and Saudi-based chemical facilitators were attempting to obtain sarin precursors in bulk, tens of kilograms, likely for the anticipated large scale production efforts in Syria.”
In his article, he points out that even the U.S. military was skeptical that the chemical weapons had been unleashed by the Assad regime.
This fact could have made it slightly more difficult for the U.S. government to persuade the American public during its pro-war propaganda campaign that Syrian President Assad was slaughtering his people, but given the media’s role in perpetuating propaganda, it would not have been impossible.
Much of the American public may not recognize or be familiar with Hersh’s byline, but most media outlets should be. In 1963, he started working as a correspondent for The Associated Press, before eventually moving on to work for other notable publications such as The New York Times and the New Yorker, which still lists him as a regular contributor.
Throughout his career, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist has exposed a number of political scandals in the White House, including the government’s attempt to cover up torture at Abu Ghraib, the My Lai massacre, President Richard Nixon’s illegal wiretapping of aides on the National Security Council and in the Pentagon, as well as covert efforts of the CIA, such as the coup to overthrow Chile’s democratically elected President Salvador Allende in 1973.
This isn’t the first time Hersh’s work has been censored in the media. Unfortunately, it also probably won’t be the last.
In 1967 — about four years after Hersh began working for AP — he reported that his editors “watered down a lead about the U.S. government’s development of biological and chemical weapons,” which prompted Hersh to resign.
Hersh has encountered many difficulties in selling controversial government exposes to the mainstream media throughout the years, even though it was his work that kept some outlets such as the New Yorker afloat in the years after 9/11.
After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, many believed that the media had learned its lesson about what can happen when it fails to put tough questions to government officials and the “facts” they report, and instead helps popularize propaganda churned out by the government. This is why it’s so puzzling to many, including Hersh, that major newspapers around the globe have declined to print the true story of who used sarin gas on a Syrian neighborhood.
Questioning authority is unpatriotic
Arguably one of the greatest failures of the free press in the U.S. in recent years was the corporate media’s refusal to challenge the George W. Bush administration’s claims following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks — specifically, the point the administration made that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the atrocities that occurred that day.
Instead of questioning members of the Bush administration, including Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and other U.S. intelligence officials, the mainstream media acted more as stenographers than government watchdogs, resulting in a U.S. invasion in Iraq.
It wasn’t necessarily the journalists’ fault. Some journalists who wrote for establishment outlets like AP reportedly did try to expose the true costs of the war and the real reasons the U.S. invaded Iraq — for example, access to oil and other resources — but the mainstream media outlets refused to publish these “un-patriotic” pieces.
Thanks to the work of whistleblowers and independent journalists from around the globe, as well as outlets such as WikiLeaks, bits and pieces of what was really happening in Iraq began to surface. But after these pieces were published in alternative media outlets, mainstream media outlets joined the U.S. government and intelligence officials in smearing these truth-tellers, as in the case of Julian Assange.
Some media outlets such as The New York Times have apologized for initially criticizing the actions of whistleblowers such as National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. Former CBS news anchor Dan Rather has also come forward and apologized for not asking government officials tough questions after 9/11, since Rather believes that if he and his colleagues would have pressed officials on those uncomfortable, tough-button issues, the U.S. may not have ever invaded Iraq.
In his 2010 documentary “The War You Don’t See,” war correspondent, filmmaker and author John Pilger asks a slew of journalists, media experts and government officials about the media’s role in conflict and why so many journalists seem to beat the drums of war.
What Pilger discovered is that ever since Edward Bernays “invented” public relations around the beginning of WWI, the government has used “intelligent manipulation” to convince the public to follow government orders.
Since President Woodrow Wilson created the U.S. Committee on Public Information in 1917, every conflict the U.S. has been a part of has been sold to the American public by terrifying Americans with images and startling statistics that, if the media did their job, would likely be proven false, or at least exaggerated.
The Pentagon alone reportedly spends about $1 billion each year on advertising and propaganda efforts, which includes contracting with news outlets to become foreign policy and military “experts” and news analysts in order to influence public opinion.
In 2003, the U.S. government relied on the media to sell a need for war in Iraq to the American public by hinting that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11. Given that the news media, especially television news, is now part of a 24-hour news cycle, Americans spent every waking moment being told that it was necessary to invade Iraq while being shown images of a burning World Trade Center and of Iraqis pulling down a statue of Hussein.
What the media left out, however, was that tearing down the statue was actually an American initiative. It also didn’t share that most Iraqis weren’t opening their arms to welcome American soldiers to their country.
Journalists in bed with U.S. officials
Since a 24-hour news cycle was prevalent in 2003, the U.S military allowed about 700 reporters from various news outlets to “embed” in military operations in Iraq so they could obtain “exclusive” footage and interviews with military officials.
The problem with journalists being embedded with U.S. military troops is that the U.S. military and U.S. government are in full control of where these journalists go, how they get there, what they see, when they see it and even sometimes how they report on what they see and learn.
For example, the U.S. media’s coverage of the war in Iraq failed to show images of murdered children being pulled out of the rubble after a U.S. bombing. Instead, the U.S. media shared personal anecdotes of what life was like for soldiers and reported on the new technology being used in the war, which is why most Americans don’t know that 90 percent of all casualties in the Iraq war have been civilians. Compare that to just 10 percent of the casualties in WWI, 50 percent in WWII and 70 percent in the Vietnam War.
Part of the reason the U.S. continues to downplay the tragedies that occur in Iraq is because the media feels somewhat responsible for the deaths of innocent men, women and children — a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Conventions. But the reason the media continues to censor information that reflects poorly upon the U.S. government — allegedly including Hersh’s report on Syria — is a direct result of fear.
“Whether those in journalism want to admit or not, fear is present in every newsroom,” Dan Rather said. The fears include losing one’s job, being labeled “unpatriotic” by the U.S. government and the public, and worrying that asking the tough questions could affect national security.
Rather has a point. Most journalists turn to government officials for factual information and interviews. If a reporter pushes too much on the credibility of facts, criticizes an official for their actions — or lack thereof — or is generally viewed as being hostile to the U.S. government by U.S. government officials, then the government will deny said reporter access to information.
This not only makes the journalist’s job more difficult, but it also puts his or her job in jeopardy, as a mainstream media outlet can’t operate without publishing exclusive government interviews. Those journalists who do fall in line at the government’s request are handsomely rewarded with “insider information” and access to top officials for exclusive interviews.
Until there is a point where all journalists band together and pledge to not act as mouthpieces for government propaganda, any journalist who stands up and questions authority will simply be replaced.
As Pilger noted in his documentary, many independent journalists end up losing their lives in their attempts to report the truth. As of 2010, more than 300 journalists had been killed in the war in Iraq, which is more than any other war. While Plinger says journalists shouldn’t have to risk their lives to tell the truth, he says all members of the media have to be brave enough to challenge the official government story, no matter how seductive or insidious it sounds.
“Propaganda relies on media to influence and manipulate those at home,” Pilger said, adding that the lives of the innocent depend on the telling of the truth — and only the truth.
If the media fails to do this, he said, the blood of the innocent is on their hands.